Discerning readers are rightfully wary of movie tie-ins, which usually serve as interminable copy for the advertisement that is the film. Amazing Grace is a notable and very pleasant exception, and one of the few instances in which the book based on the movie is actually far better. Thoroughly researched, elegantly written and just plain fascinating, Eric Metaxas' biography of William Wilberforce (1759-1833) demonstrates the true extent of the Englishman's heroism—not as an abolitionist, but as a Christian.
Unlike famous abolitionists of the Abraham Lincoln and Harriet Beecher Stowe variety, Wilberforce's crusade against slavery was not waged primarily in the name of human rights, but as an outworking of his evangelical Christian faith. A friend and disciple of Methodists (and thus highly practical in his approach to piety and virtue), Wilberforce didn't limit himself to fighting slavery. He fought "vice" through published pamphlets and personal efforts, established the Society for the Prevention of the Cruelty of Animals, and funded and aided global missions.
Nobody's perfect, but Wilberforce came close. Other than a stint of partying and gambling in college, his life was singularly devoted to the spread of the Gospel, its complete supremacy in his own life, and the repression of sin and sinfulness. His friendship with John Newton is telling—Newton, a fellow abolitionist, was equally dedicated to his Christian faith and ideals. It's interesting to note that before Wilberforce's ultimately successful attempts to outlaw slavery in Great Britain, few understood its moral implications; after his death, its evil was almost universally recognized.
This isn't a "devotional" biography, however. Metaxas' attention to detail and atmosphere lend Amazing Grace the elements of a good novel, and readers are easily caught up in the 18th century London of Wilberforce's experience. We get to see Parliament in action side-by-side with Wilberforce's inner struggles and spiritual battles, contextualizing both and demonstrating how much it is really individual men who shape history and not just some unseen conspiratorial hand. At the same time, we see God's hand on those individuals, and to what extent He has shaped and guided the history of people.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he's a husband and father who loves church, good food, and weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here
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