A well-researched and entertaining account of Reformed theology’s increasing popularity among young Christians, Collin Hansen’s new book, Young, Restless, Reformed, appeared in seed form as a Christianity Today cover story in 2006. With a degree in journalism, Hansen is now editor-at-large for Christianity Today while pursuing an M.Div. at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL.
Hansen documents the impact of several vibrant ministries that, while having significant theological differences with one another, answer with one voice on the question, “Who does what in salvation?” These ministries all contend that humans contribute no more to their second birth than they do to their first. Just as the cry of a newborn infant is evidence of new life (rather than the cause of that life), so faith in Christ is a response to the new (spiritual) life (re-)created by God the Holy Spirit (e.g., Eph. 2:1-10). Regeneration precedes faith. We love God because He first loved us. We choose Christ because God first chose us. While Hansen spends a little time unpacking the “five points of Calvinism,” his book is by no means polemical. Rather, through interviewing a host of rising leaders (and a fair share of regulars), he lets them explain the emotional appeal and the biblical/intellectual consistency of the doctrines of grace.
Chapter one is entitled, “Born Again Again”. It introduces us to the theme of the book; namely, that there seems to be a confluence of factors drawing significant numbers of young Christians to embracing at the least the basics of Reformed theology. For example, Joshua Harris is quoted as saying: “I do wonder if some of the appeal [of Calvinism] and the trend isn’t a reaction to the watered down vision of God that’s been portrayed in the evangelical seeker-oriented churches.” The chapter includes Hansen’s coverage of the 2007 Passion Conference, and particularly John Piper’s presence at that 18,000+ student event. Hansen also describes his own journey toward Reformed theology.
Chapter 2 focuses more fully on the impact of John Piper and Bethlehem Baptist Church. I appreciated this chapter because Piper was instrumental in my own embrace of Calvinism in my early twenties. Also, I spent three years at Bethlehem, and it was during that time that Hansen visited, so I know a lot of the people he was talking to.
Chapter 3 shifts east to Yale University and an investigation of Jonathan Edwards, a man whose popularity is also increasing, as exemplified by the establishment of the Jonathan Edwards Center. Their ambition is to make all of Edwards’ writing available in digital form (about 100,000 pages).
Chapter 4 shifts south to the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), where the conservative resurgence has been quite friendly to Calvinism. Hansen gives a good historical sketch of the SBC with respect to Calvinism and includes a few student and faculty interviews (For a more extensive treatment, see By His Grace and For His Glory by Tom Nettles). Nearly one of every three SBTS graduates from 1998-2004 professes Calvinism. Hansen also discusses the Founders Movement and graciously interviews leading pastors who are quite uncomfortable with Calvinism’s popularity. I was intrigued to learn that some have feared that disagreement on Calvinism has the potential to split the SBC.
Chapter 5 and 6 focus on Sovereign Grace Ministries and their ministry to (primarily younger) singles, New Attitude. With 70 or so churches in the United States and almost 10 around the world, the movement led by C.J. Mahaney has been tremendously significant. Chapter 7 then shifts to the west coast and Mark Driscoll, Mars Hill Church, and the Acts 29 church-planting network. What was so interesting is that until a few years ago, Driscoll and Mahaney didn’t even know each other.
The book also includes some interesting tid-bits on the Reformed blogosphere — Hansen even gives away the visitor statistics on Tim Challies’ blog. You’ll have to read the book to find out. All in all, a great read. One that won’t tax you too much mentally, and yet will inform you of recent developments all over the country. If (like me) you’ve been impacted by this movement, prepare to be encouraged.
Related: A four-part series I wrote on the Calvinism vs. Arminianism issue: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4.