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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.
To a reader:
I am frequently asked about (and sometimes taken to task by readers in the process!) the occasional references in my books to God being the Father of all mankind, or to my saying that God’s Spirit resides in all.
Many of my perspectives about God’s Fatherhood stem from my own experience as a father. For about an eight year period, one of my sons disowned me as his father. He went so far as to renounce me in writing, and called another man “Dad.” Thankfully, that season of his rebellion is past and we are now in relationship again. Yet the love in my heart for him during that time taught me many lessons about God himself. I loved this son no less than my other sons. There was no difference in the love I felt for him. And this is the key point: He was no less my son during his time of rebellion than he was before, or than he is now. He was still my son. My spirit, my life, even my personality were still evident in him. He even looked like me! He could pretend to deny the connection, but my fatherhood was evident and alive in everything about him.
I believe it is the same with God and his creation. Some say that my view cannot come from Scripture. I would say it comes from the very foundation of Scripture—from Genesis 2 and 3. God created man in his image. What can this possibly mean but that God’s Spirit, his very life, exists within mankind? No one could live without God’s life beating inside him. When we speak of man’s soul, we are recognizing that God placed something unique in man, a tiny piece of himself that distinguishes man from the rest of creation. God lives within all men and women. What is God’s Spirit but life itself? That life, that in-his-imageness, is reflected in every human being. I find nothing in Scripture to indicate that sin removed that divine fingerprint from the heart of man. Sin created a breach which must be dealt with. But God never took away his intrinsic life.
The fact that many men and women do not recognize the connection with their Father, even deny his existence, or deny his truth by their rebellion, does not change the fact that he is their Creator who gave them life. My son’s denial of me did not change the fact of my fatherness. Neither does the rebellion of mankind change the fact of God’s Fatherness. I do not believe we can adequately or correctly understand the mission of Jesus, or the message of the Gospels, without this underlying perspective of the universal Fatherhood. It is at this point that the Gospels come alive and fully make sense. Jesus came to lead us home to our Father, in the same way that my wayward son eventually returned to me.
I am always at a loss to understand why readers occasionally find this an offensive perspective. I would be very interested to know what you think of what I have said, and what being made “in God’s image” means to you.
A big thanks to those of you who responded to our previous post asking for feedback about the new world of electronic books. Coincidently, a front page story in USA TODAY just a few days ago discussed the disappearance of traditional books and home libraries as we have known them. Hopefully there will always remain book lovers in the world for whom the feel and smell and sensual pleasure of reading a book will never be replaced by a little screen.
Since our previous post, we have ventured a little further into the world of ebooks. We have reached an agreement with Bondfire Books, a new company partnering with Amazon that will be exclusively publishing ebooks. The first two series that will be available in this new line will be The Secret of the Rose books and the American Dreams trilogy. They will be followed by two edited George MacDonald titles, The Highlander’s Last Song and The Laird’s Inheritance. These books will be available, we believe, sometime later this year.
In the meantime, most of our recent Phillips titles (Angel Harp, Heather Song, From Across the Ancient Waters, and to come later this year Treasure of the Celtic Triangle) are now available as ebooks, as well as are the Shenandoah Sisters and Carolina Cousins series.
We continue to appreciate your input about these subjects, and anything else connected with this website and our books. Blessings to you all.
The original website about George MacDonald and Michael Phillips is now eight years old and has not kept up with the times in “user-friendliness.” Nor was direct ordering of books and materials possible through that site.
Fatheroftheinklings.com has been established to make the addition of new material more streamlined, as well as to provide the ease of direct ordering.
However, macdonaldphillips will remain as a sister website which still contains information and articles that may be of interest to readers.
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