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.

10 comments:

  1. Did you have to pay excess for all those free books you got?

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  2. Great review Bish. It was cool to get the book as a bonus I bet!

    Did you mean to say that we should be reassured that the future is in the hands of the emergent?

    I love the name 'frozen chosen'! I just don't understand why poor relational skills and low relational desire seem to go hand in hand with reformed / calvinistic theology. Why is that?

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  3. It's an old stereotype I think. Not sure why it happens - maybe because a Calvinist is often a thinker and whilst that should transform affections and character there is always the risk of it just making someone mean-spirited and picky about things... It's a danger that lurks in anyone with confidence in truth and concern for it.

    The semi-pelagian is inevitably less concerned with Biblical precision (either explaining away the obvious or just dismissing things they don't like).

    I appreciated Hansen's frankness about such occurances because it would have been easy for him to overlook it and pretend that every calvinist has always been warm, passionate, humble, missional etc.

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  4. I'm not sure that its an old stereotype. I think its a present / new one too.

    So, you would put it down to the more "thinky" nature of the view, attracting people who are more thinky and less relational?

    That's probably quite a good shot at it actually.

    I would also put in there the cultural difference of declarative vs. experiential / existential congregational worship. The reformed group love the declarative style, they actually think that anyone who doesn't like it is a bit unhelpful and dodgy. The relational group find this locking down of feelings, during singing, and congregational worship a bit restrained and a bit odd. And they like songs and a style that cultures intimacy with God, as an experience of the congregation.

    I'm somewhere between both, neither comfortable to be declarative alone, and sometimes really enjoying a more experiential encounter with God in a congregational setting.

    Seems to me, the reformed bunch are perceived as too prescriptive and narrow when it comes to songs and styles of singing. That's the reason, as well as what you said.

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  5. I didn't attend the conference, but I've downloaded the audio from all the sessions and ordered all the books. I'm about half way through YRR.

    It is very good, and very encouraging. I'm in a small town, and while I go to a PCA church, my wife and I are somewhat alone as there is no one our age at the church.

    Reading this book (and the many blogs like this one, which I recently found) is making me realize that we're not alone. There are many people around the country, and the globe, who are close to our age and have embraced the doctrines of grace known as Calvinism.

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  6. Sorry, by "old" I didn't mean not present, but rather - it's not a new phenomenon. Clearly still a reality today.

    I don't think it's a more thinky view, so much as it tends to encourage people to become thinkers. Hansen observes that when people who never read much discover calvinism they start to read more. They start to read puritans and reformers etc. Reading Calvin, Owen etc shouldn't lead anyone into cold-intellectualism but we all know how easy it is to drift into that kind of un-Christian pattern.

    The experiential side, and the use of music side are the interesting things about this 'new calvinism' which roots in Piper's experiential theology and the music of guys like Tomlin, Redman, Kauflin and Crowder.

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  7. Hey Bish - Is Louie Giglio talked about as one of the YRR crowd?

    He seems to have been involved with Hillsongs - which - IMHO is one of the prime purveyors of the self help Gospel. So, I guess I'm finding the categories a little confusing.

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  8. He seems to be in as much as he has given Piper a big platform... beyond that I don't know.

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  9. I'm almost at the end of this book - I've found it helpful to see a bit of American Christianity, a bit of the history too. I think it's also (along with T4G) helpfully made me think about my own passion of the truths I believe in... all good stuff...

    I particularly remember one guy near the start of the book saying "that's why I have hope for this nation, the Gospel has the power to change hearts"! Let's be praying that that will happen here!

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  10. Yeh, that's helpful. It's not so much the movement as the evident advance of the gospel that is so encouraging through this story.

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