Why Dostoevsky was the greatest novelist and the greatest Christian storyteller

"Portrait of Fedor Dostoyevsky" by Vasily Perov [Public domain image from Wikimedia]i have greatly enjoyed reading the works of the Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoevsky (1821-1881), in particular his books The Brothers Karamazov and Crime and Punishment.  They plumb the darkest depths of the human psyche and rise to praise the heights of divine grace in ways few other works of fiction have done.

The well-read theologian J.I. Packer regards Dostoevsky as “the greatest novelist, as such, and the greatest Christian storyteller, in particular, of all time.”  Here is why he makes this bold claim:

Dostoyevsky is to me both the greatest novelist, as such, and the greatest Christian storyteller, in particular, of all time. His plots and characters pin­point the sublimity, perversity, meanness, and misery of fallen human adult hood in an archetypal way matched only by Aeschylus and Shakespeare, while his dramatic vision of God’s amazing grace and of the agonies, Christ’s and ours, that accompany salvation, has a range and depth that only Dante and Bunyan come anywhere near. Dostoyevsky’s immediate frame of reference is Eastern Orthodoxy and the cultural turmoil of nineteenth-century Russia, but his constant theme is the nightmare quality of unredeemed existence and the heartbreaking glory of the incarnation, whereby all human hurts came to find their place in the living and dying of Christ the risen Redeemer.

The Gospel in Dostoyevsky: Selections from his works (Rifton, NY: Plough, 2011), v.

The e-book quoted from above, which contains selections from several of Dostoevsky’s books (read the whole books as well!), is available for free from Plough Books.

David Powlison of the Christian Counselling and Educational Foundation has also been deeply stirred by Dostoevsky’s penetrating insight into the human condition.  Watch this five-minute reflection titled Learning Sanctification from Fyodor Dostoevsky.

For the record, it was in a note in Tony Reinke’s book Lit! A Christian guide to reading (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011) that i came across J.I. Packer’s acclamation of Dostoevsky.  Lit! is an excellent guide to why, what, and how to read.  i have been thoroughly enjoying it and highly recommend it!


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