G. K. Chesterton on the Outsider Test for Faith

One Christian response to the Outsider Test for Faith is that it is faulty in some way. If that's the case then perhaps they ought to listen to Chesterton, who became a Catholic. His book, The Everlasting Man, contributed to C.S. Lewis's conversion to Christianity. In his Introduction Chesterton said:

“The point of this book…is that the next best thing to being really inside Christendom is to be really outside it…It is the contention of these pages that while the best judge of Christianity is a Christian, the next best judge would be something more like a Confucian.” He recommended “the imaginative effort of conceiving the Twelve Apostles as Chinamen.” In fact, he goes on to say “it would be better to see the whole thing as something belonging to another continent, or to another planet.” So it would seem as if he’s arguing for an Alien Test for Faith. “There are two ways of getting home,” he began. “One of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place.” His book is addressed to people who have not gotten home in the first way, and inviting them to come home in the second way.

Keep in mind that according to Chesterton to approach Christianity from the outside “is the next best thing,” not the best thing, and that the best “judge of Christianity is a Christian,” not a Confucian. I don’t think anyone who seriously wants to test one’s own religion would say such a thing as this. Just imagine a Mormon or Muslim or Scientologist saying the same thing. So it seems clear he’s arguing from his faith not to it. It’s an exercise in apologetics, not an exercise in examining his faith.

Still, he tried to make a case from the outside for his faith. For Chesterton goes on to argue, “that when we do make this imaginative effort to see the whole thing from the outside, we find that it really looks like what is traditionally said about it inside. It is exactly when the boy gets far enough off to see the giant that he sees that he really is a giant. It is exactly when we do at last see the Christian Church afar under those clear and level eastern skies that we see that it is really the Church of Christ. To put it shortly, the moment we are really impartial about it, we know why people are partial to it.”

Quoted form an online copy of The Everlasting Man, first published in 1925.

So if Chesterton didn't see anything wrong with testing one's faith from the outside as non-believers, even aliens, then why do other Christians disagree? Christian scholars like Thomas Talbott, Victor Reppert, Steve Lovell, Randal Rauser, Matthew Flannagan, Norman Geisler, and Mark Hanna disagree, even though C.S. Lewis was convinced by Chesterton's book based on it.

Is it that when an argument suits them they embrace it until such time as it can be shown that same argument effectively undermines their faith? Then they reject it? I think so. Heads I win tails you lose, right? That's the nature of faith, par for the course, like a chameleon always changing colors depending on the realities. For if the Outsider Test proved Christianity was true they would all be crowing about it. Apparently neither Chesterton nor C.S. Lewis realized this.


Anonymous said...


What are you're thoughts on the idea that you are better off believing in a God than not believing in a God when you break down the possibilities and outcomes. Something to the effect that if
believe in God and there is heaven = Good
don't believe in God and there is a heaven = Bad
believe in God and no heaven = neutral
don't believe in and no heaven = neutral
I forget the name of the argument but from a strictly pragmatic stance believing in a God would work to a humans benefit, putting aside the effects of that belief in this life.

Anonymous said...

This argument really makes no logical sense. Choosing to believe in God only from the standpoint that it's insurance for your afterlife just in case all this hoopla that you don't believe is actually true is a denial of the tenets of faith to begin with. If you are saved through grace by truly accepting Jesus' story and repenting, what makes you think that saying words on the hopes it is true will gain you admittance to heaven? I believe it is Dan Dennet who says that most people actually have a belief in a belief in God. Not an actual belief in God. At least not in one enough to really believe all the impossible stories in the Bible are literally true. But social stigmas dictate that if you at least act the part, then you are a moral person and will go to heaven. I thinkan all knowing God would be smart enough to see the difference and judge accordingly. So that argument does not make much sense to me.