Matthew Lee Anderson and I are both fans of G. K. Chesterton. Since this is the case, we’d like to extend an invitation to you – our blog readers – to read and discuss with us his classic work Orthodoxy. You can download an ebook version for free (which includes Matthew’s new foreword to the book, as well as the first chapter of his book, The End of Our Exploring).

This will be our reading and discussion plan for the next seven weeks.

  • Today, Matthew and I will introduce Chesterton and Orthodoxy, along with why we think this book is well worth your time.
  • August 14: Discussion of “Introduction – In Defense of Everything Else”
  • August 21: Discussion of Chapters 2-3, “The Maniac” and “The Suicide of Thought”
  • August 28: Discussion of Chapters 4-5, “The Ethics of Elfland” and “The Flag of the World”
  • September 4: Discussion of Chapter 6, “The Paradoxes of Christianity”
  • September 11: Discussion of Chapters 7-8 “The Eternal Revolution” and “The Romance of Orthodoxy”
  • September 18: Discussion of Chapter 9 “Authority and the Adventurer” and concluding thoughts

Trevin: Orthodoxy is a Dense, but Jeweled Jungle

Orthodoxy was the first book I downloaded and read on my iPad three years ago. (I wonder what Chesterton would think about the iPad. Wouldn’t that have been a lovely essay?) That initial read-through was not easy.

I felt a little like I was stumbling through a dense jungle while finding diamonds and jewels all around me. The density of the thought pattern was mind-bending, yet there were so many gold nuggets to be found that I couldn’t turn back.

I’ve read Orthodoxy twice since then, as well as a number of other Chesterton works, including his novels, essays, and detective series. There’s a lot of Chesterton’s wit and wisdom in the character of “Gil” who grounds my first work of fiction - Clear Winter Nights.

The more I read Chesterton, the more I see the source of C. S. Lewis’ thought. Here is what Lewis had to say about Chesterton:

His humour was of the kind I like best – not “jokes” imbedded in the page like currants in a cake, still less (what I cannot endure), a general tone of flippancy and jocularity, but the humour which is not in any way separable from the argument but is rather (as Aristotle would say) the “bloom” on dialectic itself. The sword glitters not because the swordsman set out to make it glitter but because he is fighting for his life and therefore moving it very quickly. For the critics who think Chesterton frivolous or “paradoxical” I have to work hard to feel even pity; sympathy is out of the question.

There’s a sense in which, even if you’ve never read Chesterton directly, if you’ve read Lewis, you’ve encountered Chesterton anyway.

Matthew: A Story of How Truth Made a Man

What Trevin says is true: if you’ve read a lot of Lewis, then Chesterton will seem somewhat familiar. But that wasn’t why I gravitated to him, even though I had been imbibing my Lewis from a very young age. Instead, it was Chesterton’s unfamiliarity that gripped me and the sensible strangeness of the world he depicts.

Lewis’s prose is a model of clarity: Chesterton’s rollicks with an energetic gaiety that is dangerous to imitate for fear of simply sounding foolish. Lewis insisted that joy was the center of the universe: Chesterton did too, but his prose is saturated with it in a way that Lewis’s is not. Chesterton paints the world with colors that are too bright for our dim eyes to see, which is why his best work bears up so well under multiple re-readings.

I’ve been reading Chesterton for over a decade now, and while Orthodoxy is not his greatest book (that belongs to The Everlasting Man) it is his most important. We have little patience for sharp lines and divisions: Chesterton reveled in them, and draws them in detail here.

His book is personal without being promiscuous: it is an intellectual autobiography, one where the history of the author disappears altogether. It is a story not of how a man made himself, but how the truth made him. And so Orthodoxy manages to be a humble work, even while it reeks of confidence.

Next week, we will discuss Chesterton’s introduction: “In Defense of Everything Else.”

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Comments:


46 thoughts on “Why You Should Read G. K. Chesterton’s Orthodoxy With Us”

  1. brian says:

    Count me in. I think I have a copy on the bookshelf.

  2. Derrick says:

    I plan on joining in with enthusiasm.

  3. Ivan Mesa says:

    Great! Look forward to reading with you guys.

  4. Trevin Wax says:

    Glad you guys are joining us. Should be great fun!

  5. Ched says:

    Excellent!

    Reading Chesterton alongside such literary whizzbangs as yourselves will be a treat.

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Trust me. After you read Chesterton, no one else is a literary whizzbang. :)

  6. Trish says:

    I agree with Trevin’s “dense jungle” assessment and Matthew’s “sensible strangeness of the world.” We aren’t to that chapter yet, but what I think shows Chesterton’s humor and joy is this: “…I had heard that I was in the wrong place, and my soul sang for joy, like a bird in spring” (60). Count me in as well.

  7. Matt says:

    I can’t wait to do this with ya’ll! Thanks

  8. David Morse says:

    It would be even more awesome to do this via Google Hangout. :)

  9. I look forward to this!

  10. Shawn White says:

    A friend on Facebook just sent me this link. He knows I’m a HUGE Chesterton fan and this is one of my all-time favorite books. Sadly, I’ve only ever read this in isolation. It will be fun to read it in community. I’m looking forward to this – it’s better than Christmas.

  11. OK I am in, just ordered the ebook.

  12. EMSoliDeoGloria says:

    I’ve read it multiple times. Have fun – it is a great read and I highly recommend it.

  13. Ken Hood says:

    excited about joining the discussion

  14. Just read the introduction; never read Chesterton, but sounds fabulous. Count me in, too!

  15. Frank Gantz says:

    I recently picked up a nice copy at a thrift store. I also just finished the book I had been reading. Timing is perfect. I’m in.

  16. James Walter says:

    Having started my life in a time when there was no TV and only phones were land lines where we gave the operator the phone number or person’s name when we wanted to call someone I am thrilled at what we are doing here now — sharing with each other in a group through our desktops, laptops, iPads, and cell phones. Where I can order a book and it is downloaded to my iPad. The technology is not what thrills me (even though reflecting on the changes in is awesome). What thrills me is being able to share God and what people like Chesterton have to say about Him with others all over the world as people tune into opportunities like this one.

  17. Robert Gallagher says:

    This is unnerving coincidence. I have never read Chesterton but just received Orthodoxy in the mail today as a gift. I’m in! I’m also a little freaked out.

  18. Tristan says:

    It’s free on the kindle store. You can download it to your kindle, pc or smartphone. PC requires the kindle program. smartphone the kindle app. I’m sure they probably have an app for mac’s too but you’ll have to check for yourself.

  19. I found Orthodoxy to be quite helpful, but I just finished The Everlasting Man which I found a chore to read, and I feel bad about it, since C.S. Lewis had such praise for it. I recommend Belmonte’s Defiant Joy, both a bio and literary analysis of GKC.

    1. Trish says:

      I’ve scanned Everlasting Man. And I think “chore to read” about describes it. Don’t have time right now for another “chore,” but figure I need to read it eventually because of Lewis’ (and Matthew’s) recommendation.

  20. Gary Walker says:

    For those interested, there’s a free audio version on iTunes and elsewhere … It’s a podcast on iTunes. Search “orthodoxy audio” and you’ll get there.

  21. Sam Smith says:

    Wax and Anderson are two of my favorite guys on the web.You both offer great insights, helpful to the evangelical church as it sorts through what is of critical importance.

    C. S. Lewis and Chesterton were two of Chuck Colson’s most recommended authors, and I confess to not having ready the later. Thanks for the project, and I think I will take it up.

  22. Gabriel says:

    I’m very much looking forward to this. Silly question though, should we read the content before the discussion? Or is the discussion meant to introduce the chapters and then we read?

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Read first. Definitely!

      1. Gabriel says:

        Sounds good!

  23. Marianna says:

    My husband and I will be joining the group. As missionaries in Ukraine, we love connecting with like-minded folks studying online in English! Thanks!

  24. jason says:

    so when are we starting? and do i return to this thread??

    1. Trevin Wax says:

      Just kicked it off today. I blogged a new blog about it and linked to the post where the discussion will be.

  25. Chadley says:

    I’ve been trudging (albeit joyfully) through “Orthodoxy” for a number of months. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who thinks it a “jungle”–sometimes I need to read and re-read sentences, paragraphs, pages, or even whole chapters in order to “get it”. The toughest parts about the book, for me, are the long trains of thought and the vocabulary/cultural-allusions (e.g. “Hanwell” = asylum).
    Looking forward to reading it in community!

  26. TE says:

    I love the quote from Lewis; where does it come from?

    “His humour was of the kind I like best – not “jokes” imbedded in the page like currants in a cake, still less (what I cannot endure), a general tone of flippancy and jocularity, but the humour which is not in any way separable from the argument but is rather (as Aristotle would say) the “bloom” on dialectic itself. The sword glitters not because the swordsman set out to make it glitter but because he is fighting for his life and therefore moving it very quickly. For the critics who think Chesterton frivolous or “paradoxical” I have to work hard to feel even pity; sympathy is out of the question.

    1. Mike says:

      TE:

      I just came across this post and realize it’s a few months old, but if by any chance you read this, the answer to your question is that it is from Lewis’ Surprised by Joy, in the chapter “Guns and Good Company.”

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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