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John Newton and the English Evangelical Tradition: Between the Conversions of Wesley and Wilberforce.

By D. Bruce Hindmarsh. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996. 366 pp.

Bruce Hindmarsh has written a fresh and comprehensive biography of John Newton. He has shown him to be "a sort of middleman" (a phrase in the pre-publication book title) between partisans of the Evangelical Revival and, as such, a figure revered among them.

At age seven, Newton lost his mother whose faith heritage lay with the Dissenters; his father and stepmother offered nothing comparable, so that as a young adult he embraced Deism and an immoral lifestyle.

He is often remembered only for his conversion, his repentance from involvement in the slave trade as a captain, and for the hymn "Amazing Grace." Yet, Hindmarsh describes Newton's life, conversion, career, theology, and hymnody in such a way as to reveal a gospel servant rich in relationships, a prolific preacher, pastor, and writer of letters, hymns, and sermons who influenced an entire generation. That Hindmarsh does so while enlivening the historical context enhances the book's utility for students of Newton and English history.

Hindmarsh identifies Newton as an evangelical in the proper eighteenth-century sense and also describes the Evangelical Revival in its moderate Anglican and interdenominational character. As a moderate Calvinist, Newton chose to associate with Methodists and Dissenters who like himself had received grace. His influential conversion narrative, like those of others (e.g., John Bunyan and James Gardiner), was an "Authentic Narrative" indeed and a "familiar letter" (p. 32) in the confessional mode. Hindmarsh carefully surveys Newton's growth toward maturity and fulfillment of his call to ministry and Episcopal ordination.

In recounting Newton's ministries from midlife into old age, the book illuminates evangelicalism, the workings of the Anglican parish, and the richness of the broader cooperative Christian community in the eighteenth century. Living in the neo-classical to Romantic transition period, Newton composed hundreds of hymns with contemporary appeal for the laity but valuable also as literary compositions--the most enduring of them "Faith's Review and Expectation" or "Amazing Grace."

He closed out his life and ministry having been an "evangelical patriarch" (p. 310), the leading member of the Eclectic Society, and a renowned preacher at times mistaken for a Methodist. Above all, his choice to embrace fellowship with evangelicals was a hallmark, so that he was "an ideal of evangelical catholicity" (p. 327), a "healer of breaches" according to John Wesley (p. 328), and as revealed in his conversion narrative, a humble champion of "the converting grace of God" (p. 331).

The book has been carefully produced and printed. Its good organization and rich bibliography make it useful as a research and teaching tool, and the descriptions of Newton's devotional habits and ministry suggest a worthy model. I highly recommend this account of John Newton and his legacy.--Reviewed by Jerry L. Summers, Sam B. Hall Professor of History, East Texas Baptist University, Marshall, Texas.
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Author:Summers, Jerry L.
Publication:Baptist History and Heritage
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1999
Words:474
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