Brazos Press (a division of Baker) recently released God and Charles Dickens by Gary L. Colledge. I’m only 10 pages in and I clearly see that Dickens’ disliked the cold credalism of the “non-conformists” and that due to their formalism the “Bible has become lifeless, stilted, and deadly.” pg.7 His dislike of formalism lead to his biting criticisms of the church in his day and as I understand it Dickens criticisms were dead on. My favourite devotional writer and experimental preacher, who happened to be a contemporary of Dickens, echos some of these sentiments in his works.
I saw, also, that even ministers who bore marks of their call by grace and of their call to the ministry, were either resting in a past experience, or so “established,” as they call it, “in Christ,” which I believe to be an establishment upon their lees, that they differed little, if at all, from the letter Calvinists of the day.
The question seemed to be. “Are you an Arminian or a Calvinist? If the former, you are a foe; if the latter, a friend.” And thus the most dangerous and insidious enemies of vital godliness are received into the camp of Christ because they can repeat the watchword and wear the dress of His soldiers. Thus I saw truth to be fallen in the streets, vital godliness uncared for, external things highly regarded, Christ’s sheep unfed, and the devil’s goats unseparated. – J. C. Philpot (see post here)
In the past I read some of Dickens works or listened to the audiobooks as a duty or chore but Colledge has given me a better motivation when he quotes a letter by Dickens to a Reverend D. Macrae,
“With a deep sense of my great responsibility always upon me when I exercise my art, one of my most constant and most earnest endeavours has been to exhibit in all my good people some faint reflections of our great Master, and unostentatiously to lead the reader up to those teachings as the great source of all moral goodness. All my strongest illustrations are drawn from the New Testament; all my social abuses are shown as departures from its spirit; all my good people are humble, charitable, faithful, and forgiving. Over and over again, I claim them in express words as disciples of the Founder of our religion; but I must admit that to a man (or a woman) they all arise and wash their faces, and do not appear unto men to fast.”
I have no delusions as to Dickens being a great theologian, and understand that he held some slightly unorthodox views, but I do look forward to reading him this summer. Perhaps I’ll smoke a clay pipe while doing so.