Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Book Review: John Newton by John Crotts

John Newton (Bitesize Biographies series) by John Crotts
EP Books (2013); 141 pp.
Cross Focused Reviews Blog Tour

I had the opportunity to review a Bitesize Biography a couple of months ago and enjoyed it, so when I learned that a volume on John Newton -- author of one of my favorite hymn texts -- was available for review, I couldn't pass it up.

One thing I appreciate about this series, at least in the couple of examples I have read, is the various styles of the authors. Simonetta Carr's Renée of France has a historian's touch. While that style is more to my taste, John Crotts' lively storytelling would probably appeal to readers who aren't typically drawn to biographies. His book also struck me as being just as well-researched.

Crotts has an infectious love for his subject that leads the reader to give thanks for God's gracious work in sinners, including themselves, as they move through Newton's story. It wasn't hard to share his enthusiasm for Newton: I immediately started learning new things about this remarkable pastor. Many people have heard about Newton's involvement in the slave trade, his eventual repentance, and his authorship of "Amazing Grace." There's so much more to his story, however.

I appreciated Crotts' emphasis on the slowness of Newton's conversion. I find it comforting to read accounts like this -- not everyone can pinpoint the moment when the Holy Spirit regenerated them, or they may be led to doubt the genuineness of their conversion because of later failings. It took awhile for spiritual fruit to become evident in Newton's life, but he was able to look back on his prodigal youth with gratitude for the Lord's patience and mercy.

Probably my favorite part of the book, though, was the story of Newton's friendship with the gifted poet William Cowper, who suffered terribly from depression. Even though I was familiar with the basic outline, I couldn't read this section without tears.

This book could be especially encouraging for ministers or seminarians; I was quite impressed as I read about Newton's sheer energy and creativity for sharing the gospel and caring for his flock. He personally catechized children, hosted (beside his wife) teas and prayer-meetings in his home, became an adoptive father at an advanced age, and seemed to have an equal love for preaching God's Word in rural and urban settings. Of course, he is best remembered for his prolific hymn- and letter-writing ministries, which Crotts sums up very nicely in the book's final chapters.

It's a quick read, it's engagingly written, and I recommend it. If you're anything like me, you'll be inspired to track down a copy of Newton's published letters as soon as you can. At the very least, you'll be moved to celebrate God's gracious work in sinners like Newton and yourself.

The publisher provided me with a review copy of this book, and I was under no obligation to give a favorable review.

1 comment:

  1. Sarah,

    Thanks for contributing to the blog tour.

    Shaun Tabatt
    Cross Focused Reviews