Here is a summary by Dr. Bob Zunjic, instructor of Philosophy 346: Existentialism at University of Rhode Island (emphasis in bold is mine):
General Title: Fear and Trembling
The book title echoes a phrase from the New Testament: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2,12). In alluding to these words of St. Paul, Kierkegaard indicates that religion in general and Christianity in particular are not a couch potato state of mind (convenient and comfortable relation toward the contents of faith). We need to ground ourselves in the uncertain and infinite transcendence. Already this gives rise to fear and trembling. But there is more to that. Since faith requires a total and constant engagement of individual's selfhood with regard to God's existence, this means that we believe truly only when we do not shun acts that understandably generate fear and trembling both as to their nature and consequences.
To be sure, "fear and trembling" are not the source of faith, but they are its indispensable catalysts ("the oscillating balance wheel" as Kierkegaard puts it in his Journals).
The rest of his superb analysis is here: http://www.uri.edu/personal/szunjic/philos/fear.htmThe SparkNotes summary is helpful (emphasis in bold is mine):
Writing under the pseudonym of "Johannes de Silentio," Kierkegaard discusses the story from the Bible, Genesis 22:1-18, of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Isaac. For this deed, Abraham is normally acknowledged as the father of faith, but in this day and age, Johannes remarks, no one is content with faith. Everyone thinks that they can begin with faith and go further.
In the "Exordium" and "Eulogy on Abraham," Johannes suggests how incomprehensible Abraham's faith is. Abraham didn't question God, didn't complain or weep, he didn't explain himself to anyone, he simply obeyed God's orders. The Exordium presents us with four alternative paths that Abraham could have taken, all of which might have rendered Abraham more understandable, but would make him something less than the father of faith. The eulogy asserts that there is no way we can understand Abraham, or what he did.
Johannes distinguishes between the tragic hero, who expresses the ethical, and the knight of faith, who expresses the religious. The tragic hero gives up everything in the movement of infinite resignation, and in so doing expresses the universal. The knight of faith also makes the movement of infinite resignation, but he makes another movement as well, the leap of faith, where he gets everything back by virtue of the absurd. While the tragic hero is universally admired and wept for, no one can understand the knight of faith. Johannes sets up three "problemata" to draw out this distinction.
The first problema begins with the Hegelian assertion that the ethical is the universal, and that it is the telos [an ultimate object or aim] for everything outside itself. According to the ethical, what Abraham attempted was murder: his sacrifice cannot be understood in terms of the universal. Thus, he suggests, there must be a teleological [exhibiting or relating to design or purpose especially in nature] of the ethical. Abraham suspended his obligation to the universal to fulfill his higher duty to God.
The second problema suggests that, contrary to Kantian ethics, there is an absolute duty to God. Abraham by-passed all his ethical obligations to perform what God asked of him directly. As a result, he was constantly tempted by the ethical, but held fast.
The third problema provides hints as to why Abraham did not disclose his undertaking to anyone. Disclosure is associated with the universal and hiddenness with the single individual. Abraham acted as a single individual, isolated from the universal, and as such his actions could not be explained or disclosed.
Johannes concludes by pointing out that faith requires passion, and passion is not something we can learn. We have to experience it ourselves, or else we do not understand it at all.What is fun is that my pastor just preached a sermon series on Abraham, our Jesus Community just did a comparative Bible study with the Koran on Abraham, and I just wrote a post in Hebrews 6 for the Bible Book Club where Abraham is given as someone to imitate because "through faith and patience" he inherited what was promised him (Hebrews 6:12-19). After I finish this post, I will start writing on Hebrews 11, and Abraham is part of the "Hall of Fame of Faith" (11:8-12)! I love it when my world's collide. God's ways are always perfectly timed.