CHESTERTON, G.K., Orthodoxy, 1908, San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995, 168 pp.

Mini Review by Robert Brow   ( June 2000

I have gone back after 40 years to reread Chesterton's book on Orthodoxy. It does not refer to Greek and Russian Orthodox denominations but to the basic Christian faith set out in the Apostles' Creed (17). Much of the book is dated, and gets progressively more tedious for this post-modern reader. But the second chapter has helped me to see a way to solve the key question in Model Theology.

Having set out some alternative explanatory models for any theological doctrine (Creation, Word of God, Incarnation, Atonement, Ascension & Reign) how do we decide which to adopt and live by?

Referring to those who are paranoid, Chesterton points out that people do not go mad by romance (14,15) and dreaming (21). It is logic that drives them insane. "Maniacs are commonly great reasoners" (22). "Their most sinister quality is a horrible clarity of detail" (23). "He is not hampered by a sense of humor or by charity" (23). "The madman is not the man who has lost his reason. The madman is the man who has lost everything except his reason" (24).

But it is impossible to refute the logic of a person who has adopted a model in which "men have a conspiracy against him" (24). If it is suggested that some do love and care, the model easily explains why they must have devious motives.

All we can do is to say "I admit that your explanation explains a great deal; but what a great deal it leaves out!" (25).

Similarly materialism leaves out far too much, even for the materialist (27-29). The remainder of the book commends the vastness and creative energy of "the central Christian theology (sufficiently summarized in the Apostles' Creed)" (17). "There never was anything so perilous or so exciting as orthodoxy" (107). "Christianity is on the side of humanity and liberty and love" (139).

I belong to the generation of theological students who spent most of our seminary time struggling to master the theories that explain the sources used by the Old Testament and New Testament writers. How many books have been written about Q? It turned out that those models were totally logical, but they missed what faith, and love, and grace, and prayer were all about. It was like spending a lifetime on the sources of Shakespeare's plays and missing the reality of Hamlet or the Merchant of Venice.

It would be good to question every one of our current doctrines and pronouncements and moral stances by Chesterton's acid test. My logic may be unanswerable, but is my explanatory model big enough to include the ultimate purposes of a totally loving, joy giving, gracious God?

model theology home | essays and articles | books | sermons | letters to surfers | comments