I watched the TV series Christy in 1994, and again sixteen years later on the Gospel Music Channel. It is based on Catherine Marshall’s novel, and it is about a nineteen year old girl, Christy Huddleston, who leaves the big city to teach in the Smoky mountains, working for a Christian mission.
For reasons that I detail here (though I flinch at some of what I wrote in that post), I did not care for Christy in 1994, but I really enjoyed it in 2010. I have been reading Christian fiction lately, so I decided to read Christy, which is such an exemplary work of Christian fiction that there is a Christy Award for Christian authors.
It is a quality book, let me tell you that, higher in quality than
most of the other works of Christian fiction that I have read. While it
does not use SAT words, the prose is a little less simple, so I
feel a sense of accomplishment after reading it. Moreover, the book has
its share of religious discussions. You have a pastor, David, who has
been taught the historical-critical method of the Bible. You have Miss
Alice Henderson, a devout Quaker who still looks critically at
Quakerism. You have Dr. Neil McNeill, who believes that someone started
the universe yet does not really believe in a God who cares for people,
with all the suffering he’s seen as a doctor, his commitment to
science, and the pain that he himself has experienced. And you have
Christy, a young woman trying to sort out and articulate what she
believes and why.
There were many scenes in the book that made their way into the TV
series and the movies, and there were scenes in the TV series and the
movie that were not in the book. The book also had scenes that I do not
recall from the TV series and movies, such as the ones of Christy going
to the city to request donations for the mission. In many cases, the
scenes were in a different order in the book from what they were in the
TV series and movies. In some cases, the book’s scenes were a bit
different. In the book, for example, the scene in which Pastor David is
debating with Aunt Polly on her deathbed about what happens to people
after they die (immortal soul vs. soul sleep?) presents Aunt Polly as
having a bit more humility than she had on the TV show. In the book,
Aunt Polly had her convictions based on her interpretation of Scripture
and her personal experiences, but she acknowledged that what happens
after death is a much discussed and debated issue.
If I identified with anyone in the book, it would probably be David,
the pastor, though I did not particularly care for David’s condescension
to Christy. David went to seminary and learned the historical-critical
method. He did not take all of the Bible literally, and he sought a
naturalistic explanation for miracles (which I do not do myself, but I
believe in other ideas of historical-criticism). Yet, he admired Jesus
as one who stood up for righteousness and justice, and he believed in an
afterlife because, if nature manifests life after death through the
seasons, why wouldn’t humans experience life after death? David
diligently serves the mountain community, but he questions his calling,
since he entered the ministry to please his mother and sisters. Miss
Alice, who does not have the theological training that David has yet has
lots of experience and wisdom, offers David valuable insights as he
wrestles with whether to stay in the ministry or to leave.
Miss Alice was my favorite character in the book. I pictured her as
Tyne Daly, who played her in the TV series, even though Miss Alice in
the book had blond hair. Miss Alice encourages Christy’s questioning
and attempts to figure out what she believes. Miss Alice is a major
proponent of reconciliation and sticking with relationships rather than
ending them, which is a sore spot for me, but I still respected and
admired her Christian walk. In sharing with Christy why she believes
that there is a God, Miss Alice referred Christy to the passage in
John’s Gospel in which Jesus said that those who obey God know whether
Jesus’ words are from God or are of human origin. That seems to be a
significant aspect of Miss Alice’s (and perhaps Catherine Marshall’s)
theology: that one experiences God when one heeds God’s call to reach
out and help someone, not just in a general sense, but when God calls
one to help a specific person.
The book had valuable lessons. I could identify with Christy when
she wrote to businesses requesting donations, without telling the people
with whom she worked what she was doing. That led to disaster, as the
mission began receiving a bunch of donations people did not want, and
Christy ended up stomping on the mountaineers’ reluctance to receive
charity, as well as the mission workers’ belief that one should not give
to charity under pressure but only if one wants to do so. Another part
of the book that spoke to me involved sermons by David and Miss Alice.
David preached sternly against moonshining, and that offended people.
When someone got killed in a conflict over moonshining, there was a
recognition that the funeral sermon needed to be tactful: it had to
challenge the infighting and resentments within the mountain community,
without appearing to attack the mountain people. David let Miss Alice
give the message, and it accomplished that very goal. Miss Alice told
the story of Lazarus. Her message was winsome, but it firmly stood for
what was right.
As in one of the movies, Dr. McNeill in the book repents before God
while Christy is suffering from typhoid, saying that he loves Christy.
That would have been more believable had Dr. McNeill spent more time
with Christy, as he did in the TV series and movies. Moreover, I tend
to recoil from non-believers being depicted as non-believing on account
of some pain that they personally experienced, for many non-believers
arrived at their conclusions for intellectual reasons. Still, I do give
Catherine Marshall credit for depicting Dr. McNeill as a good and
caring person, even when he was a non-believer.
I should also note that, although Christy was a schoolteacher, there
were not as many scenes of her teaching school as I anticipated. A lot
of the book focused on the surrounding community and its challenges.
I still enjoyed this book, and I can see why it is so highly-regarded.