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Young, Restless, ReformedI became interested in this book after reading Hansen’s article in Christianity Today. When I heard that he had expanded the research into a book, I had to order it and give it a read. I resonate with the title quite well (I still consider myself young at 35!).

My story is quite similar to many of those he presents in this book. Tired of being entertained at church, I went looking for something a little deeper, meat not milk. I discovered reformed theology. My discovery came as I was wrestling with the doctrine of unconditional election and the necessary implications about God. After submitting my will to the Scripture, I found a great deal of joy in the truth of God’s sovereignty.

Soon thereafter I started discovering some of the preachers and teachers Hansen covers in this book: Driscoll, Piper, Mahaney, Mohler, etc.

There are seven chapters in the book. The first deals with the Passion Conference in Atlanta, Georgia where many young christians were first exposed to reformed theology and felt like they had been born again, again. Hansen stresses the reformed doctrine of God’s sovereignty in this chapter, at one point commenting on young people’s lack of knowledge on the subject due to churches’ focus on God’s immanence to the exclusion of his transcendence.

Teenagers who grew up with buddy Jesus in youth group don’t know as much about Father God. [1]

Chapter two moves the focus to the teaching and writing ministry of John Piper. Hansen discusses the impact Piper has had on an entire generation due to his passion for the glory of God. This passion is authentic and very attractive to those of us who are looking for real Christianity. I saw this just last night myself. A friend of mine who is not reformed, but is sold out for Christ, is involved with a church that does not teach reformed doctrine. During a discussion of various books and authors, the name ‘John Piper’ came up and my friend instantly started smiling and telling me how much he loved John Piper. It is Piper’s passion for magnifying and treasuring Christ, along with his radical commitment to missions, that attracts the young and restless. After being exposed to sound teaching by reading his books and listening to his sermons, many of them find their way to reformed theology.

Also in this chapter, the theological spotlight moves to a discussion of limited (or particular) atonement and irresistible vs. prevenient grace. Hansen gives us one compelling reason why Calvinists find doctrine to be so important.

…Christians act according to what they believe. This conviction about the practicality of theology is so crucial to Calvinist thinking that few bothered to even remind me that this is why they spend so much time discovering and debating doctrine. [2]

I couldn’t agree more. What you believe about God, about yourself, and about your fellow man, will dictate the way you behave toward all three.

In chapter three the attention is turned to a man who is proving to be a hero to many young-restless-reformed types like myself, Jonathan Edwards. This revived interest in Edwards can, in large part, be traced to Piper once again. Piper has spent a considerable amount of time reading and studying the writings and life of Jonathan Edwards. Talking to several young people about their interest in Edwards, Hansen offers the following insight into the renewed popularity of this puritan preacher.

Transcendence, transformation, and tradition converge in Edwards. Many young evangelicals have found in Edwards a historical model of Christian commitment…Edwards blows away modern readers with his knowledge of Scripture and his vision for the majesty of God. [3]

…he balances doctrinal conviction with evangelical spirit…[his book Religious Affections] teaches us how to be emotional without succumbing to emotionalism, how to value doctrine without become doctrinaire. [4]

To be fair, Hansen does discuss some of Edwards weaknesses as a pastor, such as his lack of personal relationships and emotional involvement with his congregates, which ultimately led to his being fired from his pastorship.

In Chapter four, Hansen turns his attention to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY. He spends much of this chapter discussing the internal debate over the doctrines of reformed soteriology within the Southern Baptist Convention. It seems many within the convention feel that a belief in Calvinism would drive one away from evangelism and missions, and toward fatalism. Hansen and his interview subjects disagree.

…the doctrines of grace actually embolden evangelism. [5]

Chapter five takes a look at the growth of reformed theology among charismatics. Noting that this is a tough sell, Hansen takes a look at the ministry of C.J. Mahaney, founder of Sovereign Grace Ministries. Mahaney, and others such as Wayne Grudem, hold strong convictions about the necessity of sound doctrine. They hold to reformed soteriology (salvation), complementarianism (gender roles), and church discipline, while also affirming the validity of all the spiritual gifts. This puts them at odds with historic Calvinism that has predominately been cessationist, believing that the more charismatic gifts (tongues, prophecy, etc.) ceased after the time of the Apostles.

The subject of baptism is also broached in this chapter. These two subjects are ones on which I find myself disagreeing with my denomination (PCA). I do believe all the spiritual gifts remain valid today, though I’m not sure how comfortable I would be with their use in a worship service. I think my discomfort comes from witnessing incorrect, and pretended, uses of these gifts in the past. I also hold to credobaptism rather than the paedobaptism popular among traditionally reformed types. That subject could be a lengthy debate that I won’t go into just now as it’s not a major factor in Hansen’s writing.

Building on the foundation of chapter five’s look at C.J. Mahaney, Hansen moves to a discussion of Josh Harris’ New Attitude Conference. In this chapter the focus seems to be one of living out your theological convictions. Hansen quotes Harris to that effect.

If your theology doesn’t shape you, then you haven’t understood it. [6]

One story in this chapter that caught my attention was the story of Harris’ old youth pastor. A few years after high school the two ran into each other and had a conversation and the youth pastor apologized for the light fare he had been teaching while Harris was a part of the group. That has changed. At the time of the conversation he was working his way through Grudem’s Systematic Theology with his current group. Harris comments that teens can handle teaching like that, and I agree. I’ve tackled some pretty tough stuff with the teens I teach and they’ve been up to it. They’ve grown because of it. Giving them Christianity light every week won’t help them mature spiritually.

Another topic discussed in this chapter is humility. Young Calvinists should desire to produce this spiritual fruit in their lives. With good teaching and a humble heart, many lives can be changed.

The last chapter (7) takes us on a journey to the west coast. The destination is Mars Hill Church in Seattle, WA. Mark Driscoll is the teaching elder there and has had quite an impact on young, restless, reformed types, including myself. Driscoll was one of my first discoveries in the area of reformed theology. It was Driscoll who pointed me back to John Piper, so I guess I kind of came at this backwards.

Driscoll tends to offend people. Then those same people get saved, which is quite clearly the work of the Holy Spirit. Driscoll himself has noted this.

We’re seeker-hostile. We’re seeker-insensitive. It’s like you punch a guy in his face, and he brings his two friends and says, ‘Hey, can you punch them too?’ It’s a weird phenomenon. I’m not going to lie to you. [7]

What he’s saying is that they do church a little different. Sunday mornings at Mars Hill are for the members, not the visitors. The goal of Sunday morning church is to prepare the members to live like missionaries the rest of the week. I love that! I wish my church had that kind of philosophy of ministry.

As Hansen observed though,

No one can claim him. So all turn their guns on him. [8]

Driscoll does take some heat. Most often it is from other Christian leaders, even other reformed types, who think he is to familiar with culture. Driscoll’s response is that no one would be bothered by his familiarity with culture, if that culture was Chinese and he was heading there as a missionary. They would applaud him for learning the culture of the people he was going to serve. He says Seattle is no different. To be a missionary you must study the culture because that’s where people live. Obviously you can’t accept all aspects of culture. I’ve heard Mars Hill teaching on this subject before so I know where they stand. Their efforts are to understand culture so they can determine which parts can be received, redeemed, and rejected. And it is all done in an effort to reach lost people with the gospel of Jesus Christ. That sounds like a great goal to me.

Hansen concludes the book with a short epilogue. The last paragraph is striking.

Hunger for God’s Word. Passion for evangelism. Zeal for holiness. That’s not a revival of Calvinism. That’s a revival. [9]

Let us pray that the Lord continues to work in the lives of His people to create these things. Let us pray for revival.

 

  1. Collin Hansen, Young, Restless, Reformed, first printing (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2008) p. 21
  2. Ibid., p. 41
  3. Ibid., p. 49
  4. Ibid., p. 57
  5. Ibid., p. 88
  6. Ibid., p. 120
  7. Ibid., p. 144
  8. Ibid., p. 136
  9. Ibid., p. 156
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