A Different Type of Shepherd

Those who know me only know me a short while before I recommend Gk. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy. I am not sure I would not be a Christian today had I never found Orthodoxy. We often think that discipleship as a type of mentorship program, wherein the more mature person advices and help the less mature person to grow. But words are the means to meaning and meaning is what discipleship brings. I am more and more convinced that discipleship does not need to occur between two living people. One is never dead as long as their words survive, and so we can all be discipled by those great Christians whose words have shaped culture and brought Christ into the hearts of countless generations.

Orthodoxy is Gk Chesterton’s account of his journey from secularism to Christianity. It reminds me of a doctoral student explaining his dissertation to someone who is not an expert. For brevity the student will skip vast amount of details to give the main overview. To the uninitiated or poorly informed this is always quite jarring. At the end you find yourself in agreement, but barely understand what happened. Most of the arguments in Orthodoxy are the same way. He speeds though arguments, making tangents that don’t make any sense until his vision is complete. Anything even remotely in his style would be met with only the most puzzled of looks and side comments about how it wasn’t about Jesus. The whole effect is dizzying.

Chesterton’s view of the world, his vision that seems ancient in scope, transmodern in approach shines through the pages like sun into a dark room. Too much of modern Christianity today is compartmentalized into trite slogans that at best offer nothing and at worst demeans Christ. Rationalism and science seem to point away from Christianity, but we find Chesterton taking the view that rationalism and science have inaccurately become unquestionable, yet have extended beyond what they can accomplish. They are false idols and page after page he makes the point that if rationalism is what you want; suicide is what you will have. This was in stark contrast to what I had been taught. Romanticism taught me there was more, but not where it might be found. The church told me that it was best not think about such things and just have more faith. Chesterton taught me to think about such things and see that they are not what they seem to be.

Chesterton taught me that following Jesus is more than acting a certain way; it’s more than believing certain things; it is even more than loving certain things. Christianity is about seeing things a certain way. It is about seeing the world the way God sees the world, not as something to be marched against but as something to be a steward of. Perhaps God wants us to delight in Him, as he delights in his creation. God used Chesterton in a way that made me realize the Joy of God. He taught me that we must love the world without being worldly. “The point is not that this world is too sad to love or too glad not to love; the point is that when you do love a thing, its gladness is a reason for loving it, and its sadness a reason for loving it more…Man is more himself, more manlike, when joy is the fundamental thing and grief superficial.” Perhaps that’s why I can’t take these UBF people seriously when they reduce the gospel into a straight command to make disciples. I have learned too much, seen too much to be tricked by such an illusion. For one who has found a well spring of water can stop trying to squeeze moisture from his sweaty clothes. Chesterton never did a one of one bible study with me, but he has taught me more about God than anyone ever has. He has shown me Christ more clearly than any one to one bible study ever could.

“No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it? In this combination, I maintain, it is the rational optimist who fails, the irrational optimist who succeeds. He is ready to smash the whole universe for the sake of itself.”

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  1. Joe Schafer

    Great article.

    “I am more and more convinced that discipleship does not need to occur between two living people – See more at: http://www.ubfriends.org/2015/09/28/a-different-type-of-shepherd/#sthash.pC0Okngj.dpuf

    The first Christians had a term for this. It was so important to them that it was included in the Apostles’ Creed: “the communion of saints.”

  2. Joe Schafer

    For those who may not know Chesterton: He was a Roman Catholic scholar whose work and influence were instrumental in the conversion of C.S. Lewis.

    About 35 years ago, Chesterton’s book The Everlasting Man had a great impact on me, and it has stayed with me ever since.

  3. “We find Chesterton taking the view that rationalism and science have inaccurately become unquestionable, yet have extended beyond what they can accomplish. . . Romanticism taught me there was more, but not where it might be found.”

    Orthodoxy is sitting on my book shelf waiting to be read, as is the copy of Augustine’s Confessions, that I stole from you. Anyways, it is so fascinating for me to learn the specific books that convert people to Christianity. For you it’s Chesterton. For one of my friend’s it was Kierkegaard’s “Training in Christianity.” For others it was C.S. Lewis or Tim Keller or John Piper. Or it might have been a camping trip in Canada, like it was for my mom. Or it was a certain person, like a roommate. Or it might have been a word picture or a vision. It’s so interesting how everyone’s journey to Christ and journey of discipleship is so unique. But I agree with Chesterton that rationalism and science should not become unquestionable; they cannot be. I love how C.S. Lewis words it:

    “Science works by experiments. It watches how things behave. Every scientific statement in the long run, however complicated it looks, really means something like, ‘I pointed the telescope to such and such a part of the sky at 2:20 a.m. on January 15th and saw so-and-so,’ or, ‘I put some of this stuff in a pot and heated it to such-and-such a temperature and it did so-and-so.’ Do not think I am saying anything against science: I am only saying what its job is.

    And the more scientific a man is, the more (I believe) he would agree with me that this is the job of science–and a very useful and necessary job it is too. But why anything comes to be there at all, and whether there is anything behind the things science observes–something of a different kind–this is not a scientific question. If there is ‘Something Behind,’ then either it will have to remain altogether unknown to men or else make itself known in some different way. The statement that there is any such thing, and the statement that there is no such thing, are neither of them statements that science can make. And real scientists do not usually make them. It is usually the journalists and popular novelists who have picked up a few odds and ends of half-baked science from textbooks who go in for them. After all, it is really a matter of common sense. Supposing science ever became complete so that it knew every single thing in the whole universe. Is it not plain that the questions, ‘Why is there a universe?’ ‘Why does it go on as it does?’ ‘Has it any meaning?’ would remain just as they were?”