Friday, March 16, 2007

Chesterton for Novices

Who is G.K. Chesterton? I’ve been asked this question frequently over the last month when discussing my current reading with friends and family. Frankly, I’m a little surprised. I thought everyone knew about him…or at least the fact that he existed. Apparently not!

G.K. Chesterton was a British journalist and thinker who wrote voluminously during the early years of the 20th century. He is famous because of his witty attacks on the many erroneous philosophies of the day, such as atheism, socialism, feminism, and teetotalism. He was not one to hold back where falsehood was concerned, and had a very robust and forthright style. Any reader of his many essays cannot stay comfortable for long, no matter how much he is in general agreement with what is said. No one can leave his books without their toes being stepped on!

Chesterton did not confine his writing to the newspapers. He wrote many books, including the ever-popular Father Brown mysteries. (Which are personal favorites of mine.) Whatever the medium, whether literary criticism, biography, essay or mystery story, he strove to recommend a Christian way of thinking to the reader.

It has been my experience that it is always best to read a writer’s own thoughts, rather than first going to a “Reader’s Digest” type of biography/commentary. However, I did find one book at our local library which would be helpful if read alongside “the originals”: Battling For the Modern Mind: A Beginners’ Chesterton, by Thomas C. Peters.

This book is primarily an overview of G. K. Chesterton’s major ideas. The author discusses many of his major works and also gives a brief biographical sketch. It is unique in that it gives a Protestant perspective on the Catholic Chesterton. Peters addresses the question most likely to pop into Reformed minds: “Why should I read an author who embraced such obvious theological fallacies?”

For those ready to read Chesterton for the first time, I’d recommend reading a collection of sparkling literary gems, Tremendous Trifles, as well as a few Father Brown stories. I particularly like “The Blue Cross”. There are also several good compilations, one of which is The Man Who Was Chesterton, by Raymond T. Bond. Be prepared to be challenged in your thinking, and to come away from your reading seeing the world in a new, and happier, light.

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