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Chesterton scholar explores how to preach Christianity anew

Posted By April 19, 2012 | 1:25 pm | Lead Story #3

By Margaret M. Russell

It appears to Father Ian Ker that we may be moving in to a more pagan world where some people have no knowledge at all of Christianity. That is an opportunity, he said, to start preaching Christianity again as if it were something new.
Looking at Christianity with a post-Christian imagination is a theme that G.K. Chesterton explores in “Orthodoxy” (1908) and “The Everlasting Man” (1925);  two books Father Ker calls “apologetic masterpieces.”
He noted that Chesterton “realizes that there is no greater difficulty for the Christian apologist than the post-Christian imagination that has to be made to see Christianity afresh so that they can see it for the first time for what it really is.”
Father Ker, a scholar on John Henry Newman and Chesterton, closed out the President’s Lecture Series at Assumption College Wednesday night. Nearly 200 people, including members of the Chesterton Society of Worcester that co-hosted Father Ker, came to hear the renowned biographer speak. His thoughts about the present day came in a question-and-answer session after his lecture in which he illustrated, in Chestertonian style, Chesterton’s common sense road to Christianity.
Chesterton, Father Ker explained, thought the role of the imagination was “to make subtle things strange … so that the facts as you read them in the Gospels may become the wonders that they actually are.”
“The post-Christian imagination, dulled with the familiarity of the Christian story, must be made aware of the extraordinary person of Christ as the Gospels present him,” he said.
As such, Chesterton decided to “open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came.”
“I challenge anyone to read … ‘Orthodoxy’ and not to have their picture of Christ altered forever,” Father Ker said.
Three years after Chesterton entered the Catholic Church he wrote another apologetic work, “The Everlasting Man,” Father Ker explains.
“‘Post-Christians,’ he says, ‘still live in the shadow of the faith and have lost the light of the faith,” Father Ker said, quoting from the book.
Chesterton, he said, goes on to compare and contrast paganism, mythology and various religions.
“What Chesterton now begins in ‘The Everlasting Man’ is the task of trying to make us see Christianity afresh, as though for the first time,” Father Ker said.
Again Chesterton goes to the Gospels to get to know Jesus and concludes, Father Ker said, that the popular conception of Jesus “is a made-up figure, a piece of artificial reflection … and impossible to reconcile with the real Jesus of the Gospels.”
“Christianity brought hope into the world. And it was a dogmatic Christianity that did this because of its very liberality. Modern theological liberals cannot understand that the only liberal part of their theology is really the dogmatic part. If dogma is incredible, it is because it is incredibly liberal,” Father Ker said summing up some of Chesterton’s insights.        “Christianity is a revelation, a vision received by faith – but it is a vision of reality. That is why it is not a mythology, but nor is it a philosophy. Because being a vision, it is not a pattern but a picture. In that sense it is exactly as the phrase goes, ‘like life,”’ he said.
In his conclusion, Father Ker said that Chesterton tells us the “necessary and noble truth, but not a new truth.”
“The Gospel, he says, is nothing less than the loud assertion that this mysterious maker of the world has visited his world in person. It was a piece of good news, or news that seemed too good to be true. It declares that really there did walk into the world this original invisible being about whom the thinkers made theories and the mythologists handed down myths – the man who made the world,” Father Ker said.
The last proof of the miracle is that something so supernatural has become so natural, he said.
After describing Chester–ton’s post-Christian era to a questioner, Father Ker posited that we may be entering such an era again.