by Ronald R Johnson (www.ronaldrjohnson.com)
While still in North Manchester, Indiana, Lloyd Douglas wrote a book called More Than a Prophet. It’s a hard book to categorize. Although he considered it fiction, it wasn’t a novel, and it certainly wasn’t anything like the novels he would write later in life. It seems more like a prose poem.
It’s about John the Baptist… before he was born. That’s right. Although there is no other hint anywhere in Douglas’s writings or sermons that he believed that we humans pre-existed before our earthly lives, he does seem to have believed that John the Baptist did. Or at least he believed it when he wrote this book. In this story, the pre-existent John is actually an angel, and he volunteers to become a human in order to prepare the way for Christ. It’s a highly imaginative work, and in places the language is quite lovely. It’s also surprising that some of the more seasoned ministers, to whom he sent a copy, didn’t chafe at its theological implications; for this story says that the pre-existent John was an angel who almost joined forces with Satan, and came to earth to atone for his sin.
Here’s the review I posted about it on Amazon a number of years ago:
Potential readers should be aware that this book is unlike any of the novels for which Lloyd Douglas is famous. It was published more than twenty years before his bestsellers, when he was newly graduated from Wittenberg College’s divinity school. It is of historic interest because it was written just before he committed his life to an updating of the faith, to meet the demands of the modern age. There is nothing modern in this book, and there is very little in it that is even of earthly interest. The hero of the story is an angel, and much of the action occurs in the heavens. All the dialogue is in Elizabethan English.
Nevertheless, there is something wondrous about Douglas’s narrative voice in this book. It has a strange cadence, like poetry. The landscape of the story is also more grand and sweeping than in any of his later novels, since it takes us beyond the material world. And it is fascinating to read his account of what happens to the devil and his army of mutinous angels – this from an author who, later on, was quite passionate about denying the existence of a devil. If you think you know Lloyd Douglas, this slender book is full of surprises.
It is a difficult book to read, however, and most readers would be best advised to avoid it. But for those who respect the mind of Lloyd Douglas and want to trace his evolution as a religious thinker and as a popular writer, it may be well worth the effort.Reviewed November 3, 2008 on Amazon
When Douglas was unsuccessful at finding a publisher for the book, he borrowed some money and printed 1000 copies, optimistic that he could sell them himself. He was a good salesman in other respects, but he never sold more than 500 copies of the book, and he ended up lugging them around from one parsonage to another over the course of his ministry. It became one of the great regrets of his life, most of all because he was unable to repay the debt. It wasn’t until he got his first royalty check from Magnificent Obsession (in 1929) that he was finally able to pay back the person who had loaned him the money.
Years after its publication, he gave his daughter Betty a copy and wrote this inscription: “More Than a Prophet was less than a profit.” In their book, The Shape of Sunday, Betty and her sister Virginia admit, with a great sense of guilt, that they were unable to read the book all the way through.
Having said all this, however, I found the book fascinating. I gave it 3 out of 5 stars on Amazon because I wanted to warn potential buyers that it’s not a typical Lloyd Douglas novel. But it does provide a snapshot of his spiritual state at that time in his life, and of his theology. Combined with his sermons and the magazine articles that he would soon begin to publish in abundance, this book presents us with a super-serious young man who thought deeply, and with great originality, about things that most Christians take for granted. He especially felt the need to understand – and then to explain to others – some of the Bible’s more enigmatic passages. In fact, this tendency (to focus on problematic scripture verses) was the driving force behind his writing, his speaking, and his career decisions in the years to come.
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