Man finds it hard to get what he wants, because he does not want the best; God finds it hard to give, because He would give the best, and man will not take it. ~ George MacDonald
Oswald Chambers (1874–1917) wrote in Christian Disciplines, vol. 1, (pub. 1934) that "it is a striking indication of the trend and shallowness of the modern reading public that George MacDonald's books have been so neglected".
C.S. Lewis wrote of MacDonald:
"... I know hardly any other writer who seems to be closer, or more continually close, to the Spirit of Christ Himself. Hence his Christ-like union of tenderness and severity. Nowhere else outside the New Testament have I found terror and comfort so intertwined. ... In making this collection I was discharging a debt of justice. I have never concealed the fact that I regarded him as my master; indeed I fancy I have never written a book in which I did not quote from him. But it has not seemed to me that those who have received my books kindly take even now sufficient notice of the affiliation. Honesty drives me to emphasize it."
Lewis also wrote:
"This collection, as I have said, was designed not to revive MacDonald's literary reputation but to spread his religious teaching. Hence most of my extracts are taken from the three volumes of Unspoken Sermons ." [Emphasis added]
MacDonald pointed people to Christ, and told people that he was just like his Father. (Good teachers do.) I believe no theologian or preacher surpassed MacDonald in this regard. He understood the goodness of God better than Augustine, Luther, or Calvin; and consequently, better represented God in his writing.
"George MacDonald presents a comprehensive picture of God’s Fatherhood that in my opinion is unmatched in scope and clarity in all Christian literature or theology." - Michael Phillips
If you believe God is a loving Father (or you hope he is a loving Father), you will appreciate MacDonald's fictional books—they contain great spiritual truths. If you've never read one of MacDonald's books, a good place to start is with David Jack's translation of Donal Grant, Malcolm, or Castle Warlock (or perhaps Michael Phillip's much shortened and edited version of Heather and Snow).
Episode 1 - Introduction to George MacDonald (a podcast)
MacDonald's teaching is very easy to grasp for many, but very hard to grasp for some; it seems hardest to grasp when a person has been taught (and has believed) particular doctrines for most of one's life. The best introduction I have seen to MacDonald's theology (though I doubt that was the author's primary intent) is The Inescapable Love of God (2nd edition) by Thomas Talbott. After reading that book it would be very hard to dismiss MacDonald's theology on the grounds that it lacks biblical support.
Some have falsely accused MacDonald of Pelagianism. (Pelagius taught that people could live a perfect life without God's help. See here, see also walk therein.) MacDonald taught that only Christ could fill our deepest longings for intimacy, and that without Christ we can do nothing. MacDonald never said that anyone would perfectly obey Jesus in this life (See The Hope of the Gospel ). He taught that in our attempts to obey Jesus we will fail; but our failure to do what he asks, as he asks, ought to drive us to God for help (see here). The more we see that we need his help, the more we will turn to him for help. Trust and obedience lead to greater intimacy with Jesus. (Though I can see how those who have not read much of MacDonald, might read into MacDonald things he did not say. See MacDonald on Free Will.)
"He who thinks of his Saviour as far away can have made little progress in the need of him; and he who does not need much cannot know much, any more than he who is not forgiven much can love much" (page 227 in David Jack's translation of Castle Warlock by George MacDonald).
MacDonald reflected Christ's character; that's why he was so admired by Lewis and others.
“...to try too hard to make people good, is one way to make them worse; ...the only way to make them good is to be good...”(George MacDonald, Sir Gibbie)
If you've never read or heard a sermon by MacDonald, the sermon "The Cause of Spiritual Stupidity" is a good place to start. (The following is the first of three parts.)
After listening to that sermon, it may seem odd to you (as it does to me) that some of today's church leaders have said he was not a Christian. Does something other than confessing ones sins, thanking God for forgiving you, and trusting and obeying Jesus make a person a Christian?
It is true that MacDonald did not believe you had to accept a particular theory of atonement to be a Christian. But it is also true that most of the early Christians had a different view of atonement to most of the Church today, yet they were obviously Christians (see the video below). The point of this video is simply to show that you don't have to accept a particular theory of atonement to be a Christian. (It is worth noting that MacDonald did not accept the theory of atonement presented in this video either. For an in-depth look at what atonement theory best reflects God's character see Atonement, Justice, and Peace by Darrin W. Snyder Belousek (see also). For an in-depth look at how a particular model of atonement came to be dominant see Christus Victor by Gustaf Aulén.)
MacDonald rejected different theories of atonement, but he believed Jesus came to make atonement (see the following conversation).
I highly recommend watching the video on what the early Christians believed about the atonement (above) and reading 1 Corinthians 13:5 and Romans 5:12 in a few different translations. If you read Romans 5:12 carefully you will notice that people die because of their own sin, not because of Adam's sin. We suffer because of Adam's sin, but we are not punished for Adam's sin. A baby might suffer because their mother smoked while pregnant, but the baby is not being punished for their mother's sin. God tells us that children should not be put to death for the sins of their fathers (Deut 24:16). Yes it's true we die because Adam sinned, but only because we've followed in his footsteps --"death spread to all men, because all sinned." (Ironically, Jesse Morrell, a man MacDonald would have likely opposed on a number of issues, has some brilliant insights into the doctrine of original sin, which have helped me better understand MacDonald's position. See the first of 8 parts here.)
MacDonald also claimed that the doctrine of eternal torment is unbiblical. For this reason many have claimed he was not a Christian. But where in the Bible does it say that a person has to hold a particular view about the nature, duration, and purpose of hell to be accepted into God’s Kingdom? (See here.) God's justice is far greater than our justice. (For an indepth look at what true justice is see the chapter "Justice" in Unspoken Sermons. See also That All Shall Be Saved: Heaven, Hell, And Universal Salvation by David Bentley Hart.)
Little Daylight (This is one of MacDonald's children's stories. It's an edited version. The full version can be found in his book At the Back of the North Wind.)
*My favourite George MacDonald books are Sir Gibbie and its sequel Donal Grant. Fortunately, English editions of both books, which stand side by side with the original Scots dialect, have been published by David Jack. A sample can be read here. For a free copy of the original see here. The original is also available on audio through Amazon Books.
At the time of writing this post script (28/12/18), I've started listening to the original and reading the conversations in David Jack's translation at the same time. At first I'd stop listening before each conversation in the Scot's dialect, read the conversation in the translation, and then start listening to the book again. But I found that it was easier to read the entire chapter first and then listen to the audio. This has improved my understanding and made the book more enjoyable.