To a reader:
Thank you for writing. I took no offense whatever, as you feared, when I read your letter. Honest questions are always good. I appreciate your honesty and that you expressed your concern. I do understand it, and as you might expect it is a question that has been raised before about my books.
Now occasionally I will have a character confronted with what you call an overt and unambiguous “salvation message” and then pray a very traditional salvation prayer. In fact, I wrote one whole book (Destiny Junction) which has many characters come to salvation in a great variety of ways—some traditional, some not so. I am probably far more a traditionalist in such things than was MacDonald. I do not know of a single instance in all MacDonald’s books where a character prays a traditional evangelical “sinner’s prayer.” But I do so in my books on occasion and believe that true saving faith does come through what I call “traditional” prayers in many instances.
But not every true experience with God, not every true encounter with Jesus, not every yielding of the heart, not every relinquishment of self will, not every repentance, not every dynamic recognition of God’s Fatherhood, not every turnaround in life, not every transformation of human heart, not every entry into the kingdom of God comes that way.
And that is why I keep most of the most deeply personal moments of encounter with Jesus and his Father in my books off stage, so to speak. It is in recognition that every such encounter is unique, and not nearly all come by traditional means that could be described with the kind of traditional language that you spoke of.
What I object to is the view that there is only one method, one means, one type of prayer which qualifies as “coming to the Father through Jesus.” Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life…but all do not enter into that and experience that truth and life in exactly the same way. That’s why I am reluctant to formularize it in my books. I try to set up the circumstances and personal growth that leads a character to the doorway, but then leave it to the reader’s imagination to fill in the rest. That’s obviously not a perfect way to communicate that everyone has to discover the Lord’s saviorhood and the Father’s Fatherhood individually. I am often misunderstood as thinking that salvationary commitment doesn’t matter. I don’t believe that. It matters more than anything in the world. But being misunderstood at that point, because of my strong aversion to formularizing it, is an unfortunate by-product of my somewhat vague method.
In not formularizing salvation in every instance into specific salvation words or with a specific prayer, I try to follow MacDonald’s own example. He is both my writing and my spiritual mentor. I learned this method from him. I am so glad to hear that you and your husband have enjoyed many MacDonald books because it gives me confidence that you will understand what I am talking about. Even in his deathbed scenes, MacDonald never has a character pray a salvation prayer, and never that I know of presents what you call a “real salvation message.” I think that his priority was the same as I have tried to make mine—to show how individual salvation must be. By not formularizing it, he does not reduce its importance. Just the opposite, he makes that experience larger and more encompassing. I hope I am doing the same thing.
I also believe that I am following the Lord’s own example. Jesus did not press Nicodemus toward a decision either. Jesus never pressed. He was willing to let people walk away. There isn’t a single salvation prayer in the gospels, no formula, no altar call, no sinner’s prayer. I believe that we actually deviate from Jesus’ example by trying to put salvation into a word-formula. And we seriously deviate from his example by putting a salvation prayer in other people’s mouths. Maybe I am missing something in his exchange with Nicodemus in John 3, but honestly I do try to use this as my model. Yes, there needs to be repentance and the Spirit of Christ invited in…but the ways and means by which that can happen are infinite. The more I might try to describe it specifically and with specific words and phrases, the more I would be limiting God’s capacity to accomplish it in a million other ways.
Another thing that might help explain my method a little more would be to say that I feel zero urgency about such things, nor any inclination to try to persuade people to accept Jesus or invite him in. There is no urgency to be found anywhere in the gospels. If a reader was truly being “drawn” by the Spirit of God, I believe he would find what he or she needed in the exchange between Percy and his uncle. If they were not being drawn, then no words or salvation message I might have included would have accomplished what only God himself can accomplish. In other words, I always try to leave the majority of it in God’s hands. I do not want to usurp his role by trying to persuade with urgently phrased salvation pleas. It is God’s work to do, not mine. My job is merely to set the stage.
I would be very interested in your further thoughts. Again…I appreciate your writing and raising this important question.