Monday, April 21, 2008

Review: Young, Restless, Reformed (Collin Hansen)

I've been anticipating getting this book for sometime and it was nice to receive it as a freebie at the Band of Bloggers meeting before T4G. Christianity Today editor Collin Hansen has spent two years researching the resurgence in Calvinism in the USA and tells the story of his journey around the country, the people he's met and the things he's seen. The book is incredibly readable and only took a few hours to read - with many phrases and sections highlighted to come back to.

There are helpful caution in the book to recognise that for all the renewed growth in Calvinism in the USA it is still dwarfed by other movements. This is helpful since it is the story of the American Christianity I'm most familiar with from my blog reading, book reading, mp3 downloading and attendance at together for the gospel. That's not the whole story, but it is a real story.

The book leaves me encouraged and reflecting on my own journey towards 'reformed theology' which probably began with Dick Dowsett teaching at the UCCF Forum conference in 1998 from the book of Acts and then picked up pace a couple of years later when I picked up John Piper's Let the Nations be glad. Not everyone makes this journey but I'm also not the only person who has. In Hansen's analysis no-one seems more influential than John Piper in this movement, though both Hansen and Piper warn us off focussing the attention on the man - a man who always seeks to point beyond himself.

As a UK reader Hansen makes me ponder the state of the UK church. There are growths in passionate, weighty, mission-oriented, Big-God, Biblical Christianity but equally there are signs of increasing compromise and contining allengiance to modernism/postmodernism/liberalism.

Hansen helpfully notes, with Roger Olson, that the nemesis of Calvinism isn't so much Arminianism as the Semi-Pelagianism/Pelagianism that is prevalent today. It is against this that we need to assert clearly the bigness of God that many young Christians in America have imbibed from Louie Giglio's Passion events, where the songs proclaim God's grandeur and the preaching is often from John Piper. Piper observes, p20:
"The worship songs that are being written and sung today are about a great God. They set the stage for the theology... the music is very God-exalting. The things that nineteen year olds are willing to say about God in their songs is mind boggling"
Hansen observes that self-help Christian just can't last. "Eventually you get pretty sick of yourself". What is replacing the self-focussed religion is big-hearted and theologically driven. The Passion students move on to more of Piper & co, to the Sovereign Grace Ministries New Attitude conference & ptheir astors college, to Southern Baptist Seminary and to drink from an old source - the British puritans. Heroes for the Young, Restless, Reformed.

New calvinists who read Hansen's book will come away understanding a bit more of their own story, and driven towards John Owen and Jonathan Edwards for more fuel. They'll no doubt enjoy reading it. Others in the reformed tradition ought to read it and be encouraged at where the next generation is heading, and reassured that the future isn't entirely in the hands of the emergents. Hansen writes to the reformed from within but does so with care and without vitriol. Those who wouldn't want to call themselves Calvinists will find here personal and passionate stories to take some of the edge off and prove that whilst some who bear the label are 'frozen chosen' that's not the only kind of Calvinism going. And maybe, just maybe, it's worth another look.