Christian Worldview

Now More Than Ever

In The Dumb Ox, his biography of St. Thomas Aquinas, G. K. Chesterton compared Aquinas to that other thirteenth-century spiritual giant, St. Francis of Assisi. These saints enjoyed unexpected popularity during Chesterton's lifetime: Francis during the materialistic last decades of the nineteenth century, and Aquinas two decades later. These revivals prompted Chesterton to write that "each generation seeks its saint by instinct; and he is not what the people want, but rather what the people need." Chesterton, who was born this week in 1874, would never have called himself a "saint." Yet, like Francis and Thomas, he, too, has come to be regarded as what his and our generation need: an antidote for the nonsense of the age. Most contemporary Christians, if they've heard of Chesterton at all, probably know him for several often-quoted epigrams like the one in which he calls original sin the only Christian doctrine empirically validated by centuries of human history. But Chesterton wasn't called "one of the deepest thinkers who ever existed" merely for being witty. He was held in such high esteem by his opponents that after his death one of them, George Bernard Shaw, said that the world wasn't thankful enough for him. That kind of respect, as Dale Ahlquist writes in G. K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense, comes from Chesterton's writing something about everything -- and saying it in an intuitive, incisive, and often funny manner. Few people have ever diagnosed the lies and foolishness that beset the modern world the way Chesterton did. "Chesterton," writes Ahlquist, "argued eloquently against materialism and scientific determinism, against relativism, agnosticism and atheism, and other diseased philosophies that have infected the halls of academia for more than a century." If that list sounds familiar, that's because these are the same "diseased philosophies" we face today. Only, they've found their way out of the halls of academia into everyday life. And that's why Chesterton is more relevant today than he was in his own lifetime. For instance, there were those in his time who, as in ours, extolled technological, political, and economic "progress." Chesterton replied that "progress" cannot be a goal or an ideal. "Progress" is simply a comparative term that tells us nothing about what we should be considering "superlative." For that, he said, we need a "definite creed and a cast-iron set of morals." Or consider the contemporary fascination with paganism. Chesterton reminds us that paganism-as-actually-practiced was very different from how we romanticize it now and inferior to what replaced it: Christianity. The truth is that neither his contemporaries nor ours would really want to live in a pagan world. As I said before, Chesterton had something to say about almost everything, nearly all of it superb. And that's why every Christian interested in making the case for the Christian faith to his neighbors needs to get acquainted with the "Apostle of Common Sense." And start, if you will, with his book Orthodoxy. In Chesterton, you'll find the only sure antidote for the infection plaguing our culture: that is, a reasoned defense of Christian truth. For further reading and information: See Gilbert! Magazine, the magazine of G. K. Chesterton. Also visit the American Chesterton Society. Dale Ahlquist, G. K. Chesterton: The Apostle of Common Sense (Ignatius Press, 2003). G. K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy(1908). Read it online. G. K. Chesterton, St. Thomas Aquinas: 'The Dumb Ox'(1933). Read it online. You can read more about Chesterton and other works by him at this website.


Chuck Colson


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