I’ve just about finished Tony Reinke’s book on John Newton’s pastoral letters, Newton On The Christian Life: To Live is Christ and here’s what I have concluded: compared with his theological robustness in the face of trials, we’re in danger of being a culture of Christian snowflakes.
You get what I mean by “snowflake?”
The word has been hijacked these past few months by all sorts of political flavours. There are almost as many usages of “snowflake” across the political spectrum as there are different shapes of snowflakes. Well maybe not that many.
In political terms “snowflakes” are those who can’t stand the heat of any opposition to their cherished views. And all sides of the fence use it. “Snowflakes” melt when the blowtorch is applied.
Christian snowflakery cuts across the spectrum. And it does so because we live in a culture that worships, what RR Reno calls the “hearth gods” of comfort and security.
We’re marinaded in an expectation that somehow we are owed these things as rewards for either our hard work and striving, or for our good fortune at having been born in the West in the 20th and 21st centuries.
And it’s a perspective that is in danger of squeezing out any theological conviction that “trials” are a normative part of the Christian life, as a quick skim of the Christian bestsellers list may reveal.
It’s that aspect of Newton’s life that has particularly struck me. He was convinced that trials were not simply occasional bad luck events, but were part and parcel of what it meant to belong to Christ, to be like Christ and to be brought home by Christ.
Now Newton was no stoic. How could the man who wrote Amazing Grace be unmoved in the face of his own trials, or the many trials recorded in his decades worth of pastoral correspondences to other Christians?
I was almost unnerved reading many of the passages in the book. There is no maudlin or gleeful tone to the reality of trials, but a conviction in Newton that God brings these trials to us because we need them.
And why do we need them? Because we need to be more and more like Christ and trials seem to be a particularly effective way – the particularly effective way – to bring this happy reality to bear.
Newton’s view of God’s sovereignty led him to this conclusion:
Everything is necessary that he sends. Nothing can be necessary that he withholds.
And if you haven’t wrestled and tried to come to terms with that in your own Christian life at any stage, then you’ve probably only been a Christian a matter of weeks. Or you’re not a Christian.
Why could Newton say “everything”? Because God is a good God whose understanding of what is good for us is far superior to our own understanding of what is good for us. He sends the trials our way.
Why could Newton say “necessary”? Because God is a good God who wants our goodness to reflect his own, and He will not be satisfied until it does. Granted, that will not be in this life, but the trajectory is fully and firmly there.
Why could Newton say “sends”? Because he firmly believed that God sends whatever comes our way. His conviction about God’s sovereignty meant that, despite outward appearances, despite our desire for what God should send, anything He does send is meant to be sent, and for a purpose.
Why could Newton say “withholds”? Well, just trawl through your own life and ask how frustrated or angry at God you have been for not giving you what you want, nay, what you think you deserve. And I am putting my hand up right here!
You could do worse than read this book. You could do nothing better next time you get on to the Amazon Kindle store or the Christian bookshop, to bypass the latest self-help/political or cultural analysis/church trends/mission books, and buy this one.
I have a feeling the heat could be turned up on God’s people in the West in a decidedly public and corporate way in the future, and an unattended snowflakery that shrinks from trials as if they were something outside of God’s scope would see us melt away.
We need a robust theology of trials to rid us of personal snowflakery (which could endanger our salvation), and corporate snowflakery (which could endanger our public witness to a watching, and increasingly hostile, world).