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.

Book Review: I Write What I Like

Steve Biko, Picador, Africa, 243 pages

UnknownAt age thirty, Steve Biko was killed while in police custody. Before his demise he was known as a political activist and founder of the Black Consciousness Movement. But after his untimely death he became a symbol of heroic defiance against apartheid in South Africa. In his college days he wrote columns in the student journal under the pseudonym “Frank Talk”, which later became this book.

Biko writes intelligently and with conviction. On every page he fights against white supremacy and racism, defined as discrimination by a group against another for the purposes of subjugation. “Black Consciousness” (BC) encouraged blacks to take pride in being black. Even today, T-shirts with the BC slogan are everyone in our village: “Being black is not a matter of pigmentation—being black is a reflection of a mental attitude.”

There is biblical truth in this. Christians should seek unity with all races, because all Christians—regardless of skin color—will join the same choir one day (Rev. 5:9; 7:9). Scripture doesn’t tell blacks or whites to give up their cultural identity in order to appear like another race or people (1Co. 7:18-19).

Let me make two points where Biko’s reasoning is flawed. Economically, I wonder how he can maintain the superiority of tribal land and the inferiority of private ownership and yet talk of “theft”. How can there be “theft” without private property? How can you say “our” land was stolen, if no one owns anything? And how does he determine to whom South Africa belongs? Those who were here at the creation of the world? Those who were here first? If the latter, then South Africa belongs to the Khoisan, whom the dominant Bantu of today’s South Africa displaced long ago. Biko also paints South Africa with utopian strokes, saying before the whites came, “poverty was a foreign concept”. History says otherwise.

Biko’s attempt to use Black Theology to make Scripture relevant to the African is the problem, not the solution. Indeed, the Bible is relevant to Africans! But Biko, instead of pulling out those applications already in the text, removes those items that do not fit the worldview Africans currently possess. This is exactly what the Prosperity Gospel does today, leading Africans to hell by the millions. Biko denies hell and man’s depravity and espouses the inherent goodness of man. He blames the weakening of cultural values on missionaries and calls Christianity “cold and cruel.” As a missionary in South Africa, that struck me as inaccurate.

No missionaries are perfect. If some were racist and refused to teach that all believers, regardless of race, are baptized by one Spirit into one body (1Co. 12:13), let history and Scripture pronounce them in error and sin. But I suspect that the vast majority of missionaries loved the blacks, leaving kin and country to show them Christ’s love, and should be lauded as the instruments God used to bring many of them to Christ.

Book Review: John Adams

David McCullough, Simon and Schuster, 2001, 751 pages

Screen Shot 2015-03-03 at 8.04.26 AMJohn Adams—America’s second president—is a man to imitate. Brilliant with an inexhaustible love of books (“let no girl, no gun, no cards, no flutes, no violins, no dress, no tobacco, no laziness decoy you from your books”), Adams, the son of a poor farmer, read Cicero in Latin, Plato in Greek, and was fluent in French and Dutch. He helped craft the Constitution and signed the Declaration of Independence. He wrote the Constitution of Massachusetts, the oldest functioning written constitution in the world. His son became the sixth president.

There are a heap of reasons to read this Pulitzer Prize winner. Here’s five.

First, it is important for us as Americans to be well-versed in our nation’s history. McCullough chronicles the birth of the United States from the start of the American Revolution up until America’s 50th anniversary, July 4, 1824—the same day both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died. Adams should be praised for proposing a government of “laws, and not of men” but rebuked for pushing non-elected, lifetime appointments of Supreme Courts justices.

On one side you have the Federalists of Adams, Hamilton, and Washington who wanted a strong federal government, on the other the Republicans of Monroe and Jefferson who were pro-French and believed that government is best which governs least. We’re given a tour of Robespierre and the French Revolution, Alexander Hamilton, the beheading of Louis XVI, the Louisiana Purchase, Bonaparte, the Reynolds Affair, and the yellow fever epidemics. Continue reading