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Blog / Tweetable Nietzsche: An Interview with C. Ivan Spencer

Tweetable Nietzsche: An Interview with C. Ivan Spencer

Dr. C. Ivan SpencerThough he died in 1900, Friedrich Nietzsche’s philosophical sway on modern thinking persists, inspiring numerous movements that weave the tapestries of contemporary culture: existentialism, theology, nihilistic culture, Nazism, 20th century film and art, atheism, ethical egoism, deconstruction, the hermeneutics of suspicion, and the postmodern age. His stark prophecy that “God is dead, and we killed him” thrives in this accelerating secular age where postmodernists lionize him as a prophetic voice of a new era.

Bible Gateway interviewed Dr. C. Ivan Spencer (@scizen) about his book, Tweetable Nietzsche: His Essential Ideas Revealed and Explained (Zondervan, 2016).

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Who was Friedrich Nietzsche?

Dr. C. Ivan Spencer: Friedrich Nietzsche was a 19th century European philosopher from Germany.

You write, “On a Richter scale of thinkers, the Nietzschean earthquake ranks well above 9.0 with many serious aftershocks.” In what ways has Nietzsche influenced Western culture?

Dr. C. Ivan Spencer: Nietzsche pervades general culture through the arts and humanities, but especially in philosophy, theology, and literature. He inspired existential life patterns that urge and compel us to create ourselves and transform our nature through the tenacity of will, not predetermined formulas or socially constructed patterns of existing as individuals. We must create our essence and choose our own virtues.

In theology, some radical movements are rooted in Nietzsche’s thought. Secular theology derives some of its orientation from the stark Nietzschean prophecy that God is dead and that we killed him. Our secular age no longer centers on transcendent values, believing the divine source for such values has passed away. If God died, so did all wholesome values rooted in God.

In literature, Nietzsche conceives and gives birth to a hermeneutic that annihilates textual meaning. Few understand what has happened here or why. Nietzsche unleashed a category 5 hermeneutical hurricane. Now texts have no meaning other than the meanings powerful people or groups say they have. Thus the infamous hermeneutics of suspicion.

Why has Nietzsche’s philosophy been so readily and widely accepted?

Dr. C. Ivan Spencer: Nietzsche’s ideas take root because they appeal to the emptiness of the human experience and enable a postmodern and existential worldview. They enable an identity shift where one climbs out of the dark abyss of meaningless nihilism and into a self-constructed system of values and significance. His transvaluation project triumphs and fuels our hyper-individualism.

What was Nietzsche’s view of the Bible?

Dr. C. Ivan Spencer: Nietzsche’s view of the Bible differs greatly from Christians today. He grew up Lutheran and experienced the Pietistic faith among his family. His father was a minister. Nietzsche was a professor of the Greek language and worked among many 19th century German scholars doing higher biblical criticism.

He lost his faith as a young man in university. Much of his atheistic thought would view the Bible as another ancient text that people embraced to make sense of their world.

How can Christians counter Nietzschean views of the Bible held by people whose worldview is composed of a post-modern belief that there is no absolute truth and that morality varies in every situation?

Dr. C. Ivan Spencer: Christians who believe the Bible believe it because they think God exists. Nietzsche did not believe God existed. Our view of Scripture rests on whether God exists or not.

Most worldview philosophers acknowledge that the answer to the question of God’s existence is an assumption. It is not a matter of science, evidence, or proofs. How one interprets evidence comes from the assumption. Evidence does speak clearly, but it says what one assumes about God.

Some theologians (for example, Calvin) say there’s a sensus divinitatis, an innate sense of the divine that orients everyone to believing in God’s existence. However, our evil heart obliterates this homing signal.

Other theologians (for example, Aquinas) say that evidences of God’s existence make it inescapable.

The easiest way to counter Nietzschean views of the Bible is to recognize that one’s deep assumptions about God generate how we see the Bible. The same applies to Nietzsche.

Why have you written this book and why should Christians read it?

Dr. C. Ivan Spencer: Christians need to be aware of the influencers of the world they live in. To engage our culture, one needs to understand its influencers. I wrote this book so anyone can understand it, not just the specialist or the academic. Nietzsche ranks as one of the undisputed masters who have fashioned this age.

What’s the meaning of the title?

Dr. C. Ivan Spencer: Tweetable Nietzsche captures the unique approach I took to unveiling his ideas. I wrote “Tweets” of his ideas; 140-character quotes that distill his ideas. This makes the book very easy to grasp. Each Tweet and its explanation can be read in 5 minutes or less, making it approachable for fast-paced lives.

You write, “Even if we reject his conclusions, we can learn from him the values of tenacity and intellectual honesty.” Please explain.

Dr. C. Ivan Spencer: Nietzsche lived a hard life of much physical pain, and he didn’t take any drugs to kill it. His intellectual honesty—often brutal—shocks most people. Authenticity is his brand. You won’t like what he says about many things, but he carried his naturalism to its authentic and logical conclusions. If you don’t believe God exists, and you carry that to its conclusions, you wind up with some grim conclusions. He went there and didn’t try to bootleg Christian values back into his worldview the way many atheists do.

What was the end of Nietzsche’s life like without any hope in God?

Dr. C. Ivan Spencer: His last decade descended as a sunset of the mind. In 1900, he died a complete and unconscious invalid, but extraordinarily famous and revered, almost like an atheistic prophet or saint. Unaware of his popular inspiration, his life would soon rip through the German world and fuel its culture in the first half of the 20th century.

What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App?

Dr. C. Ivan Spencer: It’s a great resource for people who need its valued insights into matters of faith, theology, Bible, and the church.

Bio: C. Ivan Spencer (PhD, University of Texas at Arlington) is professor of History and Philosophy at The College at Southeastern, in Wake Forest, NC. He teaches the history of ideas, philosophy, and history. Ivan was the creator of the school’s History of Ideas curriculum and major, and has cultivated the study of the greatest thinkers from the past to the present.

Filed under Books, Interviews, Philosophy