Book Review: Falling Into Grace by John Newton

Most of what lives on bookstore shelves marked “Christian” should actually be marked “Self Help […]

Sarah Condon / 5.2.16

Most of what lives on bookstore shelves marked “Christian” should actually be marked “Self Help with the Name Jesus Thrown In” (I’m looking at you, Osteen). But John Newton’s latest book, Falling Into Grace: Exploring Our Inner Life with God begins not with us climbing the corporate ladder to the Kingdom, but with us falling. In fact, Newton makes it pretty clear from the beginning:

“This book is an invitation to let yourself fall. It’s a reminder that because you’re already home free from the beginning, any fall can always be a fall into grace. And so don’t expect to find within these pages a list of spiritual exercises that will help you grow closer to God. Growing closer to God is impossible. It’s like saying you want to grow closer to your skin.”

NewtonHe had me at “Hello.”

I need the relief of Jesus. I need acknowledgement that falling is not just a part of life, but life itself. Failure and loss and disappointment are everyday experiences. And Newton understands that the Grace of God is the central context for our life’s most trying moments:

“Jesus’s way of decent is about unlearning this avoid-pain-at-all-costs behavior. Jesus does not offer us relief from our symptoms, but rather a cure, which can only happen if we learn to embrace suffering as grace and as a gift. There quite simply is no other way. We experience resurrection only in proportion to our willingness to die.”

This was the moment that I realized that John Newton is good people. He gets it. He gets it the way Luther got it, St. Paul got it, and AA gets it. Facing our suffering and our sin is the most painful way and most honest way to know forgiveness and grace.

Contrary to most books connecting theology with everyday life, Falling Into Grace is actually readable. I don’t care how brilliant a theologian is, if they have only written for fellow theologians, then their efforts are in vain. We don’t need more theological writing for the academic world–we need more theological writing to soothe the sinsick mass of humanity.Newton repeatedly addresses dense topics with tremendous simplicity. Principles like God’s One Way Love and Imputation are cracked open on the pages of this book. And theological notions that are often reserved for theologians are offered freely to everyone. Personally speaking, I loved Newton’s description of the “bound will”:

We all make many decisions. Our decisions, at least without a certain degree of mindfulness, are so heavily influenced by our unconscious instincts and our social setting that it would be wrong to say that they are made freely.

For instance, suppose I put a whiskey in front of an alcoholic and he drinks it. It would certainly appear that he chose to take the drink. But would any of us say that in that particular moment he was free? Surely, he was not. And the same holds true for us.

I have spent years reading about the “bound will” (Luther, Forde, Forde explaining Luther). And then John Newton just summed it up in two short paragraphs. Honestly, I would buy the book for that explanation alone.

There is nothing that keeps me up at night like worrying about the future of the Church. I grow more and more concerned that we have hitched ourselves to a wagon marked “High Anthropology, Low Christology” without even realizing it. There is such a hesitancy for our preachers to talk about the cross. Preachers are reluctant to talk about sin and so they render themselves unable to fully preach grace. And many days it feels like our pulpits are being turned into political soapboxes, or worse yet, self-improvement speeches. And that scares me. Not for the Church, necessarily, but for all of us who turn to the Gospel for comfort.

I am so grateful for the work of John Newton. He is unafraid to remind the Church of her own beautiful story. We are sinners saved by the cross. We are loved through our suffering. And Jesus Christ came so that we would all fall freely into His grace.

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5 responses to “Book Review: Falling Into Grace by John Newton”

  1. Paula Sevier says:

    I’ve heard you “single out” Joel Osteen before.
    Seems kinda mean.

    • Sarah Condon says:

      When I was a hospital chaplain, people (who were officially sent and sanctioned) from Joel’s church would stand over the beds of patients and tell them that they were dying of cancer because they hadn’t prayed hard enough.
      His theology lived out can be very, very destructive. You are right. I am being mean. And I pray God forgives me. And I pray Joel would actually preach the Gospel.

  2. Paula says:

    Maybe if you demonstrate one-way love toward him, he will “come around” and preach like YOU think he should. ?

  3. P. Sevier says:

    And, the good news is: God HAS forgiven you!

  4. […] Click here to listen to this week’s episode of The Mockingcast, which features an interview with author/theologian John Newton. […]

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