A Sweet Work of God’s Spirit: A Reflective Review of Collin Hansen’s New Book Young, Restless, Reformed

A Sweet Work of God’s Spirit: A Reflective Review of Collin Hansen’s New Book Young, Restless, Reformed April 22, 2008

One of the more shocking developments in the evangelical bubble the last few years was the sudden appearance of a number of very thoughtful journalistic pieces on the reformed movement and its figures in the mainstream evangelical magazine Christianity Today. CT, as it is known in the evangelical world, is well-known for its international focus, centrist theology, and high-quality writing. Until Collin Hansen’s groundbreaking article, “Young, Restless, Reformed“, though, it had not given a great amount of attention to the surging reformed movement among evangelical Christians.

That article, which expertly combined fresh writing with high-level observation, led to several other profiles of reformed thinkers and events, including one of Seattle pastor Mark Driscoll that is eminently worth reading. These various pieces eventually found their way into Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists, a book hot off the presses from Crossway Books. Crossway is putting out many of the best books nowadays, and I am excited to see what the Lord continues to do with this publishing house. They have a clear winner in YRR (as I will refer to the book from now on) as Hansen has succeeded in giving the reader a fascinating on-the-ground account of the reformed movement among the young evangelicals.

The “New Calvinists”, as Hansen terms them, often happened upon reformed theology by accident. Raised in Arminian or mainline churches, many young people gravitated to the Passion conferences staged by Louie Giglio throughout the South in the 1990s and the early years of this decade. Seeking the fresh, loud, zesty music of the conferences, many of these attendees were struck nearly numb by the preaching of a slight, bespectacled 60-year-old man named John Piper, who delivered messages calling for radical self-sacrifice for the glory of a transcendent, majestic God who personally loved His people enough to give them joy forever through the atoning death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Many of these students walked away from Passion profoundly changed, their theology transformed, their minds blown, their hearts inflamed to pour their lives out for the glory of God. Minds humming, many of these young people went back to their campuses, their local churches, their youth groups, and transformed them. The movement was afoot.

Hansen was not far behind. It is this group of people whose scent he tracks in YRR. He himself is one of their number, and thus the book reads with the same wide-eyed, excited, theologically captured kind of tone one finds among countless students today at places like Southern Seminary (which Hansen aptly terms the “Ground Zero” of the new calvinism), Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Master’s Seminary, Gordon-Conwell (to some extent), Reformed Theological Seminary, and many others. Hansen’s chief assertion–that this movement exists at all, which some might question–is indeed indubitably proven by these campus communities, and by the energy of institutions connected formally or informally to the New Calvinism. Beyond the seminaries, think about organizations like Acts 29 (church planting network spreading like wildfire), Together for the Gospel (5000 strong), and The Gospel Coalition (scheduled for thousands in May 09). Each of these groups count twenty- and thirty-somethings as their key demographic. There is tremendous energy in this movement, as one can readily see.

Hansen’s book is an on-the-ground account of the Calvinist Convergence, and so it does not offer statistics or factual data which would anchor its claims in irrefutable numbers. It does quote some studies, including the controversial Lifeway study of SBC Calvinism from a few years back, but it eschews in-depth numerical work for the telling of stories of the young people who populate this movement. If one wishes for a bit of background on what other theological movements are drawing young people, and how their draw compares to the New Calvinism, one will have to turn elsewhere. One cannot strongly fault Hansen for this matter, though–it’s quite clear throughout the book that he has his capable hands full trying to track the fast-moving reformed crowd.

The book is nicely written, with an admixture of crisp, clean reporting and pithy comments. Hansen alternates between personal profiles, abstract observations, and theological commentary, and the combination works well. This is theological journalism, albeit fresh, passionate theological journalism that fits the subject it profiles. How boring it would have been to read a cold, rote account of the movement. Hansen succeeds in giving each of the title’s elements flesh and bone. One feels the youth of the reformed movement, the restlessness of its participants, the strength of its commitment to the doctrines of grace. To be a part of this group is to be a part of a profoundly exciting, dynamic work of God, as my own life attests and this book reflects.

For many young reformed types, discovering true biblical theology is not an exercise in doctrinal calculation or scholastic argumentation. It is all about discovering a big, massive, breathtaking view of God that fundamentally reorients one’s life and views, that displaces the self from its throne and that frees the soul to gaze at a majestic, mysterious, and incredibly generous God as He works out His plan and calls His people to labor with Him to blast His glory all through this earth. This vision, for most New Calvinists, does not stifle evangelism, or squelch Christian love, but fuels it, shapes it, funnels it into dynamic and even radical acts of service to God. More than any other piece of journalistic sociology I know of, YRR captures these realities.

Buy the book. Buy it. It reads very quickly–160 pages of lucid, engaging prose–and it will give you a place from which to evaluate and understand the reformed movement that is sweeping through churches and organizations of all types and denominations. I would have liked Hansen to give a bit more explanation on how the popularity of hip-hop relates to the reformed resurgence, and I would have liked more contemporary context, but these are mere drops on the duck’s back. Collin Hansen is an excellent profiler, but he is also a shrewd commentator, and his book will not fail to educate and entertain you. I count Collin a good friend, and I am excited to see what the Lord does with his gifts. But let’s not jump ahead of ourselves–order Young, Restless, Reformed and see firsthand what the Lord is already doing through Collin and his gifts.

The fundamental take-away of YRR? God is great, and He is good! He is doing incredible things among His younger people. Where they could be wasting their lives, pursuing their own interests and glory, and falling away from the faith due to doctrinal malaise, they are vibrant, happy, hungry for biblical truth, and zealous for God. Read the book and see if you’re not challenged while reading it to spontaneously give praise to God for this sweet work of His Spirit, this fresh stroke from His painter’s brush, that is reshaping an entire generation to give their hearts, their hands, their voices for the spread of his awesome renown.

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