Book Review: The Lost World of Genesis One – By John H. Walton

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Letter TPerhaps there is no topic more widely and hotly debated in the past century of Christianity – and especially in the past few decades – is that of creation and evolution as it relates to Genesis.

The Lost World of Genesis One is one of John H. Walton‘s multiple contributions to this discussion. This is a work which according to Walton serves to be faithful to the original context and to not only preserve but enhance the theological vitality of the text.

Central to Walton’s approach to Genesis 1 is an understanding that while the text does communicate to us and was written for all of humankind, it is not directly written to us, but to Israel; there is a barrier of sorts separating 21st century Western American and European cultures from that of the ancient Israelites). Because of this it is not only the language that needs to be translated but also the culture. While the key to translating certain ancient languages might have been the Rosetta Stone, for Walton the key to translating this ancient culture is the literature from the rest of the ancient world (noting that there are bound to be both similarities and differences).

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FATQ: Is there any biblical justification for exploring space?

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Letter IIn recent news, Congress has passed a bill (S.3346) which is being hailed as “a solid commitment” towards the goal of having a manned mission to mars within the next 25 years. The bipartisan bill authorized a budget increase for NASA, taking their total budget up to “$19.5 billion.”

This raises the question in many minds: Is there any biblical justification in exploring space and more importantly, spending such large amounts of money to do so? It seems to be an important question, after-all, we don’t want to support something if it amounts to a violation of God’s law.

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Book Review: The Everlasting Man – By G.K. Chesterton

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Letter WWith such a well-beloved author as C.S. Lewis positing this book as one of the great contributors to his conversion to Christianity one can’t help but give into the curiosity to delve into the mind of Chesterton.

During the early Twentieth Century four of the biggest writers were H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Hilaire Belloc and G.K. Chesterton; the latter two often engaging in debates with the former. As was noted with Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy, it was written in a format parodying that of one of Wells’ essays.

In continuing the bout, The Everlasting Man is Chesterton’s answer to a book written by Wells entitled The Outline of History (which was possibly plagiarized anyway). Chesterton’s issue with Wells’ book was the minuscule role given to Christianity in the history of the world and thus he set out his own outline, that of The Everlasting Man (Hilaire Belloc’s book The Great Heresies similarly attempts to portray religion’s impact on history).

The book is divided into two parts: the first a discussion of man and the second a discussion of Christ and the church. Chesterton begins his text in a discussion of the anthropology of his time, specifically as it had begun to analyze primitive man [in relation to evolutionist theory]. This discussion is amusing and insightful; the ideas concerning the gulf between man and the animals, and his refutations concerning evolution, are quite good. One such quip involves art, stating: “A monkey does not draw clumsily and a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.”

Following this discussion of science and anthropology Chesterton takes a step backwards, to discussing the mythology and philosophy of the pagans, how they grew into their golden age, became all that man could be on it’s own, and yet the never combined into a universal system. These two quotations serve well to sum up the section: “Simple secularists still talk as if the Church had introduced a sort of schism between reason and religion. The truth is that the Church was actually the first thing that ever tried to combine reason and religion… Polytheism, or that aspect of paganism, was never to the pagan what Catholicism is to the Catholic. It was never a view of the universe satisfying all sides of life; a complete and complex truth with something to say about everything.”

By the time he gets to the second section of his book the central theme has emerged, a theme standing in great contrast to the of Wells, the theme of history being centered around Christianity. Calvary was the crux of history, producing something completely unique to itself, something incomparable to everything that was or came afterward.

Again I’ll offer two quotations which convey well the ideas presented: “To compare the Christian and Confucian religions is like comparing a theist with an English squire or asking whether a man is a believer in immortality or a hundred-per-cent American. Confucianism may be a civilization but it is not a religion… In truth the Church is too unique to prove herself unique. For most popular and easy proof is by parallel and here there is no parallel… Nobody understands the nature of the Church, or the ringing note of the creed descending from antiquity, who does not realize that the whole world once very nearly died of broad-mindedness and the brotherhood of all religions.”

Christianity is a thing unique amongst itself which served to bring life to a mankind which had exhausted it’s own resources, the pinnacle of which is placed in the high mythology and philosophy of Greece and Rome. The church has faced many trials and even died, but as Chesterton notes it has as its head a figure who knows the way out of the grave.

While this is a fairly short read I don’t recommend it as a first step into reading Chesterton, for that I’d recommend Orthodoxy or one of his novels (such as The Man Who Was Thursday). Still, The Everlasting Man is a brilliantly written text which will serve to challenge any readers perception of history, specifically the place of Christ in it.

Memorable Quotes:

[As with Orthodoxy this book is filled to the brim with memorable quotes, here are a few of my favorites…]

-“If man cannot pray he is gagged; if he cannot kneel be is in irons.”

-“When the world goes wrong, it proves rather that the Church is right. The Church is justified, not because her children do not sin, but because they do.”

-“In other words, whatever else is true it is not true that the controversy has been altered by time. Whatever else is true, it is emphatically not true that the ideas of Jesus of Nazareth were suitable to his time, but are no longer suitable to our time. Exactly how suitable they were to his time is perhaps suggested in the end of his story.”

-“Now that purity was preserved by dogmatic definitions and exclusions. It could not possibly have been preserved by anything else…. If the Church had not insisted on theology, it would have melted into a mad mythology of the mystics, yet further removed from reason or even from rationalism; and, above all, yet further removed from life and from the love of life.”

-“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.”

Specific Criticisms

I don’t have many criticisms of this book. One, as I noted above, is that it’s not the most accessible of his writings and therefore I wouldn’t recommend it as a first book to read by him. That’s not to say that it’s difficult reading, simply that it’s much easier reading once you’re used to his style.

Another minor criticism is the way in which the author casually references philosophers, classic authors and his own contemporaries, as if the reader should simply be aware of all these individuals and their ideas. One can generally get the idea of the text without being familiar with them but it still causes the writing to be more dense and less accessible to audiences not living during Chesterton’s time.

Lastly, I’m not sure what’s up with the landscape on the cover pictured above, it looks more suitable to one of Tolkien’s books than this one, but I digress…

Chesterton’s Apologetic & The World Today

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G.K. Chesterton – despite his great girth – is somehow often overlooked in contemporary discussion. Yet if you should take up most any book of his and read you will find that he is still a wonderful treasure trove of insight into the world.

Chesterton was a massive influence on Christianity during the early 20th century, at least within the context of England. He was his generation’s version of C.S. Lewis, with an extra serving of wit. This made him the chief candidate for being the popular defender of Christianity during his day, and his method of defending the faith is one that we would do well to learn from today. But before we can learn from Chesterton’s methods, we must first determine what those methods were.

In undertaking this task it is helpful to first look at what types of strategies are out there, there are at least five different approaches:

  1. the Classical Method, which includes using natural theology and pure reason to establish theism, that is, a belief in God or gods
  2. the Evidential Method, which uses miracles, the historicity of Jesus, etc. to argue its case
  3. the Cumulative Case Method, which says Christianity makes the best sense of the data
  4. the Presuppositional Method, which argues that only through God can one make sense of the world and have a basis for reason and ethics, and also that the opponent’s views all end in absurdity
  5. the Reformed Epistemology Method, which tends towards fideism (that is, a stance which “refuses to offer any arguments or evidence for Christian claims”) and is mostly defensive rather than offering any real argument.

With this cursory survey given we can look at where Chesterton’s arguments fall in this schema.

Chesterton’s book Orthodoxy is perhaps his most iconic work in defense of the faith, and it is therefore ideal for discerning his method. As one reads Orthodoxy the feeling is given that Chesterton’s apologetic is one of common sense, with his chief enemy being skepticism. First Chesterton argues positively for certain evidences which may be found within Christianity, including what he calls guessing ‘illogical truths’ – truths that would be thought illogical if not for their being true – or that the division between man and animal is in need of an explanation. The view that evolution fails to account for the vast differences between man and animal can also be seen in his book The Everlasting Man, where he argues that:

A monkey does not draw clumsily and a man cleverly; a monkey does not begin the art of representation and a man carry it to perfection. A monkey does not do it at all; he does not begin to do it at all; he does not begin to begin to do it at all. A line of some kind is crossed before the first faint line can begin.

Both of these show signs of a sort of evidentialist method, where the argument is made by looking at the outside world and asking for explanations of what is seen.

But more than just presenting arguments for Christianity, Chesterton also offers many arguments against the opponents of Christianity. The opponents he primarily tackles include skepticism, materialism, and pantheism; skepticism being the view that human knowledge is impossible in some field or another, materialism the view that the material world is all that there is, and pantheism the view that everything that exists is part of God. His primary argument against these opposing views is that they result in a ‘suicide of thought’, which is  the name of the chapter in which he states “There is a thought that stops thought. That is the only thought that ought to be stopped.”

Through this method – similar to reductio ad absurdum – Chesterton greatly imitates the method of presuppositionalism, yet in this he has a similarity to the cumulative case method as well; on the one hand arguing that the opposing views end in absurdity, and on the other that it is only Christianity that makes sufficient sense of the data.

G.K. Chesterton employs a variety of apologetical methods in order to argue his case for Christianity. Yet apart from just looking at the arguments that he presents, we can also look at how he views the relationship between faith and reason.

This relationship forms a pivotal part of any apologetic method, for it is this relationship which determines whether the arguments presented will have any practical effect on the nonbeliever.

In looking for his view on this matter it is perhaps best to look once again back to Orthodoxy, in which he provides his arguments for Christianity and against its critics. Chesterton may be found stating here that “It is idle to talk always of the alternative of reason and faith. Reason is itself a matter of faith.” It might thus be concluded that Chesterton places faith above reason, for reason itself falls under the purview of faith.

The relationship between faith and reason is further expounded in Chesterton’s biography of St. Thomas Aquinas, in which he condones Aquinas’ view where he “was willing to allow the one truth to be approached by two paths, precisely because he was sure there was only one truth.”

The point here is that for Chesterton faith and reason are two methods for arriving at the one truth. Chesterton therefore has no outright contention with science or reason (such as the proofs of Thomas Aquinas) because he is sure that if reason arrives at any truth that truth could not contradict the truth of Christianity.

This not only demonstrates Chesterton’s view of the relationship between faith and reason, but it also shows his endorsement of the classical method of apologetics through his approval of Aquinas, who formulated most of the classical proofs. Thus, it may be said that Chesterton pulls his argumentation from all of the apologetical methods combined – classical, evidentialist and presuppositional –  rather than simply relying upon one or the other.

Chesterton’s was of course greatly defined by his era, by the onset of modern liberalism – that is, the movement to make Christianity compatible with science – as well as the fact that presuppositionalism was just coming into play during his time period. Modern liberalism was just starting to take hold during Chesterton’s time, hence the attacks against it in texts such as Machen’s Christianity & Liberalism as well as Hilaire Belloc’s The Great Heresies.

This period also saw the development of a new type of apologetic, that of Van Til’s presuppositionalism. Presuppositionalism is best known for its attack on the epistemology of the opponent, a strategy not seen before the dawn of the Twentieth Century, and therefore we may assume that Chesterton was also influenced by this trend.

Perhaps one of the greatest insights to be drawn from Chesterton is that one is not limited to any one view of apologetics, indeed, he drew from just about all of them.

Furthermore, many of the same heresies that Chesterton fought against are still prevalent. We can still see skepticism in the world today, as well as materialism, as well as pantheism. It is by analyzing how our ancestors battled untruth that we can better understand how to do it ourselves. The truth never changes, therefore it may still be truly said that “there is nothing new under the sun.”


 

[Originally posted on Chestertonian.com]