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John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace Paperback – May 31, 2013
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"A new life of John Newton is a fitting celebration of the bicentennial both of Newton's death and of the abolition of the slave trade, Wilberforce's triumph in which Newton played a key role. Master biographer Jonathan Aitken is in fine form, sympathetic, insightful, scholarly, and vivid, and his book, like its subject, must be rated spectacular."
—J. I. Packer, Board of Governors' Professor of Theology, Regent College
"A riveting historical account of the life of this notorious eighteenth-century sinner who was dramatically saved by God's grace. This book should be required reading for any person who loves history, loves the song, and is serious about following Christ."
—Jack Kemp, former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development; former U.S. Congressman
"A rip-roaring adventure, a passionate romance, and an astonishing journey of faith all in one. I knew the story well, but this telling made a deep impression on me."
—Os Guinness, cofounder, The Trinity Forum; author, The Dust of Death and The Last Christian on Earth
"Jonathan Aitken has written such an intimate account of one of the great saints of God that I can now say I have been mentored by John Newton!"
—Joel Hunter, Senior Pastor, Northland, A Church Distributed, Longwood, Florida
"Jonathan Aitken's fast-paced, well-researched, and detailed book shows why Newton was such an important figure. This is a book to read, ponder, and read again."
—Mark A. Noll, Francis A. McAnaney Professor of History, University of Notre Dame
"A fresh, insightful, and inspiring account of this great figure. With that rare skill of a superb biographer, Aitken brings Newton to life for a new generation of admirers."
—Alister McGrath, Professor of Theology, Ministry and Education, King's College, London
"In careful and colorful detail, Aitken resurrects this nearly forgotten giant of the faith and establishes Newton in his rightful place as one who has altered the course of western history."
—Robert Lupton, President, FCS Urban Ministries, Atlanta
"Skilled biographer that he is, my friend Jonathan Aitken has brought to life one of eighteenth-century England's most influential Christians. The story of amazing grace both in the life of Newton and in the song that has become the Christian national anthem."
—Charles Colson, founder, Prison Fellowship and the Colson Center for Christian Worldview
"Only God could take a vile slave trader and turn him into a useful instrument in abolishing the slave trade and igniting a gospel revival, the flames of which are burning still. The story of Newton's life inspires all who seek to follow the path of Jesus today."
—Timothy George, Founding Dean, Beeson Divinity School; General Editor, Reformation Commentary on Scripture
"John Newton not only wrote one of the greatest hymns of all time-he lived one of the greatest stories of salvation."
—Rodney Stark, Author of The Rise of Christianity
"Even more amazing than Newton's life with all its drama and color is the reminder of how completely revolutionary is God's agenda to change the world his own way and through imperfect, broken people. Newton is just another entry to God's long resumé of his amazing grace in changed lives."
—James MacDonald, Pastor, Harvest Bible Chapel, Rolling Meadows, Illinois; author, Vertical Church
"An informed, authoritative biography of the man who played a critical role in helping William Wilberforce abolish the slave trade. His life story is absolutely spell-binding. I could not put the book down."
—Armand M. Nicholi Jr., M.D., Professor of Psychiatry, Harvard Medical School; Author of The Question of God
"Jonathan Aitken has written a book that, enriched by fresh research into unpublished papers, will enhance his reputation as one of today's foremost biographers."
—Michael Green, Author, Theologian, Former Canon Missioner of Holy Trinity Church, Raleigh, North Carolina
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Top customer reviews
Newton's early dissolute life is well-covered in this book: a troubled childhood, a quick mind given over to blasphemy and atheism in his wild youth, and his dark years as both slave and slave trader. Newton's conversion (and many narrow escapes) is well-documented, and his turning to God is portraying as the agonizing, deep process it was--there are no sudden changes here, but continual pitfalls and setbacks in a man who slowly turned into a great warrior for the Lord.
For those with a calling to the ministry, Newton's struggles with ordination and his following career as a pastor will be of great interest. Newton was innovative, lively, inclusive, and gospel-centered as a pastor. It is not to say that his ministry did not have great struggles and stumbles, but his attitude and perseverance will likely inspire readers. Some of the machinations and historical aspects of the society in Newton's time will be of great interest to lovers of history.
The aspects dealing with abolition and the writing of "Amazing Grace" might seem brief to some readers expecting to find those items front-and-center, but honestly, John Newton's life is exemplary for his larger-than-life conversion story and preaching as much as it is for his more well-known accomplishments.
Aitken's book starts a bit slow, but finds a livelier rhythm when it comes to Newton's ordination and subsequent ministry. The depth of the book is quite excellent, with many of Newton's correspondences and diaries mined for context and to show just how committed Newton became in the service of Christ. This is a book worth sticking with, as readers will be rewarded with an insight into a man who was one of the great redemption stories in his generation, and many generations to come.
An impressed Navy sailor; a deserter; a slave ship captain; a new Christian struggling to cast-off his immoral habits; a more mature Christian struggling to find his calling; a small-town pastor impacting his nation; a big-city pastor impacting his government and the world; a hymn-writer; a best-selling author; a loving, tender husband; a networker (in the best sense of the word); a man committed to prayer and reflection; an adoptive father ... he lived a remarkable life. Escaping near death multiple times in his early years, he lived a long, faithful life and - in the end - he wasn't afraid of dying (nor of his wife's death) because he knew the one who would welcome him home.
John Newton lived a life that could only have been more dramatic if it were the product of fiction. Forced into naval service when he was young, Newton endeared himself to no one, living a life of utter disregard for authority. While attempting to desert he was captured and dropped to the lowest ranks of seamen. He eventually found a way to be released from the military and wormed his way onto a slave shape with which he sailed down the long coast of Africa. Being deserted for a time on that dark continent, he was made the slave of a slave-trader and suffered terrible abuse at the hands of his captor. After a time he was rescued and became the captain of his own slave ship. But then, during a long passage across the Atlantic Ocean, he began to read a Bible and underwent the remarkable transformation chronicled in the song he wrote years later.
Newton worked in secular employment for a time but soon felt the call to ministry and was ordained an Anglican priest, a position he retained until his death in 1807. In the intervening years he became widely-known through his biography and through his efforts to abolish the slave trade. He served as mentor to William Wilberforce who fought a long but ultimately successful campaign to ban the British slave trade. It was two hundred years ago that this battle was won and two hundred years ago that Newton died. As Eric Metaxas has written a new biography of Wilberforce to mark the occasion, Aitken has done the same with Newton.
And it is quite a good biography. Aitken, who has previously chronicled the lives of Richard Nixon and Chuck Colson is a recent convert who underwent quite a radical conversion. He does a fine job of bringing the life of his subject to a whole new generation. While it may lack the depth of some of the greatest biographies of the greatest Christians, it is eminently readable and enjoyable from the first page to the last. A unique contribution of this book is that it relies on diaries and correspondence that have previously been unpublished. Newton's own writing, and especially his letters, provide a good deal of the book's content and some of its most edifying. In fact, the content and depth of these letters persuaded me to seek out a volume published by Banner of Truth titled simply The Letters of John Newton.
The theme of this biography can be aptly summarized by the final words spoken by this hero of the faith. "I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great Savior." This account takes us from Newton's days of joyous depravity to his dramatic conversion to his new life and ultimately to the moment he went to meet the great Savior he had come to know and love. It is a worthwhile addition to any library.