Reinke, Tony. Newton on the Christian Life (Theologians on the Christian Life Series). Wheaton, Il: Crossway Books, 2015. 288 pp. $19.99.
“Newton held firm these two realities learned from his own experience: our sin is dark and ugly and damning and destructive, but Christ superabounds our sin with unassailable light and beauty and redemption and restoration” (pp.50). If there was ever a saint that felt the darkness of his sin it was John Newton. Famous for penning Amazing Grace, Newton knew the transforming power of Christ’s amazing grace. A self-described “ring leader in blasphemy and wickedness”, a rebel from his youth and the captain of a slave ship later on, Newton was no stranger to sin. Amidst a Jonah-esque storm Newton cried out to the Lord for salvation; his life would never be the same. The slave ship captain would become a slave to Jesus, and in that slavery learn this dearest truth: to live is Christ and to die is gain.
Newton liked to think of himself as a cardiologist—a keen observer of human experiences and emotions. Through preaching and writing he faithfully communicated the sufficiency of Christ to his people. Interestingly enough, Newton’s sermons aren’t what he’s remembered for; but rather his writing. Newton, writing to a friend said of his own sermons, “nothing could exceed the lifelessness of [my] audience” (pp.22). But realizing the Lord’s blessing upon his ‘Letters’ Newton submitted to God’s will for his life, “I learned to say, ‘Thy will be done! Use me as Thou please, only make me useful’” (pg.23).
Tony Reinke has given the church a gift. This book systematizes and synthesizes over 1,000 of Newton’s personal letters and melts them down into 288 pages of pure solid gospel-gold and pastoral wisdom. Throughout, Reinke unpacks Newton’s theology of the Christian Life, “Newton operates within a clear, two-pronged, universal axiom: (1) Every human is hardwired to thirst for abiding joy, and (2) these soul cravings can be satisfied only by the God who encoded those desires in us” (pp.67), thus the foundation and force for all of Newton’s counsel.
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
Pastors will find this book eminently and endlessly useful. Every pastor wrestles with the same thing: “For Newton, the Christian life boils down largely to this question: How do you maintain constant, undistracted, unmixed, single-hearted devotion to Christ” (pp.93)? Is this not the prayer and focus of every Elder and Pastor? We desire people with burning hearts, chests aflame for the glory of Christ. We pray that God would raise up men and women to hold the banner of the cross high, but oh what a struggle that is.
“Newton is eager to remind his readers of this one essential core conviction about the Christian life: beholding the glory of Christ rouses joy, empowers obedience, and transforms the Christian into the image of Christ” (pp.71). Pastor, it’s this thread that runs through every bit of counsel Newton gave.
Newton, not short on affection for Christ, continuingly called his people to behold the glory of Christ in his many offices; “Prophet, Priest, King, and Friend; our Lord and Savior, Head, and Root; our Meat, Drink, Medicine, and Strength; our Hope and Foundation; our Sun and Shield; our Example and Forerunner; our Wisdom and Righteousness; our Sanctification and Redemption; our Life and Way and End” (pp.266).
Pastors can learn and be encouraged by the trust Newton demonstrated in the simple, but sufficient gospel. If a person was struggling with a particular sin it was due to them losing focus on the unique way Christ satisfies that longing. There’s much that pastors can learn from his wise applications, particularly from the chapter on suffering.
Counseling suffering situations can be a thorny issue and we can be slow to apply the gospel-salve as we should for fear of misrepresenting God or out of self-preservation. But pastors would be wise to heed Newton, who fearlessly applied the sovereign-salve of God to any and all situations.
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Newton on the Christian Life is an arrow dipped in the all-satisfying glory of Christ that is aimed at your heart. Pastor, buy this today.