Story: My first encounter with MacDonald was in the 8th or 9th grade. I read At The Back of the North Wind and found it so ethereally different from everything else I'd read. Between that, being intrigued by his Scottish roots (having just discovered my own), and finding out about MacDonald's influence on my favorite author, C. S. Lewis, I decided to read the biography of George MacDonald by Michael Phillips. I was quite impressed by the character I saw there and was perhaps a little puzzled how he could have been such a great man and thinker and believed that all would be saved (this may have been the first time I'd encountered that belief). I enjoyed Phantastes, and I journeyed through Lilith about as bewildered as Mr. Vane. His writing made an impact I couldn't put my finger on, and I would have counted him one of my favorite writers for the next 15-20 years, although I didn't read much by him in that time.
Then, just at the time I was realizing my misgivings about penal substitutionary atonement, I read a post on the Experimental Theology blog by Richard Beck with some humdinger quotes from MacDonald's unspoken sermon, Justice. It seemed as though the seed that had been planted as a youth and lay dormant for so long suddenly sprouted into a tree overnight, although in reality it had been growing subtly the whole time. Suddenly I could trace a source for so many theological perspectives that had cropped up here and there in my belief system and had made me feel a misfit in my standard American Evangelical world, all without actually reading MacDonald in any quantity since high school.
Interestingly, it wasn't until now that the Scot himself had shown up in my consciousness again that I was able to make one of the more fulfilling legs of my journey. Despite several other "liberal" theological tendencies, I had until this point been happy as a "hopeful universalist" who (like Lewis) merely hope-against-hope in God's complete victory over Death rather than because of a true understanding of God's heart. I held his universalist-leaning comments in Unspoken Sermons with respect but at arms' length. Then I decided to re-read Lilith once again...and before I had put it down, I knew it was true: I was, and now am, certain that our Father will be - must be - all in all.
I'm thankful that God used George MacDonald to silently lead me so much closer to His heart starting from such a young age. Although now I adore and am constantly enriched by his Unspoken Sermons and The Hope of the Gospel, I'm convinced it was primarily his fantasy narratives rather than the few explicitly theological statements that I had encountered in the Phillips biography that are responsible for his most profound influence over me.