Sunday, September 06, 2015

Amy Carmichael: 'Beauty for Ashes', A Biography, by Iain H. Murray

Amy Carmichael: 'Beauty for Ashes', A Biography,
by Iain H. Murray, Banner of Truth Trust, 2015, 168pp

Must confess that I didn't know an awful lot about Amy Carmichael. Apart from what I'd read years ago in psychiatrist Gaius Davies' [no relation] Genius and Grace. Bit of a nutter, apparently. An hysteric with a penchant for melodrama. Cared for vulnerable children in India, which was nice, but set herself as a Protestant 'Mother Superior'. Something of a poet.

Iain Murray's brief biog presents a more rounded portrait of the missionary-poet and her work in founding the Dohnavur Fellowship, which was originally set up as a refuge for children who were in danger of being dragged into ritual prostitution. Hers is a fine story of faith and fortitude, well told by Murray. 

I used some of my birthday money to buy the book with the intention of reading it on holiday. So gripping was Murray's account that I'd finished it within a day or two of our summer break. Admittedly, Carmichael isn't your typical 'Banner Woman'. Her piety was that of Kewsick-mysticism rather than  experimental Calvinism, but she evidently loved  the Lord and had a deep concern for needy children. Murray highlights the value of her devotional writings and commends her example of sacrificial service.  

Murray is critical of Carmichael's take on guidance by spiritual impulse and acknowledges that she could sometimes be headstrong and hot-tempered. But he defends her of Davies' charge that she could brook no disagreement from her co-workers and would send dissenters packing. That is how Davies explains Amy falling out with Stephen Niell, whom the psychiatrist describes as 'the brilliant Bishop of Tinnevelly'. Murray points out what Davies neglects to mention - that Niell rejected the inerrancy of Scripture. Carmichael's disagreement with him was not so much a personality clash, as a serious doctrinal disagreement. Murray devotes a chapter to exposing the detrimental impact of a critical view of the Bible on the cause of world mission. 

Not the author's best biog by a long chalk, but an inspiring little book none the less. Well worth a read. 


Ben said...

Kewsick mysticism, indeed. It's always made me feel slightly nauseous.

Thnaks for the review, though.

David Reimer said...

Stephen Neill was a brilliant writer -- but also complex, and the quirks went beyond theological inclinations. Carmichael may well have spotted what many miss who read only the scholar-historian-theologian.

Elizabeth Elliot's A Chance to Die is also a wonderful biography of Amy Carmichael. Well worth a read, too; I would be surprised if Iain Murray didn't draw on it in some way.

Guy Davies said...

Yes, Murray references Elliot's work and commends it highly. His biog is intended as an intro to the subject rather than a substitute for Houghton and Elliot on Carmichael.