A friend introduced me to the works of G.K. Chesterton for the first time last fall. If this name is as unfamiliar to you as it was to me, stop and visit this website.
Did you take a long look around? Dale Ahlquist, President of the American Chesterton Society, wrote: “G.K. Chesterton was the best writer of the 20th century…. He was very good at expressing himself, but more importantly, he had something very good to express. The reason he was the greatest writer of the 20th century was because he was also the greatest thinker of the 20th century.”
Chesterton had a lot to say and said it well. My friend suggested I start studying Chesterton with “Orthodoxy,” a book he remembered enjoying years ago. A little background research showed “Orthodoxy” is one of the most respected books on apologetics. Philip K. Weingart from The Scholars Corner blog said: “Orthodoxy should be required reading for any modern apologist, for those who defend Christianity in the marketplace of modern ideas.” In the introduction, Chesterton claims the book responds to a challenge to explain his beliefs.
What better way to start a blog reviewing Christian theology than to share a book all about defending Orthodox Christianity? I picked up the short book (only 172 pages) from my college library last week and quickly realized this review wouldn’t turn out like I had expected. I guess it’s my own fault for creating rough judgments from little knowledge. It turns out Chesterton’s “Orthodoxy” isn’t the typical “this proves Christianity” argument. It fails to even directly address some of the most prominent parts of the faith, including a recognizable form of the gospel.
Chesterton’s argument works whether in spite of lacking convention or because of it. His defense of the Christian faith resembled more a memoir of his coming to faith. Instead of a scholarly argument of well-worn reasons, I was introduced to refreshing thoughts and a conversational style. “Because of the autobiographical element, many readers are pleasantly surprised by the wit and humor with which he tackles the difficult subjects in Christianity,” according to Christian Classics Ethereal Library.
Chesterton explains his Christian beliefs by sharing how he came to certain realizations as an agnostic and then found Christianity held the same ideas. His journey started with a childhood that painted the world full of magic and mystery. He saw meaning in nature and realized purposeful magic must come from a magician. Obviously Christianity teaches creation and a divine Creator, but Chesterton’s conclusions as an adult continued to unconsciously reflect Christian beliefs. “Here, I say, I felt that I was really at last on the side of the revolutionary,” Chesterton writes. “And then I caught my breath again: for I remembered that I was once again on the side of the orthodox” (124).
Before accepting Christianity, Chesterton considered the popular philosophies of his contemporaries. He found that the Materialists, Progressives and free-thinkers all contradicted their own claims. He spends a large part of “Orthodoxy” (I’d say too much) simply explaining his thoughts on philosophers who criticize Christianity. It felt as if in the process Chesterton was flipping on its head all logical sense I’ve known in the world. Yet at the same time, his points come from such common sense that I wondered how I had missed these mistaken assumptions before.
These common sense criticisms are followed by how Christianity answers common objections with simple reason and fills the gaps alternative philosophies leave behind. Chesterton says, unlike popular ideas, Christian beliefs support democracy and set people free. Orthodoxy offers a romantic story since it includes theological free will. It presents a god who is a king and yet a rebel.
Ultimately, however, Chesterton wraps up why he believes Christianity with the same reasons he says an agnostic uses to disbelieve. “I believe in it quite rationally upon the evidence,” Chesterton writes. “But the evidence in my case, as in that of the intelligent agnostic, is not really in this or that alleged demonstration; it is in an enormous accumulation of small but unanimous facts” (153). He says the difference between Christians and agnostics is that the reasons of agnostics cannot stand up to truth while Christianity has proven itself over and over to reveal truth.
I now grasp why Chesterton deserves the title of the 20th century’s greatest writer and thinker. It is clear how he influenced such other well-known writers as J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. If you feel curious how this little-known man could be so impressive, I can only recommend reading “Orthodoxy” for yourself. You can conveniently download the eBook right away. Christian Classics Ethereal Library also offers formats to read online, in Adobe Acrobat, as plain text, or by MP3 file. Read an outline of Chesterton’s argument if you want some extra analysis reading material or can’t spare the time for 172 pages.