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God's Apprentice: The Autobiography of Bishop Stephen Neill.

Stephen Neill, born on the last day of the nineteenth century, died in July 1984. He left as his autobiography over a thousand pages of typescript, which Eleanor Jackson has skillfully reduced and edited. We are left with a fascinating, interesting, but also puzzling book. Readers should look carefully at the editor's introduction before they read the text itself.

In some ways this book conceals more than it tells us about the author. I do not refer now to the crises in his life, but to matters like the writing of his major books. We learn how he came to start the Tinevelly Theological Series, but nothing about the editing of A history of the Ecumenical Movement, 1517-1948. I found most helpful his comments on mission policy and of episcopacy - here there is much to learn. He tells us a good deal about his family background but almost nothing about his later relations with them. There is too much anecdotal material (despite all that the editor has removed).

It is necessary to approach some of the factual information, including the anecdotes, with caution. I must mention in particular one crux. In Elisabeth Elliot's recent biography of Amy Carmichael, A Chance to Die (Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1987), she names Stephen Neill as the new worker at Dohnavur who after causing much tension was asked to leave, in November 1925. 1 expected in the autobiography to find Neill's version of these events. However, neither the name of Amy Carmichael nor that of Dohnavur is mentioned, and superficially the events do not seem to fit. With help from Eleanor Jackson, I can now confirm that Neill did indeed go to Dohnavur, at the end of 1924, as did his parents, who stayed about six months. After Neill left Dohnavur in November 1925, he worked for two further years in the area under the Anglican diocese, during which time he was ordained. He returned to England in 1927 to take up the fourth year of his Trinity Fellowship. In 1928, not 1924, he was interviewed by the Church Missionary Society, and he returned to South India as a CMS missionary at the end of 1928. Meanwhile his parents became BCMS missionaries, taking charge of the former CMS hospital at Mirzapur, U.P., from 1926 to 1931. His sister Marjorie joined them, and died at Mirzapur in 1929. It has become clear that these are intentional omissions, and the description of his first years in India was carefully written to give the impression that he was from the beginning an Anglican missionary.

Stephen Neill was a great man. His great work was done despite great handicaps, some discussed in this book, some concealed. This book is well worth reading, despite the flaws, and I am grateful to those who have made it available.
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Author:Murray, Jocelyn
Publication:International Bulletin of Missionary Research
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jul 1, 1993
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