A Brief Review of
(Christian Encounters Series)
Paperback: Thomas Nelson, 2010.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
Reviewed by Chris Smith.
Isaac Newton was undoubtedly a genius and essential to the development of Modern, Western thought – especially our understanding and experience of time and space. His life and his thought, while historically of the utmost significance, was full of complexities. Mitch Stokes begins to capture some of these complexities in his new biography of Newton, one of five volumes in the first installment of Thomas Nelson’s “Christian Encounters” series. The picture of Newton that Stokes paints recognizes his profound genius and his preference to work in isolation, and yet seeks to humanize him. Stokes, for instance, begins the book with the story of a schoolyard fight that would inspire Newton to get serious about his schoolwork and eventually propel him to the top of his class. Stokes’ biography goes beyond the basic narrative of Newton as a pre-eminent natural philosopher, touching on his inquires into alchemy, magic and theology. Stokes says:
Newton’s study of theology and alchemy comes as a shock to people. But Newton was a great synthesizer; he didn’t merely want to master a few separate disciplines. A command of mathematics and natural philosophy was only part of his goal. Newton endeavored to a great, comprehensive system of the world – from the solar system to the fundamental nature of matter to God’s work in redemptive history (81-82).
Stokes has offered us here a fine introduction to Newton; however, it leaves one a bit perplexed about the question of why it was included in the “Christian Encounters” series. There is some brief engagements here with Newton’s faith, the most interesting of which related to the nature of science as a naturalistic discourse (an idea that Newton rejected), but one would have liked to seen a deeper level of theological reflection on Newton’s work and its significance for the Church. I recommend this biography for math and science folks who want to understand Newton’s life in its historical context or for students simply seeking to learn more about Newton. However, for those desiring a distinctively Christian examination of Newton’s life and work, this biography leaves much to be desired.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com