I’ve told you my book club is reading Leo Tolstoy’s The Kingdom of God is Within You, right? I mentioned how interesting the conversation was likely to be given our group’s differing political viewpoints.
What I didn’t realize was how interesting the discussion would end up being due to our shared religious viewpoint.
And how Tolstoy is clearly a heretic.
We had hints that Tolstoy’s beliefs might be less than orthodox from the very beginning–but none of us would have guessed at the revelation that would be unfolded in chapter 3.
Tolstoy denies the inspiration of the Old Testament.
“The man who believes in the inspiration of the Old Testament and the sacred character of David, who commanded on his deathbed the murder of an old man who had cursed him…and similar atrocities of which the Old Testament is full, cannot believe in the holy love of Christ.”
Tolstoy denies the Nicene Creed.
“The Sermon on the Mount, or the Creed. One cannot believe in both….The churches are placed in a dilemma: the Sermon on the Mount or the Nicene Creed–the one excludes the other.”
He denies that the basic doctrines of Christianity have any utility for men nowadays.
“Truly, we need only imagine ourselves in the position of any grown-up man…who has picked up the ideas…of geology, physics, chemistry…when he…consciously compares them with the articles of belief instilled into him in childhood, and maintained by the churches–that God created the world in six days, and light before the sun; that Noah shut up all the animals in his ark, and so on; that Jesus is also God the Son, who created all before time was; that this God came down upon earth to atone for Adam’s sin; that he rose again, ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of the Father, and will come in the clouds to judge the world, and so on. All these propositions, elaborated by men of the fourth century, had a certain meaning for men of that time, but for men of today they have no meaning whatever.“
Tolstoy consider the doctrine of salvation by grace through faith to be a profane doctrine.
“And what is most important of all–the man who believes in salvation through faith in the redemption or the sacraments cannot devote all his powers to realizing Christ’s moral teaching in his life. The man who has been instructed by the church in the profane doctrine that a man cannot be saved by his own powers, but that there is another means of salvation, will infallibly rely upon this means and not on his own powers, which, they assure him, it is sinful to trust in.”
In short, Tolstoy is a heretic.
One of those within our discussion posed the question, “Is Tolstoy even a Christian?” My answer was, “No. He’s not. He has denied every essential doctrine of the orthodox Christian faith. He is not a Christian. He’s a heretic.”
Am I too harsh? I think not.
Then comes the dilemma we faced last night. Should we continue to read the work of a clearly heretical man? Is it worth our time or glorifying to God that we read and discuss Tolstoy’s ideas on nonresistance to evil by force as articulated in the Sermon on the Mount, knowing that Tolstoy rejects the divinity of Christ and every other central tenet of the Christian faith?
What do you think? Would you keep reading?