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My Utmost: A Devotional Memoir Hardcover – Deckle Edge, February 7, 2017
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“Absorbing . . . One of the best books of [its] kind I’ve read over the past twenty-five years or so.” —John Wilson, Commonweal
“For a faith as American as apple pie at church suppers, if you're outside the circle, evangelicalism might seem as exotic as whirling dervishes. What's needed is someone inside the circle, a guide intelligent and sophisticated enough to have attended exclusive Barnard College, literate enough to have reviewed books for The New Yorker. Rambunctious enough to occasionally drink and smoke, but rooted and raised up in the Rev. W. A. Criswell's First Baptist Church in downtown Dallas. Macy Halford is just such a person, and her book, subtitled 'A Devotional Memoir,' is just such a guide. It's funny, smart, literate—a journey, not into or away from religious belief like so many religious memoirs, but through that belief.” —Bill Marvel, The Dallas Morning News
“A valuable memoir . . . The chronicle of her search can help us all, irrespective of our particular religious affiliation.” —Father Ron Rolheiser, Catholic San Francisco
“Halford’s enlightening memoir is a must-read for those interested in Oswald Chambers’s My Utmost for His Highest or evangelicalism in the 21st century . . . Chambers’s life and legacy, along with Halford’s own personal journey, prove to be a powerful lens through which to examine the roots of fundamentalist evangelicalism and its rocky relationship with the modern world.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Ardently told, diligently researched . . . Halford is an expert, assured surveyor of all the rivers that nursed Chambers’s soul . . . My Utmost will be enjoyed and admired primarily by those who feel, as Halford does, ‘a complicated nostalgia’ for the evangelical faith they were raised in—those who can’t and won’t defend all the old doctrines but find that religion still pulls at them.” —Carlene Bauer, The New York Times Book Review
“The memoir is devotional, inspirational and . . . full of interesting quotes. . . . Macy Halford has joined countless others in presenting a spiritual/religious book attempting to make sense of this technological age, excessive instant gratification, and individual renewal.” —Myra Arnold, The Decatur Daily
“That the most popular faith in America is so precariously positioned—structurally omnipresent, but substantially obscure—is what makes a book like Macy Halford’s so fascinating.” —Casey N. Cep, The New Republic
“Self-aware but never self-indulgent, My Utmost provides an edifying look at one person’s spiritual journey and the impact an obscure Scottish preacher’s musings can have years later.” —Christine Engel, Booklist
“[Halford] leaves New York to trace Chambers’s history and spiritual and theological influences. Along the way, she experiences her own journey of spiritual self-discovery, embracing anew her commitment to a faith best expressed by Utmost.” —Library Journal
About the Author
MACY HALFORD was born and grew up in Dallas, Texas; graduated from Barnard College; and worked at The New Yorker, where she eventually wrote most of the book reviews for the website. This is her first book. She is now living in Paris.
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I did learn some things about Oswald Chambers, and maybe this is all Halford had hoped to accomplish for those who do not know her. I want to read My Utmost for His Highest.
Halford renders decent service in locating Chambers along a theological continuum, although her B.A. degree from Barnard College is evidently in History, not Religious Studies. Her bibliography shows that she has done her homework. She has consulted the Oswald holdings at Wheaton College. She has read Mark Noll. She references George Marsden's book Fundamentalism and American Culture, and rightly articulates that the sort of spirituality Chambers wished to promote is not Fundamentalist.
She locates Chambers where he belongs, within the Holiness movement, and appropriately cites John Wesley (subject of my Ph.D. thesis). She understands that hard doctrinal definitions are almost impossible to extract from Wesley, as for example whether the timing of entire sanctification be instantaneous or gradual. Yet in my estimation Halford makes two crucial mistakes: A) she does not grasp that, from first to last, Christian Perfection is contingent upon grace. It is not moral heroism or "super-saintliness." B) She really has no grasp at all of the ecclesial and the sacramental nature of Christian Perfection. True, she writes that "the intimate, the personal, and the communal" (p. 341) had invigorated Chambers, both Oswald and wife Biddy, but is not clear enough on what the communal may mean.
A sharp copy editor's eye might have saved her from at least two silly mistakes. For one, she claims that the Church of Christ (p. 7) was instrumental in founding Riverside Church in upper Manhattan, where she attended as a Barnard student. Of course it was United Church of Christ. In spite of correctly identifying Riverside Church as being "politically liberal," it is for her somehow part of Evangelical Christianity (p. 8). This seems like a huge stretch to me. Later (p. 287) she thinks Charles Hodge, the Princeton theologian, was somehow from Great Britain, when he was from Philadelphia.
I have not read many books of this sort, a melding of a personal life with a famous book. I would rather have read Bob Dylan on Augustine's Confessions, John Updike on Fear and Trembling, Woody Allen on Nietzsche. Macy Halford's conclusions about Oswald Chambers are likely to be the same conclusions I will reach when I read My Utmost for His Highest. "Reaching the right perspective or mode of seeing, the one most fully open to and attuned to reality" is where she lands. That seems both an "Utmost" and a "Highest."