Human Comes First
Director of the Grundtvig Center University of Aarhus and Vartov

Michael Schelde

K.E. Løgstrup

Gustaf Wingren

Regin Prenter


The title of this paper is taken from a poem by N.F.S. Grundtvig. Let me quote the two last verses from his poem: ”Human comes first and Christian next:“

Human comes first and Christian next, this is a major precept; Our Christianity comes free, a gladness pure and perfect, but gladness only in the end for those who truly are God’s friend and Truth’s right noble kindred! They who would truly human be while on this earth still living lending an ear to Truth’s own word, to God the glory giving; If Christian faith is the true way, though ‘Christian’ they be not today they will be so tomorrow!

This poem sets the theme for this paper. It is a central poem of N.F.S. Grundtvig and it is at the same time a central take-off for 20 Centuries Scandinavian Christian Theology.

In this poem Grundtvig has a positive view of human life. According to him all people are created in the image of God. Generally Grundtvig had a positive view on human life. For Grundtvig, faith, hope, and love are basically the same phenomena within as well as outside Church and Christianity. Moreover, for Grundtvig, the major enemy of human life is death rather than sin.

My own history

I have a Grundtvigian background where there was a close relation between Grundtvig’s thinking and our activities in civil society. That means taking active part in Grundtvigian youth movements, attending a Peoples’ High School [Folk High School] –– which I did when I was 17, and taking responsibility within local society. So Grundtvig and his thinking is a central part of my understanding social life, engagement in the society and politics. Grundtvig had many tools in his toolbox. I experienced singing (Grundtvig wrote 1500 hymns and songs), his focus on body culture (body and spirit is close connected) and his dialogical-based pedagogic. The view from my window The view from my office [at Vartov in Copenhagen] is in the building, where Grundtvig was pastor from 1839 to 1872. The text at the sculpture is the following: “Life words of Deity-root: The source is for your life’s route/ river –– don´t hang to the riverbank.”

Central perspectives for this paper

The central perspective of this presentation is the relation between Scandinavian Creation Theology and man’s experience of life in relation to love, hope and nature. My central question is: What is the relation between human experiences and Christian faith? Between our understanding of creation and our relation to world around us and to Nature?

What is Scandinavian Creation Theology (SCT)?

Let me begin with the word Scandinavian. SCT is certainly not only for Scandinavia and not linked to the idea of particular divine revelations given to particular people. SCT develop in Scandinavia as a fruitful dialogue between systematic theologians mainly in Denmark and Sweden. Their focus and main question was whether the language and practice of theology is concerned with the Christian church only–or is the theological understanding of the gospel intertwined with the life and experiences of all human beings? SCT answers with a clear “yes” to the latter, for SCT theology is to reflect over our lives as we share them in God´s creation.

One could say that SCT is a theological strategy. The vision of SCT is a dialogue between Christians and non-Christians founded in the fact that all humans have common conditions. The context is a growing secularity and wish of restarting a broad dialogue between church, theology and society.

The theological concern of SCT then, is the shared conditions of human life. We are all born, and we will all die. We all need food for nourishment and the company of others. Parents care for their children, and all children continue to play. Likewise, teenagers and grown-ups alike continue to long for recognition and prefer to be welcomed rather than to be expelled. Human beings of whatever religious or non-religious orientation–know about the pain of being ashamed and being found guilty, even if cultural codes differ. Likewise all grown-ups know the social infighting for power, influence, and status, regardless of what counts as status. We are all embodied persons, even if our bodies look different. We always live together with other persons, who appeal to us for help, and from whom we ourselves seek help. And we all live under the same biosphere and enjoy the sun, clouds, rain and wind.

The founding fathers and their perspectives

We often talk about three systematic theologians as the founding fathers of SCT: K.E. Løgstrup (1905-1981); Regin Prenter (1907-1990) and Gutaf Wingren (1910 – 2000). Lets have a look into the toolboxes of the founding fathers. What did they think? What were their perspectives? K.E. Løgstrup

Let me begin with K.E. Løgstrup whose tone is more secular then Prenter and Wingren. The following quotation sets the tone, when he concludes that eternity is incarnated in our lives:

“Eternity is incarnated in the demand it imposes upon us through the interpersonal situation and in the sovereign expressions of life that correspond to it. Eternity incarnates itself not, in the first instance, in Jesus of Nazareth, but is already so in creation and the universality of the demand” (Løgstrup [1967] 2007, 71).

“In its basic sense, trust is essential to every conversation. In conversation as such we deliver ourselves over into the hands of another. This is evident in the fact that in the very act of addressing a person we make a certain demand of him.” ”Trust is not of our own making; it is given. Our life is so constituted that it cannot be lived except as one person lays him or herself open to another person and puts her or himself into that person’s hands either by showing or claiming trust.”

Løgstrup talks about the sovereign expression—trust, openness of speech despite selfishness.

Let me resume his perspective in four bullets from the book, The Ethical Demand.

The ethical demand is “radical,” insofar as it is based in the elementary root (radix) of human interdependence, and insofar as it demands that we help the other person wholeheartedly and unconditionally, without any ulterior selfish motives.

The ethical demand is “silent,” since it needs no verbal explication, and does not tell the agent exactly what to do in the given situation. It is the very phenomenon of trust that calls forth the demand of taking care of the other person in his or her vulnerability.

The ethical demand is “one-sided,” or unilateral, since the ethical demand is lost from sight if we help the other person while expecting later counterfeit benefits: “a protest in the name of reciprocity” (1997, 116) is unethical.

Finally, the ethical demand is “unfulfillable,” since human beings continue to be selfish and self-concerned creatures, always negotiating the concern for others with the concern for themselves, hereby compromising the radical nature of the ethical demand.

The founders of SCT speak of the vulnerability of the other person in terms of an experience of holding “something of the other’s life in my hand” (Løgstrup). Accordingly, salvation is interpreted as “regeneration” (Prenter), “particular aspects” of Christianity (related to Christology and eschatology).

Jesus is presented as the arch-example of what it means to live thoroughly in immediacy, apparently without feeling a need to protect himself. As such, Jesus was not only teaching the ethical demand, but he lived what he taught. Moreover, as Løgstrup argued in The Ethical Demand, Jesus was preaching the unconditional forgiveness of sin to his contemporaries, implicitly claiming to speak out of God’s generosity.

Gustaf Wingren (1910 – 2000) First article theologians

From 1951, professor in systematisk theology at Lunds Universitet, Sweden Minister in Swedish church.

Wingren stresses continuity. Just as no human being in reality can live without the daily “taste” of God, it cannot be Church’s mission to do the work of God in creation, “The proper view of the positive relationship between Christ and the Church cannot arise, without the positive relationship between the Church and the world, the Church and humanity.”

“Without a creative perspective that marks the continuity of God’s actions the gospel loses its character of the Gospel: ”The whole church is the recapitulation of creation, Return spirit health.”

“To live means to receive life from outside oneself. As soon as we are cut off from these external sources, life is…

Regin Prenter, Professor at Aarhus University in dogmatics from 1945 to 1972.

“Our whole humanity including our bodily nature and our whole universe of ‘things’ and ‘substances’ is ‘justified,’ united with God our creator in the moment when we are reconciled with him through the universal sacrifice of Jesus Christ.”

Note: In the next issue Michel Schelde continues, with “N.F.S. Grundtvig, The mediator of Reformation Theology” with more on the work of the three SCT theologians and their relationships to Grundtvig.