Crossway’s Theologians on the Christian Life series wants to fill our lack of “perspectives from the past, perspectives from a different time and place than our own… [When] it comes to learning about and practicing discipleship[, it’s] like owning a mansion and choosing to live in only one room. This series invites you to explore the other rooms” (Series Preface). The aim of the TotCL series isn’t to give us biographies nor full-blown theologies of each man. They are “an exposition of each man’s view of the Christian life” (Storms). So far there are twelve volumes, ranging from Calvin to Bavinck, Packer to Luther, Schaeffer to Wesley, and then some.
Almost everyone knows the song “Amazing Grace” by Isaac Newton. Fewer know that he used to be a sailor who participated in the trading of slaves. Even fewer know much anything else about him. Tony Reinke seeks to impart the voice of Newton to us. So much so that John Piper says the voice of Reinke and Newton have become one. “Tony has absorbed the spirit and mind of John Newton.”
But why read about Newton? Piper relays J. I. Packer’s statement on Newton, “‘Ex-slavetrader John Newton was the friendliest, wisest, humblest and least pushy of all the eighteenth-century evangelical leaders, and was perhaps the greatest pastoral letter-writer of all time.’ Tony has lived in those one-thousand letters long enough to be the sweet aroma of this ‘least-pushy’ of eighteenth-century giants” (Foreward).
Here I will try to pair the book off in sections, though Reinke doesn’t do this, and, as we will see, many of the themes are interwoven throughout the whole book.
The first four chapters (though all of them do, really) point us to Christ. Chapter 1 lays the foundation of Newton’s thoughts on the Christian life: grace. Yet grace is not some “spiritual currency or some abstracted spiritual power.” No, it is Jesus himself. He is the architect who builds us up along our life. Jesus isn’t blind to the “jobsite mess” of which he will clean us up from. God’s grace binds us to Christ.
Before we learn from Newton about the common challenges of the Christian life, before we study the particular blemishes of Christian character, before we study his instructions to those who are discouraged and depressed, before we see his balm for the pain and trials and the insecurities Christians face, and before we can learn from him about trying to do business in the world, or about how to honor God in our marriages, or about how to deal with particular indwelling sins—before we look at any of these particulars, we must understand the root of all grace, Jesus Christ.
Reinke shows the reader how Christ’s is all-sufficient (ch 2) through six different titles: Christ is our Shepherd, Husband, Prophet, Priest, King, and Friend. Because Jesus is all-sufficient, we are to find our daily joy in him because we know by faith that he is truly glorious (ch 3). What if the joy of Christ becomes boring to us? Then we merely need to look at our lives. “Trials remedy fictional escapism.” When trials happen in the drama of life we are to run to our all-sufficient friend who gives us all that we need. Trials point us to a better, greater reality.
“The Apostle, when speaking of the love and riches of Christ, uses remarkable expressions; he speaks of heights, and depths, and lengths, and breadths, and unsearchable, where I seem to find every thing plain, easy, and rational. He finds mysteries where I can perceive none.”
Perhaps we should envy Paul’s sufferings, for Paul lived a life of gospel-simplicity (ch 4). He was being “emptied of all self-reliant thoughts and abilities” and knew that “every trial or stroke of pain [came] from God’s hand, with his own glory at stake ultimately.”
Chapters 5-9 deal with sin and trials in the Christian life. We must face our inward sin (ch 5), “we must feel our own sin and it must shake us,” to see that beauty of Christ’s all-sufficient power to overcome sin. In pursuing Christ-centered holiness (ch 6), we aim to overcome the indwelling sin that rises up when trials come around. They must come, for if we want to resemble Jesus, we must “have real fellowship with him in his death” also. Suffering can bring selfishness or it can bring maturity. Newton gives us a growth chart of the Christian life (ch 7), one that is all too aware of the trials but provides the hope of spiritual maturity. Maturity is sought after and found by defeating not only the big sins, but the small blemishes (ch 8) as well. Christian “[trials] are medicines of kindness applied to serious diseases called indwelling sins” [Ch 9].
Indwelling sins are more readily smoked out with noxious trials than with powdered donuts. God would not send the pain if he did not intend to rouse the vipers and drive them out. The Christian life includes God’s intention that we not only comprehend our sins theoretically, but feel them actually. Trials make us feel the power of the sins residing in our hearts, and such awareness is essential to the cure.
Chapters 10-14 deal with Bible reading, battles, and victory. As there is a daily need for communion with Christ so we can know him and also overcome sin, we are to be humble as we are reading the Bible (ch 10), knowing we don’t have it all together. It will teach us how to battle insecurity (ch11) and find assurance in the all-sufficient One. We will find victory over both spiritual weariness (ch 12) which comes from our trials and sins, and of Mr. Self (ch 13). We are nothing, and Jesus is all in all. To die to our selfish desires is to gain Christ (ch 14), who is all in all.
It’s hard to summarize a fourteen chapter book, especially one so well-written as this. If I have one complaint it’s that I had a difficult time finding any sort of structure while I was reading the book. The chapters themselves were excellent, but I didn’t really know why they were ordered as they were. But that aside, this book is highly recommended. If the rest of the series is this good, then every volume is worthy of purchase.
We are not to think that 21st scholars, pastors, friends, and parents are the products of all that have come before us and are, therefore, wiser and more insightful than our previous ancestors. The way we choose to live as Christians speaks volumes to the world around us. Let us not pass up this opportunity.
- Series: Theologians on the Christian Life
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Crossway (May 31, 2015)
- Newton on the Christian’s Indwelling Sin
- Newton and the Growth Chart of the Christian Life
- Tim Keller on Spiritual Maturity
- Newton and Seven Christian Blemishes
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[Special thanks to Crossway for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book].