Review: Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God

Rating: ★★★★★

Author: David McCasland is an American educator whose books include Blind Courage, co-authored with Bill Irwin, the first blind person to thru-hike the 2,162 mile Appalachian Trail; Oswald Chambers: Abandoned to God; and Eric Liddell: Pure Gold. David writes for Our Daily Bread and also develops biographical television documentaries as a writer and co-producer for Day of Discovery.

Subject: Oswald Chambers was a teacher of the Bible in the United Kingdom, a chaplain to World War I soldiers in Egypt, and author of numerous devotional books, mostly compiled posthumously by his indefatigable wife, Biddy. Chambers’ intense and thought-provoking style has made his book My Utmost for His Highest (again, Biddy’s compilation) the best-selling devotional book of the 20th century.

Overview:

In the introduction, McCasland skillfully portrays the feeling of incompleteness that haunted “Biddy” Chambers after her husband died, seemingly needlessly, at the age of 43. She could not have known that through her work, her husband would be become the best-selling devotional author of the century.

Chambers’ life has much more of adventure to it than one might expect. Knowing something of Chambers’ inimitable writing, I half-suspected him to be a brooding Scotsman, dreary and intense. But McCasland ably portrays Chambers as tall, open-faced, and lithe, someone who loves children, games, and even pranks. In his younger days, he trained to be an artist. He also travelled widely in later years, doing preaching and teaching tours with ministry partners in the United States (mainly Cincinnati) and in Japan.

His early ministry (in his late twenties and early thirties) involves well-known Christians across a broad theological spectrum. He heard Alexander Whyte preach in Edinburgh; Reader Harris (Pentecostal League of Prayer) had a great influence on him in his early years; G. Campbell Morgan spoke at the first anniversary of his school; and he worked with Charles and Lettie Cowman in Japan. He took an interestingly moderate position when the “tongues” movement hit England, neither despising them nor imposing them as a necessity.

From 1911 to 1915, Chambers was the founding principal of the Bible Training College in London. They had 106 students during that time, and at the end of the period, 40 of them were serving as missionaries. Chambers was also extremely productive. During this short period, the sermons, lectures, and notes that he produced comprised a formidable body of work, including the bulk of the following books: Biblical Ethics, Biblical Psychology, Bringing Sons unto Glory, He Shall Glorify Me (lectures on the Holy Spirit), Not Knowing Whither (from the Old Testament Studies class), Our Portrait in Genesis (also from the OT class), The Psychology of Redemption, and So Send I You.

Chambers did not work from a writer’s cabin. He sowed in faithfulness for many years as a Bible teacher in Scotland and England. He taught Bible concepts faithfully but was very innovative in the way he presented them, using alliterative headings, terse explanations, and modern metaphors.

In 1915, the work of the school was suspended because of World War I, and Chambers went to Egypt to serve as a YMCA chaplain to soldiers. During this time he continued his labor of love, writing, preaching, and teaching evening classes to soldiers. The materials produced during this time became the books Baffled to Fight Better (on Job), The Shadow of an Agony (on redemption), and Shade of His Hand (on Ecclesiastes).

Chambers died of appendicitis in 1917, at the age of 43. What must have made it more difficult for his family was that he could have availed himself of better medical assistance, but he did not want to take a hospital bed from a wounded soldier.

Meat:

One of the key insights of this book is the unforgettable role that Biddy Chambers had in bringing her husband’s works to light. Oswald Chambers himself did, as far as we can tell, very little actual writing during his lifetime, and nearly all of his published works are arranged from various talks, lectures, and sermons, mostly from the years between 1911 and 1917. Christians owe a great debt to this woman who turned the bitter years of widowhood into a sweet ministry that has blessed the globe.

Bones:

This is one of the best biographies I have ever read, and should be ranked with God’s Smuggler and Bruchko though with not quite so much intrigue or scandal to attract sleepy readers. I find very little fault in it, though it is quite long. The story is a bit slow near the beginning when Chambers has not really embarked on his life’s work yet, but otherwise the book flows from episode to episode, and paints as personal a picture as could possibly be drawn more than 70 years after Chambers’ death.

McCasland is a masterful biographer, and my chief regret in reading this was to find out that he has published so few biographies: only this and two others.

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