Charles Ivey

About Charles Ivey

Charles' Blog
By God’s grace, Charles Ivey grew up in a Christian home and came to know Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior at a young age. He has been married to his wife Ashley for 17 years and they have two high energy children by adoption, also by God’s grace. Charles serves as a deacon in a local church. He teaches for the Bible Training Center for Pastors, speaks on apologetics for Ratio Christi, and blogs at Received Into the Number. Charles is currently pursuing an MDiv at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary online. Coffee and books are involved.

Assurance: “How Can I Know I’m Really Saved?”

Examine Yourself

How do you know you are really a Christian?  Do you really know you are going to spent eternity in Heaven when you die? Are you sure you are actually right with a just and holy God?

Can a true Christian lose their salvation? I recognize there is a danger in addressing this topic. There is a risk of harsh truths causing the struggling but genuine believer to doubt even more. At the same time, avoiding truth and going soft on the gospel may cause the self-deceived false convert to continue in their lostness.

Despite the risks and uncomfortable implications, the question has to be asked because God’s word commands us to seek assurance. Paul writes that we are to examine ourselves to see if we are in the faith (cf. 2nd Cor. 13:5). Peter tells us to make our calling and election sure (cf. 2nd Peter 1:10). With this in mind, let’s look at the question of assurance of salvation.

Four Kinds of People

The late theologian R.C. Sproul once said that there are basically four kinds of people when it comes to assurance of salvation. First, there are those who are not saved and know they are not saved. For example, the celebrated film maker Martin Scorsese has said that he knows he is going to hell. He has assurance, it’s just assurance of condemnation.

Secondly, there are those who are not saved but think they are saved. They have false assurance. Thirdly, there are those who are actually saved, but do not have assurance that they really are saved. A believer who has never struggled with assurance may find this hard to believe. “How can you not know you’re really saved?”

Unfortunately, this is a very real problem for many Christians. John MacArthur puts it well, that “One may go to heaven in a mist, not knowing for sure he or she is going, but that’s certainly not the way to enjoy the trip.” Finally, there are those who really are saved and know they are really saved. They have that “Blessed assurance” the old hymns talked about. This should be the state of every Christian and the desire of every Christian for every lost person.


The Struggle Is Real

Why do some Christians struggle with assurance of salvation? Charles Ryrie provides four possible reasons. First, a believer may doubt the reality of their commitment to Christ. This may be connected with an inability to pinpoint the exact date the person received Christ. Those who experience a radical conversion and lifestyle change normally do not struggle in this area.

Ryrie explains that “No one grows into conversion. But we do all grow in our comprehension of conversion.” If the ability to pinpoint the exact date of conversion is necessary for salvation then every person with Alzheimer’s or other forms of memory loss would be unsaved.

Secondly, some have doubts about the “correctness of the procedure” they went through. This gets to the very real danger of the lost thinking they are saved simply because they walked down an isle, said a prayer, or signed a card. David Platt famously (and infamously) dared to question the use of “The Sinner’s Prayer” for this reason.

There is real danger in thinking that the methods used to give an invitation to receive and rest on Christ are the means of salvation. In other words, as many evangelists have seen, there are those who think they are saved because they walked the isle and said a prayer.  

Thirdly, one can lack assurance because they have doubts about eternal security, also known as “once saved also saved”.  Those in the Reformed tradition recognize the “P” in TULIP as the doctrine of “Perseverance of the Saints”.

As Dr. Sproul has pointed out, the word “perseverance” can create the false impression that believers keep themselves saved by their own strength. Those who struggle in the area often point to the so called “warning passages” in Hebrews, which interpreters have debated for hundreds of years.

The fourth and final reason Ryrie gives for a lack of assurance is caused by the presence of sin, often serious sin, in a believer’s life. This may involve the false belief that a true Christian is incapable of committing certain sins. The struggling believer may assume that the presence of ongoing sin is evidence that they were never really saved.


Can You Really Know For Sure? 

Is it really possible to have assurance of salvation in this life? Some in the Roman Catholic tradition have answered with a very clear “No”. The Council of Trent (1545-1563) states that “… no one can know with a certainty of faith, which cannot be subjected to error, that he has obtained the grace of God.”

Cardinal Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621) went so far as to claim, “The principle heresy of Protestants is that saints may obtain to a certain assurance of their gracious and pardoned state before God.” Rome’s stance on assurance may not offer much comfort to struggling believers but it is understandable from their perspective. If, as Rome teaches, grace is necessary but not sufficient for salvation, what motivation is there to pursue holiness and obedience to God?

The Bible plainly teaches that it is possible to be deceived about our standing before God. The wisdom in Proverbs cautions that there is a way that seems right but leads to destruction and there are those “who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth” (cf. Pro. 14:12; 30:12).

Christ himself gives a chilling warning that not everyone who calls him “Lord” will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Matt. 7:21-23). There are those who will hear from him, “I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.”

Now, back to the warning passages in Hebrews. The writer of Hebrews spends a great amount of time drawing from the Old Testament and pointing to Christ as the great high priest who fulfills the sacrificial system. You can almost hear the pleading, “Don’t go back there! Look to Christ!” Chapters 5 and 6 of Hebrews contain what have become known as the warning passages (cf. Heb. 5:11-14; 6:1-8).

The text of Hebrews 6:4-6 says “…it is impossible, in the case of those who have been once enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God, and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance.”

Many Christians throughout church history have concluded that the text of Hebrews 6 is teaching that it is possible to lose one’s salvation. We first have to think carefully about the phrases “once been enlightened”, “tasted the heavenly gift”, shared in the Holy Spirit”, and “tasted the goodness of the word of God”.

They may imply salvation but is that what they actually refer to? If the writer to the Hebrews wanted to teach that genuine salvation could be lost, he could have been much clearer. As it is, Hebrews 6 does not say it is impossible for those who were “justified” or “repented and believed” and then have fallen away, to restore them to repentance.

Thankfully, the writer to the Hebrews 6 did not leave us hanging after the warnings in verses 4-6. In verse 9 he goes on to say “Though we speak in this way, yet in your case beloved (ie. believers/genuine Christians), we feel sure of better things – things that belong to salvation.”

The warnings about falling away are sincere but so is the writer’s confidence in the salvation of his audience of beloved believers as well as his desire that they have “full assurance of hope in the end” (cf. Heb. 6:9-11)


I write that you may know

Many pastors encourage those who struggle with assurance to read through the book of 1st John. This is for good reason since John makes it clear he wants his audience to know assurance of salvation. He tells us “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.” (cf. 1st John 5:13).

Charles Spurgeon made his position on assurance clear when he preached on 1st John 5:13:

John wrote that we might know our spiritual life to be eternal. Please notice this, for there are some of God’s children who have not learned this cheering lesson. The life of God in the soul is not transient, but abiding; not temporary, but eternal. Some think that the life of God in the believer’s soul may die out; but how, then could it be eternal? If it dies it is not eternal life. If it is eternal life it cannot die. I know that modern deceivers deny that eternal means eternal, but you and I have not learned their way of pumping the meanings out of the words the Holy Spirit uses. We believe that “eternal” means endless, and that if I have eternal life, I shall live eternally. Brothers and sisters, the Lord would have us know that we have eternal life.

So what about you? Are you resting on Christ alone as your savior? Do you know that you have eternal life? If not, repent of your sins and believe on Jesus Christ right now, where ever you are. If you have already experienced this but still struggle with being sure, believe God’s word when He tells you that nothing can snatch you out of his hand.

By | 2018-06-05T08:43:59+00:00 June 6th, 2018|

If There’s a God Why Are There Atheists Book Review

If There’s a God Why Are There Atheists Book Review

If There's a God Why are There Atheists

by R.C. Sproul
Length: Approximately 7 hours. To read (207 pages)
TCB Rating:
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

In “If There’s a God Why Are There Atheists?”, Christian theologian and apologist R.C. Sproul thoughtfully interacts with and demonstrates the failures of atheistic claims of Freud, Marx, Feuerback, and Nietzsche.

Who should read this?

This book is for Christians who may be wrestling with what may seem like troubling, if not persuasive arguments against the existence of God. This short work could also be used as a tool for “pre-evangelism” with an unbeliever if they are willing to examine a rational and philosophical critique of atheistic claims about those who believe in God. The subject matter can be challenging but this book serves as a perfect example of the brilliant but accessible teaching of the late theologian and apologist R.C. Sproul.

If There's a God Why are There Atheists Book Review 1

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How should a Christian answer the claims of atheists who insist that belief in God is simply motivated by psychological needs? Is religion just a crutch for the weak minded and the “opiate of the masses”? Dr. R.C. Sproul demonstrates that these claims do nothing to disprove the existence of God, and that atheists may have their own psychological reasons, and more importantly, theological reasons for their unbelief.


The late R.C. Sproul (1939-2017) will be remembered as one of the most influential theologians of the past 100 years. For many Christians including myself, Dr. Sproul was their first introduction to reformed theology. He founded Ligonier Ministries, edited the Reformation Study Bible, and served as the first president of Reformation Bible College.

The stated goal of Ligonier Ministries has been to bridge the gap between Sunday School and Seminary, and for many years the teaching of R.C. Sproul was its centerpiece. He was a brilliant teacher who was doctrinally clear and precise but somehow also managed to be engaging and almost whimsical in his teaching and writing style. Christian Focus has republished this book, which is a revised and updated edition of The Psychology of Atheism.

Evidentialist, Presuppositionalist, or Classical?

Before examining the book, it may be helpful to keep in mind Sproul’s approach to apologetics. The different camps of Christian apologetic methodologies can be broadly grouped into Evidentialism, Classical, and Presuppositionalism. Space does not permit a full explanation of each of these, but the following may be helpful as a primer on them.

Evidentialists tend to emphasize evidences for the existence of God. For example, the earth’s distance from the sun is just right for sustaining life. Any closer and we could burn up. Any further away and we would freeze to death. They will assert to the unbeliever that the evidence at least points to a creator, if not the God of the Bible.

Presuppositionalists argue that Evidentialism puts the unbeliever in the position of judge over God’s creation. They point to Paul’s words in Romans 1 and argue that the unbeliever already knows there is a God and is suppressing that truth in unrighteousness. Instead of giving the unbeliever “evidence” to examine, Presuppostionalists tend to start from (ie. presuppose) the existence of the God who is revealed in Scripture. They will point out and question the inconsistencies of the unbeliever’s worldview but not enter into the unbelieving worldview as if it is agreed upon neutral ground.

Classical apologetics shares some similarities to Evidentialism and Presuppositionalism but its focus tends to be categories of logic and the field of philosophy. They tend to argue that Presuppositionalists use circular reasoning as their foundation for belief in God and that we have to begin with concepts like the basic reliability of our senses before we can assent to the existence of God. Again, space does not permit a full examination of each of these apologetic camps but it is important to recognize Dr. Sproul’s commitment to Classical Apologetics. This is in keeping with his mentor and friend, the late John Gerstner, who this book was dedicated to. For a fascinating discussion on apologetic methodology, be sure to listen to the friendly debate between Dr. Sproul and the well-known presuppositionalist, Greg Bahnsen.

In the interest of full disclosure, despite my appreciation for Dr. Sproul, I have come to favor the Presuppositional approach to apologetics. Evidentialist and Classical arguments should not be completely dismissed. They can be useful and help to strengthen the faith of someone who is already a Christian, but as Presuppositonalists rightly point out, those approaches can give the unbeliever the false impression that they have the right to “judge” the evidence.

As Sproul has admitted, apologetics and evangelism are related but are not the same thing. Someone who merely agrees that the “evidence” points to the greater probability that there is a god is not the same thing as that person possessing the saving faith of a regenerate Christian. As Scripture tells us, even the demons believe and shudder (cf. James 2:19), or as the presuppositionalist Scott Oliphint has put it, “Theists still go to hell.”

In Dr. Sproul’s defense, it should be recognized that this book is not intended to be apologetic for Classical Apologetics. The reader is directed to Classical Apologetics or Defending Your Faith for a more thorough look at Sproul’s method. Why Are There Atheists? is primarily concerned with engaging the arguments of well-known atheists from history.

The book is divided into two main parts. Part One “The Battlefield: Belief and Unbelief” begins by addressing the debate over the existence of God and the “tension of disagreement”. Sproul expertly makes use of the law of non-contradiction to demonstrate that theists and atheists cannot both be right. In opposition to post-modern ideas about truth being relative, Sproul makes it clear that either there is or there is not a god. He is absolutely right that Christians must not give in to the temptation to avoid this issue in the interest of not offending people. We should be gracious but steadfast in our commitment to truth.

Psychology and Atheism’s Limitations

In his chapter on “The psychology of theism”, Sproul gives a helpful summary of the atheistic claims by four of the most influential thinkers of their day; Sigmund Freud, Ludwig Feurbach, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Karl Marx.  Freud argued that “The principal task of civilization … is to defend us against nature.” By “nature”, Freud meant the brutal state of nature. He theorized that religion developed out of a need to personalize the impersonal forces of nature.

He combined this with ideas of struggle between father figures and sons to explain why people would want to believe in a personal, fatherly deity. In the case of Feurbach, “religion is the dream of the human mind” and consequently, men create gods in their own image. For Marx, life is primarily about class struggle between a privileged “bourgeois” and an oppressed “proletariat”. Religion could be explained as a means for the masses to be duped into hoping for paradise after death, while the elite enjoy luxury and pleasure in this life. Nietzsche promoted similar ideas of a “slave morality” which favors weakness and a “master morality” which exalts power. The religious, in his view, lack the courage to face an indifferent, impersonal universe where the will to power is all that matters.

Sproul then demonstrates the limitations of each of these thinkers’ claims. Freud insightfully recognized our need for the approval of a loving father but as Sproul points out, “A benevolent father may be an attractive incitement to religious devotion. On the other hand, an angry father may be equally inciting to move toward atheism.” In other words, “daddy issues” can cut both ways. As for Feurbach, “his analysis teaches us much about man, but precious little about the existence or non-existence of God.”

When it comes to Marxist claims, Sproul admits that religious institutions can be prone to “exploitation and manipulation and a host of other evils”. He then goes on to point out that even if it can be proven that some people have invented a god for exploitive socioeconomic reasons, that would not prove it is what all religions have done. Finally, Nietzsche may offer some insight into religious behavior but his claims do not actually address the actual question of the existence of God.

The remainder of the book examines atheistic claims through the lens of scripture and the biblical worldview. Sproul deals with themes of the “trauma” of God’s holiness, the phenomenon of human guilt and vulnerability or “nakedness”, and our ever-present desire for autonomy. As always, Sproul makes deliberate and appropriate distinctions and he carefully defines his terms. When addressing questions about between “autonomy” and “freedom”, he argues that the bible teaches that man has freedom, but not autonomy. As Sproul puts it, “Full autonomy belongs to God alone. Man’s freedom is within limits.” (pg. 181)

A minor critique of this book is that it does not fully engage with the more recent and vocal atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or Christopher Hitchens. To be fair, this book does make reference to them and offer some interaction with their claims, but it does not go into detail about their writings. (pg. 65) The majority of the referenced sources in this book are from the 1950s and 1960s. Again, this is a minor critique since Sproul is dealing with the major figures of the past 200 years or so and not necessarily the more recent past.



In short, this book succeeds in what Dr. Sproul was setting out to accomplish with it. Even if one disagrees with his emphasis on the classical method of apologetics, it is hard to argue with the sound logic and critiques of atheism that Sproul’s presents us with. Rules of logic like the law of non-contradiction are fixed and unchanging because they have been established by an eternal creator God. By definition, the subject of the existence of God will never cease to be relevant. RC Sproul was a brilliant thinker when it came to these questions and I highly recommend this book.

A copy of this book was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.



“To show that men desire a God is not to demonstrate anything about whether or not there is, in fact, such a deity. Unless we can establish a principle to the effect that anything man desires to exist cannot or does not exist, the above explanations do not touch on the issue of the existence of God. These are psychological analyses that begin and end on the psychological level. They may teach us much concerning man, but say nothing with respect to God’s existence.” (pg. 58-59)

“(The unbeliever) wants to be free to break God’s law without fear, but also does not want to have others breaking God’s law against him.” (pg. 66)

“When the glory of man is related to the glory of God, there is a marked contrast. In the context of the glory of God, human glory is dwarfed by comparison. The weightiness of divine glory presses in upon man, threatening to crowd him out.” (pg. 130)

By | 2018-04-12T19:55:05+00:00 April 13th, 2018|

The Whole Christ Book Review

The Whole Christ Book Review

The Whole Christ

by Sinclair B. Ferguson
Length: Approximately 8 hours. To read (245 pages).
TCB Rating:
Buy on Amazon

Book Overview

In “The Whole Christ”, Sinclair Ferguson masterfully addresses the challenge of assurance of salvation with a rare combination of a pastoral sensitivity, historical intrigue, and theological precision.

Who should read this?

This book is for any serious Christian who desires to know Christ’s work for sinners more deeply, how to biblically proclaim Christ to sinners. It can also serve as earnest but gentle counsel to any believer who has ever struggled with assurance of salvation. There are complex theological and doctrinal questions addressed but Ferguson’s focus remains on bringing his readers to the joy and rest found in gospel assurance.

The Whole Christ Book Review 1


In “The Whole Christ”, Sinclair Ferguson begins with a historical analysis of the events concerning the Marrow Controversy and Thomas Boston’s rediscovery of “The Marrow of Modern Divinity” by Edward Fisher. These events and the theological debates surrounding them then serve as a framework for Ferguson to explore questions that remain relevant to Christians in every time period.

Along the way, meaty doctrinal questions about pastoral soul care, covenant theology, theonomy, the New Perspective on Paul, and Roman Catholicism are all touched on and handled carefully if not exhaustively.  Most importantly, Ferguson keeps his focus on questions relating to the nature of legalism, antinomianism, and how believers can have assurance of salvation.


Sinclair Ferguson begins “The Whole Christ” by relating an obscure but fascinating bit of church history from the Scottish Presbyterians in the early 1700s. In 1717 a ministerial candidate named William Craig was asked to agree to a statement known as the “Auchterarder Creed”. The statement was this: “I believe that it is not sound and orthodox to teach that we forsake sin in order to our coming to Christ, and instating us in covenant with God.” (pg. 28)

How many of us would be able to answer that question in a biblical manner, much less understand the theological categories involved? Ferguson asks the reader directly, “How would you respond?” A wise response would have to start “It depends …”. Craig initially affirmed the creed but later had second thoughts and asked to change and explain his answer. The council heard him out and subsequently revoked his license to preach the gospel.

Thomas Boston entered into this controversy, recommending a book he had discovered which he believed clearly laid out the true nature of the gospel. The book was called “The Marrow of Modern Divinity” by “E.F.”. The true identity of “E.F.” was a matter of mystery and speculation, but eventually a barber-surgeon named Edward Fisher was identified as the author. Yes, apparently “barber-surgeons” were a thing back then.

“The Marrow” was written in the style of a dialogue between characters each representing a point of view. Think of a screenplay or stage-play and you will get the idea. The characters are a struggling young Christian called “Neophytus”, a pastor named “Evangelista”, a legalist called “Nomista”, and an antinomian called … “Antinomista”. The dialogue/ stage-play style makes for an interesting format to explore heavy questions about the nature of the gospel, the Christian’s relationship to God’s law, the biblical covenants, and assurance of salvation.

Thomas Boston added his own thoughts and appendices to the work, which are included in reprints of The Marrow. Boston and those who agreed with it’s theology became known as “The Marrow Brethren”.1 Edward Fisher, The Marrow of Modern Divinity (Ross-shire, UK: Christian Focus, 2009)

In the introduction to The Whole Christ, Tim Keller points out that this controversy happened despite all parties involved affirming the Westminster Confession of Faith, one of the most carefully worded theological statements ever made. We can draw from this that having a robust confession of faith such as the WCF or Second London Baptist Confession, can be a helpful guardrail but they do not guarantee absolute unity within a body of believers.  

Ferguson uses the controversy around The Marrow and it’s influence in the Scottish church to explore what it means for a Christian to fall into legalism or antinomianism. What is antinomianism? Ferguson helpfully describes antinomianism as a view that “denies the role of the law in the Christian life”. (pg. 140) To be an antinomian literally means to be “against law”. In our modern context it has been known as “Carnal Christianity”, “Hyper Grace”, “Easy Believeism”, and so on.

Anyone who has been a Christian long enough has experienced the pain and frustration of knowing professing believers who show no signs of actually being Christ followers in their daily lives. Those involved in personal evangelism are frequently told “How do I know I’m saved? I walked down the isle/ said a prayer/ signed a card when I was (fill in the blank) years old.” The tell-tale emphasis is on something done by the speaker, not on what was done by God. Scripture gives a sober warning that there will be those who one day hear from Christ Jesus himself, “‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (cf. Matthew 7:23)

Unlike antinomianism, “legalism” is a fairly well-known term, not just among evangelicals, but in the wider culture also. The label of “legalist” is commonly used to describe someone who is seen as over emphasizing laws, rule keeping, and obedience to a strict set of standards. No one wants to be called a legalist but how are we to understand Christ’s words to his followers that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”? (cf. John 14:15)

It is easy and, in some ways, logical to think of legalism and antinomianism as ditches on opposite sides of a path or a set of scales that are out of balance. Stray too far to the left and you fall into antinomianism. Stray to far to the right and you risk being a legalist. In some ways, these can be helpful mental images, but Ferguson challenges this way of thinking. He asserts that “legalism and antinomianism are, in fact, nonidentical twins”. (pg. 84)

The problem with the path or scales analogies is that they imply a person can course correct by going into the opposite direction. “You’re too legalistic? You need to be a little more lax about God’s law, but not too much.” “Hey, you’re being to loose and worldly. You should be just a little more strict and judgmental and you’ll be back on course.”

Of course, no one actually talks that way but it is possible to unintentionally communicate this message without realizing it. Ferguson recognizes that a faulty view of the gospel can lead to “the mistake of prescribing a dose of antinomianism to heal legalism, and vice versa, rather than the gospel antidote of our grace-union with Christ”. (pg. 86) Ferguson engages in his own screenwriting on the following page in a brilliant exchange between “Dr. Pastor” and “Fred Legality” that imagines what an overly simplistic “cure” for legalism might sound like. (pg. 87)

As Paul teaches, in some sense, Christians are “dead to the law”. (cf. Gal 2:19) Thomas Boston insightfully described how the legalistic Christian can sometimes be haunted by “the ghost of the dead husband, the law, as a covenant of works”2Fisher, Marrow, 176. which makes demands, commands, threats, and frightens them. What may shock some readers is Boston’s assertion that the Lord allows this to happen for the good of believers in order to bring about “correction, trial, and exercise of faith”.3 Ibid.

Following Boston’s insights, Ferguson recognizes Paul’s similar use of a marriage metaphor in Romans. (cf. Rom 7:1-6). Ferguson then carries this imagery further and describes a believer as someone with a finished “old marriage to the law”. Lack of assurance can come when believers are “haunted by the memory of the former husband” and the only remedy is “to live in the awareness that the new husband (Christ) abounds in more grace than the abusive husband did in condemnation”. (pg. 122)


It’s been said that the goal of the gospel minister should be to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. How does one fully receive and rest on Christ as Lord and Savior? When has a believer fallen into lawlessness, more technically known as antinomianism? When have they fallen into legalism? Is the gospel the balanced position, with antinomianism and legalism as opposite extremes? Are they on opposite ends of a spectrum?

Sinclair Ferguson brings pastoral concern, historical and systematic theology, and most importantly scripture to bear on these questions. This is easily one of the most edifying and important theological books in the past 10 years.


  • “The gospel never overthrows God’s law for the simple reason that both the law and the gospel are expressions of God’s grace.” (pg. 88) 
  • “The Bible is an extended narrative of God’s grace from start to finish.” (pg. 90) 
  • “(Satan) knows he cannot destroy the salvation of God’s people; but he is bent, indeed hell-bent –as he was in Eden—on destroying our peace, liberty, and joy in God.” (pg. 133) 
  • “At root then antinomianism separates God’s law from God’s person, and grace from the union with Christ in which the law is written in the heart.” (pg. 154)
By | 2018-03-18T22:39:15+00:00 March 18th, 2018|

Orthodoxy Book Review

Orthodoxy Book Review


by G.K. Chesterson
Length: Approximately 6 hours. To read (180 pages)
TCB Rating:
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Book Overview

The Christian faith is true, rational, and very old. In Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton winsomely engages worldviews that deny the supernatural. Orthodoxy is a highly quotable apologetic for Christian theism.

Who Should Read This Book?

This book is for any Christian who wants to be familiar with the classic works of apologetics. It would also make for a fun read by anyone who loves the way a skilled writer can use a clever turn of phrase or witty comeback to make their point. There are a few historical and cultural references that may be unfamiliar to modern readers, but they are not the focus of the book and should not be too much of a distraction.

Orthodoxy Book Review 1


The American theologian Thomas Oden told the story of the moment he began his journey out of theological liberalism into what he would later call “Classic Christianity”. Ironically enough, Oden was studying under a Jewish scholar named Will Herberg. Herberg told Oden he should learn his own religious tradition as a Christian. He explained that Oden would never be a great theologian until he read and learned from “the great minds” of the historic Christian religious tradition, a tradition that Oden did not actually know well enough to reject.1Thomas Oden, A Change of Heart: A Personal and Theological Memoir (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2014), 136.

In an earlier time and context, G.K. Chesterton (1874-1936) had a similar experience to Thomas Oden’s. His journey lead him from various forms of skepticism about the Christian faith into affirming what he identified as Christian orthodoxy. Chesterton was a well-known writer of plays, mysteries, journalism, and later theology in Great Brittan. It is clear that Chesterton’s experiences prepared him for writing Orthodoxy.

Orthodoxy is mainly an extended, free flowing defense of Christian super-naturalism against the competing worldviews like materialism, pessimism, and nihilism. Chesterton tells us that his purpose in writing Orthodoxy was to assert that “the central Christian theology (sufficiently summarized in the Apostles’ Creed) is the best root of energy and sound ethics” (pg. 5). In other words, Chesterton went looking for what makes the best sense of life and discovered that it was Christianity.

Chesterton describes his journey of searching for how to best explain and understand the world and when he reached his conclusion, he thought he had discovered something new. Instead he landed on orthodox Christianity, which had been there all along. He rightly points out that there are beliefs or dogmas that all Christians have historically believed. Chesterton admits he could have discovered what he already believed if he had simply read “the catechism”. The question of which catechism is not clearly answered but it will be important to keep in mind.

Chesterton explains that he was prompted to write Orthodoxy after writing what he described as “a series of hasty but sincere papers, under the name of ‘Heretics’”, he decided to give a positive statement about what he believes. It is one thing to attack the beliefs of others and another to be willing to actually say what one believes and be able to defend it. Interestingly, Chesterton chooses to begin his apologetic for Christianity with “the fact of sin” (pg. 9).

Instead of sin, why not begin with the fact of God or our dependence on revelation? Later, Chesterton addresses circular reasoning (pg. 159) and recognizes the need for an objective standard but this does not mean he would completely agree with a later presuppositional apologist like Cornelius VanTil, Greg Bahnsen, or K. Scott Oliphint. Chesterton fails to reach the same conclusions as these Confessional Reformed Christians because he has a different starting point. Instead of recognizing God as the starting point, Chesterton tries to begin with man and reason his way up to God. This will always have an influence on one’s thinking if followed consistently.


Not long after beginning Orthodoxy, it becomes clear why this has become such a classic work. Chesterton proves himself an apparently effortless, sometimes genius, wordsmith. He is extremely quotable and would have flourished in our modern age of sound bites and Twitter.

In the introduction he proclaims, “I am the fool of this story and no rebel shall hurl me from my throne.”(pg. 4) In Chapter III “The Suicide of Thought” he reasons that “The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits.” (pg. 37) As well as being witty and quotable, Chesterton shows himself capable of going deep and sharing complex, profound thinking, such as the ways in which the form of the cross is superior to the form of a circle. (pg. 23-24)

Despite the fact that Chesterton intended for Orthodoxy to be a positive presentation of the Christian faith, and not another take down like Heretics, he was not able to avoid critiques of competing worldviews. In several places he rightly points his pen at nihilism and its great evangelist Friedrich Nietzsche.

Chesterton dismisses the idea that Nietzsche was a “bold and strong thinker”, instead calling him out for how he “always escaped question by a physical metaphor, like a cheery minor poet”. (pg. 107) So, instead of talking about “more good than evil”, Nietzsche used the phrase “beyond good and evil”. This showed a lack of courage on Nietzsche’s part and ultimately made him “truly a very timid thinker” in Chesterton’s judgement.

What Chesterton seems to be getting in his critique of Nietzsche is the truth that a worldview like nihilism may try to deny and get “beyond” categories like good and evil, when in reality it is an attempt to avoid the very real and unavoidable nature of categories like good and evil. Chesterton argues that the courageous, though ultimately foolish, stance for Nietzsche to take would have been to try and stake his claim on ideas about “more good than good and evil” or “more evil than good and evil”.

Then Nietzsche would have put himself out there as claiming to hold “good” and “evil” to some kind of more authoritative and independent standard of “good” and “evil”. But by what standard would Nietzsche’s “good” or “evil” be measured? Chesterton was right to call Nietzsche out for not being willing to go there.

This brings us to questions about standards of truth as they relate to Christianity. What can rightly be considered true Christianity? Who gets to decide? Which beliefs are essential to Christianity and which are secondary, disputable matters to be gracious about? If there is such a thing as Christian orthodoxy, how do we determine what that is? What authority do scripture, tradition, and the historic creeds and confessions hold?

While Chesterton points to the Apostles Creed as his guiding standard for Christian Orthodoxy, unfortunately he does not really seem concerned with the actual distinctives of the Apostles Creed like the virgin birth, or the deity, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. While some distinctly Christian doctrines are touched on, they are not the emphasis for Chesterton. He does not seem interested in theology. His primary focus seems to be on defending the possibility of the supernatural. This is not to say he was an ecumenical.

Throughout Orthodoxy, it becomes clear that Chesterton considered Roman Catholicism the truest and most legitimate form of Christianity, if not the only true form of it. He was clearly not fond of the Protestant Reformers. Chesterton goes so far as to claim that “… Christianity was shattered at the Reformation” (pg. 26). He seems to flatly affirm priestly authority to absolve sins and the popes’ authority “to define authority”. (pg. 29)

As he approaches the end of this work, he claims that Rome, not “Christianity” in general, has the balanced position on divine sovereignty and human freedom. (pg. 133) Calvinism and scientific materialism are condemned by Chesterton as being on opposite extremes concerning God’s freedom and man’s freedom. We have to wonder what experiences and conversations influenced Chesterton to take this perspective.

Consciously or not, Chesterton actually seems to echo Calvin’s famous statement that “The finite cannot contain the infinite.” when he writes that “The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.” (pg. 11) This should serve to remind us as Christians that while God has revealed himself in Scripture and we can know true things about him, we are still finite creatures who will never have exhaustive knowledge of all there is to know.

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Who gets to define what true Christianity is? What is the ultimate, binding authority on a Christian? Is true “orthodoxy” simply about affirming the Apostle’s Creed? Does the Roman Catholic Church hold claim to being the true church? Protestants and Confessional Reformed Christians in particular, will by definition come to different answers to those questions than G.K. Chesterton did.

Despite even serious disagreements, it would be a mistake for any thoughtful Christian to ignore or dismiss Chesterton. He was an exceptionally gifted writer with great insights into our need to make sense of the world. Orthodoxy is an always entertaining, sometimes frustrating, but also worthwhile look into one man’s journey through competing worldviews and into Christian theism.


  • “And though St. John the Evangelist saw many strange monsters in his vision, he saw no creature so wild as one of his own commentators.” (pg. 11)

  • (After describing three arguments against Christianity) “… they are all quite logical and legitimate; and they all converge. The only objection to them (I discover) is that they are all untrue.” (pg. 151)

  • “A false ghost story disproves the reality of ghosts exactly as much as a forged banknote disproves the existence of the Bank of England—if anything, it proves its existence.” (pg. 161)
By | 2018-02-16T02:14:34+00:00 February 18th, 2018|


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