“[The] secular-humanist reaction to phenomena such as the Holocaust or the Gulag (and others) is experienced as insufficient: in order to attain the same level as such phenomena, something much stronger is needed, something akin to the old religious trope of a cosmic perversion or catastrophe in which the world itself is ‘out of joint’. Therein lies the paradox of the theological significance of the Holocaust: although it is usually conceived of as the ultimate challenge to theology (if there is a God, and if He is good, how could He have allowed such a horror to take place?), it is at the same time only theology that can provide the framework which enables us somehow to approach the scope of this catastrophe.” – Slavoj Zizek in Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle
(1 paper book, 1 ebook, 4 audio books)
- The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
- Jonah by Aldous Huxley
- Newton on the Christian Life: To Live Is Christ by Tony Reinke
- William Cowper by Hugh l’Anson Fausset
- Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future by Ashlee Vance
- Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande
Today The Decablog has featured my brief historical sketch of the early Virginia/Kentucky Baptist leader, Elijah Craig: The Bourbon Baptist: A Look at Elijah Craig’s Life.
I’ve been plunging into several William Cowper biographies lately, and I’m amazed at how bitterly many of his biographers hate John Newton. As I’ve read the perspectives of, say, Hugh l’Anson Fausset or David Cecil, I see transparently festering contempt for Newton. So, when I received this volume on John Newton in Crossway’s “Theologians on the Christian Life” series, I was ready for a refreshing change. I knew Tony Reinke has a sincere appreciation for this man and his legacy. After such unveiled contempt, even a little hagiography would be excusable!
In this series, thus far I’ve read the volumes on Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I generally appreciated and enjoyed them, though I also found some weakness in each of them. I had no desire to nitpick, I just really expected more. And, so, beginning this book, I’ve been very interested to see how it would measure up.
John Newton (1725-1807) made a lasting contribution to the Christian church when he penned the words to the hymn “Amazing Grace.” However, there is a rich store of resources from the pen of John Newton which have gotten much less fanfare over the last three centuries. Newton’s placement in history at the point at which “the Post Office had developed to the point where letter delivery was more affordable and reliable than ever” allowed him build a substantial letter writing ministry. These one thousand or so letters rivaled his sermons “in both substance and usefulness.”
Tony Reinke has submerged himself into this vast quantity of letters in an attempt to show that Newton was, indeed, a theologian, and then presents for a popular audience the essence of his theology. Reinke shows Newton as a “spiritual doctor,” or more specifically an expert in “cardiology,” a student “of his own heart and the hearts of others.”
The first and most enduring impression I had upon reading this book was that Newton exalted the supremacy, centrality, and glory of Christ. Christ, to him, is the “priceless treasure” that seeps through all of what he writes. “Like an unceasing echo, the theme of Christ’s super-abundant grace is heard in everything Newton writes” Newton “will not allow us to abstract the Christian life from Christ” and so, a book on Newton’s view of the Christian life is largely a book about Christ. This emphasis seeps through all of what Reinke writes about Newton! Here you can really see how Reinke has steeped himself into Newton’s work and does a fantastic job of bringing this emphasis out.
I would like to highlight a few portions that were especially helpful: There is an excellent discussion of “gospel simplicity” (Simplicity of Intention/Dependence). The discussion of seven types Christians with character flaws is excellent and convicting (Austerus, Humanus, Prudens, Voatilis, Cessator, Curiosus, and Querulus). Don’t let the Latin trick you, the observations in this section are extremely concise and simply explained! The chapter on “Discipline of Trials” is also excellent and very thought provoking!
Upon reflection, I’ve concluded that this is the best book in the series, a fair amount better than the works on Edwards, Luther, and Bonhoeffer. Each has remarkable strengths, but none I have read in the series yet measures up to this one.The only notable weakness I would point out is perhaps connected to it strong points. Reinke has submerged himself in Newton’s letters and masterfully described his theological thinking, but he has perhaps not given enough space to show how that theology worked itself out in practice, both in his life’s decisions and also in his pastoral advice on specific topics. Some of the exploration of Newton’s theology could have been tied a little tighter into concrete events in his personal or pastoral life. At one point towards the end of the book Reinke intimates that there is much more to be said about Newton on topics such as friendship, fellowship, marriage, discerning God’s will, etc. I think that rings true, and I am left wishing Reinke devoted some space to these subjects if he could do so without too severely truncating his coverage of Newton’s theological thinking.
Reading this book is certainly profitable from a devotional perspective. It also is a helpful volume if you want to better understand the theological emphasis of 18th century evangelicalism. On both accounts I can sincerely recommend it and I hope many Christians read it, not only to know John Newton, but ultimately Jesus Christ, who he so vigorously pointed to.
Did you know that Aldous Huxley (1894-1963) wrote a poem about the book of Jonah? Here it is:
Floats on the wash that to and fro
Slides round his feet – enough to show
Many a pendulous stalactite
Of naked mucus, whorls and wreaths
And huge festoons of mottled tripes
And smaller palpitating pipes
Through which a yeasty liquor seethes
Seated upon the convex mounds
Of one vast kidney, Jonah prays
And sings his canticles and hymns,
Making the hollow vault resound
God’s goodness and mysterious ways,
Till the great fish spouts music as he swims.
In 2004, well before ISIS existed, Slavoj Zizek said the following:
“The danger, following the logic of a self-fulfilling prophecy, is that this very American intervention [in Iraq] will contribute to the emergence of what America fears most: a large, united anti-American Muslim front. This is the first case of a direct American occupation of a large and key Arab country–how could it not generate universal hatred in reaction? One can already imagine thousands of young people dreaming of becoming suicide bombers…What might indeed emerge as the result of the US occupation [of Iraq] is precisely a truly fundamentalist Muslim anti-American movement, directly linked to such movements in other Arab countries or countries with a Muslim presence–in other words, a Muslim ‘International’. And the first signs are already discernible…It is as if…some invisible hand of destiny arranges it so that the short-term success of the US intervention strengthens the very cause against which the USA intervened.” – Slavoj Zizek, Iraq: The Borrowed Kettle, 18-19.
(3 paper books, 1 ebook, 4 audio books)
- In Search of a Heart by Henrietta O’Neil
- Memoir of the Rev. James H. Linsley by Sophia Emilia Lyon Linsley Phelps
- Being a Dad Who Leads by John MacArthur
- The Growth of Love by Robert Bridges
- Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
- A Reforming People: Puritanism and the Transformation of Public Life in New England by David D. Hall
- A Slave in the White House: Paul Jennings and the Madisons by Elizabeth Dowling Taylor
- Inside Scientology: The Story of America’s Most Secretive Religion by Janet Reitman