Reclaiming 'A Christmas Carol'
By Stephen Skelton
The Entertainment Ministry
Stephen Skelton, author of the new book A Christmas Carol: Special Church Edition, thinks that among the red-nosed reindeer and talking snowmen of the season, Charles Dickens’ beloved Christmastime classic has been misplaced.
The new book features the entire novel along with copious study notes on the margins of each page that show where Charles Dickens reveals his Christian faith within the story. Skelton recently spoke with CBN.com about A Christmas Carol: Special Church Edition.
"Today, too many of us view A Christmas Carol as a secular seasonal story, in the same category as the stories of Rudolph or Frosty,” said Skelton in a recent interview. “But that’s not where it belongs at all.”
“In the first place, with Charles Dickens, you’re dealing with a self-proclaimed Christian author. And in the second place, he has infused his story with Christian meaning. After all, this is the writer who said, ‘I have always striven in my writings to express the veneration for the life and lessons of our Savior…’”
“This book really started last year when I wrote a video-based Bible study on A Christmas Carol. While I was doing the research for the Bible study, I learned for myself that Charles Dickens was a Christian—and that he wove this Gospel parallel into A Christmas Carol on purpose.”
“So this year, we created this little church hand-out book that features the complete text of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol—along with running notes in the margins of each page which show how fully the story of Ebenezer Scrooge was influenced by the teachings of Jesus Christ.”
Skelton said that, throughout the novel, Dickens embedded scriptural references and biblical allusions that many readers today, both Christian and non-Christian, don’t catch.
“For example, look at the title of the book. Today we may think of a carol as a secular seasonal song such as ‘Jingle Bells.’ But Dickens didn’t know that meaning. Dickens is using the original meaning of ‘a Christmas carol,’ which is a song celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ. Then, to reinforce that his novel is a song celebrating the birth of Jesus Christ, Dickens does not call the sections of his book chapters, he calls them staves, which means the stanzas of a song.”
“Another example is when the ghost of Jacob Marley shows up, he’s transparent," Skelton continued. "And Dickens writes, ‘Scrooge had often heard it said that Marley had no bowels, but he had never believed it until now.’ Which makes no sense unless you understand that Dickens is actually referring to the book of l John where John mentions our “bowels of compassion.” And so if you don’t understand it’s compassion that Dickens is actually talking about, you miss his meaning—and the reason for Marley’s eternal damnation.”
Asked for another example, Skelton revealed the hidden meaning behind a very well-known name. “One of the main characters is Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim’s dad and Scrooge’s clerk. In using the name ‘Cratchit,’ Dickens has used the root word ‘cratch.’ That is the old English word for crèche, or the manger of baby Jesus.”
Referencing the earlier video-based Bible study he wrote, Skelton laid out the four biblical principles upon which Dickens built his Christmas redemption tale. “Dickens established the first part of the story to deal with the principle of sinfulness, specifically selfishness. This would take us from the start of the story all the way up till the ghost of Jacob Marley appears.”
“Next he moves into the principle of regret, which Scrooge experiences with the Spirit of Christmas Past. Then, Scrooge experiences repentance with the Spirit of Christmas Present. And finally, Scrooge experiences salvation when he prays for forgiveness as the Spirit of Christmas Future leaves him. So the story takes you from sinfulness to regret to repentance to salvation—which is not only Ebenezer Scrooge’s journey, but it’s our journey as well.”
Skelton added that when Dickens wrote this story, the people of his day readily understood the biblical meaning. “But, tragically, the Bible no longer provides the foundation for the common language of people in our society.”
“However, significantly, the stories that use that biblical language, such as A Christmas Carol, continue to be celebrated and embraced—which allows an excellent opportunity for Christians to reveal what biblical meaning actually calls people to that story.”
“There seems to be a modern perception that all of our great literary giants must have been atheists, or must not have been Christians. In truth, Christians need to promote classic Christian literary figures. Dickens’ A Christmas Carol should find its rightful place alongside the likes of C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkein’s The Lord of the Rings—alongside other acknowledged works of celebrated Christian fiction.”
To solidify his point, Skelton offered a surprising fact from Dickens’ family life. “He was such a dedicated Christian, and so concerned that his children would know Christ, that he wrote a book called The Life of our Lord that was his retelling of the Gospel and was intended only for his children.”
The first chapter of A Christmas Carol: Special Church Edition has been posted on-line at the ministry Web site, www.EntMin.com The $1.99 book can also be ordered at this site or by calling the toll-free number 1-800-999-0101.
With a bemused tone, Skelton added that, while the book was originally intended to be a church hand-out gift, because of the low price of $1.99, the books ended up costing less than some Christmas cards, and so people are also using them in place of cards, small gifts and stocking stuffers.
In closing, Skelton remarked, “Perhaps the best thing I discovered through the research on this book is that our greatest Christmas classic really was based on the Greatest Story Ever Told—and that has brought me great joy.”
Order A Christmas Carol: Special Church Edition
Also from Stephen Skelton on CBN.com:
Superman and the Gospel Story
Superman's Messianic Message
CBN.com's Christmas Feature
More Church and Ministry
More from Spiritual Life
Stephen Skelton serves as founder of The Entertainment Ministry. Previously, he has served as a writer-producer for Dick Clark Productions and later as host and writer for The Mayberry, Beverly Hillbillies, Van Dyke Show, Bonanza, Super Man and Lucy Show Bible studies. As a Christian in the entertainment industry, Stephen seeks to identify God's purposes in popular entertainment.
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