Jonathan Aitken, a former British member of Parliament, was convicted of perjury and spent 18 months in prison, where he converted to Christ. Author of Charles W. Colson: A Life Redeemed, Aitken has just written a new biography, John Newton: From Disgrace to Amazing Grace. CT senior associate editor Stan Guthrie spoke with him.
What drew you to Newton?
It was a combination of godly curiosity and historical interest, plus a certain degree of commercial interest as well. This is the 200th anniversary both of the abolition of [the slave trade], in which Newton played a part, and of Newton's death. And there's been a lot of interest generated by the Amazing Grace movie.
What is new about John Newton?
In March 1748, Newton was caught in a great storm at sea. That began his spiritual searching, which led to his conversion. In 1758, he was passionately and deeply immersing himself in the question, "Should I serve God through the ordained ministry?" At that time, he wrote a [previously unknown] document called "Miscellaneous Thoughts on an Important Subject." This is a remarkable document. It's when he tested himself on the authenticity of his call. This document was in his own handwriting, 60 pages.
In what areas do you think our estimation of Newton will change?
Two hundred years later, it's easier to see how important a man Newton was from different angles. First, there is his life story. The amazing, transformational grace of Jesus Christ in Newton's life can be told gloriously over and over again, and there's new material to tell that story.
Second, there's a lot more [documentation]. For example, there's fairly sensational stuff about Newton in some of the letters he wrote, and the evidence he gave about the horrors of the slave ...