Dr. George Grant recently posted the following story on his blog. On the off-chance you don’t visit his blog and read it directly, I’ll repost it here, but I encourage you to subscribe to his blog at your next convenience.

My friend James Sauer writes, “I’ve got a problem with Chesterton. The problem is that I think he is a wonderful, wise, witty, and pious man; after reading his works, I never leave the page without feeling edified.”

So, “Why is that a problem?” you just might ask.

“Perhaps, the problem, if it is a problem,” Sauer responds, “isn’t in Chesterton, but in me.” You see, he explains, “I am a Protestant; but not just any Protestant. I am an American Evangelical Protestant. But there’s more. I am a Conservative, Capitalistic, Bible-thumping American Evangelical Protestant. And hold on to your seats folks, just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse; I must confess, I am also a Calvinist. We all have our crosses to bear.”

OK. So far, so good. But then, Sauer gets to the sticky part, “Anyone who is familiar with the writings of Chesterton will see the great irony in my situation. I can only ask you not to blame me for this state of affairs, I didn’t choose to be elected; it was irresistible grace. I was predestined for Presbyterianism. But since I have received this unmerited favor of God, I might as well enjoy it. I can only thank my Sovereign Maker for His predestination. Not only did He choose me to be among his chosen people, but He also destined me to be among that other elect who have had the privilege of meeting through literature the great mind and good heart of Gilbert Keith Chesterton.”

I could not agree more. That is why I have been reading–and collecting–the works of G.K. Chesterton for more than 20 years now. I have a whole section of my home library exclusively devoted to Chesterton and his close friend, Hilaire Belloc–and this despite the fact that like Jim Sauer, I am an American Evangelical Calvinist!

I liberally salt virtually every lecture, every sermon, and every book I have produced with Chesterton quotes. So, it probably should come as no surprise that my students have caught the Chesterton bug as well. That fact is evidenced by the latest King’s Meadow Newsletter. There are a host of great articles, appreciations, and reviews by my several of my students and former students including Ray Ware, Dave Raymond, Courtney Cahoon, and Wes Jackson. I couldn’t be more proud!

I liked what Dr. Grant wrote and forwarded it to several friends. One of my friends, whom I would label a “devout Roman Catholic” (respectfully so) responded with this comment and excerpt from Chesterton himself.

It is no doubt a trying thing to like Chesterton as a Calvinist. While most of this a Calvinist can agree with, I think Chesterton’s dislike of both the spirit and letter of Calvinism come out here in the third paragraph down. [excerpt from the Everlasting Man]

“There are people who say they wish Christianity to remain as a spirit. They mean, very literally, that they wish it to remain as a ghost. But it is not going to remain as a ghost. What follows this process of apparent death is not the lingering of the shade; it is the resurrection of the body. These people are quite prepared to shed pious and reverential tears over the Sepulchre of the Son of Man; what they are not prepared for is the Son of God walking once more upon the hills of morning. These people, and indeed most people, were indeed by this time quite accustomed to the idea that the old Christian candle-light would fade into the light of common day. To many of them it did quite
honestly appear like that pale yellow flame of a candle when it is left burning in daylight. It was all the more unexpected, and therefore all the more unmistakable, that the sevenbranched candle-stick suddenly towered to heaven like a miraculous tree and flamed until the sun turned pale.

“But other ages have seen the day conquer the candle-light and then the candle-light conquer the day. Again and again, before our time, men have grown content with a diluted doctrine. And again and again there has followed on that dilution, coming as out of the darkness in a crimson cataract, the strength of the red original wine. And we only say once more to-day as has been said many times by our fathers: `Long years and centuries ago our fathers or the founders of our people drank, as they dreamed, of the blood of God. Long years and centuries have passed since the strength of that giant vintage has been anything but a legend of the age of giants.

“Centuries ago already is the dark time of the second fermentation, when the wine of Catholicism turned into the vinegar of Calvinism. Long since that bitter drink has been itself diluted; rinsed out and washed away by the waters of oblivion and the wave of the world. Never did we think to taste again even that bitter tang of sincerity and the spirit, still less the richer and the sweeter strength of the purple vineyards in our dreams of the age of gold. Day by day and year by year we have lowered our hopes and lessened our convictions; we have grown more and more used to seeing those vats and vineyards overwhelmed in the water-floods and the last savour and suggestion of that special element fading like a stain of purple upon a sea of grey. We have grown used to dilution, to dissolution, to a watering down and went on forever. But Thou hast kept the good wine until now.’

“`Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.’ … Feudalism itself was torn to rags and rotted away in the popular life of the true Middle Ages; and the first and freshest power in that new freedom was the old religion. Feudalism had passed away, and the words did not pass away. The whole medieval order, in many ways so complete and almost cosmic a home for man, wore out gradually in its turn: and here at least it was thought that the words would die. They went forth across the radiant abyss of the Renaissance and in fifty years were using all its light and learning for new religious foundations, new apologetics, new saints. It was supposed to have been withered up at last in the dry light of the Age of Reason; it was supposed to have disappeared ultimately in the earthquake of the Age of Revolution. Science explained it away; and it was still there. History disinterred it in the past; and it appeared suddenly in the future. To-day it stands once more in our path; and even as we watch it, it grows.

“…[One day men] will watch for it to stumble; they will watch for it to err; they will no longer watch for it to end. Insensibly, even unconsciously, they will in their own silent anticipations fulfil the relative terms of that astounding prophecy; they will forget to watch for the mere extinction of what has so often been vainly extinguished; and will learn instinctively to look first for the coming of the comet or the freezing of the star.

In response, and in some attempt to unite our two views, I wrote the following. What do you think? Was I off base? I was trying to elevate the debate to a slightly different level, but I’m not sure I succeeded.

Interesting. I think I see why, as a labeled Calvinist, I’m supposed to be at odds with this type of writing - but I’m really not too much. In fact, I could probably be labeled as somewhat non-caring about the whole matter contained herein - in so far as it relates to wine, but not inclusive of his comments about the Word.

And regardless, his comments here express his legitimate thoughts on the matter and are more insightful than a handful of repudiating documents from protestant “forces”, the Westminster Confession excepted.

Besides, isn’t it highly interesting and thought-provoking to read such stuff? Not too many so-called scholars of today can turn my head in such a fashion, embarking instead on frequent skewering of their opponents through massive “evidence, trial, and conviction” type of writings (i.e. the type that Calvin did).

But as you might recall, Calvin’s greatest enemy really wasn’t the Catholic church, but the superstitious, lazy, protestant, unthinking mindset - despite his howls over papal authority, which oddly the Catholic Church itself seems to have capitulated in recent times, giving up that fight of their own accord (and I don’t argue here that whether or not there is merit to abandoning that fleeting doctrine, just the fact that they are the ones who abandoned it under no pressure from Calvinists or any other such crowds, edicts against Castro notwithstanding, since every other “head of state” has done the same).

In fact, Calvin’s only so-called involvement in another man being burned at the stake, arguably his worst moment, but also indicative of his truest passion, was an act endorsed by both his followers and the Catholic church at the time.

Most of Calvin’s writings were against Ana-Baptists and against Jacob Arminius, not against Catholics. Of course, he didn’t hesitate to call a spade a spade, either. And the Catholic Church has been miffed ever since. They don’t like to be called a spade and would prefer that nasty period of time in which they behaved in an unChristian manner to be something other than what it is. Thus, they anathemize Calvin, Luther, and others who, far from being perfect or having all the answers, were just bold enough to stick their neck out a little.

And so, fast-forwarding to Chesterton, we have a man who is a wonderful thinker, gifted writer, and although not quite a theologian, certainly preferable reading to one. And he kind of doesn’t like the waft of Calvinism for his own sentimental reasons, but also most likely because he contributes it here (wrongly, I think) to the vast corruption in the church, and predicts its wane. I can’t help but think it has already happened. Except in small sundry circles, Calvinism has all-but died. The strict adherence to Calvinism, or hyper-Calvinism, is certainly not a saving grace of the church, or even a significant portion of Christ’s doctrine, but more of a reflection on the excesses of error in the past - be it errors by Arminius, Ana-Baptists, or Roman Catholics.

So, we live in that sunset now, where we have forgotten all the errors and thus, there is no need for those who pointed out those errors in their attempts to help all of us think harder - a little bit harder than we might otherwise be inclined to - and we slowly remove them, their books, and their thinking from our hearts and minds, and go forward with the world, in cadence, dragging Christ’s bride back out of the wedding ceremony, kicking and screaming, out into the darkness with us. And then we call it “good”, happy with our ecumenical spirit, but keeping entrenched in all our divisive ways - and we split the bride of Christ in 1000 different directions.

So, I only have to summarize with one simple matter. Would it not be to the deep and lasting benefit of every man and woman who calls themselves by Christ’s Holy Name to read the writings of not only the church fathers and the saints, but also those lowly protesters who strived against their perception of wickedness and fought for purity (seeing them, of course, as men and not gospel) - such men as Calvin, Luther, Erasmus, Arminius, Wycliffe, Tyndale, Henry, etc.

Would it not benefit us all to read those men, and to read their modern-day equivalents, and then the musings of educated men, like Chesterton, who no doubt had read a great deal of these men and much more?

I can only envision that even if ten percent of the world’s Christians were to do so (instead of the more likely percentage of .00001%), that our present church, and its victorious mission, would be escorted, rather gently, and with grace and beauty, back into the wedding ceremony, all of us the more wiser, more tolerant, more understanding, and more comprehensively aware of God’s mighty plan and our roles in it. Unlike a rebellious few, the reading of Calvin (or Chesterton) is not equal to the reading of Anton LaVey; the reading of our church history, all of it, is relevant and helpful. In that, I hardly think Chesterton and I would disagree.

Oddly, the next day, I read Scott Brown’s coverage of Hope Baptist’s Five Year Equipping Plan. The plan starts off with the following vision:

Imagine that during the next five years, your ten year old will have memorized five complete books of the Bible; can quote scripture to explain important theological principles on the sovereignty of God, Scripture, sin, etc; has read five important biographies of Christian leaders, pastors and missionaries; and has understood some of the major books written on critical areas of the Christian life.

Wow. Kind of goes to what I was saying and sure makes you feel inadequate as a father or a leader. They sprinkle a little John Owen into their mix, but I think, depending on the age of the participant, M. Henry would be a fine substitute (or addition) along with Calvin, et. al. I don’t think divisive withholding of, for instance, Jerome, simply because you are supposed to be Protestant, does the church or the individual much good. Read it all. Am I wrong here?

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