To read Kevin Belmonte’s recent book Defiant Joy: The Remarkable Life & Impact of G.K. Chesterton is to feel a powerful sense of longing.
Chesterton, as many of you may know, was the 20th-century writer of Orthodoxy, The Everlasting Man, the Father Brown mysteries, and other important works. His stalwart faith influenced great numbers of people in his own time and afterwards, including C.S. Lewis and Dorothy Sayers.
Chesterton’s time, in the early part of the century, was in many ways as religiously and politically polarized as our own. Yet Chesterton transcended the rhetoric and the propaganda with his genial good nature and wonderful sense of humor. He fought hard for his beliefs and principles; seldom has there been a Christian who defended the faith more valiantly.
But very seldom has there been one who did it with such wit, wisdom and grace.
Chesterton made friends of his opponents as few have done before or since. His friendship with the atheist writer George Bernard Shaw was as legendary as their many public battles over matters of faith. After Chesterton’s death, Shaw wrote a kind and generous letter to his widow, closing with an allusion to The Pilgrim’s Progress: “The trumpets are sounding for him.”
Belmonte points out, “Shaw did not share Chesterton’s hope of heaven, but something of that hope had found a place in his memory. And this says much about how faith, wedded to a great heart, can be winsome and compelling — despite great differences in how people look at the world.”
I said earlier that reading Kevin Belmonte’s book about Chesterton will fill you with longing. I said it because there is such a longing, a great need for advocates like Chesterton in our day.
We’re constantly engaged in battle over our most cherished beliefs and institutions, all of which are under attack, and we must fight to preserve them. But we’ve forgotten some of our most powerful weapons, the ones that Chesterton wielded so well. We’ve forgotten that faith must be “winsome and compelling” if it’s going to make a difference in the world.
We get caught up in shouting matches and forget that Christians are supposed to win battles not by driving our enemies away with our fierceness, but by drawing them in through our Christlike love.
But G.K. Chesterton never forgot that. Belmonte quotes Philip Yancey, who wrote: “We could use another Chesterton today. ... When society becomes polarized, as ours has, it is as if the two sides stand across a great divide and shout at each other. Chesterton had another approach: He walked to the center of a swinging bridge, roared a challenge to any single combat warrior, and then made both sides laugh aloud.”
Yes, we certainly could use another Chesterton. But let’s be grateful we still have the works of that great man to study and learn from — many of which, including Orthodoxy and Everlasting Man, two of my all-time favorites, you can find in our online bookstore at BreakPoint.org.
And we also have for you have Belmonte’s vibrant new biography — a wonderful reminder of the magnificent example Chesterton has set for us.
Chuck Colson's daily BreakPoint commentary airs each weekday on more than one thousand outlets with an estimated listening audience of one million people. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media and print.
Publication date: January 26, 2012