George MacDonald’s Spiritual Journey (And Mine Too)


George MacDonald’s Spiritual Journey (And Mine Too)
Brian Zahnd

“I have never concealed the fact that I regarded George MacDonald as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote him.” –C.S. Lewis

“I can testify to a book that has made a difference to my whole existence…and it is by George MacDonald.” –G.K. Chesterton

George MacDonald (
1824–1905) was a Scottish novelist, poet, preacher, mystic, lecturer, theologian whose writings have had an enormous influence on many Christian thinkers, including C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton. In my own spiritual journey I would list George MacDonald’s Lilith as a top ten influence.

George MacDonald understood as clearly as anyone that salvation is not so much a conferred status as it is a lifelong journey — a continual pressing into the revelation of God in Christ. But to be a public theologian, thinker, writer and on an ever-evolving spiritual journey, rankles the self-appointed gatekeepers of religious certitude. Thus George MacDonald was regularly (and wrongly) accused of heresy for simply not toeing the line of the Scottish Calvinism predominant in his day.

In the mid 1860’s George MacDonald received a letter from a troubled reader asking why he had lost the “old faith” and embraced what many regarded as “unorthodox” views. MacDonald’s candid reply is brilliant and beautiful and I would like to share it with you. (Plus, as one who has often been criticized for moving beyond an earlier fundamentalist/charismatic certitude, MacDonald’s defense will aptly suffice as my own.)

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“Have you really been reading my books, and at this time ask me what have I lost of the old faith? Much have I rejected of the new, but I have never rejected anything I could keep. At a very early age I had begun to cast them from me; but all the time my faith in Jesus as the Son of the Father of men and the Savior of us all, has been growing. If it were not for the fear of its sounding unkind, I would say that if you had been a disciple of his instead of mine, you would not have mistaken me so much.

“Do not suppose that I believe in Jesus because it is said so-and-so in a book. I believe in him because he is himself. The vision of him in that book, and, I trust, his own living power in me, have enabled me to understand him, to look him in the face, as it were, and accept him as my Master and Savior, in following whom I shall come to the rest of the Father’s peace. The Bible is to me the most precious thing in the world, because it tells me his story.

“But the common theory of the inspiration of the words, instead of the breathing of God’s truth into the hearts and souls of those who wrote it, are in danger of worshiping the letter instead of living in the Spirit, of being idolators of the Bible instead of disciples of Jesus. It is JESUS who is the Revelation of God. Jesus alone is The Word of God.”

With all sorts of doubt I am familiar, and the result of them is, has been, and will be, a widening of my heart and soul and mind to greater glories of the truth — the truth that is in Jesus — and not in Calvin or Luther or St. Paul or St. John, save as they got it from Him, from whom every simple heart may have it, and can alone get it. You cannot have such proof of the existence of God or the truth of the Gospel story as you can have of a chemical experiment. But the man who will order his way by the word of the Master shall partake of his peace, and shall have in himself a growing conviction that in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

“From your letter it seems that to be assured of my faith would be a help to you. I cannot say I never doubt, nor until I hold the very heart of good as my very own in Him, can I wish not to doubt. For doubt is the hammer that breaks the windows clouded with human fancies, and lets in the pure light. But I do say that all my hope, all my joy, all my strength are in the Lord Christ and his Father; that all my theories of life and growth are rooted in him; that his truth is gradually clearing up the mysteries of this world. To Him I belong heart and soul and body, and he may do with me as he will — nay, nay — I pray him to do with me as he wills: for that is my only well-being and freedom.” (From George MacDonald: Scotland’s Beloved Storyteller, Michael R. Phillips, pp. 310-311)

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Amen and Amen.

Stay on the journey.



P.S. Thanks to Peri for reading this passage to me last night as we sat in our cabin during our annual mountain vacation. She is truly a connoisseur of fine books. She’s also my best hiking partner in both mountain and spiritual journeys.


  • Beautiful! Thanks, Brian.

  • Dave Duron

    I have only read some of George MacDonald’s fictional works such as “The Fisherman’s Lady” but resonated with his stories of both a beauty of Scotland that captured your heart and the spiritual journeys of the characters set therein. Thankful for this man who loved Christ and displayed him in a unique way.

  • Dave O’Brien

    Very sad.

  • Sad?

  • Barry Cram

    wonderful… thank you for sharing and giving another point of reference for me to understand my own journey…

  • Awesome. Thanks for sharing this.

  • Dave O’Brien

    Jesus is indeed the Word of God, and revealed unto us in the Bible. Faith comes by hearing the message the Bible has within it’s pages concerning the Word of God. That is not idolatry or worship of the Bible, but respect and trust that the God of all has preserved His message for us. Many false teachers today (and in the past) attempt to exclude the authority and sufficiency of the Bible for “other” revelation. This has led to cultish movements, such as the present day “Christian Universalism”.

  • Dan MacDonald


  • It is sad that someone commented ‘very sad’. This is not sad, but a wonderful joy filled post of our evolving into all this that speak of Christ and his unfailing love.

  • Umm,’Christian Universalism’ is not cultish – lol. Read some of the patristic fathers or Talbot’s ‘The Inescapable Love of God’. Blessings to you my friend!

  • Dave O’Brien

    They preach another Jesus and another gospel, and you have apparently been seduced by it.

  • Dear Momx8,

    [I prefer that people use their real name when posting comments on my blog.]

    It would seem that you are just the person George MacDonald was addressing in this letter. I would like to suggest that you read it again with an attentive mind and open heart.

    Apparently you want to dismiss George MacDonald out of hand. But if C.S. Lewis called MacDonald his master, there’s probably much we can learn from George MacDonald. (Or perhaps you do dismiss Lewis just as easily.)

    In any case, George MacDonald did not preach a “false gospel” as you seem to imply. This sort of reckless bombast is common on the Internet, but I don’t put up with it here. George MacDonald failing to agree with your theology does not make him a heretic.

    As for the others you mentioned… well, this post is on George MacDonald. Please stay on topic.

    I wish you well,

    Brian Zahnd

  • Well said, Steve. I would add that not only is Christian Universalism not cultish, but there’s nothing “present day” about it. Some say it was the majority view of the first 500 years of the church. And Talbott’s book makes more sense of scripture (and Paul particularly) than any book I’ve read. I am glad to see a resurgence of the view in the present day, though.

  • Thank you – and what a beautiful ‘seduction’ it is – peace 😉

  • Thanks Eric, it is a fine work of Talbots 😉 I may not be totally there yet, but I certainly appreciate his writings – the journey continues into the depths of his love…

  • Thank you Brian 😉

  • Dave O’Brien

    Brian – This account is very old, and once belonged to my wife. It logs me in on this account automatically. I am not well educated when it comes to computers and have no idea how to change the log in.

    My real name is Dave O’Brien, and live in the KC area. 58 years old, married, with 8 children.

    You are certainly free to censor those who would disagree with you, because that is a common practice among cults, especially those who preach Christian Universalism. No, I am not a fan of Lewis, and can’t understand why you would think any recommendation from him validates MacDonald. Strange.

    If that kind of thing is important to you, I do appreciate the teachings of Ralph Harris, Andrew Farley, John Lynch, and Paul Ellis. I appreciate much of their teachings, but only because they agree with the Gospel.

    Christian Universalism is as cultish as Reformed theology (they deny that Jesus death was for all men), while CU believes that the death of Jesus saves all men. Both are a false gospel. No one is saved by the death of Jesus, but by His life dwelling in us, by grace through faith, having believed the Gospel Jesus revealed to the Apostle Paul.

  • 1. I’m not a Universalist.

    2. My blog doesn’t mention Universalism.

    3. George MacDonald never mentions Universalism in his writings.

    4. If you’re here just to judge and stir up trouble…please move along.

  • MacDonald shares more on this view in his sermon “The Higher Faith” which is available free online at the following links.



    “It is Christ ‘in whom are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge,’ not the Bible, save as leading to him. And why are we told that these treasures are hid in him who is the Revelation of God? Is it that we should despair of finding them and cease to seek them? Are they not hid in him that they may be revealed to us in due time–that is, when we are in need of them? Is not their hiding in him the mediatorial step towards their unfolding in us? Is he not the Truth?–the Truth to men? Is he not the High Priest of his brethren, to answer all the troubled questionings that arise in their dim humanity?”

  • Maggie Gilbert Beckjord

    Finding Lewis who points to McDonald so allows The Word to reveal itself to each of us. The symbolism that holds that which my mind would sometimes like to destroy with fear and analysis. I really enjoyed your above writing as well as the one I read earlier about genocide. I found it quite surprising when I realized that people had made an idol of His Word and squeezed the very life out of it. As I read the Word and allow The Word to open The Word I find the peace and deep insights that are needed; he tells me in His Word what He is showing me in my other readings, experience of nature, etc.. McDonalds book The North Wind is also fabulous.

  • Jan McLarty

    Dave, I suspect you have not read “Patristic Universalism” by David Burnfield or other scholarly works that reflect the hope of the gospel that pervades even the apostle Paul’s writings?

  • Dave O’Brien

    Jan, I suspect you have not read the Bible. Paul is my apostle, not David Burnfield. When it disagrees with the Bible, it is not “scholarly”, but crap.

  • Dave O’Brien

    Brian, you are a manipulative, anti-Christ, pervert. You don’t know Jesus from Adam.

  • Dave, you may have confused Paul with your interpretation of Paul. You may have confused the Bible with your interpretation of the Bible. Again, I’m not a universalist, but there is a legitimate case to made that the Apostle Paul may have been. Certainly many of the Church Fathers were. Be careful about arrogantly dismissing the scholars; you are dependent upon them. After all, you don’t read Koine Greek do you?

  • I’m an anti-Christ pervert? Well.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    IMO the way you are abusing the
    Bible is the way addicts abuse drugs & alcohol.

  • Dave O’Brien

    In other words, what Brian is saying is that we cannot know the truth, unless we abandon the Bible for subjective revelation within, just like George MacDonald, Caleb Miller, Rob Bell, and Brian Zahnd. Two opposing views cannot both be true. Paul was not a Universalist, and the idea that you would suggest the possibility reveals that you never believed the Gospel, and explains why you have gone out from those who have.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    Dave you are in the last stages of a serious life threatening religious addiction.
    There are serious consequences to this for you and your family.
    I’m so glad that you come to these blogs and show us how much fear, pain & hatred there is in your heart!
    )= sad! I think
    your spewing as a cry for help. IMO probably it’s Providence that you’re here. i want you to know that I’ve been where you’re at & those of us who are in recovery know the kind of pain you know.
    we all love you and are praying for you!

  • First off, I think it’s important to say that Christian Universalists are not Unitarian Universalists. We don’t think that all roads lead to heaven. That should be plain from what follows, but it needs to be said. I think part of the misunderstanding here may have to do with translations. If the translation most of us have of Matt 25:46 is correct, then there is little hope for the salvation of all of those God loves. We are indeed looking at an unimaginably horrible nightmare. But there is a very good case to be made that the translation is misleading. Many Greek scholars argue that the words “aionios” and “kolasis” literally mean age-enduring restorative punishment, not eternal punishment in the sense that it will never end and is only there to cause pain. That opens the door to another view of the purpose of the fires of hell and the outer darkness. This is likely one reason many of the early church fathers had a much different view on hell. They weren’t sifting through translations which are heavily influenced by gatekeepers. Then you may start to look at the fact that when Jesus says the Father loves his enemies, he means it and He will continue to mean it. I find it hard to square the Father loving His enemies, but then torturing them throughout eternity. Dave, when you say that if a view seems to disagree with the Bible, we should be wary of embracing it. I agree. The scriptures tell us that God is love and Jesus says that the Father loves His enemies. If our view of hell portrays God acting in a way that is the opposite of love (endless torture), then we have good reason to question it. It seems to go against His stated nature. “That’s great,” you might say, “but you have no reason to think that all people will be saved.” Well, actually . . . Jesus said “when I am lifted up, I will draw (literally drag) all men to myself.” He said He would find every lost sheep and every lost coin. Paul makes repeated statements about the reconciliation of all things and the restitution of all things. He says “As in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” “God has consigned all to disobedience that He might have mercy on all.” “Therefore just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation
    [or doom] for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to
    justification and life for all” “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.” “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” If death is separation from God, then separation from God is destroyed and all are reconciled to The Father, as Paul says. A great many things that both Christ and Paul said begin to make sense from this view. Then the story of creation becomes a romance, not an unimaginable tragedy. Then the gospel becomes truly good news. Then God is not utterly defeated, but Christ is triumphant. Then evil and misery are not granted an eternal existence alongside goodness. If we believe that God hates darkness we have every reason to believe that He will one day conquer it for good. Then we are not looking at dualism, where Satan rules over a larger kingdom than The Father for all eternity. He does not lose in the end. He wins. Then the bliss of heaven is not soured by our knowledge of the endless torture of our loved ones. From this view the angel had good reason to say “behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people.” There is good Biblical ground for hope here. I certainly understand that other interpretations of these texts are possible. All sides can proof-text. I simply wanted to point to a view, from the scriptures, which you may not have seriously considered. The question I think we should be asking is which view fits most closely with the whole of the story and the character of The Father as revealed in Christ in particular. For a more detailed analysis on the Universalism of Paul, see Thomas Talbott’s free chapter at

  • Dave O’Brien

    You have never been where I am. I am in Christ. You are in Adam, having never believed the Gospel. You have no one who hears your prayers. When you speak to God now it will be the same as when you stand before Him and He says “i never knew you”. Now that’s “sad”.

  • Dave O’Brien

    I’m well aware of the differences between Unitarian Universalism and Christian Universalism. Thanks for your concern.

    Your view of the word “love’ appears to be skewed by effeminate liberalism. God does indeed love all men, and therefore sent His Son to die for all the sins, of all men, of all time – “It is finished”. The Gospel is a revelation of the love of God. God loved the Pharisees, and although they are included in “all men”, unless they believe the Gospel they remain the children of another. Jesus is not a liar, and to correctly tell men that He “never knew” them indicates that not all men are “in Christ” or “one spirit with Him”. The grace of God is for sin, not unbelief. There is no grace for what man believes. Believers believe God – Unbelievers do not believe God. Simple.

    “For this cause also thank we God without ceasing, because, when ye received the word of God which ye heard of us, ye received it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which effectually worketh also in you that believe.”

    “For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed.”

  • Dave O’Brien

    btw Eric, let me also mention that Gentiles are not “lost”. They never belonged. Only the house of Israel is lost. Only a son can be a prodigal. Unbelieving Gentiles are not “lost”.

    I was once very much entrenched in the Charismatic / Pentecostal cults for many years. I understand their obsession with experiences and their wrongly dividing the word of truth. Not everything Jesus says is to the Body of Christ. Israel has not been replaced by the Church. There are promises to the nation yet to be fulfilled. The Body is not also the Bride.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    just want to thank you for taking the time to express all of this! there were many things in your explanation that I did not know & are truly good news!
    I was wondering when I was engaging dave what the outcome
    would be. I myself am blessed by all the people who are patient
    & have taken time to respond kindly to such a hostile person.
    the challenge is to love such. I’m trying to understand his world view &
    have empathy for what life is like for him
    on a day to day basis. according to his profile he’s the father of 8 children.
    one assumes he comes from a culture where ‘liberal’ is a filthy word.
    why would such as he and his wife post on a progressive christian Blog?
    I think something is beginning to trying to wiggle and breaks loose in their
    relationship. that is typically what happens when an addiction stops working.
    coming to progressive Christian blog looking for scapegoats, perhaps, is gods way of working mercy and grace into their lives bc we shall pray for them yeah?

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    I would really like to get to know you.
    I think you need a friend who understands & can
    help you go through the stages of recovery &
    The transition you will be making from religious addiction to real relationships
    with God and others. I have nothing but
    patience, tolerance and love for you and your beautiful family.

  • Dave O’Brien

    I have the life of Christ, so I don’t “need” anything, including prigs like you as a “friend”.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    I’m wondering what you mean by ‘prigs’, why you resort to insulting a child of god like yourself. Brian there is no ‘us or them’, you know.
    No conservatives no liberal,
    male nor female. we are all reconciled or are
    being reconciled in Christ is my understanding.
    the world will know us by our love for one another.
    insulting people on this blog is not very loving of you!

  • Dave O’Brien

    Look it up. Your “understanding” is poor. All men are not in Christ, nor will they be.

  • louismoreaugottschalk

    thank god you’re saying so does not make it so!
    keep coming back!
    may God richly bless you and your family this week!

  • Jan McLarty

    Now I am sure you have not read it. And you do suspect wrong about me. I have been reading the Bible for over fifty years. But more than that, it is the Holy Spirit I follow into Truth and into the new and living way of peace in Christ Jesus, not the letter without the Spirit, not one of the multitudinous doctrines of man. The apostle Paul says Christ is the Savior of all, especially those who believe. It is through belief in the truth that we are set free, that we are saved. Our souls are purified (saved) by obedience to the truth. This is all true, and yet being born from above and salvation are not the same. Does a person give birth to himself?

  • Dave O’Brien

    If you were truly listening to the Spirit, you would know that the Spirit would never testify to something contrary to what is written in the Bible. Since you have ascertained that the “letter” is the Bible, and not that which is written in stone (Law), you prove yourself to not be hearing from the Spirit. Jesus is the Savior of all men who believe the Gospel. Salvation is life. No man is saved by the death of Jesus, that is the same error that Calvinists make, and so does a “Christian” Universalist. Being born of the Spirit is the result of having believed the Gospel. Here is Paul’s testimony to that, which you have missed.

    ” in whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, which is the earnest of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, unto the praise of his glory.” Eph 1″13-14

  • Peter

    Hi Brian, enjoyed your article very much. I am interested in this comment you made, because as I read it, I wondered what view you hold to. From an eternal conscious torment point of view, I do believe that a case could be made for Paul possibly being a universalist – as the immortality of the soul is present in UR and ECT. IOW believing in a post-mortem salvation would not entirely violate the “ECT” points that Paul was making. (The missing evidence for a post-mortem salvation aside for the moment).

    So, in that sense an ECT person could hold both views in tension and say something like “I see the scriptures primarily this way, but leave room for the possibility of this outcome (a hopeful universalism if you will). It is interesting if you read 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 for example that each view requires “destruction” meaning something other than destruction as we normally use the word. One camp defines it “ongoing punishment” while the other calls it “ruination”.

    It occurred to me, though, if one adheres to conditional immortality or annihilation (as I do), from that perspective there is no room for allowing for a possibility that Paul could have been a universalist. Conversely the UR adherent has every reason in the world to flatly deny that CI is a valid view. Ie both cannot be true as they are polar opposites – and Paul could only be espousing one view or the other. When I believed in eternal torment, I used to argue with UR folks and couldn’t get very far (other than to try to disprove their exegesis – but now I find it a lot easier in that the relevant scriptures seem to make more sense to me. Hope that rambling makes sense 🙂

  • Julie

    I have no wish to express any opinions on the theology of George MacDonald. I just want to say that he’s the guy that’s keeping me holding on to Christianity right now. My life line. Thanks for keeping me hanging in there George.

  • Lisa Martinez

    I feel like he’s my spiritual director..
    . And Keller and Piper said he probably wasn’t a Christian… Thank you Brian…