A Christmas Carol is the story of a miserly old man named Scrooge who is visited by four spirits, or ghosts, one Christmas eve: his long-dead former business partner, Marley; and then in immediate succession the ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future. It is a story that has become a part of the American psyche and has done more to shape our view of Christmas than any other piece of literature, including the Bible.
In his book, The Man Who Invented Christmas, Les Standiford describes Dickens as “the first modern novelist” and “the chief spokesman for his age.” During the mid-1800s, Charles Dickens was the most famous novelist of his time. He had come from a childhood of poverty and humiliation to become one of England’s most articulate social critics, and he used his gifts as a novelist to advance a social agenda that still influences social policy today.
When he published A Christmas Carol in 1843 he had already made a name for himself with such novels as The Pickwick Papers, Oliver Twist, and The Old Curiosity Shop. But by 1843 he was nearly bankrupt.
Really for no other reason than he desperately needed the money, Dickens began writing A Christmas Carol in October of 1843 and finished it in just six weeks, releasing it just in time for Christmas on December 19. All 6,000 of the original copies sold out within a few days.
A Christmas Carol is more than just a heartwarming Christmas tale. At its very foundation is an intentional presentation of an alternative gospel based in Charles Dickens’s humanistic view of the world, which can be summarized as:
The happiness of man is his ultimate end and purpose. We are fellow travelers to the grave and therefore ought to seek all of the pleasure this life has to offer. “The end he sought in all his zeal was a society in which the pleasures of life could be enjoyed by everyone: culture, entertainment, good food and drink, convivial fellowship, and a happy family.”
Man is basically good and possesses an “innate decency.” Dickens believed “in the possibility of an individual’s capability for self-determination,” that “man had the capacity to change himself and his lot in life.”
The source of man’s sin is his ignorance, which leads him to poverty and ultimately to commit crime. Dickens offered education and benevolence as the solution. “With the application of his knowledge, reason, and innate decency, mankind had everything needed to make a just and happy world.”
All of these themes find their apex in A Christmas Carol:
Les Standiford: “A Christmas Carol is a bald-faced parable that underscores Dickens’s enduring themes: the deleterious effects of ignorance and want, the necessity for charity, the benefits of goodwill, family unity, and the need for celebration of the life force, including the pleasures of good food and drink, and good company.”
A Christmas Carol presents “a secular counterpart to the story of the Nativity.” Dickens “complemented the glorification of the nativity of Christ with a specific set of practices derived from Christ’s example: charity and compassion in the form of educational opportunity, humane working conditions, and a decent life for all. Just as vital as the celebration of the birth of a holy savior into a human family was the glorification and defense of the family unit itself.”
Colossians 2:8-15 deals head on with the humanist error of focusing on the humanity of Christ to the exclusion of his deity, which is precisely the error that Dickens makes. The humanism of Charles Dickens values the example of Christ more than Christ himself, a view of Jesus that betrays an unbiblical understanding of the humanity of Christ:
1. The Humanity of Christ was a veil for the Deity of Christ: v. 9
(Hebrews 10:19-20 “through the veil, that is, through his flesh”)
2. The Humanity of Christ was a vehicle for the deliverance of God’s people from their sins: v. 13; Colossians 1:22
Here Jesus deals with Christmas Past: Dickens believed man could atone for his past mistakes by living more charitably in the present.
a) Matthew 1:19 – 21 “He shall save his people from their sins”
b) 1 Peter 2:24 “He himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree”
c) John 1:29, 35 “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”
d) Isaiah 53:6 “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all”
3. The Humanity of Christ made possible his victory over the devil: v. 15; Hebrews 2:14 – 18
Here Jesus deals with Christmas Future: Dickens believed that your future reward was based on your present life of good works and benevolence.
a) Through his resurrection he has defeated death and the devil: delivering those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage: this is Scrooge’s fundamental problem: he doesn’t want to die.
b) Through his resurrection he has become our priest
Jesus did not come into the world to reveal to man his own potential. Jesus came into the world “when we were yet without strength” and he died for the ungodly.
Jesus didn’t come into the world to be an example of how humans should live charitable lives. He came into the world, not to rehabilitate us or to reform us, but to make us new.