One of my favorite stores is “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens. It tells the story of the redemption of Mr. Ebenezer Scrooge, someone who was enslaved by his desire for money and profits and who had distain for virtually everything and everyone else. He was visited by three spirits from the past, present and future who led him to repentance and redemption. “A Christmas Carol” was first published on December 19, 1843, with the first edition sold out by Christmas Eve. By 1844, the novella had gone through 13 printings and continues to be a robust seller more than 175 years later.
What is not commonly known about Charles Dickens and his writings, including the Carol, is that they were greatly influenced by the New Testament teachings of Jesus. George Dolby, Dickens’s reading-tours manager, wrote of his “great reverence” towards the Bible: “It was the book of all others he read most and which he took as his one unfailing guide in his life.” Famous authors Dostoevsky and Tolstoy referred to Dickens as “that great Christian writer.” Dickens biographer and Christian apologist C.K. Chesterton said “if ever there came among men what they call the Christianity of Christ, it was in the message of Dickens.” Dickens himself said that “All my strongest illustrations are derived from the New Testament. All my social abuses are shown as departures from its Spirit. All my good people are humble, charitable, faithful, forgiving, over and over again. I claim them in expressed words as disciples of the Founder of our religion.“
Why then is this Christian influence so little known today. Gary Colledge who wrote a recent biography “God and Charles Dickens” said literary critics dismiss his religious beliefs as unimportant and superficial, and educators follow suit. Colledge found himself criticized when presenting his findings on Christianity’s influence on Dickens to fellow colleagues. “That I would be so audacious as to suggest that this icon of British literature was somehow a man of faith,” Colledge explained. “I don’t know how to explain that hostility other than people like darkness better than light.” Colledge said he believes God wanted him to write a book that shined the light much brighter on the Christian beliefs of one of the greatest writers in history.
Although Dickens often referred to Jesus as Savior he made it clear he meant this in the sense that Jesus modeled how to live a good enough life to make it to Heaven. Dickens never indicated he saw belief in Christ’s shed blood for the forgiveness of sins as the only way to God. Further, he relied primarily on Jesus’s teachings in the four Gospels and had no use for the Old Testament. He appeared to trust only in his self-righteousness to meet God’s standards for good which, if true, will cause him to fall woefully short on judgment day. However, stories such as the Carol, strongly influenced by Christian moral teachings, are a wonderful reminder at the Christmas season of the timeless Christian principles of repentance, forgiveness and redemption and the need to always treat our fellow man as Christ demands we should.