Guruzilla's /var/log/knowledge-junkie
["the chatter of a missionary sysadmin"]

Review: Biography of Hudson Taylor

Previous Entry :: Next Entry

sleepy, but pleased

{ Now playing: hockey

Recent movie: Black Robe*****; Farscape (Season I:8-9)****; Godzilla: King of the Monsters*****; Godzilla 1985***; Beijing Bicycle*****; Godzilla vs. Destoroyah*****

Recent books: Numbers; Ephesians; Sources of Japanese Civilization vol.1; C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce; Schlatter, The Theology of the Apostles; OMF, The Biography of James Hudson Taylor; A Hundred Things Japanese; The Japan Christian Yearbook 1968; I John 1:2 (trans.); Asimov, The Robots of Dawn; Zoe Oldenbourg, The World Is Not Enough


Hudson Taylor's story is very well-known as an exemplary missionary life. A
not atypical child of a middling class English family, he died at 73 in 1905,
and was laid to rest in the China whose inland provinces he, under God, almost
single-handedly opened for evangelism. The mission he founded, the China
Inland Mission, endures to the present day, changed in vision by its explusion
from China at the Maoist revolution, but not in principles or ethos.

This biography, an abridgment of a two-volume work, weighs in at over 500
pages. The 27 chapters have a nicely balanced focus, covering in the first 4
chapters Taylor's preparation, from family background and upbringing to his
formative lessons in trusting God; the remainder bring Hudson Taylor to China,
and explain how the CIM grew from his experience, and how it finally grew up
as he grew old. Some of the heft of the book is due to its single major, but
pervasive fault -- a glowing, somewhat flowery, "spiritualese" accompanying
the narrative. Now, granted, this is a missioners' biography of the mission's
founding father, and deals with his spiritual growth, lessons, and trials;
nonetheless, it is a very early-twentieth-century style, and in spite of
myself, I found it occasionally grating and often simply overkill. The other
flaw in the writing is a too-frequent spoiler effect: several times the reader
is informed of something just around the corner which Taylor could not forsee,
and which would change a situation radically. If one is well-versed in the
history, there's probably no distraction factor, but as an introductory, it
kills some of the inherent suspense of Taylor's tale. Still, given the scope
of Hudson Taylor's achievement, a certain hagiographical tone can be pardoned.

The substance of the Biography, however, is very good. Taking the
presence and activity of God as seriously as it should (that is to say,
absolutely), it makes Hudson Taylor's work come alive, in material details as
well as matters of the soul. For example, on his sojourn in Swatow with
William Burns (ch. 9):

But to the missionaries themselves, ten dollars a month and a single room,
into which they had to climb through an opening in the floor, did not seem so
bad. It was in touch with the people, that was the chief thing, and they were
conscious that the Lord was with them. The single room they divided as well
as they could into three tiny apartments - two running east to west, and one
north and south, which included the hole in the floor.

More significant places receive more detailed treatment, and major events in
the spiritual realm are discussed at length. One of the delights of the book
is the great amount of personal correspondence which illuminates almost every
aspect. I suspect that this was really the great age of British
letter-writing, and so we have Taylor's own words, his associates' words, and
intra-family notes, as well as excerpts from newspapers and publications of
the time. (The letters themselves are gems, and I would probably pay good
money for a decent collection of Hudson Taylor's letters.) Taylor's account
of changing over to Chinese style of dress is an excellent contribution.
Certainly among Protestants, he invented the method of deeply adapting to
local custom, rather than sticking to European custom, as a set principle.
(Though Jesuit missionaries under the astounding Alessandro Valignano deserve
first-mover credit on this, over 4 centuries earlier!)

In spite of the flaws of style, the Biography is a moving account of a
truly pioneering missionary who accomplished great works for God by humble
strategy in part, but fundamentally by letting God accomplish God's works and
adoring His Greatness. I expect in the future to look for ways to use this
book as a teaching tool for a great variety of learners, and heartily
recommend it to any Christian.

Dr. & Mrs. Howard Taylor, Biography of James Hudson Taylor.
Hodder and Stoughton Ltd., 1965.

Share on Facebook

Previous Entry :: Next Entry

Back to Top

Powered by JournalScape © 2001-2010 All rights reserved.
All content rights reserved by the author.