In 2004, Collin Hansen came on staff as an editor of Christianity Today, and the emerging/emergent church, with its tweaking and questioning of theology in light of a postmodern outlook, was all the rage (as it continues to be in some circles today). Many on staff thought that Hansen should know more about it than anyone given his age. However, he found that, within his circles, there was a disposition towards traditional Reformed theology, and he began to ask the question: Is it just us, or is this the beginning of something bigger? This question led him on a two year journey across America, and the results form Young, Restless, Reformed, first published as an article in Christianity Today, and expanded into this book in 2008.
Travelling across the United States, Hansen visited several “hot spots” of emerging Reformed theology including: The Passion Conference, Atlanta, Georgia; Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota; Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, Kentucky; Covenant Life Church, Gaithersburg, Maryland; New Attitude Conference, Louisville, Kentucky; and Mars Hill Church, Seattle, Washington. While certainly not covering all of places he could, Hansen does a great job of creating a solid cross-section of this movement.
Hansen shows us a growing group of young men and women who are sick of the empty, shallow, Christless religion that has supplanted biblical Christianity in many of North America’s churches, which Christian Smith & Melinda Lundquist Denton, in their work Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers, refer to as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” As quoted in Hansen’s book, they say that this religion teaches that “God is something like a combination Divine Butler and Cosmic Therapist: he is always on call, takes care of any problems that arise, professionally helps his people to feel better about themselves, and does not become too personally involved in the process” (pg 22).
Instead, these younger evangelicals are looking for depth. They want more than just “Your Best Life Now;” they want Jesus. And the search leads many to Calvinism. For those who aren’t aware, Calvinism is most easily described in the acronym TULIP: Total Depravity, Unconditional Election, Limited Atonement, Irresistible Grace, and the Perserverence of the Saints. Twenty-five-year-old Matt first learned of Calvinism while attending a Christian high school. As Matt began to read the Scriptures for himself, he found passages such as Ephesians 1 and Romans 9 standing out. “‘Calvin wasn’t just being difficult,’ Matt said. ‘He was just seeking to systematize what I was seeing in Scripture…People are brought up with one conception of Calvinism as the stale ”frozen chosen,” [o]r they’re like me and haven’t previously read the Scriptures themselves so when they do they’re like, “Whoa, wait a second. There is a pretty strong theme throughout the Old and New Testament of God’s extreme sovereignty over the wills and decisions of people”‘” (pg 30).
As Hansen continues his journey, he meets interesting characters such as Robin, a young man raised in the Adventist church and self-described “Piper-fiend;” and Irene, a student at Yale who spent years having phone-dates reading Jonathan Edward’s Religious Affectionswith her long-distance boyfriend. He also delivers impactful interviews with leaders in the emerging Calvinist movement, such as Mark Driscoll, CJ Mahaney, and John Piper, as well as providing insights from opponents to Calvinism like Arminian theologian Roger Olson and Emergent Village’s Tony Jones.
While there are some elements of the emerging culture depicted that make me a little nervous (and in the interests of full disclosure, I am part of this movement), particularly a proclivity for some to idolize the godly men teaching the doctrines of grace and the system itself, this may simply be the arrogance of youth that will be tempered as God’s grace continues to transform these young men and women who have found a deep passion for Jesus Christ unlike any they’ve seen before.
For those who are unfamiliar or wary Calvinism and it’s sudden cool factor, Young, Restless, Reformed is an easy place to gain an understanding of why this resurgence is taking place. For those who would identify themselves as part of the new Calvinism, this book provides a helpful look at the movement that can help us to repent of our arrogance and grow in the grace God has given us.