Newton on the Christian Life presents the theology of John Newton (more on that later) in light of Christian living. Central to Newton’s theology is the notion that “to live is Christ.” We as Christians are to continually rely upon Christ in all things.
The book has only parts of Newton’s biographical information found throughout the various chapters, but there is enough there to get a picture of the mighty fall the man had and the depths from which God plucked him. Here is the man who wrote the hymn “Amazing Grace” and who was friend of such prominent persons as William Wilberforce, yet who had worked on a slave ship and taken place in the vulgarities thereof. It is truly a story of grace, but Reinke emphasizes throughout the book Newton’s own commitment to “to live is Christ.”
The concept of living as Christ or “being Christ” is central to the book, which highlights again and again. Newton’s belief in, description of, and application of this concept are each drawn out in detail. Admittedly, this emphasis became a little overmuch by the end of the book as it seemed some themes were touched on over and over. However, there are many other insightful points throughout the book which are intertwined with Newton’s emphasis.
For example, the chapter on “Christian blemishes” utilizes examples of how we might live our life as Christians in ways which are largely commendable, but which lend themselves to certain sins. Another chapter highlights the effects of indwelling sin from Newton’s perspective (himself a Calvinist) and applies this to the Christian life. The chapters on spiritual weariness and battling insecurity are extremely pastoral and applicable in their content and tone and, I think highly valuable. Yet another deeply insightful section was chapter 9, which speaks about how trials in our lives can be used as spiritual discipline. Finally, the section on “Victory Over Mr. Self” that spoke of theological controversies had profound insights into how we should treat others with whom we disagree. I should note that I’m a Lutheran and at no point felt that I was not getting value for my time out of this book, despite Newton’s own strong Calvinism. I would say that anyone could benefit hugely from these chapters.
There is a wealth of firsthand quotations from Newton himself in the book, which makes it well worth engaging for that purpose alone. The pastoral tone and care that Newton had shines through in these quotations and Reinke himself does an excellent job summarizing points in a way that lends itself to the same tone as the man about whom he is writing.
One critique may be my own obtuseness coming through, but I think it’s worth mentioning. When I first got the book I saw some guy with a wig on the cover and thought–reasonably enough, I think–that “Newton” probably referred to Isaac Newton. It wasn’t long into the book before I was disillusioned, but I think that although it might make sense to leave books in the series consistent, given that not everyone may immediately think of John Newton instead of Isaac Newton, it might have been a better choice to include first names across the board. I asked a few friends who they thought the book was about based on the cover or title and every single one said Isaac Newton. It’s not a substantial critique, but I think it was worth a mention.
Another criticism I have is that there is virtually no use of women as examples in the discussions. Much of this is because Newton himself did not use women as examples in his letters and Reinke worked closely with Newton’s own writings. However, it would have been nice to have some counter-balancing examples to show that women struggle with the same problems. Here and there this is brought out in a letter, but it is very rare and noticeably so.
Newton on the Christian Life is an excellent read worthy of a thorough study. The examples he used can be applied in all kinds of pastoral contexts, and the emphasis on life in Christ is commendable. Moreover, the last several chapters are completely full of deeply impactful and applicable insights into the Christian life. The book comes highly recommended.
+Great insight into the pastoral theology of John Newton
+Extensive quotes from the letters of Newton
+Filled with insights
-Title could stand to be clearer
-Almost every single generic person used as an example is masculine
Disclaimer: I was provided with a review copy of the book from the publisher. I was not asked to give any specific kind of feedback whatsoever.
Luther on the Christian Life by Carl Trueman– I review another book in this series, this one focusing on Martin Luther.
Book Reviews– There are plenty more book reviews to read! Read like crazy! (Scroll down for more, and click at bottom for even more!)
Tony Reinke, Newton on the Christian Life (Downers Grove, IL: Crossway, 2015).
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