On Chesterton & Calvinism (From a Lover of Both)

Several weeks ago, a friend of mine expressed interest in my opinion of Chesterton’s thoughts on Calvinism:

Surely you encountered his position while reading Orthodoxy, if not in other places. I would not presume to take every word of his as gospel of course, but if I were Calvinist I would be hesitant to recommend him without a disclaimer, especially considering the influence and effectiveness of his writing. Admittedly I’m somewhat confused by your advocacy of Chesterton (although I obviously encourage it in general).

It’s a good question, and I’ll do my best to answer it as briefly and thoroughly as possible. I suspect there are others who read this blog who may be wondering the same thing.

chesterton1I am indeed aware of Chesterton’s antagonistic attitude toward Calvinism. In Orthodoxy, for example, he asserts that it was Calvinism which drove William Cowper to madness. In Eugenics and Other Evils, he calls Calvinism “immoral” and “the most non-Christian of Christian systems.” How then, as a staunch lover of the historic Reformed faith, can I feel comfortable recommending such works without a booming disclaimer?

It’s very simple, really: as a critic of Calvinism, the Prince of Paradox is a bit of a clown.

Remember the scene in V for Vendetta, where Evey awakes to find the hero fencing with an empty suit of armor? It is all very winsome and dramatic, but of course, it is to battle what O’Doul’s is beer: a complete and utter joke.

A similar thing happens whenever Chesterton takes a swipe at Calvinism: he blusters a lot and tips his nose in the air and generally makes it clear that he doesn’t approve. And then he moves on. He never seriously engages with it mano-a-mano. Perhaps there is an essay somewhere in which he actually plants his foot and does bloody battle to the death over the matter, but in all my reading thus far, I haven’t encountered any such thing.

GKC was never one to dance around the point, so I won’t either: on the subject of Calvinism, the man was hilariously, absurdly wrong. No offense to my dear Reformed Baptist friends, but in the words of Tim Bayly, “Listening to Chesterton on Calvinism is like listening to John Piper (or worse, John MacArthur) on infant baptism.”

Yeah. Hard to take seriously, in other words.

Chesterton’s potshots are so risibly ill-aimed that I am more amused than challenged (let alone concerned) by them. I think it fair to say that Calvinists who know why they are Calvinists will not be knocked out of their position by a bit of rhetorical skylarking.

11 thoughts on “On Chesterton & Calvinism (From a Lover of Both)”

  1. I would really like to start reading Chesterton. What would you recommend I start with? I don’t think i’d like to start with Orthodoxy as I’m bound to disagree {being a Calvinist as far as belief and doctrine goes myself}and that might prejudice me against his other works which would be a pity.

    1. I think The Napoleon of Notting Hill (one of his novels) is a great place to start; you might also check out some of his essays. In Defense of Essays (edited by Dale Ahlquist, Joseph Pearce, Aidan Mackey) is a stellar collection.

  2. I’m about to write a review up (that will be posted a few days from now) on my first book of Chesterton; I feel Chesterton is like C.S. Lewis in that they are witty, word smiths and thoughtful but one must watch out because their theology can interfere (sadly) with the good observations they make

  3. YES. Every time I’ve come across Chesterton attacking Calvinism, I get the idea that he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Which forces this starry-eyed Chesterton fan to reconsider her belief in Chesterton’s impeccable arguments. It seems a bit interesting that his only invalid arguments are in the places I disagree with him.


  4. INTERVIEW: Dale Ahlquist, President, “American Chesterton Society” On, Among Other Things, The Question: Why Was GKC So Anti-Calvinist, Anti-Predestination

    John Lofton, Director, The God And Government Project
    Phone: 301-873-4612


    And a recent story about the Project:


  5. I appreciate your thoughtful answer to my question, and a willingness to state Chesterton’s points openly. I still cannot avoid seeing the irony in your admiration of a man’s wit while you’re being chastised by him. The complexity of a belief system does not necessarily make it truer, and therefore a complex rebuttal to it is not always needed, even if someone is asking for it. Just because a lawman is the fastest gun in the west doesn’t mean he should shoot every belligerent in town when a simple kick in the pants will do.

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