Review of Young, Restless, Reformed

How does a man visit six cities, interview everyone from the octagenarian J.I. Packer to nineteen year-old college Calvinists, cover church traditions from charismatic to seventh-day adventism, dip into the subcultures from deep south Bible-belters to postmodern Seattle hipsters, and then review it all in a coherent and engaging manner in less than 160 pages?  Well Collin Hansen, editor-at-large for Christianity Today has managed to do so in his Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists (2008).

The way I see it, Hansen’s book divides loosely into 4 sections and are as follows:

  • Chapter 1-3 … From John to Jonathan (Piper to Edwards that is)
  • Chapter 4 … Battle for the heart of Baptist America
  • Chapter 5-6 … Winsome Charis-Calvinism
  • Chapter 7 … The Reformed Shock-jock

In chapters 1-3, Hansen starts with the Calvinist fruit that he finds, namely those young college and barely-not-undergraduates who’s hearts have been turned upsidedown by a God who won’t be tamed.  Hansen shows quite well how these young Calvinists are captivated, not initially by tightly argued theological systems, but by an empassioned, Christ-saturated beauty.  It seems that a younger generation has little patience for the Jesus-is-my-buddy pathos of their parents’ traditions and are in turn drawn to the gravity and joy that accompanies a full-bodied, unapologetic embrace of God’s sovereignty.  Hansen quotes John Piper (author of Desiring God and a staple at the ever-popular Passion conferences) as saying, “They’re not going to embrace your theology unless it makes their hearts sing” (p.17).Hansen then moves from the fruit in chapter one to the branch and the root of the current Calvinist resurgence, namely John Piper and his Puritan mentor Jonathan Edwards.  Hansen captures John Piper’s modus operandi (i.e. promotion of God’s glory) in chapter two quite well in quoting Piper as saying, “God is most glorified when we’re most satisfied in him.  Affections are central – not just marginal – and it’s okay to be happy in God.” (p.33)  It is in this chapter that Hansen even-handedly introduces the reader to the perennial theological melee between people on opposite sides of issues like free will vs. a will bound by sin and particular atonement vs. universal(?) atonement.  But it is in chapter three that Hansen follows the branch (Piper) all the way to his theological root, namely Jonathan Edwards, famous Puritan minister of the First Great Awakening in the mid 1700’s.  And for all of Edwards’ well-established academic prowess, Hansen does well to show his readers that it is Edwards’ aesthetic theology that attracts all the renewed attention.  Or in other words, people are drawn to God through Edwards’, not because he is supremely True, but because he is supremely Beautiful.  Hansen quoting Piper: “What Edwards saw in God and in the universe because of God, through the lens of Scripture, was breathtaking…And the refreshment that you get from this high, clear, God-entranced air does not take out the valleys of suffering in this world, but fits you to spend your life there for the sake of love with invincible and worshipful joy.”  For the rest of Chapter three Hansen introduces his readers to the footprints of Edwards left both in New England, in modern theologians like J.I. Packer, and in the hearts of a Calvinist resurgence that is pointing young people, not to big name/big music conferences, but to the Church.

Chapter four is aptly titled “Ground Zero” as Hansen chronicles how the current Baptist-American struggle with the doctrines of grace is progressing.  He centers his discussion around Al Mohler and the Calvinist influence of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  This chapter is full of extremes, encouraging accounts of Calvinistic evangelistic zeal and anecdotes containing vomitous stories of power-plays within churches.  While it might be obvious that Hansen is himself a Calvinist simply because he devoted the time and effort to write this book, he obviously shows his reformed cards in this chapter by offering a critique (albeit, very brief) of how Baptist Calvinism-detractors refuse to take the Scriptures at face value in places.  He also spends a good bit of print debunking the misconception that Calvinism kills evangelism and missions.  (Good for you, Mr. Hansen!)

On the next leg of Hansen’s journey, he brings his readers into the bright, humble, and bouncy world of Calvinistic Charismatics.  The biographical tapestry he weaves about C.J. Mahaney and Josh Harris endears one to their spirited spirituality and discerning doctrine.  Hansen shows how a Calvinist resurgence in the Charismatic camp has helped bring some balance to a corner of the church that has caused raised eyebrows from the more decently-and-in-order crowd.  An interesting digression from the discussion of charis-Calvinism in this section is where Hansen interviews Michael Horton (editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation), who helps the readers see that not all Calvinism is Reformed.  But over all, these two chapters and their anecdotes and stories surrounding the Mahaney/Harris camps are replete with the themes of wonder and exuberance, all of which is comfortably reclining at a table of “humble orthodoxy.”

The last section of Hansen’s chronicle is in dealing with Mark Driscoll and the edgy engagement he has with the surrounding hostile Seattle culture.  It is in this chapter that Hansen, through the lens of Driscoll’s Mars Hill Church, helps his readers begin to see through the postmodern fog that surrounds what has been labeled the “emergent church movement”.  Although he started off as the heir-apparent in the emerging church, Driscoll’s refusal to buy in to the “distributed authority” (a.k.a. idolatrous egalitarianism) of the emerging church has caused him to become, ironically, the first “heretic” of that movement.  Hansen shows quite well how Driscoll’s unapologetic words and actions have not only drawn severe fire from many different sources (from John MacArthur to Doug Pagitt to People Against Fundamentalism), but ultimately has shocked many in his community out of their comfortable spiritual malaise and into a saving relationship with Christ and His Church.

In the final analysis, this book is mostly about reporting and not about analysis… a journalistic description and not a grassroots prescription about what to do next. And as far as it goes, it is an excellent book.  But a reader is going to read this book, be energized by its exuberance for truth and its vision of God, and then wonder, “Ok.  What am I supposed to do with this in my home church?”  And to that I would say, “You’re starting out on the right foot.”  I would say that people need help seeing the church as the center of a Christian’s spirituality.  Carry any exuberance and energy gleaned from the book and funnel that into efforts poured out for others through the church.  Hansen has helped us with his reporting about how God is using a Calvinsitic movement to build His Church.  Let’s help point the energy, time, and zeal of the young, restless, and reformed back tothe church and show people exactly how deep the well goes and what Christ can do through His Bride.

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1 Comment

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One response to “Review of Young, Restless, Reformed

  1. Steve McKinzie

    Wow, this is a superb review – a tad on the long side, but wonderfully detailed and extremely fair. I read the similarly-titled CT article, but haven’t seen the book. Thanks for making such a winsome case for its reading and for our living out a contagious Calvinistic enthusiasm within the local body. Much appreciated, Steve

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