In 2006, Christianity Today editor-at-large Collin Hansen wrote an article about the rise of Calvinism among younger evangelicals. The piece had the title “Young, Restless, Reformed,” and it was a CT cover-story that raised eyebrows across evangelicalism. That is one of the reasons that news of Hansen’s book (published under the same title) caught my attention when I heard it was in the works last year. When Justin Taylor noted that the book was finally released on March 30, I ordered it almost immediately.
Young, Restless, Reformed is the story of Hansen’s two year investigation of the growing Calvinist movement among younger evangelicals. The book is short, but chapter-by-chapter Hansen takes his readers to what every observer would have to agree are some of the leading outposts of this burgeoning movement. Hansen is not a dispassionate observer. He identifies himself as a Calvinistic evangelical, and so his sympathy for his subject matter is apparent throughout.
The book has seven chapters, each of which focuses on significant places and institutions of the new reformed movement. Chapter one revolves around Hansen’s trip to one of Louie Giglio’s “Passion” conferences in Atlanta, Georgia. Giglio’s “Passion” conference reaches tens of thousands of college students each year, and one of its main speakers since its inception in 1997 is a Calvinist, Pastor John Piper.
It is no surprise, therefore, that chapter two focuses on an interview with Piper and a visit to Piper’s church, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. According to Hansen, “Piper is the chief spokesman for the Calvinist resurgence among young evangelicals” (p. 29).
If John Piper’s theology resembles that of the Puritans, it is due in no small part to the influence of 18th century pastor and theologian Jonathan Edwards, who is for all intents and purposes the focus of chapter three. Hansen writes of his trip to Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut where 90 percent of Edwards’ notes and manuscript are housed (p. 55). According to Hansen, the rise of Calvinism among evangelicals has brought with it renewed interest in the Puritans in general and in Jonathan Edwards in particular.
Chapter four spotlights “ground zero” of the Baptist Calvinist movement, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Hansen has an interview with the school’s president Dr. R. Albert Mohler. He also features conversations with people from both sides of the Calvinism debate within the Southern Baptist Convention (the nations’ large Protestant denomination).
Chapter five covers what has been to many a most surprising constituency among the new Calvinistsâ€”the charismatic Calvinist movement emanating from congregations like Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. The church’s founding pastor, C. J. Mahaney, is a member of the “Together for the Gospel” coalition along with Albert Mohler (Baptist), Mark Dever (Baptist), and Ligon Duncan (Presbyterian). Among other things, this chapter shows that the gospel-centered focus of the new Calvinists has allowed for rapprochement between groups that have historically steered clear of one another. “It’s a new day in Calvinism when Baptists and charismatics have become chief spokesmen,” Hansen writes (p. 109). The current pastor of Covenant Life Church is Johsua Harris, whose “New Attitude” conference for young adults is the focus of chapter six.
The final chapter of the book (chapter seven) highlights the ministry of Pastor Mark Driscoll in Seattle, Washington. If the charismatics are an unexpected partner in the Calvinist renewal, then Driscoll’s “emerging” ministry may be even more so. Nevertheless, Driscoll’s own theology and preaching is steeped in the reformed tradition, and he is not afraid to show it. He’s a member of the “Gospel Coalition,” a reformed group started by D. A. Carson and Tim Keller.
Young, Restless, Reformed is a great book if you are interested in knowing about who the movers and shakers are of the new young Calvinists. It’s written in a popular style and consists of the author’s own narrative of experiences with the growing ranks of Calvinists in America. So much of what Hansen wrote held particular interest for me as I have my own very personal connections with the subject matter of four of the seven chapters. It was a sermon on Romans 3 that I heard at the 1998 “Passion” conference that inaugurated a Copernican Revolution in my own spiritual life (chapter 1). The preacher who delivered that message was John Piper (chapter 2), and he has since shaped my thinking theologically more than any other person I know. I earned my Ph.D. from Southern Seminary (chapter 4) and continue to have dear friends who teach there. I even have a personal link to chapter three (about Jonathan Edwards and campus ministry at Yale University). Hansen interviews RUF minister Clay Daniel, who was a fellow student of mine at DTS and who attended the same church that I did during seminary. It was connections like these that gave the book a personal touch as I read it.
Hansen makes several observations about the young Calvinists that are helpful in clearing away some negative stereotypes. The concern for the preeminence of God’s glory among this generation of young Calvinists makes them warmly evangelistic and motivated for worldwide mission (a focus of the Passion movement). The move to Calvinism among younger evangelicals is not mainly about academic debates about predestination or supralapsarianism. It is about the pervasive desire for transcendence among a generation of evangelicals who were weaned on a “Christianity” that amounted to little more than “moral therapeutic deism” (p. 22). This is why Hansen quotes Piper concerning the young collegians of the Passion movement: “They’re not going to embrace your theology unless it makes their hearts sing” (p.17).
It’s difficult to critique a book like this one, since it mainly consists of the author’s real-life stories and experiences. If there’s anything negative about the book, it’s not so much what the book says but what the book doesn’t say. In other words, the book provokes many questions about the young Calvinists that go unanswered. For instance, are there any statistics on the number of evangelicals who are Calvinists? Hansen cites the Lifeway studies of the number of Calvinists in the SBC, but he doesn’t really give an accounting of how widespread the movement is among evangelicals in general. Also, are there divisions among the new Calvinists that might be worth noting and explaining? For instance, why are there two unrelated Calvinist groups that have similar aims and purposes? “Together for the Gospel” does not include D. A. Carson or Tim Keller. “The Gospel Coaliton” does not include Al Mohler. Why is this? Like I said, these aren’t so much critiques as they are lingering questions.
In any case, Young, Restless, Reformed is a quick, enjoyable read. You can probably start and finish it in a day or two. I recommend it to anyone who wants to understand something of what this new movement is all about.