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Complete Surrender: A biography of Eric Liddell

Author: Julian Wilson
Published By: Authentic (Milton Keynes)
Pages: 139
Price: £7.99
ISBN: 978 1 860 24841 2

Reviewed by Nigel Stone.

The book’s title gives useful clues regarding its content, because “Complete Surrender” describes Liddell’s total commitment to his 400 metre running, but even more to his Christian discipleship and ministry as a missionary in the Far East. This is a vivid and challenging account of the whole of Eric’s life, not just the period leading up to his triumph at the 1924 Paris Olympics, but also what came before and after that well known story.  

Julian Wilson first tells how Eric’s strong Christian ideals came from his missionary parents, even though he went to a south London boarding school at six while they remained in China. He also corrects the historical inaccuracies of the film Chariots of Fire. For example, Liddell became aware in November 1923 that the 100 metre heats in Paris would be on a Sunday, not as he boarded the boat to France, and thus he had eight months to train instead for the 400 metres.

However the majority of the book concerns the period after the Olympics, with Eric Liddell the Missionary, Father and Husband. It presents him as modest and quiet, but not an austere man. Rather, he was a practical joker with a smile and a twinkle in his bright blue eyes. Undoubtably the most moving part of the book recalls Eric’s final years in a Japanese internment camp, where, despite considerable hardship, he maintained his deep humanity and unassuming holiness. 

Complete Surrender is a revised edition of a book first published in 1996. Interestingly, Chariots of Fire, the 1981 film, is also being re-released this year. Is this an example of publishers ‘cashing in’ during 2012 on Liddell as an Olympic celebrity? Maybe, but Eric is not just a celebrity to be feted, he is also a hero to be admired. Wilson’s writings can inspire and challenge us to try to emulate Liddell, as someone who completely surrendered his life to God, and sought to do what was right rather than what was convenient or expedient.

Nigel Stone

Southwark Diocesan Olympic Adviser & Vice-President Herne Hill Harriers Athletic Club

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You are reading Issue 56 of Ministry Today, published in November 2012.

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