Both/And Faith - How It Works
G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) has always been one of my favorite British theologians---although he would have undoubtedly resisted the idea that he was primarily concerned with theology.
Chesterton was a prolific writer, who wrote widely on a variety of subjects in addition to theology, including literary criticism, art, and politics. He created the popular "Father Brown" mystery series of novels, appeared on BBC radio as a regular, featured lecturer, and much more.
I'll list an essential bibliography at the close of this Devo, but for now, I'd like to focus on a rather long quote from an essay of Chesterton's that I recently read while doing research for the Revelation sermon series I've been preaching.
It's rather long, so I'll split it up a bit. In this essay of reflections on a trip to America, Chesterton writes:
“The devil can quote Scripture for his purpose; and the text of Scripture which he now most commonly quotes is, “The Kingdom of heaven is within you.” That text has been the stay and support of more Pharisees and prigs and self-righteous spiritual bullies than all the dogmas in creation; it has served to identify self-satisfaction with the peace that passes all understanding..."
Let me explain why Chesterton got so worked up by this quote, which is a direct quote from Jesus' own teachings to his followers.
You see, Chesterton was troubled that so much of what was passing for Christianity in America had become incredibly individualized and was hyper-focused on piety, personal "salvation," and lacked an outward focus. He goes on to say:
"And the text to be quoted in answer to it is that which declares that no man can receive the kingdom except as a little child. What we are to have inside is a childlike spirit; but the childlike spirit is not entirely concerned about what is inside. It is the first mark of possessing it that one is interested in what is outside."
In other words, when you embrace the kind of faith that Jesus encouraged his followers to embrace, and become "like a little child," as Jesus put it, you develop a more balanced faith where the inside matters, but so does the outside.
Then Chesterton concluded:
The most childlike thing about a child is his curiosity and his appetite and his power of wonder at the world. We might almost say that the whole advantage of having the kingdom within is that we look for it somewhere else.”
I love that Chesterton espouses a "both/and" kind of faith that balances both aspects of the Great Commandment given by Jesus to his followers to "Love the Lord your God with all your might..." and also "Love your neighbor as yourself."
At my church, we seek to fulfill Jesus' command by chasing after our vision to "Love God and Love Everybody." It's simple, but it is also really complicated. It's a vision that is easy to say, but much harder to live into.
But when we embrace a balanced view of these two aspects of Jesus' command, that is when we are more likely to both "see and be" the kingdom of God.
We see God's kingdom more easily because we're looking for it beyond the six inches in front of our faces.
But we also learn what it means to embody God's kingdom to the world because of our dedication to the study of Scripture, faith formation, and a deep connection to God.
May you seek to live a both/and kind of faith. May you see God's kingdom in surprising and wonderful ways all around you. May you embody God's kingdom to the world.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always.
G.K. Chesterton - Essential Bibliography:
Chesterton Classics Collection (Includes: Orthodoxy, Heretics, What I Saw In America, What's Wrong With the World) - available on Amazon
Chesterton Fiction Collection (Includes: The Man Who Was Thursday, The Ball and The Cross, The Man Who Knew Too Much)
The Everlasting Man