Book Review: Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy:  The Classic Account Of A Remarkable Christian Experience, by G.K. Chesterton

I first heard of this book when I read a lost of 25 recommended books for Christians from a group that appeared to have close ties to monastic and Catholic interests, and as someone who is more or less fond of G.K. Chesterton’s writings [1] and thinking, even if not very familiar with them as of yet, I thought this would be a good book to check out.  I have to say upon reading this that I found this book extremely relevant in a variety of ways.  This is not a perfect book–and I will get around to its flaws at some point–but it is a very profound book, and it is easy to see why this book comes so highly recommended.  One can see some of the writing here that influenced C.S. Lewis in his own apologetics writing, and any writer who reminds me of C.S. Lewis is doing a very good job indeed.  Admittedly, some of this book seems more than a little bit scattered and random, but that is not necessarily a bad thing either, as this book has a lot going for it in the striking insights it makes and in the way its thinking process runs counter to that of our own times, and in the way that the author is remarkably personal in his discussion, all of which win over the fair-minded reader.

In terms of its contents, this book comes in at close to 250 pages, but the book reads pretty quickly.  It is worth stating that this book is not the sort of book on Orthodoxy that most people would write nowadays, for though this author thinks highly of the Apostles’ Creed, Chesterton is not the sort of author to beat the reader over the head as is the fashion of some.  This book is divided into nine chapters.  The first chapter is an apologia, in which the author states that he has found it necessary to appear arrogant when he is merely trying to be candid.  After that the author discusses the maniac and how it is a perversity of the rational mind rather than the imagination, generally speaking.  After that the author talks about the death of thought in the culture of his time, something that has only continued in our own, before looking at the ethics of Elfland and defending fantasy and speculative literature as opposed to ‘realistic’ fiction.  The author then looks at issues of identity and patriotism before warming up to his main subject, namely the paradoxes of Christianity and the hypocritical way in which it is often attacked.  The last three chapters look at the fact that Christianity promises eternal revolution, that the author’s orthodoxy has a certain romance to it, and that having an adventuresome life often depends on having the right sort of authority in one’s life.  Throughout the author shows himself to be witty and charitable, all of which makes for enjoyable reading.

Although this is a very good book, the author clearly has some strong Catholic biases.  What I found objectionable about this book, when I disagreed with it, was that the author conflated the biblical and the Catholic.  He showed a great love of paganism–something C.S. Lewis shared, and which the Bible itself was greatly hostile to, although it was something notable about Rome’s approach to religion.  The author’s defense of the Trinity itself is an example of a false dilemma, pitting Unitarianism against Trinitarianism, neither of which are the biblical position.  Admittedly, these errors detract from my enjoyment of the book somewhat, but they are fairly slight and not very common, and although I must freely admit that my own position is in some way distinct from the author’s and probably not something that would frequently be viewed as orthodox in general, this was a book I could still enjoy and appreciate.  There was substantial common ground about faith where I could stand in agreement with the author, and reading this book helped show me more about Chesterton as a man, and both of those are things to be appreciated.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: Orthodoxy

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