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Book Review - Young, Restless, Reformed
March 31, 2008
Though it is the emerging church that seems to have received so much attention in the past few years, just under the radar there has also been a quiet and steady growth of interest in far more traditional Reformed theology. All across North America (and perhaps beyond) Christians, and young Christians in particular, have been rediscovering the church’s historic theology. These disparate movements seem to have grown from a common source—a reaction against the kind of “big box Christianity” of the church growth movement. Tired of seeing people as products and weary of experiencing church as a form of entertainment, church-goers have searched to find churches that offer a more satisfying approach to the Christian life. Many have gravitated towards emerging churches. Many others, though, have taken the opposite approach and have discovered the theology of the Reformation.
Collin Hansen, a young editor of Christianity Today, observed this trend and decided to investigate it. CT had recently published a cover story featuring the emerging church. But he found he just could not identify with this group of people. In the Prologue of his new book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists, he discusses the genesis of this book:
The talk about emerging Christians put me in a difficult spot. As the youngest CT editor, I should have known more about this up-and-coming group. On the contrary, I didn’t know anyone who was emerging, even though my friends and I had recently experienced the fruits of postmodern relativism in college. We had witnessed the complete breakdown of moral authority and heard apathetic responses to Christian truth claims when we shared from the Four Spiritual Laws booklet. Yet we viewed these reactions not as problems with Christianity but as problems with sinners who reject God’s grace shown through Jesus Christ.
After one staff discussion about the emerging church, I talked about these experiences with my boss at CT. I expressed concern that when Christianity Today reports about the emerging church, we might give the impression that this group will become the next wave in evangelicalism. If anything, in my limited sphere I saw a return to traditional Reformed theology. My friends read John Piper’s book Desiring God and learned from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. They wanted to study at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and sent each other e-mails when they saw good sales for the five-volume set of Charles Spurgeon sermons.
Maybe that was just our little clique in Campus Crusade for Christ at Northwestern University. Or was it? I started thinking about leading seminaries in the United States and noticed a number of Calvinists in leadership positions. I considered millions of books sold by Piper and his yearly appearances at the popular Passion conference. Yale University Press had just released a major biography of Jonathan Edwards. Reformed theology had recently become a major point of contention in the nation’s largest Protestant body, the Southern Baptist Convention. Maybe it wasn’t just our group.
So I embarked on a nearly two-year journey to discover whether my experiences had been unique or a sign of something bigger. In locales as diverse as Birmingham, Alabama, and New Haven, Connecticut, I sought to find out what makes today’s young evangelicals tick. The result should help us learn what tomorrow’s church might look like when they become pastors or professors. Even today, common threads in their diverse testimonies will tell the story of God’s work in this world.
In the article Collin Hansen wrote in 2006 he gave Christians a framework to understand the contemporary revival of Reformed theology. It quickly went on to become one of that year’s most-read articles at the magazine’s web site and it ignited no small amount of debate and discussion. Now, in Young, Restless, Reformed Hansen takes a more in-depth approach, expanding that one short article into a full-length book.
The book is structured around chapters that focus on a particular place or event. The first chapter, for example, focuses on Louis Giglio and a Passion conference in Atlanta while the next chapter changes the focus to John Piper’s Bethlehem Baptist Church. Other chapters come from Yale University, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Covenant Life Church, a recent New Attitude Conference and Mars Hill Church in Seattle. Along the way Hansen features interviews with many of your favorite authors, pastors, theologians, and yes, even bloggers. If you are Reformed you’ll find a certain level of familiarity with the names and places in this book. In that way I found reading Young, Restless, Reformed almost like reading an autobiography—not of a person, but of a movement or organization and one that has swept me up along with it. You may well find the same as you read this book. You may not find a lot of new information, but you’ll enjoy reading about the ways God has brought leaders to this movement and the way He is using this movement to allow so many people to rediscover His sovereignty.
If there is a flaw or a weak point to this book, it may be that its focus is more on today than on yesterday and tomorrow. This is to say that Hansen takes the reader through many of the current hot spots in this movement and shows how it has propagated itself, but he invests far less time showing how this movement grew up and predicting where it may be going. There are hints in these directions, but perhaps not as much detail as I would have liked. Of course such analysis may well fall outside the scope of this title and it may best be handled by church historians.
To conclude, I’ll share the endorsement I wrote that you will find inside the book: “In an article written in 2006 for Christianity Today, Collin Hansen gave us a framework to understand the contemporary revival of Reformed theology—something so many felt was happening but so few could describe. Now he invites us to journey with him on a voyage of discovery as he travels the nation, learning how our restless youth are discovering anew the great doctrines of the Christian faith. Weary of churches that seek to entertain rather than teach, longing after the true meat of the Word, these young people are pursuing doctrine and are fast becoming new Calvinists. With a keen eye for detail, descriptive analysis, and a strong grasp of theology, Hansen shows where this movement originated, tells who has become involved, and suggests where it may be leading. Any Christian will benefit from reading this book and discovering how God is moving among the young, the restless, and the Reformed.”
Young, Restless, Reformed