God and Charles Dickens: Recovering the Christian Voice of a Classic Author

By Solganick, Harvey | Christianity and Literature, Autumn 2013 | Go to article overview

God and Charles Dickens: Recovering the Christian Voice of a Classic Author


Solganick, Harvey, Christianity and Literature


God and Charles Dickens: Recovering the Christian Voice of a Classic Author. By Gary L. Colledge. Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-58743-320-7. Pp. xix + 202. $19.99.

As I look up from my desk, I see a portrait of Charles Dickens, sitting at his desk, dreaming imaginatively about the characters in his novels, a picture I acquired visiting the Dickens home and museum in London, England. Through his characters, Charles Dickens portrays the Christian values we should portray as Christians, rather than through the study of doctrines and argumentative disputes in theology. Caring for children', widows, and orphans comes alive in the novels of Dickens. This imitation of Christ is what Gary L. Colledge attempts to describe as he gives a voice to Dickens' Christian walk in his study, God and Charles Dickens: Recovering the Christian Voice of a Classic Author. His purpose is not a "systematic theology of Dickens' Christianity or theological speculation" but to demonstrate that "Dickens' Christian faith and Christian worldview undergirded all that he wrote" (xii).

As a boy, I too was enthralled by the imaginative characters in Dickens' works, especially Scrooge in A Christmas Carol (1843), but I did not know the extent of Dickens' Christianity until later, after my study of C. S. Lewis, George MacDonald, Dorothy Sayers, and others, and especially now, after my reading of Colledge's critique of Dickens' works. Scrooge learns about his relationships with others from the teaching and example of Jesus being fully human. His messenger of the gospel, the good news of his transformation, comes, however, from Jacob Marley:

"But you were always a good man of business, Jacob." At this, Marley's ghost is filled with both outrage and regret, and almost chastising Scrooge, he cries, "Business! Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!" (121)

Marley's voice becomes Christ's character traits and the basis for Charles Dickens' "Real Christianity": giving oneself away in service to others.

In addition to extensive reflection of Christian characters in Dickens' works, Colledge presents a concise historical and theological review of the movements in nineteenth-century theology and the church in transition during the "best of times; the worst of times." He chastises, through Dickens' voice, the theological arguments, the poor preaching, and pitfalls of the church, including the lack of community involvement. Instead, the reader finds a fresh voice advocating character formation and virtue in what Dickens calls "Real Christianity," Authentic Christological Christianity is "committing to follow the example and teaching of Jesus; to imitate Jesus as we give our lives in service to others; to be forgiving, generous, and compassionate" (xvi) as his characters demonstrate in his novels. As C. S. Lewis suggests in Mere Christianity (1952), we are to be "little Christs," or, for Dickens, "simply imitating Jesus" (xvi). For his support, Colledge uses Dickens' letters and his novel characters as examples, addressing religious issues, rather than didactic treatises against the church or Christianity. Dickens especially cared for children and did not want to "frighten children into desired religious and moral behaviors" (5), a ploy of the Dissenters and Nonconformists of his day, including the Middle and Low Anglican Church movement against Dickens' conservative High Church stand. He abhorred preacher jargon, including theological jargon, and especially the "distorted Calvinism" (6) of the Dissenters and Nonconformists; instead, he trusted the New Testament, telling his son, Edward, in a letter, "The New Testament is the best book that ever was, or will be, known in the world; and because it teaches you the best lessons by which any human creature who tries to be truthful and faithful to duty, can possibly be guided" (7). …

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