An exploration of one of Christianity’s great devotional works.
In her debut book, former New Yorker writer Halford fashions a memoir around a study of Oswald Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest (1935). Chambers (1874-1917) was a Scottish evangelist best known for a daily devotional edited from his writings and published posthumously. Utmost, as Halford refers to it, is a bestselling devotional, highly popular with evangelicals—including, as the author learned to her horror, George W. Bush. Halford, a Southern Baptist from Texas who went on to work in New York City, with stints in Paris and the U.K., struggled with the gulf between the world of her youth and that of her adulthood. Having spent years reading Utmost on a daily basis, she set out to study Chambers and more fully understand his motivations and ideals. She couches her study within her own autobiography, an intriguing concept that meets with only partial success. Halford finds in Chambers a kindred spirit in many ways. An avid reader and intellectual, Chambers was deeply shaped by the secular writers of his day; as such, “the book was shot through with the influence of poetry and fiction, those breeds of literature that traffic as heavily in mood as they do in ideas.” Halford concludes that the Realism movement was one of Chambers’ primary influences. She also learns of his complex spiritual journey, which included a profound moment of sanctification, as well as the effects of World War I on his faith life. Ultimately, however, Chambers’ rich, intense, and selfless life and faith journey stand in stark contrast to Halford’s 21st-century angst over not fitting in with New York or Parisian intellectuals yet also not being part of the evangelical crowd either. This gulf disrupts an otherwise worthy study. Halford’s in-depth look at Chambers is interesting and instructive, but her memoir is thin in comparison.
A fine core soured by the writer’s own story.