Friday, 9 March 2012

Ralph Wood on G.K. Chesterton

Ralph Wood, Professor of Theology and Literature at Baylor University, gave the thirtieth annual C.S. Lewis Lecture at UTC on "Rum, Romanism, and the Sacramental Imagination: G. K. Chesterton as Defender of the Faith." The lecture was held at the Bentwood Auditorium, which seats over three hundred people. There were some empty seats, but not very many.

Wood seems like an interesting guy. In his informal talk, he identified himself as an evangelical Christian, which probably made many of the conservative, church-going folks in attendance happy. However, during the question and answer period, he stirred the pot by claiming that Adam and Eve were not historical figures, by arguing that personal faith in Jesus did not mean that a person was an authentic Christian, and by claiming that Jesus Christ is actually present in the bread and wine at communion.

My favorite moment in the Q &A was when a middle-aged man in the front row raised his hand to ask why Wood thought that it was "silly" that Adam and Eve were not historical figures. Within seconds of returning the microphone, the man asking the question received the following question from Wood: "Tell me why it isn't silly that Adam and Eve were actual human beings." The man hesitated before somehow managing to say that he had no idea where to begin, but the fact that the Bible talks about Adam and Eve as real people is significant. Wood responded by asking another question: "Then, where did the children of Cain and Seth come from?" The man in the audience suggested that they must have married their sisters. "That would be incest! You see, you open up all kinds of problems when you try to interpret the Bible too literally," was Wood's followup remark.

Reading between the lines, it seemed that Wood purposely tried to mimic how he imagined Chesterton would have responded to these kinds of questions. As Wood pointed out in his lecture, Chesterton strongly avoided extremes, such as alcoholism or teetotalism. Alcohol, according to Chesterton, was useful for "convivial" gatherings. Too much of it was clearly a problem, but avoidance of drinking was also not the ideal. With regard to the Christianity, Chesterton saw over-rationalization as problematic while also despising the extreme emotionalism sometimes associated with the evangelical tradition. Rather than a precise journey that can be calculated, the Christian pilgrimage, according to Chesterton, is a wandering road that meanders in several directions before arriving at its destination.

Wood's lecture on Chesterton reminds us that there is a mystery to Christianity. But rather than see this as a problem, we should rejoice that we believe in a God who is dynamic and cannot be contained within our feeble minds.

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