The Everlasting Man, by G. K. Chesterton

February 2, 2011 at 16:58 (Book Reviews, Highly Rated Books, Philosophy, Theology) (, , , )

7/10

The difficulty with The Everlasting Man is the same twofold difficulty with most of Chesterton’s apologetics. It is explicitly directed against certain of his peers, and he is much more the apologeticist than the theologian. There are moments of unexpected beauty and startling insights into the deity of Christ, but though they be manifold, they are yet far between. There are moments of unbelievable clarity of doctrine, but they are outnumbered by polemics against what good doctrine is not. Above all, this book is aimed principally at intellectuals. There are many arguments that the man on the street might not understand: or, far more likely, would understand and consider trivial.

This book is an invaluable companion to HG Wells’ The History of the World, which Chesterton references exhaustively, now railing against Wells’ idiocy and a priori nonsense, and denouncing him as a bogus historian, and a propagandist for the sort of blithe militant atheism that he despised; now admiring his intellect and respecting his methods so much as to make his book out in the exact same style and with identical but opposing goals. For a reader unfamiliar with Chesterton’s contemporaries (and especially with Wells) this will become an instantly trying and constant irritant, like hearing only the one half of an icy (yet still mostly cordial) dinner conversation; but it is not imperative to have this context in which to place this book.

If the hope in reading The Everlasting Man is to find a staunch christology, written in Chesterton’s own inimitable style and humour, that hope might be misplaced. The latter is readily found, but a coherent christology is to be found only after careful consideration, and then only in the second volume, “On the Man Christ”. Here the book must be judged as a product of its time and by its stated intentions. Modern sceptics will find little in this book that is damning to their beliefs: only an overpowering old believer ready for a good scrap. The Christian (or indeed any reader interested in Chesterton’s worldview) will find much that is interesting and even vital, even if this book will not have the life-changing message of a Lewis or a Wright.

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