This is the third book from Crossway’s tremendous Theologians on the Christian Life series that I’ve both read and now reviewed. After reading Dane Ortlund’s work on Jonathan Edwards in January, then Carl Trueman’s take on Martin Luther in February, I arrived eager to read Tony Reinke’s approach to John Newton. This has been the title I anticipated reading more than any other from this entire series. This was only Reinke’s second book written, and I knew little about John Newton’s ministry apart from a few sporadic events and quotes of his life. I was coming into this book with virtually no prior persuasion. I walked away from it feeling utterly persuaded to soak myself with more of Reinke’s work, more of Newton’s letters, and most of all, more of Christ Himself. I’ll expound on these three subsequently.
First of all, Tony Reinke is the perfect fit for writing a “pastoral synthesis.” It is obvious he was diligent in researching for this book — this book was in the works for nearly three years. Few could take on the daunting task of not only sorting through a thousand of Newton’s letters, but also delivering them through an accurate and precise scope on the man that is John Newton. To do this, Reinke lets Newton do the talking and steps to the side, a trait so many authors should strive to replicate. Reinke writes JNXL in such a way that makes the reader feel like he’s reading an autobiography of Newton, not a narrated take and opinion piece on his life. It was not simply reading about Newton, but nearly like reading with him (most chapters had 50+ citations of Newton’s words!). His brilliant use of metaphor and allegory faithfully complimented Newton’s teaching, making the two a dynamic duo in proclaiming Christ’s goodness clearly to the reader. Tony: I cannot thank you enough for humbly laboring to bring us a passion for getting to know the authentic John Newton.
Not only was I impressed with Reinke’s skill in this project, but as I’ve alluded to, I don’t know if I’ve ever been more motivated to dig into the work of a theologian after reading a summary of their life/theology. What I appreciated most about Newton’s life was his unceasing assurance of both his humanity and the power of grace. Pagan of all pagans, Newton never let himself forget what he was; not a successful minister, not a wordsmith, but a great sinner saved by great grace. I believe in every quotation of Newton in this book, one theme holds them all together; Christ is all. Newton’s life serves as a deep breath of oxygen for the Christian. If Newton could be saved, we must be encouraged. Also, his dedication to ministering through meek, diligent, tedious, and private letters instead of lofty, fame-seeking, public acts of gain encourages church leaders and pastors with placing primer on abandoning prosperity for faithfulness. I want to be a pastor like Newton, but not because he was famous or notable — quite the opposite. I want to faithfully serve the Lord, day by day, in the small and quiet, continually reminded of His grace in my own life and the lives of others.
Finally, this book has pushed me to be thankful for the all-sufficient, long-suffering Christ that I know and love. In studying theology and holding to a Reformed view, it becomes easy at times to make faith academic study instead of treasured warmth for our soul. Reinke displayed Newton well, and Newton displayed Christ well, and Christ has revealed Himself through this book, and made it abundantly known that He is all in all (Col. 3:11). Since I finished Chapter 4, called “Gospel Simplicity,” this has been my prayer every morning, a quote from Newton:
“May [I] be enabled from henceforth to serve him with a single eye and a simple heart, to be faithful to every intimation of his will, and to make him [my] All in all!” (124).
This will hopefully become the daily prayer and plea for me when I roll out of bed and crawl back in. As I pursue ministry, trials are sure to come, faith is sure to get difficult, circumstances are sure to look grim. But this word, and the life and character of Christ, well-reflected by Newton and Reinke, will be sure to get me through. To live is Christ.
Recommend this book? Absolutely. It’s my favorite of the series thus far. But I must warn you: Be ready to become aware of the depths of your depravity without the Redeemer, and the heights of the glory of Him. Be ready to be enraptured in the life of a slave-trading seaman who was blind but now sees. Be ready to make much of Jesus, to sing with Paul in his letter to Philippi, “To live is Christ.” Reinke does it well. Newton does it well. This book pushes us to do the same.
I was provided this book via Crossway in exchange for my review.