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George MacDonald: Scotlandís Beloved Storyteller
Author: Michael Phillips
Publisher: Bethany House 
Pages: 398

Meet the man that C. S. Lewis and now Michael Phillips call their mentor.  If youíre wondering why you should take the time to become acquainted with a Scottish preacher, poet and novelist, perhaps the greatest endorsement of MacDonald comes from Lewis.  Lewis expressed the thought that though MacDonald was not error-free, he knew of no writer who was so continually close to the Spirit of Christ.  In his presentation of MacDonaldís faith, Phillips makes the words of Lewis ring true.  

Some of MacDonaldís ideas are controversial but much of his thought gets at the core of what it means to follow Christ.  His mystical side, which could see the hand of God in all of nature, and his emphasis on doing all that Christ said, remind one of St. Francis of Assisi.  

MacDonald was a multi-faceted character and Phillips does a masterful job of fleshing out the person.  Particularly fascinating is the glimpse we get of MacDonaldís inward struggle to discover what God was really like.  He had a difficult time reconciling Godís nature with the stern Calvinism of his day that could leave a child in tears for failing to adequately learn his or her lessons about God.  You see in his journey what led him toward the thought of universal redemption, an idea that circulated during his time.  

MacDonald saw that for some Christians, hell was the greatest reality.  But how does one reconcile the idea of eternal punishment for sin with a God that MacDonald came to believe was good and loving.  His mystical side believed that even as the sun melts the snow; sin, death and even hell itself would eventually give way before the love of God. 

One cannot help but be sympathetic, as Phillips is, to this remarkable account of one manís attempt to reconcile apparent opposing realities.  On the other hand, some of his views are a little confusing and appear to contradict Scripture.  

Those like MacDonald, who believe in a universal redemption, view the idea that some are lost forever as a defeat of Godís ultimate plan and intention.  They might say that to see it otherwise makes our sense of justice higher than Godís.  I donít think it necessarily follows that God has suffered a defeat because some are lost.  God clearly states through the prophet Isaiah that we cannot fully fathom His thoughts and ways.  We donít want to make the mistake of pronouncing as one thing what God sees as something else. We often see the death of a Christian as tragic, but for God it is something that is precious in His sight.  

Our finite minds cannot always reconcile what seems to us contradictory.  For example, many have tried to do that with the ideas of predestination and choice.  That attempt has been a cause of error and a source of disagreement among Christians.  On this particular issue, as in others, wisdom is found in acknowledging all that the Bible teaches while recognizing that from Godís perspective, there is harmony. 

Phillips portrays MacDonald as a seeker after the truth, and he does an excellent job of showing us where MacDonaldís search led him.  But itís still hard to understand how he could embrace the idea of universal redemption, when itís not clearly taught in Scripture.  Thereís much more to MacDonald than this particular issue, but this book serves as a fascinating study of it.

I now understand why a Calvinist, one who among other things believes in a limited atonementóChrist died only for the elect, would want nothing to do with MacDonald.  Itís interesting to note that Calvinism is reportedly making a comeback today among the young.  Itís not the strict Calvinism of MacDonaldís time, but the essential doctrines are the same.  That Calvinism would begin to experience a renewal of sorts shows that a divide remains between Christians when it comes to the finer points of doctrine.

Whether it is in relation to disagreements, or oneís views in general, some people make themselves almost despicable through their pettiness.  MacDonald was the exact opposite.  He was exceedingly broad-minded, a noble soul that inspired and elevated those he touched through his life and writings.  He was, as he came to be known by friends, Mr. Greatheart of The Pilgrimís Progress.  His thoughts were often grand, original and challenging. 

We are the richer for this insightful glimpse into the heart of the man.  I canít imagine a better book on MacDonaldís inward journey, and I canít escape the conclusion that he was a strong believer in Christ.  The majority of his thought is profound and valuable to any Christian.  Itís amazing to see how widely he is read and quoted even today.

Originally published in 1987, this revised and updated edition commemorates the 100th anniversary of MacDonaldís death.  It starts off slow because of the abundance of background information, but itís a great read for those who want to get to know a life that despite continued challenges was wonderfully ennobling.

Michael Dalton
October 23, 2006



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