Publisher (Date): Moody Publishers (June 10, 2013)
Length: 241 pages
G.K. Chesterton was a prolific journalist but is most well-known for a pair of books: Heretics and of course Orthodoxy. Although I have been reading a lot of modern works in particularly the field of apologetics, I felt that it was time to step back into one of the most widely read theological works of the past hundred years.
It is divided into nine chapters, so I feel that the best approach is to provide you with a little bit of an overview that might convince you to pick up this book as well.
Chapter 1 is rather self-explanatory. It is an introduction, and it introduces us to the problem that will be the central thesis of the entire work on page 20.
“How can we contrive to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it?”
Chapter 2 is entitled “The Maniac” and is really where this journey towards the Christian faith begins with an attack on materialism. The maniac is used as a description of someone who has a perfectly coherent worldview in and of himself. This madman has a worldview that makes sense to the man himself, but it leaves out all of the sanity that is beyond the inner circle of that worldview. He argues that materialism acts like that madman.
The next chapter explores “The Suicide of Thought,” and it focuses on the tendency of many modern philosophies to self-destruct when taken to logical conclusions. For example, if you take skepticism to the extreme, you ultimately even need to doubt if there is even a world that exists to be skeptical about.
This is useful when you move into Chapter 4 entitled “The Ethics of Elfland.” He moves back into the idea that materialism cannot eliminate the possibility that perhaps there is something miraculous occurring every day that could be as simple as the sun rising. If there are miracles in the world, there should be an ultimate miracle worker. After that, by dealing in this kind of miraculous “Elfland,” we are actually freer than the madmen who are trapped in the prison of materialism. We are willing to accept a naturalistic explanation, but we are also open to the possibility that there is something beyond.
Again, in a logical progression, we move into “The Flag of the World.” We explore the dichotomy of the optimist and the pessimist. Each one has the potential to be faulty because the optimist tends to defend things that really do not deserve a defense while the pessimist doesn’t have any love for what he criticizes. Christianity is able to reconcile these two seemingly contradictory issues. Christian optimism is based on the fact that we realize humanity is fallen. We don’t stumble into the aforementioned trap on that level. We also avoid that pessimism because even though we are called to be in the world but not of the world, we still love the people who we are trying to share the good news with. As a result, we can be optimistic and are able to avoid the negativity that comes when we don’t love that which we criticize.
With this reason established, we move on to Chapter 6 where we learn about “The Paradoxes of Christianity.” Essentially, this chapter runs with the idea that many things in the world do seem to fit together logically, but there are inevitably some illogical pieces. Somehow, despite living in such a precarious environment, Christianity has continued to persevere. It is capable of handling the logical as well as the occasional illogical oddity in our everyday lives.
Chapter 7 brings us back to this concept of the balance that Christianity provides and is entitled “The Eternal Revolution.” Specifically, he considers the fact that in general, the world tries to change its ideal to fit reality rather than trying to make reality better the ideal. Chesterton would argue that the ideal needs to be a fixed target that is a composite of reverence and fearfulness.
That point is important because it brings us back to Chapter 8 which is called “The Romance of Orthodoxy.” We are back to his concept of Christianity as the ultimate freedom. He takes a big shot at the theologically liberal church for discounting miracles among other things. On this point, he makes this statement again that this kind of attitude is actually a prison. People who would say that they are more open are actually restraining what they are free to consider and evaluate. He also makes a very strong argument as to why all religions cannot be all basically be the same thing simply with different names.
We have finally come to our conclusion in “Authority and the Adventurer.” More or less, he revisits each of his main points and leaves us with a powerful image on page 238.
“Joy, which was the small publicity of the pagan, is the gigantic secret of the Christian.”
Overall, I enjoyed this book. Having said that though, it is not an easy read, and my review in no way does it justice. I tried to be accurate to Chesterton’s intent, but this is a dense book with many ideas in close proximity. I hope that I have not brutally misrepresented anything, but I did put my best effort into understanding how all of these themes tied together.
As I have noticed on many other reviews around the Internet, it takes a few times through to finally begin to get through the surface level complexity and appreciate all of the depth that lies under it.