Neill, Stephen Charles (1900-1984)
Missionary bishop and scholar
Born in Edinburgh, Scotland, Neill—with his sisters Marjorie and Isabel—was the third generation of his family to engage in missionary service in India. Following his conversion while at Dean Close School, Cheltenham, England, and a brilliant career at Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1924 he accompanied his parents, Charles and Daisy (Monro) Neill to Dohnavur. He soon found himself at odds with Dohnavur’s Amy Carmichael and joined G. T. Selwyn instead, learning Tamil and teaching schoolboys, except when traveling with E. Stanley Jones. In 1927 Neill was ordained deacon in the cathedral of Tinnevelly. Accepted by the Church Missionary Society (CMS) during furlough in 1928, he was ordained priest and returned to Tinnevelly as a district missionary, later leading Thomas Ragland’s North Tinnevelly Itineracy evangelism program and then teaching in Tamil at the CMS theological college in Palayankottai. He was also involved in negotiations for a united church in South India. Elected bishop in Tinnevelly in 1939, Neill held his diocese together during the war, resisting encroachments by the state and initiating development projects in publishing, banking, and other areas. In 1944 he was forced to resign because of ill health and scandal, which prevented further advancement in the Church of England. He worked for the World Council of Churches from 1947 to 1954, editing with Ruth Rouse the monumental History of the Ecumenical Movement 1517-1948 (1954), then edited the World Christian book series (sixty-four titles in all), and co-edited Concise Dictionary of the Christian World Mission (1971). He then went to the University of Hamburg as professor of mission (1962-1967) and to Nairobi as professor of philosophy and religious studies (1969-1973). Retiring to Wycliffe College, Oxford, he regularly visited America on preaching and lecture tours, while writing his magnum opus, the two-volume History of Christianity in India and numerous other works. His complete bibliography contains more than 100 titles. This output arose partly because he suffered from chronic insomnia and wrote during the night, and partly because of his indefatigable scholarship. He pioneered vernacular theological education in India and Africa, as well as schemes for producing affordable, readable theological works. Never married, conservative in churchmanship, an inspiring preacher and writer, and a deeply spiritual pastor, he fought all his life against consuming shyness, depression, and ill health.
E. M. Jackson, “Neill, Stephen Charles,” in Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, ed. Gerald H. Anderson (New York: Macmillan Reference USA, 1998), 488.
This article is reprinted from Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions, Macmillan Reference USA, copyright © 1998 Gerald H. Anderson, by permission of Macmillan Reference USA, New York, NY. All rights reserved.
Neill, Stephen. A History of Christian Missions. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1964.
_____. History of Christianity in India 1707-1858. Cambridge [Cambridgeshire]; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1985.
Neill, Stephen, Gerald H Anderson, and John Goodwin. Concise Dictionary of the Christian World Mission. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1971.
Neill, Stephen and Ruth Rouse. A History of the Ecumenical Movement. Westminster Press, 1954.
Jackson, E. M. “The Continuing Legacy of Stephen Neill.” IBMR 19 (1995): 77-80.
_____, ed. God’s Apprentice: The Autobiography of Stephen Neill. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1991.
Lamb, Christopher. “Stephen Neill.” In Mission Legacies: Biographical Studies of Leaders of the Modern Missionary Movement, edited by Gerald H. Anderson et al. Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1994. Pp. 445-51.