Monday, November 26, 2007

The Ever-Relevant GKC

It is amazing that reading GK Chesterton can at once feel both like a trip to the past and a prophetic glimpse at today. He was an early 20th century English journalist and made no bones about dropping names and places and events into his literature so that it would seem he was speaking only to his contemporaries. But he was speaking so often of timeless things and was so perceptive that many of his words are startlingly relevant to this day.

For instance, consider his argument at the outset of The Everlasting Man. One doesn't have to read Barna's Revolution to know that many evangelicals are all but done with evangelicalism. If Chesterton were here he'd probably say that's because we are in it and all we can see is the worst of it. Here's what he said:

"The next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it. And . . . the popular critics of Christianity are not really outside it. . . . They still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith. Now the best relation to our spiritual home is to be near enough to love it. But the next best is to be far enough away not to hate it. It is the contention of these pages that while the best judge of Christianity is a Christian, the next best judge would be something more like a Confucian" (Ev. Man, 9-11).

Then there is his dialogue in Father Brown's The Hammer of God which reveals just how imperceptibly dangerous, especially for religious people, is the problem of pride:

First off, Father Brown says to Wilfred Bohun: "Humility is the mother of giants. One sees great things from the valley; only small things from the peak" (Fr. Brn., 91).

Then there is the comment which seems to be a reflection on the Fall of Satan: "‘I knew a man,’ he [Father Brown] said, ‘who began by worshipping with others before the altar, but who grew fond of high and lonely places to pray from, corners or niches in the belfry or the spire. And once in one of those dizzy places, where the whole world seemed to turn under him like a wheel, his brain turned also, and he fancied he was God. So that though he was a good man, he committed a great crime" (91).

But it is not about Satan, per se. When Wilfred Bohun asks him how he knows this, he cries: "Are you a devil?" The response is the secret of Father Brown’s insight: "‘I am a man,’ answered Father Brown gravely; ‘and therefore have all the devils in my heart"(91).

All of this actually reminds me of the need in ancient Israel, rarely met, to destroy not only the gods but also the high places. And, once again, Chesterton forces me to ask: What does this say to us and our worship today?

I know its been said before that evangelical worship is for many evangelicals an idol; a god. Perhaps it is, perhaps it is not. But what about the spiritual high places, and what they do to us? I think we have a serious addiction to ourselves that manifests itself in our worship practices quite insidiously. It is too difficult and not appropriate to judge one another, but we ought to ask ourselves and our churches if this is a problem.

Another prophetic word from almost a century ago.


Tony Tanti said...

The "shadows of the faith" quote blew me away.

Interesting tie in to the idol of spiritual highs in worship. I go back and forth on that one, think manufactured spiritual highs are unhealthy for Christians and yet I can see that God seems to create spiritual high moments for people as well so is music worship really ever a bad thing? I don't get the high out of it but can I really know what God is doing in someone's heart who is?

Sometimes God speaks to me through movies, (not literally but you know what I mean) so maybe God does the same through music for others, books for others etc...

Where do we draw the line between good and bad highs? For example Benny Hinn is over the line clearly but how far over?

jon or angie said...

There is no denying God met with his people in the high places and continues to give these highs. My question is when we exalt the high places so much that we go there like addicts looking for a fix . . . I'm not going to judge each person's heart but as far as the church goes I think with our addiction to music we might be feeding the fix to the extent that the worship of God is hindered. I won't say it is lost. It might not take much to redeem it. But many times it seems we're singing to conjure up a feeling rather than express our heart to God or to respond to God in some way. Are we going to the high place for the high or are we going there for God?

If you read Isaiah 58, you see God is perfectly capable of hating our worship . . .

jon or angie said...

this is an old argument, i suppose. i guess i've noticed it more the more i've ceased liking the STYLE of music that i find in church. It used to DO IT FOR ME a little, but now that it does hardly at all, it is glaring to me how difficult it is to actually just show up and start worshiping. No explanation, no communion, no message yet, we are just coming together and belting it out. THat is hard. I wonder if we need to realize again how hard worship is. Again, ISaiah 58 is informative here.

I'm not trying to sound all high and mighty. Since I stopped going for the high, I have had to struggle with a desire not to go at all. This really challenges you to think about you and God and who is serving who. (And by "you" I mean me)