Reflections on Young, Restless, and Reformed

Article by   February 2009
"Young, Restless, and Reformed" appeared in Christianity Today in 2006.  A book by the same name appeared in the spring of 2008.  Collin Hansen offers further reflections since the time of these publications. The article can be found here.

I'm thankful for this forum and the chance to reflect on reaction to my book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists. It seems like hardly a day passes without a blogger commenting about it. In marketing discussions we observed the influence of the Reformed blogosphere, but I hadn't truly experienced this phenomenon until my book was published. There's something about this democratic medium that has unleashed pastors and laymen alike to interact with the latest books and theological trends. Like any revolution, there is a dark side to the blogosphere, where commenters hop from site to site leaving a trail of venom. Yet for the most part, I have been edified to hear from the regular folks from around the world who have read my book and rejoiced to see others embracing Reformed theology.

If I had the book to write over again, I might have devoted a whole chapter to Reformed blogging. The influence of premier sites run by Tim Challies and Justin Taylor has only grown since I finished writing, and a host of other sites have launched. Some of those have already failed, but that's the nature of this new media challenge.  The passionate commitment Calvinists show toward theology and the church positions them well for taking advantage of new media that will spread the Word.

Increasing my coverage of Reformed blogging is not the only change I would make. Readers have emerged from the woodwork to tell me about growing pockets of Reformed interest in Great Britain and among African Americans and fundamentalists. I knew, of course, that the United Kingdom retained some interest in Calvinism and observed in the book this new movement's obvious debt to the Puritans. But because I was unable to traverse the Atlantic while writing this book, I missed an opportunity to observe firsthand how their legacy endures in their homeland and differs from the American flavor of Calvinist. Such an investigation may have helped Americans see themselves in a fresh way. African Americans remain overlooked in surveys of contemporary Calvinism, and I regret not finding a way to write more about them. As I have talked with some such leaders, I have learned about their unique challenges, often regarded as too black for other Calvinists and too white for other African Americans. As for fundamentalists, I have heard testimonies of college and seminary students who tell me something big is stirring. Perhaps there is hope that these young Calvinists will rebuild the bridges burned generations ago between evangelicals and fundamentalists.

Surely I would devote a whole chapter to Reformed University Fellowship in a reprise of Young, Restless, Reformed. This would hopefully appease my Presbyterian friends, who read enough about Baptists in my book. Take heart, Presbyterians. You never know what might happen with all these Baptists reading Calvin's Institutes in honor of the reformer's 500th birthday. I would have loved the chance to spend time visiting Manhattan learning from Tim Keller and observing Redeemer Presbyterian Church's dynamic church-planting efforts. You can tell Keller has garnered serious respect, because he has become one of the most vital voices in evangelicalism while retaining traditional views on controversial theological issues. I might have even found a way to highlight the innovative ways Reformed Theological Seminary is making academic training more widely available.

Many readers had wished I would offer more analysis and projection in Young, Restless, Reformed. But such an approach would have violated my intent to tell the stories of young people discovering Reformed theology. I also expected the book would reach non-Reformed audiences only if I let leading Calvinists and their critics speak for themselves. Besides, the evangelical movement, like American culture today, suffers from too much analysis and not enough reporting. Speaking from experience, analysis triumphs because it takes much less time and money.

That said, I did venture to say that what I saw during my travels was the stirrings of a true spiritual revival, not merely renewed interest in a particular theological system. I saw hunger for God's Word, passion to spread the gospel around the world, and zeal to pursue greater holiness. That's something Christians of any theological persuasion can support. For those who despair of this growing movement, I can only recommend that they renew their efforts to catechize young believers. It's easy to embrace Reformed theology in college when a Calvinist is the first Christian who has exposited the Word for you.

I couldn't agree more with D.A. Carson's endorsement of my book when he cautioned, "This is not the time for Reformed triumphalism." This movement has flourished without it, and I would hate to see pride bring it down. I suspect Calvinism will prosper if its leaders will simply continue to go about the business of training pastor-teachers who will lead their churches in evangelism, teach faithfully each week, and care for the weak. Their example will spread within churches and inspire selfless care for one another alongside courageous, costly love for our neighbors.

It would thrill me as an author to see my book help readers learn from the diverse collection of ministries profiled. Such mutually beneficial learning will be a crucial step for the movement to continue growing. The Sovereign Grace network inspires me as I see them plant churches that grow by conversion and reach people not previously disposed to academic reasoning. The Gospel Coalition admirably seeks to learn from previous evangelical mistakes and include racial minorities in its leadership. John Piper continues to dispel notions that Calvinists do not care about foreign missions at a time when too many churches have lost this priority.

I would hate to see Calvinists fall into the same destructive patterns that weakened them in previous generations. Calvinists are renowned for eating their own, and it will take restraint and patience to refrain from becoming consumed by debates over baptism, ecclesiology, or the Holy Spirit. Nor do I believe there is much to be gained by relentless polemics against evangelicalism. Sadly, we all know by now that the problems are deep--perhaps intractable. But Keller and others show us there is much to be gained by demonstrating faithful alternatives to contemporary church practices. Indeed, there is a time for polemics, a time for practice, and a need for both. Now may be just the time to shift the balance toward practice.

Ultimately, however, God alone has made this movement prosper, and he can bring it to naught. Let us rejoice and give thanks that he has graciously allowed us to live in such exhilarating times.  


Collin Hansen is the author of Young, Restless, and Reformed.



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