Ralph Wood recently made a wonderful statement regarding Chesterton, although Dr. Woods is in no way responsible for any of the downstream consequences that his observation then decided to have in my head. He said that Chesterton was a remarkable fusion between the sacramental vision and the prophetic vision. I think this is exactly right, and helps explain Chesterton’s popularity with evangelicals.
Jesus Christ is prophet, priest and king, eternally and forever, but many of the problems that afflict Christendom are the result of our vain attempts to divvy Him up. The activists want Him to be king, and the end result of their labors is a bunch of social justice hooey. The sacramentalists want Him just to be a High Priest, and the end result of that yearning is worship services that look like the induction of the new Director General of the Moose Lodge. And the evangelicals want to establish and run schools of the prophets out in the hinterlands, far away from the corridors of power, and the end result of that endeavor is that they all disappear in a puff of gnostic smoke.
If I may simplify the scriptural pattern, the sacramentalists are in the tabernacle, or the magistrates at court, doing the drill just like they thought they were told to, and then the prophets come in to tell them that it doesn’t matter that they did it “just so,” they still messed up. Sometimes the disobedience that they rebuke is high-handed, involving the weightier matters of the law, but other times it seems pretty mysterious. I think of the poor king who hit the arrows on the floor three times instead of five or six times, incurring Elisha’s anger.
The point is that, in the Scriptures, the evangelicals out in the woods take the establishment seriously. The Tishbite is not a creature of the court, but he does come to the court with something to say. The Tishbite is not an establishment churchman, which thereby shows that the Word of God is not contained or bounded by the morning and evening hokey pokey of the priests. At the same time, the schools of the prophets are not anabaptist or essene or aescetic communities, living in serene detachment from the corruptions of “the world.” And then, just to keep us on our toes, sometimes the king is a prophet (David), and sometimes a churchman is (Samuel).
Without the evangelicals, the churchmen will put the whole thing on cruise control, and declare to the great congregation that God don’t make no junk, and is very, very happy with all of them. But without the institutional church, the evangelicals are like a detached conscience floating aimlessly above the Great Plains somewhere. What is the point of a conscience with no body?
And in church history, occasionally, like a blue comet on holiday with no schedule to keep, a lonely figure will appear who appears to function fluidly in all three realms, making it look easy. Chesterton was like that. Worldview thinking radiated from him like heat from a stove.
True integrated worldview thinking runs like Eric Liddell, stretched out, feeling God’s pleasure. We like what we see, and so we organize imitative worldview thinking seminars, in which we train college-bound kids how to run three-legged races at the church picnic.