Tag Archives: Amazing Grace

“I laughed, I cried, I changed”–sentimental narrative in early evangelicalism

Here is the fourth of my Christianity Today history website series “Grateful to the Dead: The Diary of Christian History Professor” For the rest of the series, click through the link in the first paragraph, below, to the previous installment. You’ll find links to the first two articles in the series are embedded early in that article:

#4: “I laughed, I cried, I changed”
Chris Armstrong

Dear folks,

In the last installment, I promised to tell you about a tradition in Western philosophy and literature that highly valued our shared nature as emotional beings and affirmed that reading about other people’s experiences and emotions can be a powerful transformational tool.

My “Exhibit A” is the 1764 book An Authentic Narrative of some Interesting and Remarkable Particulars in the Life of John Newton. As I prepared a discussion for our Patron Saints class at Bethel on this spiritual autobiography of the author of “Amazing Grace,” recently reissued by Regent College Publishing, I realized something: Newton‘s book is a clear example of a popular 18th- and 19th-century literary genre: the sentimental narrative.

What was a “sentimental narrative?” Continue reading

The amazingly graced life of John Newton

I’m thankful for the 2 1/2 years Christianity Today International trusted me to edit what was one of its finest magazines: Christian History & Biography. Every issue was fascinating to research, write, edit, and publish, but Issue #81: John Newton–Author of “Amazing Grace,” is one of my favorites. I got to work with the author of the definitive critical biography of Newton, my friend Bruce Hindmarsh of Regent College, and to learn so much about biographical writing by reading John Pollock’s short biography of Newton–on which I based much of the lead biographical article for that issue. That article became the writing sample I sent to Intervarsity Press to pitch my book Patron Saints for Postmoderns, which has since been published. Thank you, Bruce, John Pollock, and John Newton! Here is that article.

(Though Christian History & Biography is now no longer appearing in printed form, every article from each of its 99 issues is available at www.christianhistory.net, along with new articles still being released in online-only form, plus the ongoing blog at blog.christianhistory.net, where I post each month along with CT editor David Neff, CT writer Collin Hansen, former CHB managing editor Elesha Coffman, and CT online editor Ted Olsen.)

The Amazingly Graced Life of John Newton
His was a tale of two lives, with God at the pivot point.

The “old African blasphemer.” This was how John Newton (1725-1807) often referred to himself in later life. Such a self-characterization may seem like false humility. After all, by 1800 no evangelical clergyman had gained more fame or exercised more spiritual influence than Newton. He was loved and trusted by thousands; he preached in one of the most prestigious parishes of London; young ministers competed to stay with him and learn under the master. But Newton knew well the darkness at the heart of every person. Continue reading