Let Trevin Wax Guide You Through Chesterton’s ‘Orthodoxy’

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Where to start when considering Gilbert Keith Chesterton?

I find it difficult to describe him, beyond the general description of “writer”. He has written works of philosophy, apologetics, history, art and literary criticism, poetry, travelogues, novels, plays, detective stories and thousands of essays. In total, more than 15 million words during his lifetime. Where to start?

With Orthodoxy, of cours. It’s the best entry point into Chesterton’s work, especially if you’re most interested in Chesterton’s role as an apologist for the Christian faith. And today, I’m thrilled to announce the details of a beautifully crafted new edition of this classic book that incorporates my annotations, guided reading tips, and chapter summaries.

How? ‘Or’ What Orthodoxy came about

GK Chesterton’s parents were nominally religious, baptizing Chesterton as Anglican despite holding Unitarian beliefs. Once Chesterton emerged from a period of pessimism in the late 1890s, his philosophy of life became increasingly visible in his writings. In the early 1900s he took part in a long debate on religion with Robert Blatchford of the bugle. The debate has focused primarily on theism versus determinism; he did not delve into the details of Christian belief.

In 1905, Heretics was published – a book in which Chesterton interacted with many leading thinkers of his day. Heretics caused a stir, and one of the book’s reviewers issued a challenge: the writer claimed that he would only consider his own philosophy of life if Chesterton was willing to divulge his. Chesterton had criticized contemporary philosophies, but he had not yet done the work of revealing his own. Orthodoxy was the resulting book, in 1908, when Chesterton was only 34 years old. It has never been exhausted.

I can help you read Orthodoxy

Orthodoxy is not an easy book. One of the reasons this can be difficult is the historical and temporal distance that separates us from Chesterton. Unlike his first readers, we don’t know most of the people and places he mentions. But the main reason why Orthodoxy Perhaps a challenge is that you are reading “one of the most profound thinkers that ever lived”, according to Etienne Gilson, the famous Thomist scholar. Orthodoxy is a workout for the mind. You will leave feeling exhausted and invigorated. If at first you feel more like the former than the latter, you are not alone.

The good news is there’s no reason why Orthodoxy must be harder to read than it should be. I did what I could to tone down the most difficult aspects of this book.

Paragraph breaks and headings

For example, in keeping with the custom of the time, Chesterton wrote in long paragraphs, sometimes spanning a page or two. In order to improve readability, I have inserted paragraph breaks and headings so that the flow of Chesterton’s argument becomes easier to discern. I also updated the spelling in a number of cases.

Remarks

Throughout the text, I’ve added annotations that give more detail about the people, events, and scriptural references mentioned by Chesterton. I have sought to be more comprehensive than spared in order to make the book more accessible to readers of all skill levels and backgrounds. My goal is to have you read Chesterton without feeling overwhelmed by its general knowledge and expertise to the point of giving up.

By the way, if you were to read any articles or books about the people Chesterton mentioned in this book, you would get a crash course in English history as well as the major philosophies just before and after the turn of the 20th century . In this way, reading Chesterton is like entering a new world, or better said, it is entering our world with a trustworthy guide whose knowledge covers the terrain of history, philosophy and theology.

Introductory remarks

My introductory comments for each chapter are designed to help you understand the lay of the land, so you can discern the ways of Chesterton’s brilliant mind and be able to follow the argument. I’m also leaving some “memorable parts to look for” at the start, so you’ll keep your eyes peeled for the most notable areas of Orthodoxy.

Chapter summaries

At the end of each chapter, I summarize what Chesterton said, in order to facilitate the transition to the next chapter and not to forget what happened before.

Questions for reflection and discussion

As with any exercise routine or mountaineering activity, it’s best to surround yourself with a partner or two rather than trying it alone. For this reason, I have included discussion questions at the end of each chapter, to facilitate a good conversation around the central aspects of Chesterton’s work.

Impact of Orthodoxy

CS Lewis liked Orthodoxy. “Reading Chesterton. . . I had no idea what I was getting into,” he wrote. “I had never heard of him and had no idea what he stood for, nor do I understand why he made such an immediate conquest of me.” Lewis considered Chesterton The Eternal Man to be “the best popular defense of the complete Christian position that I know”.

HL Mencken, a public intellectual who vehemently opposed Christianity, acknowledged Orthodoxy was “the best argument in favor of Christianity that I have ever read – and I have read through, I suppose, a good hundred”.

Orthodoxy sometimes feels like a cross between searching for gold nuggets in a dense jungle and whirling on a roller coaster. Enjoy the ride. Keep the treasure. You can find this new edition with my annotations and guided reading wherever the books are sold: Amazon, way of life, ChristianBook, Barnes and Noble, pounds a million, IndieBoundand more.


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