This year I supersaturated in Charles Dickens to celebrate his bicentennial and used his Christmas Carol as part of my jollification.
Whatever the state of Dickens’soul, and no man can judge, he lived in a pervasively Christian country. His books are shot through with references to the Faith and he assumes the Christianity of all but his Jewish characters and that appeals to Christian ethics make sense to his readers. Secularists have a poverty of writers before the nineteenth century, so they are always appropriating people writing within a Christian worldview. Since Dickens was not particularly pious and had marriage problems (by Christian standards), he has been celebrated as “secularizing” Christmas. I have even read critics who suggest that Christmas went from a dour religious holiday to a jolly secular one under his influence.
Of course, you must ignore all those Christmas carols to believe in dour religious Christmas. . .or assume they were written by dour Christians drunk on Dickens. Obviously the carol that commands gentlemen to rest merry must have been created by Dickens . . . except that it was written before the Christmas Carol and is referenced in it!
Imagine my surprise however, when I read a Christian organization taking issue with the worldview of Christmas Carol. Answers in Genesis published a criticism that made me wonder if they had read the story, or just watched secularized movie versions.
Here is their post in its entirety with my comments below each block quote:
This past week, I noticed that the well-known film The Christmas Carol (there are different versions of the movie) was shown on television, as it is usually broadcast each year at this time.
Good news! Broadcast television is going to show a film based on a novel chock full of Christian themes. It will be wholesome and a story of redemption. This will be good news, right? Ah, but there is, I fear, a Scrooge-like demon that infects faithful Christians that makes no news good news unless it is perfect new.
It is what you would call a “clean” movie with a touching story, and we all know that it’s fiction. Nonetheless all movies convey a message. As Christians, we need to be very careful to ensure that our children understand that the message of this movie, though quite tender in what happened to Tiny Tim and his family, falls short on some very important aspects.
Here is a thought: Esther fails to mention the name of God. Do we have to tell our children that this story “falls short in at least one important respect” or do we recognize that not all stories tell all truths? Second, if our children will be led astray by the message of Christmas Carol into works-salvation, the claim you know is coming, then they are doomed in any case.
But crying havoc and letting slip the dogs of war is always a good way to rally the troops, and one fears to raise end of the year funds, so even the most harmless of amusements must be lambasted.
A certain kind of Christian banned Christmas jollification, the same sort that worried about putting Austen’s books next to Bunyan’s (oh the impropriety!), but thank goodness the universal Church has rejected this narrow spirit.
Answers in Genesis has as well, as their wonderful holiday displays show. They needn’t worry about Christmas Carol anymore than Cromwell should have worried about Christmas in London.
One of our AiG friends wrote the following item about the famous 1951 movie version. His commentary, which we have slightly edited, is titled “The ‘Christ-less’ Christmas Carol.”
On December 19, 1843, Charles Dickens published his famous novel about Christmas entitled The Christmas Carol. It was made into a well-known movie in 1951 and has become a Christmas tradition that is shown on TV many times each December. Recently, Disney released an animated version of this novel that is a triumph of computer-generated graphics; the animation is very well done. Another version was even made with the Muppets.
In the novel, Dickens depicts Scrooge going through a life-changing experience as the result of seeing three apparitions—the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future.
In spite of its title, I suggest the book contains an unbiblical philosophy about life. Let’s consider some important points.
You will note the review starts about the movie, but then moves on to criticize the book. The central criticism is that Christmas Carol contains an unbiblical philosophy. We should concede at the start that any work of fiction by any person not divinely inspired will fall short in some way. Some might argue that we should, therefore, only read the Bible.
This suggestion will only succeed if we are to preach no sermons, since all of them will fall short. We should also cease to tell jokes, stories, or even speak to each other in any way not absolutely necessary for life, since all our conversation will also fall short.
Surely Answers in Genesis will concede at the start that it is not the sign of an unBiblical world view if a story does not tell every possible truth. If I am in Church, for example, speaking to Baptists, do I need to mention “immersion” as the preferred method of practicing the sacrament or can I assume it in my audience?
First, there is no reference to the Bible and the way of salvation provided for us through the life and death of Jesus Christ. There is only an allusion to God by Tiny Tim at the end of the novel. This in itself should raise suspicions about the intent of the author, for the novel is indeed “Christ-less.”
This is simply false as any quick scan of the novel will show. Let me begin with Fred’s speech at the very start of the book:
“There are many things from which I might have derived good, by which I have not profited, I dare say,” returned the nephew. “Christmas among the rest. But I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round — apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that — as a good time: a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time: the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!”
At the end of the book, Scrooge, who started a pronounced materialist goes to Church as one of the first acts of his repentance. He began life as a Christian (in an English context of infant baptism) and returns to his childhood beliefs and this is reflected in his attitudes: ”He went to church, and walked about the streets, and watched the people hurrying to and fro, and patted children on the head, and questioned beggars, and looked down into the kitchens of houses, and up to the windows, and found that everything could yield him pleasure. He had never dreamed that any walk — that anything — could give him so much happiness. In the afternoon he turned his steps towards his nephew’s house.”
I could multiply Christian references and assumptions in the story, but the point is made, I think.
The novel gives the idea that you may be able to have salvation by seeing or experiencing something. The Bible however, says that salvation is only through Jesus. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6 ). Scripture also states, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The world would like to believe there are many ways to heaven, but according to the Bible, Jesus Christ is the only way.
There is nothing in the book to suggest this is true. Churches bring home the Gospel message through a testimony, where a person reflects on their life and sees what God has done to bring them to repentance. Scrooge is forced to see his life and see the hellish mess he has made of it. His life shows evidence that his materialism, adopted as an adult due to bad education and hard experiences, has failed.
The writer misunderstands the context: Dickens is writing to a Christian people and urging them to return to their faith. Numerous times in the story, he lashes their hypocrisy, their humbug, that is Scrooge’s excuse for his materialism.
Too many people are waiting for some experience or feeling before they will simply take God at His Word and accept through faith the salvation which He freely provides. They have the nerve to dictate to God how He is to dispense His mercies to them! Like the man at the pool of Bethesda, they will wait for a very long time and likely will wait themselves into hell unless God intervenes. (John 5:2–5 ).
And yet this writer is now dictating to Dickens how God must not intervene to help Scrooge . . . unless the reader is an utter fool he will not more think three Spirits must appear to him, then that he must have a Road to Damascus experience or do drugs like Nicky Cruz to come to faith. One man’s testimony encourages me, but it is not a model for how I must reject materialism.
The way of salvation as laid down in the novel for Scrooge is really a “works-based” salvation. If you do enough good deeds at the end of your life, these somehow will atone for all the bad deeds you did when you were younger. This is biblically wrong for several reasons.
This is, of course, false. Scrooge is a materialist and is brought back to his childhood faith: a faith that works. The novel centers on the failure of Christians, and it is written to an overwhelmingly Christian nation, to live up to their professed beliefs. They allow children to remain in “ignorance and want.” They pass laws against working on the Sabbath that prevent the poor from having hot meals . . . as if this is what Christ wishes. These references make no sense unless one assumes an audience already in the Faith.
First, this belief contradicts what the Apostle Paul wrote: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8) and “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
Just try this plea on a human judge! For example, suppose a convicted bank robber pleaded that he should not be punished because he had not robbed a bank in years and had been most generous helping others with the money he had stolen. Just like God, a human judge requires payment for what is past. No amount of good works in the present can atone for past sins, as the Scripture plainly states, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
Only when we are covered in the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ will God see us as perfect—but only perfect through what Christ did on the Cross in atoning for our sins. Consider this verse: “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for He has clothed me with the garments of salvation, He has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Isaiah 61:10).
In addition, God does not grade on a curve. He will accept perfection and nothing less. “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48). If you only break one of God’s laws, then you are already guilty and destined for eternal separation from God in hell. “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them” (Galatians 3:10). Likewise, “whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10 ). Remember, Adam only had to commit one sin to be expelled from paradise, and his rebellion ruined the entire human race. Satan only had to think one evil thought before he and all his hosts were eternally judged guilty.
This is good Evangelical teaching, but nothing in it contradicts the Christmas Carol. A good sermon on holy living does not always have to contain the balance. If the writer wants to judge Dickens for anything, it should be for the literary suggestion (common to C.S. Lewis) that there is a time of “purgation” for a Christian (baptized) soul that has wondered away from faith and failed to do good works.
Biblical Christianity differs from all other religions, for they all say “do and live,” but only Christianity says “live and do.” Christians do not work to earn their salvation because that has been accomplished by Jesus Christ, but they do good works out of gratitude for the free salvation they have already received from God through faith and in obedience to the instructions for Christians in God’s Word.
I am a Christian, but this is a false description of all other religions. Many other religions (for example gnostic ones) claim the experience comes first (the regeneration) and then the good works. Non-Christian modern Jewish teaching for example does not universally claim that works save. I don’t know where this Christian urban legend began, but it should stop.
Jesus is the only way, but other faiths have postulated that our works cannot save us. They have the diagnosis right, but not the cure!
The novel by Dickens is an interesting literary work and is of historical interest about the conditions in England during the Victorian era. It should be treated as such and no more. Such books (and movies based on novels) can be entertaining to watch, but we need to make sure those watching them do not get influenced with wrong ideas that can be conveyed by such media.
It would help if one knew something about the Victorian era. In fact, Answers in Genesis should applaud the anti-materialism in Christmas Carol. Scrooge will not believe in the supernatural despite the evidence, a problem more than one critic of AIG has!
The real “Christmas carol” is found only in the Bible, when the angels sang to the shepherds announcing the birth in Bethlehem of the Savior, who is Christ the Lord. There never has been—and never will be—any salvation for us apart from faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ, which He accomplished on the Cross. In whom or what are you trusting today for your eternal salvation?
If the writer believes this, then I hope he does not sing carols found outside the Bible. He should also read his Bible more carefully, for he will find that the idea that the angels sang is extra-Biblical. It isn’t there, though I too think it likely. So we now see this letter urging us to be Biblical is itself unBiblical. Must I warn my children about it?
Charles Dickens was a flawed man writing from a hurt soul. I don’t know if he was a Christian, but I know his works, including Christmas Carol are deeply infused by Christianity. Like any author, including the writers at Answers in Genesis and me, one should never accept all said without critical examination. For those interested I wrote a ten part blog series on Christmas Carol starting here.
This whole missive exposes the danger of taking a book from another time, in this case the Victorian era, and failing to take the worldview of the typical reader into account in understanding the book. Answers in Genesis, of all organizations, should know better. Still in the Spirit of the Fourth Day of Christmas: God rest them every one!