Review: Amy Carmichael: Beauty for Ashes

Iain Murray, Banner of Truth, 2015, 168 pages, 4 of 5 stars

If I may audaciously use a baseball analogy for a book published in a country not at all sympathetic to “America’s pastime”, Iain Murray’s Amy Carmichael was an unexpected curveball.

As perhaps the premier Christian biographer of our day, Murray has specialized in lengthy tomes on the lives of Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Jonathan Edwards, and J.C. RyleCarmichael, then–barely 150 pages–was a pleasant surprise. I suspect this brevity was in part due to Elisabeth Elliot’s already lengthy bio of Amy.

Murray keeps the story moving with colorful descriptions of Amy’s life as a missionary in India. Several things made her a non-conformist and a woman ahead of her time. She never married and yet was the unquestioned leader of the orphanage–even when qualified men arrived. She was Keswick in her theology and determined by nature. She arrived in India in 1895 and died there in 1951 without ever taking a furlough. She is known primarily for her deep affection of the Indian orphans at Dohnavur and the dozen or so books she penned, including If and Things as They Are. 

Murray doesn’t hide her flaws but does not succumb either to today’s unmitigated penchant for discovering something (anything!) to criticize about the hero of the story. For example, he is insightful enough to see that Amy’s ugly split with Stephen Neill–though heartbreaking–was the right thing to do. Neill (A History of Christian Missions) certainly made many contributions to missions, but some of his liberal ideas would later vindicate her.

On a personal note, our ministry is already benefiting from this bio. Amy’s “brown eye/blue eye illustration” I used in a sermon recently has been making its way through our rural African congregation to the great delight of the villagers. This is an excellent read for young people, laymen, mothers, and girls interested in missions, though the gold standard of Amy’s life still remains the work by Elisabeth Elliot.

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