Monday, April 29, 2013

Review: Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery


Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery
Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery by Eric Metaxas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars



The key word in the subtitle is "heroic." Eric Metaxas does a wonderful job of conveying the faith and idealism of William Wilberforce. This biography is extremely readable, and most moving: a tribute to a man who combines faith and reason, activism and prudence, rhetoric and ethics. Metaxas skillfully shows the linkages between the two guiding lights of Wilberforce: the "reformation of manners," a kind of moral and spiritual awakening, and abolition.

One striking feature of this story is how secularized and worldly the Church of England had become in the late 1700's. Wilberforce is an example of a radical movement of deep faith, typified by the founders of Methodism and the Quakers, that took commitment to Christ seriously. These movements revitalized Christian practice in England and called it to judge the world by the mind of Christ.

One fascinating chapter focuses on Wilberforce's struggle to allow Christian evangelism in India. Commercial interests, such as the British East India Company, were dead set against allowing missionaries to work in India, because it would restrict the particular advantages that British men of means enjoyed there, such as the keeping of retinues of mistresses who were happy to give sexual favors to them in return for, as one gentleman put it, "a little rice and let[ting] them run about." Allowing quaint "customs" such as female infanticide and the suttee were a small price for the East India Company in return for the gains it saw from an endless source of cheap labor. Given this, the Company predictably found itself protecting these practices, often cynically portraying itself as broad-minded and multi-cultural (as opposed to uncaring).

Wilberforce's story deserves to be more well-known, and Metaxas' book is an excellent beginning of this work.



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