Search this blog

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 4.38.29 PMI am doing a blog series on Novels Every Christian Should Consider Reading.

R.C. Sproul (Drs, Free University of Amsterdam) is chancellor of Reformation Bible College, co-pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Florida, founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, and author of numerous books, including Everyone’s a Theologian.

moby-dick-or-whale-charles-feidelson-paperback-cover-artIf your goal is to write the Great American Novel, I have bad news for you. Herman Melville accomplished that feat more than one hundred and fifty years ago when he wrote Moby Dick.

The greatness of Moby Dick is in its unparalleled theological symbolism that is sprinkled abundantly throughout the novel. For example, consider its use of biblical names for characters such as Ahab, Ishmael, and Elijah, and ships such as Jeroboam and Rachel.

Melville scholars disagree on the meaning of the central symbolic character of the novel—the great white whale, Moby Dick.

Many argue that he symbolizes the incarnation of evil. Ahab certainly holds this view, as he is driven by a monomaniacal hatred for this creature that took his leg and left him permanently damaged in body and soul.

Other scholars are convinced that the whale symbolizes God Himself. Thus, Ahab’s pursuit of the whale is not a righteous pursuit of God but natural man’s futile attempt in his hatred of God to destroy the omnipotent deity.

I favor this second view.

I believe that Moby Dick contains the greatest chapter ever written in the English language: “The Whiteness of the Whale.” Here we find insight into Melville’s profound symbolism as he explores how whiteness is used in history, religion, and nature. The terms he uses to describe the appearance of whiteness in these areas include elusive, ghastly, and transcendent horror, as well as sweet, honorable, and pure. Melville writes:

But not yet have we solved the incantation of this whiteness, and learned why it appeals with such power to the soul; and more strange and far more portentous—why, as we have seen, it is at once the most meaning symbol of spiritual things, nay, the very veil of the Christian’s Deity; and yet should be as it is, the intensifying agent in things the most appalling to mankind. Is it that by its indefiniteness it shadows forth the heartless voids and immensities of the universe, and thus stabs us from behind with the thought of annihilation, when beholding the white depths of the milky way? Or is it, that as in essence whiteness is not so much a colour as the visible absence of colour; and at the same time the concrete of all colours; is it for these reasons that there is such a dumb blankness, full of meaning, in a wide landscape of snows—a colourless, all-colour of atheism from which we shrink? . . . And of all these things, the albino whale was the symbol. Wonder ye then at the fiery hunt?

If the whale embodies everything symbolized by whiteness—that which is terrifying; that which is pure; that which is excellent; that which is horrible and ghastly; that which is mysterious and incomprehensible—does he not embody those traits that are found in the perfections of God Himself?

Who can survive the hostile pursuit of such a being? Only those who have experienced the sweetness of reconciling grace can look at the overwhelming power, sovereignty, and immutability of the transcendent God and find peace rather than a drive for vengeance.

Read Moby Dick—and then read it again.

View Comments


9 thoughts on “R. C. Sproul: A Novel Every Christian Should Consider Reading”

  1. Ken Abbott says:

    As soon as I saw Dr. Sproul’s name on the header, I knew what novel he recommends. He’s well-known for his regard for “Moby Dick,” which he has described as the Great American Novel. I have managed only to get about a quarter of the way into the book–tough sailing, if you’ll pardon the pun.

  2. Ben says:

    Maybe an abridged version, one that won’t make you want to fling it at the wall and burn every copy you can find because you can’t bear to read another chapter in his “dictionary of whales” after you suffered through two chapters of his “encyclopedia of whales.”… Worse than the 50 pages on convent life or sewers in Les Mis. ;)

    1. Ken Abbott says:

      Or the seemingly endless ruminations on the argot of the Paris streets. Clearly Hugo was a frustrated linguist.

  3. “What could be more full of meaning?—for the pulpit is ever this earth’s foremost part; all the rest comes in its rear; the pulpit leads the world. From thence it is the storm of God’s quick wrath is first descried, and the bow must bear the earliest brunt. From thence it is the God of breezes fair or foul is first invoked for favourable winds. Yes, the world ’s a ship on its passage out, and not a voyage complete; and the pulpit is its prow.”

    The Pulpit leads the world.

  4. Tom Smedley says:

    Melville, I believe, walked away from the Reformed faith, and embraced Swedenborgism (The Church of the New Jerusalem). In the back of his mind, however, he dreaded the possibility that he’d bet on the wrong team.

  5. QED says:

    This book certainly has *some* good elements to it. The prose, for instance, are good. There is the skeleton of a good story. But overall the book is a mess. I read the book myself sometime last year and thought “This is 95% garbage.” I then did a bit of research and found that the book was largely criticized when it first came out. Its popularity is a more recent phenomena. Frankly, I agree with the earlier sentiments. The book needs a boat-load of editing. I suspect its mainly consider the great American novel because of its pretentious size and exaggerated prose rather than any actual merits.

  6. David Moore says:

    Moby Dick is definitely on my short list. I trust Hawthorne’s A Scarlet Letter and Huxley’s Brave New World get picked.

  7. Dick Crumb says:

    “They call me Ishmael” is, more than “It was a dark and stormy night” the classic start to a classic story. I recall my high school teacher as we began the study of Moby Dick years ago now saying with a wink, “it’s just a fish story”…. What a powerful and thoughtful allegory penned by Melville. I need to read it again with new “born again” eyes!

    1. David H. says:

      It’s not “They call me Ishmael.” It’s “Call me Ishmael.” There is a chasm between those two sentences.

Comments are closed.

Search this blog


Justin Taylor photo

Justin Taylor, PhD

Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

Justin Taylor's Books