torstai 21. tammikuuta 2016

The Everlasting Man by G. K. Chesterton

The Everlasting Man is a Christian apologetics book written by G. K. Chesterton.

In The Everlasting Man G. K. Chesterton proclaimed anew to the doubters of the age that the key to history had arrived nearly two thousand years before.

It was published in 1925. And it is, to some extent, a deliberate rebuttal of H. G. Wells' The Outline of History.

In his book Chesterton disputes Wells' portrayals of human life and civilization as a seamless development from animal life and of Jesus Christ as merely another charismatic figure. 

Chesterton detailed his own spiritual journey in Orthodoxy, but in this book he tries to illustrate the spiritual journey of humanity, or at least of Western civilization.

Of all of Chesterton’s literary monuments, this is perhaps his greatest, for he eloquently and concisely packs the whole human story between the covers of one book. He begins by pointing out that the main problem with the critics of the Church is that they are too close to it to see it properly. They cannot see the big picture, only the small picture that directly affects them. With their sulks and their perversity and their petty criticism they are merely reacting to the Church. What they need to do is back up. And that’s what Chesterton has the reader do in this book.

Chesterton's thesis is that if man is really and dispassionately viewed simply as another animal, one is forced to the conclusion that he is a bizarrely unusual animal.  

Part I of the book  'On the Creature Called Man' 

Chesterton says that when we study history, the curtain rises on a play already in progress. He argues that it was religion that advanced civilization. It was religion that dealt with the meanings of things, with the development and interpretation of symbols, which advanced communication and knowledge, or what we call the arts and the sciences.

In his telling, the groaning and travail of the ancient world was answered, precisely and definitely, in the still night of Bethlehem and the Birth of our Lord.

Chesterton insists the event be seen with fresh eyes: God as Child - a claim no other religion dares to make.

He also argues that if Jesus is really viewed as simply another human leader and Christianity and the Church are simply another human religion, one is forced to the conclusion that he was a bizarrely unusual leader, whose followers founded a bizarrely and miraculously unusual religion and Church.

"I do not believe that the past is most truly pictured as a thing in which humanity merely fades away into nature, or civilization merely fades away into barbarism, or religion fades away into mythology, or our own religion fades away into the religions of the world. In short I do not believe that the best way to produce an outline of history is to rub out the lines."
If we study any civilization, we see that after progress, comes decay. Chesterton says men do not grow tired of evil, but of good. They become weary of joy. They stop worshipping God and start worshipping idols, their own bad imitations of God, and they become as wooden as the thing they worship.

Part II 'On the Man Called Christ'

The Everlasting Man is the tale of a unique creature, man, made in the image of God. And of the God-Made-Man who fully reveals this fact to him.

Something marvelous happens in history. According to Chesterton the path that leads to man's true home begins with the Nativity and ends with the Resurretion, and in between is contained all life and all holiness.

Bethlehem, says Chesterton, is emphatically a place where extremes meet. It is where heaven meets earth. God comes to make a home in the world and finds himself homeless.

Chesterton says that if we approach the Gospel objectively we will see that it is not a book of platitudes. It paints a picture of a man who was indeed a wonder-worker, but who spoke in riddles and rebukes. His teachings were as difficult to accept in his own time as they are today. None of the critics of Christianity seem to appreciate the fact that Christ’s teachings were not dependent on the social order in which he lived but transcended their time altogether.

The central dogma of the Christian faith is that God died, that, in Chesterton’s phrase, God was for one instant for one instant forsaken of God, that God sacrificed himself to himself, is more mysterious than anything, even the mystery of creation itself. And those who object to this dogma do so not because the dogma is bad, but because it’s too good to be true. The gospel does not end with God’s death; it ends with the most startling episode of all. An empty grave. And God again walking in a garden, as on the first day of creation.

C. S. Lewis and The Everlasting Man

C. S. Lewis credited The Everlasting Man with "baptising" his intellect, so as to make him more than half-converted well before he could bring himself to embrace Christianity. After reading the book he observed that a young man who is serious about his atheism cannot be too careful about what he reads.

In a 1950 letter to Sheldon Vanauken, Lewis calls the book "the best popular apologetic I know," and in 1947 he wrote to Rhonda Bodle :"the [very] best popular defence of the full Christian position I know is G. K. Chesterton's The Everlasting Man."

The book was also cited by The Christian Century in a list of 10 books that "most shaped [Lewis'] vocational attitude and philosophy of life".

Lewis fell in love with the literary works of G.K. Chesterton. For me the languege was difficult from time to time. And Chesterton has a way of taking the long road to get to the point that can be frustrating from time to time. But I have no doubt that many others will be affected by him when they experience his way with words.

6 kommenttia:

  1. I'm your neighbor at Unite. This sounds like an amazing read. You are the second person in the last two days to write about his books. I'll have to look them up.

    1. It is an amazing book and definitely a classic. Also a great way to see C. S. Lewis' writing in diffent light. And the origins of many of his thoughts.
      But it was also a hard read because he knows so much and just assumes that you do too.

  2. Joanna,

    Thank you so much for sharing this review and all the great quotes. Truly encouraging. Blessings to you :-)

    1. Thank you, Dolly! Hope you will try and read the book, it's a true classic.

  3. I am one of those really lame people who jots down Chesterton quotes because they are so profound but has never actually read a Chesterton book! This one, like his others, sounds wonderful! Also, I love the graphics you make for your posts! Thanks so much for sharing this at Booknificent Thursday!

    1. I'm so glad that you enjoyed the post, Tina. The book is a tough read from time to time. There is just so much information Chesterton assumes you know beforehand that it made my head spin from time to time. On the other hand, I loved to see how the book related to C. S. Lewis's Mere Christianity.