Grace in the Arts: The Theology Of Leo Tolstoy -- By: James A. Townsend

Journal: Journal of the Grace Evangelical Society
Volume: JOTGES 11:1 (Spring 1998)
Article: Grace in the Arts: The Theology Of Leo Tolstoy
Author: James A. Townsend


Grace in the Arts:
The Theology Of Leo Tolstoy

James A. Townsend

Bible Editor
Cook Communications
Elgin, IL

I. Literary Tribute

F. W. Boreham asserted that “no other author has ever attained during his own lifetime such universal fame as Tolstoy.”1 William Lyon Phelps, a Christian professor of literature at Yale University, claimed: “During the last ten years of his life [Tolstoy] held an absolutely unchallenged position as the greatest living writer in the world…” 2 Tolstoy’s earlier contemporary, Fyodor Dostoevsky, declared that Tolstoy was “unquestionably…the most beloved writer among the Russian public of all shades.”3 The great composer Tchaikovsky stated: “Tolstoy in my opinion is the greatest of all the writers the world has ever known.”4 Tolstoy was also Lenin’s favorite writer. Biographer Ernest Simmons observed that Tolstoy “probably had the largest personal mail of any man in the world” of that time.5 Many specialists in the field of literature would place Tolstoy’s War and Peace or Anna

Karenina (or both) on the list of the top ten world’s greatest novels.

Professor Phelps, a Christian, claimed that “the Christian religion is the dominating force in the works of [the Russian writers] Gogol, Tolstoy, and Dostoevsky.”6 While no one would deny that religious themes are certainly operative in Tolstoy’s novels, the brunt of this article will show that Tolstoy was not really a Christian at all—as is bountifully evidenced by his antisupernaturalistic theology.

Precisely because the bulk of this theological critique will be negative, at the outset a few of Tolstoy’s noteworthy personal features should be listed. First, on more than one occasion Tolstoy got personally involved in famine relief for Russian peasants. He donated sizable amounts of his own funds, traveled, organized, and solicited help from others on behalf of the starving peasants. In Gal 2:10, the apostle Paul encouraged Christians to “remember the poor,” which he was “eager to do”—and often some modern Evangelicals seem reluctant to do. Second, the world-famous author was an educational innovator in launching and teaching at a free school for peasant children. He also grieved over his own family’s wea...

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