The Ball and The Cross by G. K. Chesterton (New York: Dover Publications, 1995; originally published in 1910. 178 pp)

G. K. Chesterton was an English writer, philosopher, and Christian apologist. He is best known for his non-fiction such as Orthodoxy and The Everlasting Man.

The Good News?

“Have you spread the Gospel?”

This question operates as a foundational principle for the majority of Evangelicals. The core purpose—maybe even the only purpose—surrounds converting souls.

Family must be Christian. When a child is born, the mission of the parents exists only to bring the child to Christ. Unbelievers throughout the family need the cross. I would venture most awkward holiday conversations emerge from this evangelical mandate.

Work does not exist for work’s sake, or for productive demonstrations of key talents; it’s a mission field. Your success in business is measured not by profit, but by converts.

Meaningful friendships matter only among the faithful. Any relationship with the lost occurs on instrumental terms. The purpose of such a relationship isn’t to grow deeper in the knowledge of who this human being might be; they just need to believe.

Shotgun Gospel

This approach to life, in my estimation, shoulders the label “shotgun gospel” quite nicely. Instead of loving your family because they are people worthy of love, they are a project. Rather than pursuing your passion in work and creating something of meaning, you are a potential HR nightmare. Instead of pursuing relationships that represent the variety of human culture, the endpoint results in monoculture.

In all these scenarios, the Evangelical has a tendency to speak the truth of Scripture no matter how awkward, damning, or hateful—even if such proselytizing positions are presented under the basis of “love” and educating another for their own good. The approach is like shooting someone at close range with a shotgun hoping that the activity will change in lifestyle.

Significant and meaningful change takes years. If that’s a clear desire, taking out a shotgun and shooting supposed truth at someone doesn’t do much good.

In fact, such an approach typically ends with a shotgun blast in the other direction as both camps plant stakes in the ground and prepare for a drawn-out fight. Taken to its extremes, the fight between disparate belief systems can get pretty absurd.

Under such auspices, The Ball and the Cross forms.

Practically Absurd, in Every Way

Absurd in every way, The Ball and the Cross follows the eternal struggle between two men at the opposite ends of the belief spectrum. On one side we have Turnbull, an outspoken atheist and author of a secularist magazine with a clear mission to publish inflammatory statements about the pillars of the faith.

On the other end, we find Scotsman and pious Catholic, MacIan. All hell breaks loose when this devout man uncovers Turnbull’s statements about the Virgin Mother. Such blasphemy must be punished and fisticuffs ensue.

Taken to a higher court to resolve the issue, MacIan issues a promise:

“’Wherever and whenever I meet that man,’ and he pointed to the editor of ‘The Atheist,’ ‘whether it be outside this door in ten minutes from now, or twenty years hence in some distant country, wherever and whenever I meet that man, I will fight him’” (19).

And thus, chapter after chapter, the pair parry across England, running from the cops that attempt to arrest them, sparring sword to sword hoping to honor what each believes to be true.

A Question of Sanity

The duel escalates in ludicrousness to the point where the entire nation seems to fall under the spell:

“I am a little mad; but, after all, it is only a little madness. When hundreds of high-minded men had fought duels about a jostle with the elbow or the ace of spades, the whole world need not have gone wild over my one little wildness. Plenty of other people have killed themselves between then and now. But all England has gone into captivity in order to take us captive. All England has turned into a lunatic asylum in order to prove us lunatics. Compared with the general public, I might positively be called sane” (167).

Ultimately, The Ball and The Cross explores the absurdity of the fight between competing worldviews. Chesterton, a Catholic himself, can never truly approach the story from an unbiased position. But he certainly presents this novella as a clear example of the uselessness of the fight. And yet, Christians and non-Christians alike will jump into the debate with their shotgun gospels. Maybe we’re all certifiably insane.

Verdict: 3 out of 5

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