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100-year-old advice to people like me

A few weeks ago, I asked a friend of mine what book I could buy her for her birthday, and she indicated she’d like to read some books by G.K. Chesterton—an early 20th century writer and thinker who journeyed through post-Christian culture into Christianity. As I researched books to send her, I ended up also ordering one for me: Orthodoxy, in which Chesterton lays out his journey to find answers to life’s problems and the Christian theology he settled on.

In the first chapter, Chesterton likens his journey of sifting through culture (both secular and sacred) for Truth to an Englishman in a boat who thinks he discovered a new land only to find he’s standing on the shores of his beloved England:
I am the man who with the utmost daring, discovered what had been discovered before . . . . I did, like all other solemn little boys, try to be in advance of the age. Like them, I tried to be some ten minutes in advance of the truth. And I found that I was eighteen hundred years behind it . . . . I have discovered, not that they were not truths, but simply that they were not mine. When I fancied I stood alone, I was really in the ridiculous position of being backed up by all Christendom. It may be, Heaven forgive me, that I did try to be original; but I only succeeded in inventing, all by myself, an inferior copy of the existing traditions of civilized religion. I did try to find a heresy of my own; and when I had put the last touches to it, I discovered that it was orthodoxy.
I actually laughed out loud when I read this. I must sheepishly admit that I identify with this point in Chesterton’s life. I’ve been doing a lot of ruminating over the last year or so regarding Kingdom life and how we do church and emerging church thought—in particular, what biblical and early church Kingdom life really looks like and how we can live it today. As I sifted through Scripture and current church culture and conversations, there were now-cringe-worthy times when I fancied myself alone, original and “some ten minutes in advance of the truth.” Oiy. Chesterton, who discovered this truth 100 years ago, reminds me that as we stumble upon the incredible and wonderful life in the Kingdom we are merely rediscovering something at least a millennia old—the ancient truth of Jesus and how his Kingdom flourished among those who walked the Way. And we are not, by infinite shores, the first to discover it.

I could be imagining it, but I think I’m hearing a divine chuckle. Heh.

(Image: Wikipedia Commons)


Anonymous said…
I was always in love with CS Lewis, until a friend told me that I was actually in love with GK Chesterton. Since exploring GK, I find they were right.

Though distributism and medievalism are simply to anachronistic to my practical mind.
David said…
I counsel caution here. I think there are areas of church and theology and life which desperately need reassessment. Whilst we may come out with the conclusion that what already exists is right, we may not and in the re-thinking of it we are stronger. This re-thinking is hard. It means running against the crowd and suddenly not belonging where once we did. Easier by far to return to Ur.
Carmen Andres said…
I’m with you 100%, David: I whole-heartedly support an examined faith—which is why I like this quote so much. Chesterton seems to have done some of that running against the crowd himself; perhaps he even pointed out directions of the paths that emerging and spiritual formation folks are walking today? Anyway, I think Chesterton is getting at the richness and strength of examining faith—-both our own and the how the culture and church culture expresses and treats that faith. What resonates so strongly with me with this quote, however, is the experience of finding out how deep, rich, solid and ancient our faith really is; like discovering a rock solid land that’s been there forever. And that goes a bit to explaining why the part of the emerging movement I resonate with is the stream that looks not at re-inventing Christianity to be relevant but re-discovering it in it’s authentic, ancient and original form. To borrow from Chesterton again, we don’t make our faith; it makes us.