Gilbert Keith Chesterton, writer of approximately 80 books, around 200 short stories, over 4,000 essays, several plays, and hundreds of poems, is often considered one of the great minds of the early twentieth century.
Involving himself in many of the important discussions of his day, Chesterton showed great aptitude and intelligence across a wide spectrum of disciplines. He was well known as a Christian apologist, poet, playwright, journalist, lecturer, debater, literary critic, biographer, philosopher, novelist, and even as a contributor to the Encyclopedia Britannica.
Contemporaries of Chesterton knew him to be both a deep and profound thinker as well as incredibly witty and jovial personality. George Bernard Shaw, who was both a friend of Chesterton’s and a frequent philosophical sparring partner, called Chesterton “a man of colossal genius.”
The enduring influence of G. K. Chesterton
For over three generations, Chesterton’s influence has never seemed to wane. Quoted frequently by politicians, novelists, theologians, pastors, scientists, psychologists, and clergy, his work has permeated the culture worldwide.
One of the most enduring traits of Chesterton’s was his ability to speak with a distinctly Christian voice and garner the respect of both friends and foes alike. As mentioned earlier, George Bernard Shaw debated Chesterton often publicly and in print, and they remained close friends until Chesterton’s passing in 1936. This doesn’t mean that Chesterton didn’t speak strongly regarding Shaw: Chesterton once wrote, “Mr. Bernard Shaw’s philosophy is exactly like black coffee—it awakens but it does not really inspire.”
Another contemporary who often went head to head with Chesterton was novelist, social commentator, and historian H. G. Wells. Chesterton wrote The Everlasting Man as a response to what he thought were fallacies in Wells’ The Outline of History. And yet, to the end Wells considered Chesterton one of his greatest friends. In a letter after Chesterton’s death Wells said, “From first to last he and I were very close friends . . . I never knew anyone so steadily true to form as G. K. C.”
Chesterton’s considerable Christian influence
Another testimony to Chesterton’s influence is his ability to reach across the aisles, speaking to both Catholics and Protestants. A convert to Christianity later in life, Chesterton joined the Church of England in 1901, and later converted to Catholicism at the age of 48. In his writings about Christianity, Chesterton was able to appeal to what C. S. Lewis called “mere Christianity”—the Christian common ground.
Both Catholic theologian Hans Urs Von Balthasar and well known Catholic apologist Peter Kreeft admired Chesterton greatly. And Archbishop Fulton Sheen wrote in his autobiography, “The greatest influence in writing was G. K. Chesterton, who never used a useless word, who saw the value of a paradox and avoided what was trite.”
C. S. Lewis considered Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man as integral to his conversion to Christianity. In a letter written in 1950, Lewis called the book, “the best popular apologetic I know” and in a 1962 Christian Century article, Lewis included The Everlasting Man in a list of 10 books that “most shaped his vocational attitude and philosophy of life.”
Chesterton’s writings have had praise heaped on them by evangelicals like Randy Alcorn, and the Christian musician Rich Mullins. Award-winning, Evangelical author—Philip Yancey—wrote in his book Soul Survivor, “I would say Orthodoxy had as much influence on my spiritual direction as any single book, and it is one of the few books that I go back and reread. It was a revolutionary book for me.”
Pick up the eleven books in the G. K. Chesterton Collection now.