Christianity · Theology · Writing

Wise Minds Think Holily: A Study of G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis (Part One)

Hello, everyone!

Below is the first portion of a research paper I wrote as a finale to my composition course this year. I’m really proud of my work on this one, and I hope that, more than anything, you’ll be able to gain an appreciation or even an interest into two of the most brilliant Christians EVER to live in the twentieth century. Enjoy!

What is the relationship between God and reason? Father Brown, a fictional twentieth-century detective, once said, “I know that people charge the Church with lowering reason, but it is just the other way. Alone on earth, the Church makes reason really supreme. Alone on earth, the Church affirms that God himself is bound by reason.” (1) According to Brown, one could not possibly overstress the relationship between reason and the Christian church. It is a gift from God and one of the primary facets of man that separates him from animals. (2) Consequently, most believers in Christ hold it as an integral part of their faith. They use reason both to reach out and to convict within. Through analysis of Biblical text, logical thought, and educated conclusions, apologists, those who disseminate and deliberate upon evidence for the truth of Christianity, give fellow believers support for their faith and challenge the unsaved to reconsider their views on life. In the current century, such men and women as J. Warner Wallace, Gregory Koukl, and Nancy Pearcey lead the movement. However, if one attempted to look past the apologists of the new millennium, he’d find that many were inspired by either or both of two brilliant European men: Gilbert Keith “G.K.” Chesterton and Clive Staples “C.S.” Lewis. (3) This mentor and his protege, the latter crediting part of his conversion to Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man (4), would change the entire movement of apologetic Christianity through their nearly identical conversions, writings, and legacies. (5)

The conversions of Chesterton and Lewis both give proof of the wisdom and revival God can bring out of suffering. Both men were afflicted with spiritual depression early on in life, as Robert F. Gorman wrote: “Though nominally Anglican, formal religious training was not emphasized by Chesterton’s parents. In his autobiography Chesterton admitted that his happy childhood was followed by an adolescence and young adulthood of intellectual and spiritual crisis.” (6) Like Chesterton, Lewis disregarded the Christian faith because of his suffering:

“After his mother’s death [from cancer], Lewis and Warren drifted from their father, who became emotionally distant. As was common for middle-to-upper-class children of the early twentieth century, both boys were sent to boarding schools. Lewis’s early experiences with these institutions were unpleasant at best. His first teacher, who beat his students, lost his school due to his cruelty and poor financial practices, so Lewis was moved to another school, which he also did not like. At boarding school, Lewis abandoned his childhood belief in God.” (7)

From Chesterton and Lewis’ similar early lives, though, came revival. As an adult, Chesterton spent much of his time studying the beliefs of those surrounding him, slowly and logically considering each one’s validity. (8) When he finished, Chesterton realized that his personal philosophy “was essentially the same as Christianity,” (9) and he converted accordingly. (10) Likewise, Lewis converted to Christianity because he felt that it was the only explanation for the soul’s spiritual longing (11) and for reality itself. (12) According to Alister McGrath, “For Lewis, the kind of ‘sense-making’ offered by the Christian vision of reality is about discerning a resonance between the theory and the way the world seems to be.” (13) Though the similar conversions of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton both prove God’s presence in suffering, their salvation stories were only the seed for the myriad defenses of Christian teaching both men soon produced.

The most artful and noteworthy of contributions to society comes through the believer’s written word, particularly that written as a testimony of Christianity’s power and meaning. As professional authors, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis lived according to this statement, though both men hated to be called apologists. (14) (15) After their conversions, Lewis and Chesterton both began writing theological works. According to Robert F. Gorman, Chesterton “wrote widely and often on the subject [religion and theology]. His embrace of Christianity is described in his theological masterpiece Orthodoxy (1908). The Everlasting Man (1925), most likely his most important book, combines theology with history in a critique of H. G. Wells’s skeptical and materialist Outline of History (1920).” (16) A few years after Chesterton, Lewis continued the tradition of Christian apologetic literature by writing such classics as Mere Christianity, Miracles, and The Problem of Pain. In each of his Christian nonfiction works, Lewis weaved a fundamental and striking concept: “that there is a notional, transdenominational form of Christianity, which is to be cherished and used as the basis of Christian apologetics[.]” (17) Nevertheless, Lewis and Chesterton did not limit their apologetic outreach to their nonfiction alone. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia and Chesterton’s Father Brown mystery stories, the works for which both men are best known, (18) (19) both clearly present the evidence behind and the basic doctrines of the Christian faith. (20) (21) Consequently, G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis managed to glorify God with every one of their major written works.


~Sarah Merly

May 4, 2018

Isaiah 53

ENDNOTES: (Style follows Turabian/Chicago; bibliography in upcoming second part)

(1) Chesterton, G.K., and P.D. James. “The Blue Cross.” In Father Brown: The Essential Tales, 17-18. New York: Modern Library, 2005.
(2) Mategrano, Terri, PhD, and William Shakespeare. CliffsComplete Hamlet. Edited by Sidney Lamb. New York: Hungry Minds, 2000.
(3) McGrath, Alister E. C.S. Lewis: a Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, 375. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, 2013.
(4) Gorman, Robert F. “G.K. Chesterton.” Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia (2013): Research Starters, EBSCOhost (accessed March 26, 2018).
(5) Gorman, Robert F. “G.K. Chesterton.” Salem Press Biographical Encyclopedia (2013): Research Starters, EBSCOhost (accessed March 26, 2018).
(6) Ibid.
(7) “C(live) S(taples) Lewis.” In Major Authors and Illustrators for Children and Young Adults. Detroit: Gale, 2002. Biography In Context (accessed March 26, 2018).
(8) Gorman, “G.K. Chesterton,” 2013.
(9) Ibid.
(10) Ibid.
(11) McGrath, C.S. Lewis: a Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, 224.                               (12) Ibid, 150-151.
(13) Ibid, 225.
(14) Montgomery, John Warwick. “The un-apologist: oblivious to convention, Chesterton launched a bold campaign to point a mad world back toward truth.” Christian History, August 2002, 28+. Academic OneFile (accessed April 4, 2018).
(15) McGrath, C.S. Lewis a Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, 258.
(16) Gorman, “G.K. Chesterton,” 2013.
(17) McGrath, C.S. Lewis a Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet, 220-21.
(18) Biography in Context, “C(live) S(taples) Lewis,” 2002.
(19) Robson, W. W., Prof. “Father Brown and Others.” In G.K. Chesterton: A Centenary Appraisal, edited by John Sullivan, 58. New York: Barnes & Noble, 1974.
(20) Biography in Context, “C(live) S(taples) Lewis,” 2002.
(21) James, P. D. “Introduction.” In Father Brown: The Essential Tales, by G. K. Chesterton, Xii. New York: Modern Library, 2005.