Subversive Orthodoxy

Robert Inchausti: Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2005

By Stuart Murray Williams

The intriguing subtitle of Robert Inchausti’s book – outlaws, revolutionaries and other Christians in disguise – suggests that he intends to introduce us to some interesting characters.

Inchausti’s thesis is that, despite the marginalisation of Christianity in western culture over the past two centuries, men and women with an orthodox Christian faith have actually been on the cutting edge of cultural critique and cultural engagement. Many of them may be better known as novelists, civil rights’ leaders, political activists, poets or philosophers than as Christians. But actually their writings and activities were profoundly shaped by their Christian faith.

Among an apparently eclectic collection of ‘orthodox subversives’ are to be found William Blake, G K Chesterton, Aleksander Solzhenitsyn, Jack Kerouac, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Ivan Illich and René Giraud. But, Inchausti argues, these are not as random as might first appear. Reflecting on their life and work, he notes several recurring themes, including ‘personalism’ in their approach to philosophy and ‘distributism’ in their approach to social justice.

Individually and cumulatively these gifted pioneers in different fields subverted the values and assumptions of modern western culture and stimulated fresh thinking and creative living among their contemporaries. In doing so they demonstrate that there is enduring power in orthodox Christian faith, which has the capacity to emerge afresh in times of cultural disintegration and transition.

Subversive Orthodoxy is an impressive treatise. It is well crafted and manages to condense a remarkable amount into less than 200 pages. Inevitably such condensed material requires concentration, but the book repays careful study. Inevitably too the amount of attention given to each person under discussion is limited, but this may act as a stimulus to explore further the contributions of those less familiar to the reader – and to assess the validity of Inchausti’s thesis, which is that cutting-edge theological engagement with contemporary culture is happening via novels, poetry and social activism rather than in theological seminaries.