In his recent Notre Dame lecture on creatio ex nihilo and apokatastasis, David B. Hart mention those Church Fathers he regarded as the best guides to the interpretation of Holy Scripture regarding the Last Things—St Gregory of Nyssa, Origen, St Isaac the Syrian … and then he pauses for just a moment and concludes his list with … George MacDonald. The audience chuckled, yet I know that David was not joking. Few Christians have so profoundly apprehended the infinite depths of the love of our heavenly Father as MacDonald. To read him is to be taken into the life of the Holy Trinity—I have found him that rich and that spiritually powerful. C. S. Lewis wrote of MacDonald: “I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him.”
MacDonald cannot be pigeonholed into one theological school or another. Raised in the Reformed tradition, he became increasingly horrified by the Calvinist doctrines of absolute election and limited atonement. In his first published novel, David Elginbrod, MacDonald tells the (possibly autobiographical) story of a young boy named Harry who listens to a homily on absolute predestination. Harry bursts into tears and runs out of the room exclaiming, “I don’t want God to love me, if he does not love everybody.” MacDonald would eventually come to reject Calvinism and embrace the universal love of an infinitely loving Father. His writings, both fiction and non-fiction, are penetrated by this love.
In his own Scottish Protestant way, MacDonald reminds me of St Isaac the Syrian. They are kindred spirits.
What is the best entrée to the eclectic theology of George MacDonald? Imaginative personalities might well find his fiction most accessible. Theological types like myself, however, like to have things spelled out more clearly. If you are like me, you will want to begin with his Unspoken Sermons. These homilies bring the reader into the heart of MacDonald’s vision. Yet they can be a challenge. Fortunately, a new book has come to the rescue: Consuming Fire: The Inexorable Power of God’s Love: A Devotional Version of Unspoken Sermons. The editor provides us with a daily meditation taken from the Unspoken Sermons, usually just one or two paragraphs long. All of the important themes of MacDonald’s spiritual theology are presented.
This might be the best way to approach George MacDonald—in a spirit of prayer and contemplation. I highly recommend Consuming Fire.
(100% of the royalties from the sales of Consuming Fire will be donated to the ALS Therapy Development Institute.)