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‘Amy Carmichael’ – A Review by Ian Barter

Category Book Reviews
Date April 17, 2015

A review by Ian S. Barter of Amy Carmichael: ‘Beauty for Ashes’ – A Biography by Iain H. Murray.1

The name of Amy Carmichael will always be associated with The Dohnavur Fellowship that she founded in the south of India more than 100 years ago. In 1895 at the age of 27 she arrived in India on behalf of the Church of England Zenana Missionary Society. She died in Dohnavur in 1951 aged 83 having never returned home.

The story of this extraordinary woman has been recorded in two fine books, both available today: Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur by Frank Houghton, and A Chance to Die by Elisabeth Elliot.

Amy Carmichael’s first sphere of work was at Bangalore where on arrival she set herself to learn Tamil and where she found a wise and able teacher in the person of the Rev Thomas Walker, a missionary of the Church Missionary Society. When he and his wife moved further south Amy went with them, and by 1901 she had settled with them at Dohnavur, where, after their return to England because of Mrs Walker’s ill health, she was to remain for the rest of her life. She was not, by the conventions of the day, a typical missionary. She dressed as a native Indian woman, and her books (she wrote more than 30, the royalties from which paid for much of the building work as Dohnavur grew) described what she saw and not what readers in England wanted to hear. One of her earliest books, Things as They Are published in 1903, dismayed those who wanted her to be more positive, but Eugene Stock who wrote the preface said:

I do not think the realities of Hindu life have ever been portrayed with greater vividness than in this book … What she says is the truth … but it is not the whole truth – that she could not tell. It is a book to send the reader to his knees.

Frank Houghton knew her well. ‘Dear Amma’ he wrote, ‘she never understood how the love of God within her was so powerful a magnet that all through her life others were drawn irresistibly to her.’

Iain Murray has written a superb account of this remarkable woman’s life. It is very far from being a summary or shortened version of the biographies referred to above. He has read her books and her poetry, and what he writes reveals a keen understanding of the motives and undertakings of an extraordinary woman. It warmed my heart and informed my mind.

His book contains three additional sections. They are particularly valuable. The first bears the title ‘The Life and its Message’. As I read it I was both enlightened and deeply moved.

The second section ‘The Bible and World Evangelisation’ explains how the ideas then coming into vogue of what evangelisation should be were at variance with the scriptural principles that Amy Carmichael believed. It contains a convincing justification of her difference of opinion with Stephen Neill. For anyone interested in their opposing views and in particular for anyone inclined to lay blame on her for their parting of the ways it is essential reading.

Finally, the third section ‘The Dohnavur Fellowship Today’ provides a helpful description of the continuing work of the Fellowship today.

I cannot too enthusiastically recommend this book.

Notes

    • Amy Carmichael

      Beauty for Ashes

      by  Iain H. Murray


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      A review by Ian S. Barter of Amy Carmichael: ‘Beauty for Ashes’ – A Biography by Iain H. Murray.1 The name of Amy Carmichael will always be associated with The Dohnavur Fellowship that she founded in the south of India more than 100 years ago. In 1895 at the age of 27 she arrived in […]

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