Monday, November 24, 2014

Why I love Christus Victor

In my previous post, I tried to restrict myself mainly to an explanation of the doctrine of Christus Victor (or CV). But now, I want to explain a few reasons why I love it.

Reason #1: It's more of a Romance than it is a formalized system of theology (although I think it can actually be formalized and logically defended to a much greater extent that Aulen does).

It is so incredibly easy, when speaking abstractly and analytically of theology, to lose track of the actual Things behind the words and ideas.

But CV doesn't speak in abstract terms, and it doesnt' seek to analyze too closely its various components. Instead, it speaks in imagery and action: Christ descends from heaven disguised as a mortal, to do battle with the devil. He devises a trap and springs it, rescuing his people from the tyrants of Sin and Death: Indeed, he makes Sin and Death his own captives, and makes a mockery of them!

It's action. It's adventure. It's a love story. It's everything good and true and pure that the human soul finds, in bits and pieces, in great literature: indeed, it is what makes great literature great.


Reason #2: Christ "plays by the rules."

In CV, Satan has legal rights to humanity. This likely stems from Hebrews, which states that the devil is the one who "holds the power of death." Reading through the Church Fathers, you see a doctrine in which Satan, by deceiving Adam and Eve into sinning, gains "legal" power of them as sinners.

Of course, this "legal" power stems ultimately from God: Some see Satan as in some sense the executor of God's judgement on sin (See The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, where the Witch is described by Mr. Beaver as "the Emperor's hangman"), and God is, after all, sovereign (though not necessarily in a Calvinist sense...more on this later). However, there is the sense that however "legal" his possession of humanity might be, he got it through deceit, and he is abusing it.

God could, if he so chose, sweep in under his sovereign power and forcibly liberate humanity from its slavery. He could exert his divine power and simply remove Satan altogether. He could act outside the order he created: That would be his right as God.

But he does not do this. Instead, he sets out to "win" humanity back from within the created order, acting according to the "rules". And there are two ways that CV sees this happening (either as one or the other, or as a combination):

  • Christ offers his life as a ransom for humanity, and Satan is eager to make the trade. There is, in a sense, a contract or bargain that is struck between God and Satan, where Christ agrees to die as a ransom for his people.

  • However, in killing Christ, Satan overreaches and loses all power. Christ had done nothing to merit death, and when Death (as CV often personalizes it) attempts to strike him down, Death loses all power and authority, as a law which convicts an innocent man will be annulled.
(A careful reader of CS Lewis will notice that BOTH of these themes are present in Lion, Witch, Wardrobe. First, Aslan agrees to give his life for Edmund: But due to the workings of the Deep Magic, when an innocent being is killed, death loses its power, having overstepped its bounds). 

Finally (and although this is the main reason, I've left it till last because it has the most potential to be controversial), Reason #3: It presupposes a genuine enmity between God and Satan. Satan is doing things that God genuinely does not want to happen

That dualism, that sense of real conflict, sits at the heart of Christian theology. A bedrock assumption of the Bible is that there is a thing called Evil, that it is real, that it is really evil, and that it is at odds with God's genuine desires. God really desires a cessation of evil, and he plays no role in its creation. Sin grieves God, and he wars against it, to bring about the end of evil, and the salvation of those under its thrall (us). 

But Here's the thing: This sense of enmity and conflict literally cannot exist in Calvinistic theologies, and this is for one very simple reason:


In Calvinism, everything is ultimately as it should be. Everything, including the initial Fall, was not only "allowed" but actually planned, designed, and carried out by God (albeit through secondary causes).

That means that there cannot be the genuine enmity that Christus Victor presupposes. Satan can't be doing anything that God doesn't wish to be done, because Satan only ever does the things he was meant by God to do! It is, at best, a thoroughly one-sided enmity: Satan thinks he is going against God's will, but from God's perspective, it's more like a puppeteer pretending that he is genuinely at odds with one of his marionettes. Or as my friend Danny M said, it's like a child having a pretend war while playing with toy soldiers.

CV cannot exist in a Calvinist theology, because there is no real enemy; There are only various ways and means that God employs to irresistibly bring his predetermined plan to fruition.

There is no real war: There is only God playing with toy soldiers, occasionally knocking some down and making pew-pew noises.

And there is no real victory: Only a cessation of one way in which God brings his inevitable will to pass.


And to that philosophy of puppets and fakery, Christus Victor says "No." The early Church believed what the Bible seems to plainly teach: That Sin and Death are enemies not just of ourselves, but of God. That Satan is an Accuser and a roaring lion, and that God genuinely does not wish for us to be devoured. That Jesus came into the world to tie up the strong man, to plunder his house and set the captives free.

And to that, I say "amen."

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Christus Victor - Part 1

A couple weeks ago, I bought Gustaf Aulen's Christus Victor: An Historical Study of the Three Main Types of the Idea of the Atonement (I can only assume it's snappier in the original Swedish (or German? Maybe German). Its main object was to trace the development (and unfortunate decline) of the view of the Atonement known as Christus Victor: Christ the Victor.

CV (Christus Victor) was, as it turns out, the dominant view in the Church for the first thousand years of its existence. From some of the very earliest of theologians (including Irenaeus, writing around 170-180 AD), the primary view of Atonement has nothing to do with Penal Substitution ("for on that cross where Jesus died/ The Wrath of God was satisfied"), the view that Jesus affected a "legal restitution" for our sins, payed to God. That view didn't arise until Anselm around 1100 AD. Instead, the primary view of atonement was that of victory: Victory over Sin, Hell, and Satan.

One of the first extant proponents of this doctrine (outside of Scripture, which we'll cover later on in this post) is Irenaeus, one of the "Church Fathers." He was born in the early second century, and what's incredibly interesting here is that he was a student of Polycarp, and even earlier leader of the Church. And as for Polycarp, he's traditionally accepted as a disciple of the Apostle John.

That's right: Irenaeus is only twice removed from one of Jesus' original disciples. How crazy is that? Anyway, Aulen poses the question: For what purpose did Christ come down from heaven? He quotes Irenaeus: "That he might destroy sin, overcome death, and give life to man." He develops this answer in a longer quote:

""Through the Second Man [Christ] he bound the strong one, and spoiled his goods, and annihilated death, bringing life to man who had become subject to death. For Adam had become the devil's possession, and the devil held him under his power, by having wrongfully practised deceit upon him, and by the offer of immortality made him subject to death...Wherefore he who had taken man captive was himself taken captive by God, and man who had been taken captive was set free from the bondage of condemnation."

See the theme here? There are a couple really interesting assumptions here, that are further developed by later theologians:

  • First, that the devil is literally in possession of mankind. Man is under the power of the devil, by virtue of being subject to death. He is "captive" to the devil.

  • And second, that Christ's goal in his life, death, and resurrection is to annul and destroy the power the devil has over us, and to free us from our captivity to the devil.

That sense of conflict and victory is the central point of the doctrine (hence the name). Even more interesting, however, is the manner in which this victory is achieved. There comes up again and again the sense that God tricked the devil: That the devil was deceived by Christ's humanity.

In fact, Gregory of Nyssa, in the late 300's, actually compared the deity of Christ with a baited fish hook!

"Since the hostile power was not going to enter into relations with a God present unveiled, or endure His appearance in heavenly glory, therefor God, in order to render Himself accessible to him who demanded of Him a ransom for us, concealed Himself under the veil of our nature, in order that, as happens with greedy fishes, together with the bait of the flesh, the hook of the Godhead might also be swallowed."

And what is the result of this trickery?

"And so, through Life passing over into death, and the Light arising the darkness, that which is opposed to Life and Light might be brought to nought. For darkness cannot endure when the Light shines, nor can death remain in being where Life is active."

There is the sense that God actually lures Satan to him: That Satan snaps at Christ's human body as a fish snaps at a hook, and is undone in exactly the same way. Normally, Satan would not dare to even approach God in His radiance: In Christ, however, Satan not only approaches him but actually brings him into the the heart of his kingdom (as Christus Victor is closely linked to the slightly later developed doctrine of the Harrowing of Hell). And then Life arises in the midst of death, and the Light of creation blooms in the darkness, undoing and conquering both.

Of course, the awesomeness of the theology is not, in and of itself, an argument for its truth. And while it was the dominant theory of the Atonement for the first thousand years of Church history, that too does not constitute proof. For that, we must look to Scripture...but here, Christus Victor is most certainly not lacking (and indeed, it's difficult to conceive of the idea gaining such prominence without Scriptural support!).

Indeed, we find hints of a war of some kind even in the Old Testament. God casually mentions the storehouses of hail in Job, which are "reserved for the time of trouble,for the day of battle and war": God himself makes preparations for the conflict. This is even more fleshed out in Daniel, where an angle states that he was detained - genuinely, "physically" held back - by the "prince" of Persia: This conflict was only resolved when Michael, "One of the chief princes", comes in for back-up.

But the language of conflict is not merely present in the New Testament: It is actually built on an assumption of war, of an ongoing conflict between that which is truly, absolutely Good...and that which is really, genuinely Evil. But these are not generic categories...the sides are not abstract in the least. On each side we find distinct, active agents constantly working, constantly planning and scheming, constantly maneuvering for advantage across the battlefield of the world.

That is why Paul can speak casually of Christ "destroying every rule and every authority and power," and how "the last enemy to be destroyed is death." (any why at the end of the chapter, he speaks of the victory of Christ not only over sin, but over its weapon as well: The Law.)

It is why Paul can speak of the "present evil age" in opposition to God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. It is why Paul goes into such detail about the "authorities", "cosmic powers", and "spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places." This is no mere abstraction...the forces arrayed against Christ and His Church are personal and active in their warfare.

And this war has been going on for a long time, and there have been casualties. This is no mere skirmish or invasion: It is also a rescue mission. That is why Christ calls himself " a ransom for many", and we would do well to remember that ransom is a very specific term: It is the means by which captives are released. And this is spelled out nowhere so clearly as in Hebrews, where the author clearly lays out the necessity for this rescue mission: "Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, he likewise shared in their humanity, so that through death he could destroy the one who holds the power of death (that is, the devil),"

There is a war going on, and all of humankind are causalities and prisoners of war. And Christ comes to free the captors, to tie up the devil, take his property, and plunder his house (man, Mark 3:26-27 is awesome when read through Christus Victor...). There's actually quite a bit of nuance here, which I'll get into in the next post, but the main theme is clear: Christ is victorious over his enemies, and we are liberated by that victory.

This is not the analytical, nearly mathematical theology of Anselm onward. It can't be spoken of in terms of debt and legal obligation, of payment and restitution - at least, not to God. Instead, it is a drama, a romance in the truest, Chestertonian sense of the word. It is an adventure, a heroic quest, and a battle. Ladies and gentlemen, Christus Victor.

See Part 2 for a more detailed discussion of why I really love this doctrine. 


NOTE: I want to make it clear that I am not abandoning Penal Substitution/Substitutionary Atonment. I think that those, too, are correct, and that they are facets of the whole truth. But I am beginning to think that it is penal substitution which serves Christus Victor, that CV is the final truth under which all else finds its meaning.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

We're supposed to be better

Earlier today, this video popped up on my facebook feed because a friend "liked" it. The caption was "ISIS Tank Gets Smoked By Brimstone Missile."

I watched in awe as what was once a tank becomes, in a fraction of a second, an enormous fireball surrounded by debris. I even laughed, that weird laugh of disbelief and amazement. It's...pretty amazing - and frightening - what we can do...to make a tank just disappear, without anyone seeing it coming.

And then I felt a little sick, because I remembered that in all likelihood, it wasn't just a tank, an inanimate piece of metal, that had exploded. Amid that debris was a body, created in the image of God.In the middle of that explosion, a man had died: A man that God Himself had come into the world to save. And I had watched it happen - more than that, I had approved of it, for the sheer spectacle of it.

And then I looked at the comments, and I literally wanted to vomit. I still feel a little sick to my stomach, because those comments - all of them American, and almost all of them almost certainly coming from those who would characterize themselves as Christian - demonstrated a disdain for human life that has a whole hell of a lot more in common with ISIS than with any kind of Christianity or even deistic 'Murican morality .


A picture of a man burning to death, with the caption "How do you like your terrorists...Sunni side up?"


A picture of an armed jet, labeled "72 Virgin Dating Service."


An image of an actual corpse flying through the air, captioned "Its a bird! Its a plane! No...its a flying dead goat----er."

And one comment that just summed up the whole thread:

"I love those kind of Muslims, the dead ones."

I'm putting this post away now. Maybe when I come back to it, I'll have a way to finish it that doesn't involve me staring blankly at the screen.

I'm back. It's later. And I still can't figure out a way to end it, without merely stating and restating the obvious. This is horrifying. This shouldn't be. We're supposed to be better than that.

We're supposed to be better.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Why don't they believe? (Probably because of stuff like this)

Why are people so skeptical of Christian truth claims? Maybe it's because we regularly demonstrate that we'll believe literally anything as long as it appears to support our worldview.

If you have a bunch of Christian friends on Facebook, it's possible that you've seen a certain story floating around in the last few days, with the unassuming headline:


"Newly-Found Document Holds Eyewitness Account of Jesus Performing Miracle"



Imagine this: You have a friend who you've been trying to lead to Christ. You've talked with them, argued with them, debated with them. They're actually coming around, because they see that you do have something different about you.

Then they see this on your Facebook page. They see you trumpeting it as indisputable evidence of the truth of your beliefs. And they think, "Maybe this is it. Maybe it really is true." 

So they click on it, and read it. And they think, "This is HUGE. Why haven't I seen this anywhere else?" So they do some digging. Maybe they click on the Disclaimer. Maybe they just ask snopes. Either way, they will realize that it's a hoax: More than that, it's not even a clever hoax. They'll realize that it's a fake news story, posted on a fake news site, that advertises its fakery on the actual site.

And they'll realize that you fell for it hook, line, and sinker. They'll realize that you were so eager to post something that verified your view of the world that you couldn't even bother to confirm that it was true, when doing so would have taken you five seconds

And if you can't be trusted to verify something that simple, to expend that little effort to confirm the truth of what you're telling your friends...then maybe they'll wonder why they should trust you about Jesus at all. If you're so willing to believe anything that confirms your worldview, how do they know your faith isn't just another example?


So here's the point: One of my friends posted this story, along with a question: Why are people so skeptical of Christian claims? His hypothesis, if I recall correctly, was that they simply didn't want to believe: That they were upset with God and didn't want to admit they were living in sin.

I present an alternate theory: They're skeptical of Christian claims because of course they areWho wouldn't be skeptical of claims made by the same people who post fake news as real news, who can't be bothered to take five seconds to research something before championing it and holding it up as a beacon of truth? Why should they believe our testimony, when we show absolutely no discernment in matters of truth and fiction? 

When we do stuff like this, we're actively hurting the cause of Christ, because we're showing our atheist friends that when it comes to our worldview, we'll believe anything. We're literally confirming the validity of their skepticism. We're actually telling them, "Release your skepticism and allow yourself to consider Christianity, and you'll end up like this, unable to discern between truth and lies, believing anything so long as it confirms your worldview."


Disclaimer: I've seen smart, intelligent people post this story. That posting represents a blind-spot, certainly, but it is most definitely not an indictment of their overall intelligence or discernment. However, that is how it will be seen by an unbelieving friend, who actually takes the time to look into it. And we need to cut that crap out.



Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why I care about Calvinism

A week or two ago, I mentioned a post I was working on to my friend James, about a particular aspect of Calvinism (haven't published it yet). He didn't comment on the subject of the post itself: instead, he just said, "Very few people are so fixed on one topic as you are on Calvinism."

I paused for a second, then told him that I thought I had actually been restraining myself. It had been a while since publishing a post that even mentions it: The last one was in July (nearly two months ago). But it's true: Calvinism is often on my mind. So after that, I told James a story about WHY it's so important to me. 

I had a friend (who will be referred to as "they", to preserve their anonymity). And while we didn't talk much at first, this friend began messaging me over Facebook one semester. We would have long discussions, most often on theology and their personal struggles. They'd been exposed to Calvinism and embraced it, and in my opinion, it was killing them. 

I had already believed that Calvinism was wrong. But through those conversations, I became convinced that it was dangerous: That it was a spiritual poison that could kill and maim. (Please note that I'm not saying that individual Calvinists are poisonous, or even unChristian: See this post on how Calvinists are better than their theology.)

Calvinists believe that God chose specific people before the foundation of the world to save them, and that God chose everyone else before the foundation of the world to damn them (and Calvin himself says that those who attempt to do away with the second part "do so ignorantly and childishly since there could be no election without its opposite reprobation” (Institutes, 3.23.1). So we have the Elect and the Reprobate. 

Now, my friend was addicted to something. And every time they succumbed to that addiction, they grew a little more worried that they weren't Elect at all. They began to be worried that they were Reprobate, that they were damned from all eternity to sin and sin again, to be helpless before the sin until they once again grew to love the sin and revel in it. After all, where was the Irresistible Grace? Why, when they looked for grace, did they instead find that it was SIN that seemed so irresistible? Was this the experience of an Elect individual? Or that of a Reprobate?

It broke my heart. And it happened again and again. My friend didn't doubt whether they were saved...they began to wonder whether they could EVER be saved, whether the possibility was even real. 

And according to Calvinism, there was no comfort I could give them. If I was a consistent Calvinist, all I could have done would be to agree with them that they definitely MIGHT be reprobate, and that there was nothing they could do about it. 

In the face of their questioning, all I could have done is to say with Calvin, "All are not created on equal terms, but some are preordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation" (3.21.5). I could have told them that there was definitely some merit to their concern, and that they might be preordained to eternal damnation. Better cross your fingers and hope for the best!

In the face of their sinning, all I could have told them is, "As all contingencies whatsoever depend on it, therefore, neither thefts, nor adulteries, nor murders, are perpetrated without an interposition of the divine will" (1.17.1). That is, all I could have told them was God was not only allowing them to fall into sin, BUT WAS ACTUALLY MAKING IT HAPPEN.

In the face of their religious feeling, and their apparent desire to not sin, I could have told them that MIGHT be evidence of their election...but to be completely honest with them, I would have also been forced to tell them that "Experience shows that the reprobate are sometimes affected by almost the same feeling as the elect. so that even in their own judgment they do not in any way differ from the Elect... because the Lord, to render them more convicted and inexcusable, steals into their minds to the extent that his goodness may be tasted without the Spirit of Adoption" (3.2.11). 

In other words, I would have been forced to tell my friend that even when they were convinced that they were Elect, it could have been Jesus just messing with their head so he could damn them even further. And furthermore, to be completely honest with them, I would have had to tell them that this could happen at any time...that even if they recovered, on any given day they might wake up to find that the goodness of the Lord had been taken from them, and that Jesus had been playing a trick on them all along. 

(If that didn't make you throw up in your mouth a little, I don't know what to tell you.)

Obviously, I am not now, and was not then, Calvinist. So I wasn't limited like that. I could tell them that God didn't want them to sin (in ANY sense of the words "want", "ordain", "design," or any other words that Calvinists use to weasel out of it), and hadn't set up the universe in such a way as to make it unavoidable. I could tell them that God definitely had not damned them before the foundation of the world. And I could tell them that salvation was even then within their grasp, that God was ready and willing to help. 

They got better, and I thank God for it. But that convinced me that Calvinism is dangerous. 

Being a consistent Calvinist - one who actually followed Calvin's teachings - would have required me to tell my friend that it was a distinct possibility that God sincerely, genuinely desired to damn them in particular; that God could be irresistibly acting to bring that damnation about; that God would derive pleasure from that eternal damnation; and that he would be doing it for his glory. That was the good news that I could have offered my friend in their addiction and trials. And I'm scared of what might have happened if I had offered them that gospel. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Vicious as snakes, and foolish as pigeons

"Make up lies about those who (maybe?) persecute you, or at least believe the lies that others tell. Find things to be offended at, and shout your indignation to the heavens. Be proud of your "Christian heritage", and seek out those who might be offended by it. If possible, so far as it depends on you, create conflict wherever you can, because offending people and being offended by others is the only mark of a true Christian. If your enemy says anything at all, don't hesitate to take it out of context and use it to attack him, for by doing so you will encourage others to take offense and do the same. Do not overcome liberalism with liberalism, but by sharing offensive, one-sided facebook posts that would have taken you 15 seconds to research."

Romans 12:14-21, American Popular Version

Holy crap, is Facebook saddening sometimes. The most recent example? Obama is thanking the mosque that beheaded someone! And for a more classic flavor, he shouldn't even be president in the first place, because he was a foreign exchange student! I've seen those and innumerable others on my Facebook, all from presumably well-meaning Christians who just want to get the word out.

But neither of them are true. And IT TAKES LITERALLY FIFTEEN SECONDS TO RESEARCH IT. Here's the foreign exchange student thing. And here's the mosque thing.

In fact, let's talk about the mosque thing real quick, since that's what I've seen most recently from several FB friends, all of them expressing shock that Obama could actually sink that low, as to thank people who beheaded a US citizen! It's terrible! It's unbelievable.

YES. Yes, it IS unbelievable. Because the truth is, the "thank-you" speech was referencing community service that the mosque had done, following a tornado in the area in 2013. It was a speech scheduled far in advance. Unfortunately, the recipients of that speech happened to be very loosely connected with a man who violently beheaded someone - and by "loosely connected", I mean the man had attended the mosque a few times over the course of several months.

Did Obama send a thank-you speech to the mosque? Yes he did. Was that mosque populated - dare I say - by Muslims? Indeed it was. And did a terrorist attend that mosque a few times, without getting involved with the mosque to a greater degree? Yes. All of those things are true. But it does not add up to "OUTRAGEOUS: Obama Sends THANK-YOU Letter to Oklahoma Beheader’s Mosque." Such a reading of events - and such a willingness to accept that reading of events, without seeking the truth - is not just lazy: It is dishonest. It is unfair. It is an outright rejection of our Christian calling to love and charity.

This isn't a political post, guys. This isn't about politics, policies, or any other polis-words.  It's about how we engage with all that. Remember that "verse" I opened with? Well, here's the real version:

"Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Romans 12:14-21

When I look at what a LOT of my Christian friends are posting on Facebook, I don't see ANY of that.

I don't see us blessing our enemies: I see us cursing and ridiculing them, proud in our knowledge that we alone are right.

I don't see us striving to live in harmony with others: I see us looking for ways to offend.

I don't see us living peaceably: I see us finding any and every way to be offended.

We are gullible. We eagerly share and re-post that which we WANT to be true, without any regard for whether it actually IS true. We use Facebook as a weapon, to ridicule our enemies and shame those who don't do the same (Yeah, I'm looking at you, Picture of a Bible that begins with "97% won't repost this..."). We are quick to anger, quick to assume the worst, and slow to seek the truth.

This should not be. We are to be both wise as serpents, and innocent as doves, But right now, many of us are neither: We are as vicious as snakes, and as foolish as pigeons. We want to think that people are offended at Christian songs, even when they aren't. And we want to think that people are offended at saluting the flag (sorry, can't link Facebook memes), even though they aren't. We want to think that we, and we alone, have discovered the fact that Obummer is a gay-loving Muslim monkey from Turbanistan and probably eats a Christian baby for breakfast every morning...but we really haven't

So knock it off. See your opponents as people before you see them as obstacles, and treat them accordingly (it's amazing what that one thing will do). But if you want something concrete and simple, do some DAMN research before you "share" or "like" that next Facebook post from The Blaze or your favorite conservative talk show host. Take just 15 seconds, google it, and if there's a single article in the first few results that seems to say something different than the post you want to share, READ IT.

And if you don't have time to read it? If you don't have time to actually confirm the truth of what you're about to post? Then you probably shouldn't be posting it in the first place.

 Don't be gullible. Don't be happy to be offended. Be both wise and innocent.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Chesterton Medley - Books, Part 4

Been a while since I've done one of these, but it's time for "10 Influential Books," Part 4, Parts 1, 2, and 3 here.

I'd already done something on Chesterton's The Man Who Was Thursday, before I'd put together this list (full list at the bottom). But I cheated, and included "Everything else by Chesterton" as my Number 2. So that's today. Because the thing is, Chesterton has been SO influential in my life. From big things like my view of adversity, to smaller things like my take on tipping, Chesterton has impacted so many different aspects of my life. So if you haven't read any of these, read at least one. And if you've read one, read another.

Introduction to the Book of Job: First of all, this isn't even a book: It's just a few short pages, so there's literally no excuse not to drop whatever you're doing and READ IT RIGHT NOW. Seriously, go and do that: I'll wait.

In The Everlasting Man, Chesterton calls Job "one of the colossal cornerstones of the world," and that definitely comes through in this introduction. It is one of the most interesting books in the world, according to Chesterton, and immensely important: It is about "the desire to know what is, and not merely what seems." It is the only book in the Old Testament that questions, not whether God is able to rule over humanity, not whether it is possible for God to sacrifice our desires and even our lives, but whether it is right and good that God do so. There really isn't a whole lot I can say to "summarize" it...you really do need to read it.

     Memorable line:

"Verbally speaking the enigmas of Jehovah seem darker and more desolate than the enigmas of Job; yet Job was comfortless before the speech of Jehovah and is comforted after it. He has been told nothing, but he feels the terrible and tingling atmosphere of something which is too good to be told. The refusal of God to explain His design is itself a burning hint of His design. The riddles of God are more satisfying than the solutions of man."



Manalive: This was the first Chesterton book I'd ever read. It's short, relatively simple, and a very fun read: If you're looking for an intro to Chesterton that won't take much time or effort, this is it. It was the book for our "practice" session during Torrientationm and I'll tell you this: I sucked at it. I can't tell you too much without spoiling the whole thing, but I can tell you that the book demonstrates that true Christian contentment is active, not passive. This book showed me that passivity leads not to contentment, but to stagnation: But being truly content with what you have is an activity, something you must actively participate in.

Contentment is not a lesser pleasure, not something to be placed under the initial "infatuation" stage in terms of strength. It is not stagnation, a mere willingness to experience or endure what you experienced or endured the day before. It is shining, living and active and vibrant...but also something that must be cultivated and tended. True Christian contentment is not to "settle" for what you have, to "take the world as you find it"...it is to make MORE of the world than what you find in it.

     Memorable line: 

""Moon," said Arthur Inglewood, rather huskily, "you mustn't be so bitter about it. Everyone has to take the world as he finds it; of course one often finds it a bit dull—"

"That fellow doesn't," said Michael decisively; "I mean that fellow Smith. I have a fancy there's some method in his madness. It looks as if he could turn into a sort of wonderland any minute by taking one step out of the plain road. Who would have thought of that trapdoor? Who would have thought that this cursed colonial claret could taste quite nice among the chimney-pots? Perhaps that is the real key of fairyland. Perhaps Nosey Gould's beastly little Empire Cigarettes ought only to be smoked on stilts, or something of that sort. Perhaps Mrs. Duke's cold leg of mutton would seem quite appetizing at the top of a tree.""



The Ball and the Cross: An atheist duels with a Catholic across England, while the entire country conspires to stop the duel from taking place. If this were a movie, it'd be a buddy movie where the buddies crack jokes, go on adventures....and pause every couple of days to try to kill each other. A "peacemaker" who tries to stop them only ends up convincing them of the rightness of their fight, while a madman who encourages them to kill each other forces them to rethink their motives. And there's even a little romance thrown in!

This is signature Chesterton. While this book (like Manalive) is incredibly funny, the real meat is found in the conversations between the Catholic MacIan, and the atheist Turnbull. Both of them care passionately about their faith (or lack of it), and both are bewildered by the refusal of the modern world to take either of them seriously. It is an age of "tolerance," which translates to an age of apathy: This enrages both participants. Turnbull recognizes that if Christianity is not true, it is a blight that needs to be wiped from the face of the earth, while MacIan recognizes that if it IS true, then it is of the utmost importance.

     Memorable line: Tougher to narrow down than Manalive, but one of my personal favorites, from the very beginning, is...
""Wherever and whenever I meet that man," and he pointed to the editor of The Atheist, "whether it be outside this door in ten minutes from now, or twenty years hence in some distant country, wherever and whenever I meet that man, I will fight him. Do not be afraid. I will not rush at him like a bully, or bear him down with any brute superiority. I will fight him like a gentleman; I will fight him as our fathers fought. He shall choose how, sword or pistol, horse or foot. But if he refuses, I will write his cowardice on every wall in the world. If he had said of my mother what he said of the Mother of God, there is not a club of clean men in Europe that would deny my right to call him out. If he had said it of my wife, you English would yourselves have pardoned me for beating him like a dog in the market place.""


Orthodoxy: This is it: the big one. This is Chesterton's account of his own journey towards Christianity. Specifically, it focuses on his rational and reasoning: Why he believes that Christianity is not only the best practical philosophy for living life, but also the most true.

The need for "romance" (that is, adventure), the insufficiency of materialism, the marvelousness of the world...it covers lots of things. But one of the most striking is the Christian ability to keep seeming opposites side by side, without ever mixing them. Celibacy and marriage, pacifism and just battle, proper pride (that is, a recognition of our status as images and children of God) and proper humility...Chesterton says, "It has kept them side by side like two strong colours, red and white, like the red and white upon the shield of St. George. It has always had a healthy hatred of pink."

But possibly the most striking is the very end, where he speaks of the living Church. And that brings me to...

    Memorable line: 

"When your father told you, walking about the garden, that bees stung or that roses smelt sweet, you did not talk of taking the best out of his philosophy. When the bees stung you, you did not call it an entertaining coincidence. When the rose smelt sweet you did not say "My father is a rude, barbaric symbol, enshrining (perhaps unconsciously) the deep delicate truths that flowers smell." No: you believed your father, because you had found him to be a living fountain of facts, a thing that really knew more than you; a thing that would tell you truth to-morrow, as well as to-day...

This, therefore, is, in conclusion, my reason for accepting the religion and not merely the scattered and secular truths out of the religion. I do it because the thing has not merely told this truth or that truth, but has revealed itself as a truth-telling thing. All other philosophies say the things that plainly seem to be true; only this philosophy has again and again said the thing that does not seem to be true, but is true. Alone of all creeds it is convincing where it is not attractive; it turns out to be right, like my father in the garden."

Chesterton. Read him. Love him. Get all his books for free on Gutenberg.org. Mackenzie out!




1: The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton

2: (Everything else by Chesterton: Manalive, Orthodoxy, The Ball and the Cross)

3: On the Unity of Christ by Cyril of Alexandria

4: The Way of the Son of God into the Far Country by Karl Barth

5: The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

6: CS Lewis section (Space Trilogy, Chron. of Narnia, Abolition of Man, Till We Have Faces, The Great Divorce)

7: The book of Job

8: The book of Ecclesiastes

9: The Idea of a University by John Henry Newman

10: The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner