Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey With the New Calvinists
reviewed by Jocelyn Mathewes
Young, Restless, Reformed sketches the outlines of a growing resurgence of Reformed theology among young Evangelical Christians. The origins of the book came from a conversation the author, Collin Hansen, had with his editor when “the emerging church was all the rage.” Hansen felt compelled to investigate how it was possible that “he didn’t know anyone who was emerging.”
So he traveled and interviewed people, covering a broad spectrum of personalities and churches all over the United States. He discovered that, in the midst of the emerging church phenomenon, he had put his finger on the pulse of something different—“a return to traditional Reformed theology.”
A Transcendence-Starved Culture
Through descriptions of the personal backgrounds of his subjects, Hansen illustrates the cultural trends he believes to be the driving force behind this movement. He postulates that, among other reasons, a growing discontent with postmodern thought and cultural relativism could be spurring the rise of Calvinism. Garth Rosell, a church history professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, backs him up. Rosell “suspects that young evangelicals gravitate toward the Puritans as they look for deeper historic roots and models for high-commitment Christianity.”
Ligon Duncan, pastor of a Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) church, confirms that for the younger crowd, “there is a desire for an approach to worship that is more formal, historical, and transcendent,” which is not so true for boomers. The “young people” also seem more willing to “really [believe] in the doctrine of sin,” according to Eric Simmons, a singles ministry leader. This leads to a willingness to confront their own sin, through which they discover a theology rich with the sovereignty of God and the moral weakness of human beings.
Calvinism also provides these young seekers with an answer to an empty, hurting world and the weak human beings it contains. “Firsthand experience with pain and brokenness has deeply ingrained disillusionment in many young Americans,” Hansen writes. His interviewees say that a culture “about nothing” can’t be a fulfilling place to live. And investing in the self doesn’t seem to help either—“Self-focus isn’t feeding our hearts,” one 25-year-old said. Systematic theology provides “a foundation and understanding of God’s sovereignty” in a way that can help people transcend their circumstances.
And that is what proves tantalizing about Reformed theology, since we are a “transcendence-starved” culture, according to Timothy George, founding dean of Beeson Divinity School. Because people are longing for “transcendence and tradition,” Reformed theology can step right in and give them “family and a history and a home,” says Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Washington.
Driscoll further mentions that the return to Reformed theology is only one of several paths taken by restless young Christians lately: “There’s also a resurgence in Catholicism, in Eastern Orthodoxy, [and] in some monastic practices.” I read Hansen with great interest because of my own restlessness and similar journey to Orthodoxy. So while Young, Restless, Reformed focuses on Calvinism and Reformed theology in some depth, the trajectory of the movement is much broader.
Hansen outlines many uniting factors in this “new ecumenical Calvinism,” but he also observes disagreement and disunity. While interviewees expressed their joy upon finding a deeper faith, they sometimes spoke of rejection, arguments, and congregational conflict.
Young, Restless, Reformed concludes with an observation: “Passion for evangelism. Zeal for holiness. That’s not a revival of Calvinism. That’s a revival.” What is encouraging about the stories in Young, Restless, Reformed is that many of today’s young Christians are being drawn to a deeper and more historically grounded faith, on the road of transformation in Christ.
Jocelyn Mathewes is a graphic designer for the National Fatherhood Initiative (www.fatherhood.org), and is working on her documentary photography series, Women with Icons, recently shown at the Amalie Rothschild Gallery in Baltimore. She is married and attends Holy Cross Orthodox Church in Linthicum, Maryland.
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