Four years ago, Colin Hansen made this observation (with a little hyperbole): your average Evangelical American high school student is in a youth group that emphasizes games, down plays preaching, and as a result the student does not even know the basics of the Gospel — much less the difference between justification and sanctification. But, your average American-Evangelical 22-year-old is probably a foaming-at-the-mouth Calvinist, a John Piper “fiend,” and would love to stay up all night arguing about the difference between justification and sanctification. What in the world happens to these kids between ages 18 and 22?
Hansen, who is an editor at Christianity Today, attempts to answer that question in Young, Restless, Reformed. Released in 2008–sort of at the height of this issue–Hanesn trekked around the country trying to figure out where all of these Calvinists are coming from, and why. He had conversations with Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Steve Lawson, C. J. Mahaney, Ligon Duncan, Rick Holland and many others. He asked them all this question: “Where does this new generation of Calvinists come from?” and their answers are surprising. He talked with dozens of students who fit this new generation of Reformed Christian, and this book tells their stories.
Despite the anecdotal nature of the book (no hard statistics here), some conclusions do emerge. High school grads who are actually Christians and who do manage to escape their cheesy youth groups realize very quickly that they do not have adequate answers to explain the basics of their faith, much less to stand up to their secular professors. When they reach the point of realizing they don’t have the answers, they generally find someone who does, and this person (or book, or CD) is usually unashamedly Reformed.
If this observation is true, and it seems to be, then this corollary is also true: the more silly youth groups are, the more people will be driven to reformed circles upon graduation. Hansen does not make this point explicitly, but it is there. Hansen shows his insight into how the God of Calvinism captures the hearts of these college students when he writes, “Calvinism has not spread primarily by selling young evangelicals a system but by inviting them to join a new way of life driven by theological convictions. Theology gives them this passion for transformation” (124).
The exact channel that brings about this transformation varies from person to person. For some it is a Passion CD, others a Piper book. Some find a Puritan Paperback, and others stumble upon an RUF campus Bible study. But all of these sources have this in common: they introduce the students to a God that is more glorious than anyone had ever told them about. Suddenly depravity makes sense, and the rest of Calvinism falls into place.
But not all transformations are rosy. Hansen tells the story about Steve Lawson’s resignation for Dauphin Way, and he looks at other young pastors that have been forced out of ministry for theological reasons as well. The most intriguing chapter is his trip to Southern Seminary—“Ground Zero,” Hansen calls it—where the reader sees the problems of infusing a new generation of Calvinists into a Christian culture that is not ready for them.
I loved this book because it was like reading my own spiritual biography. I remember the moment I found God’s Passion for His Glory, and even today I remember my thoughts as I began to realize that God was more glorious than I am, and that he chose me—not the other way around. I stayed in my previous church, hoping to disciple others and show them the doctrines of grace as well, until I eventually went to seminary.
Until Hansen’s book, I had assumed that my story was, while perhaps not unique, at least not the norm. But this book is a catalog of people who had the same experiences. In fact, the very first college student we meet is a self-described “Piper fiend” and part of a Seventh Day Adventist Church!
Young, Restless, Reformed is not utilitarian. It is not a polemical book, it does not argue for Calvinism. It does not seek to be objective, despite Hansen’s awkward insistence on reminding us every few chapters that he is indeed a journalist (insert Christianity Today joke here). But what it does, it does well. It presents a series of snap-shots of the Reformed landscape in the United States, and these pictures are zoomed in on the 20-something crowd that is likely to be wearing the “Jonathan Edwards is my homeboy” shirt featured on the cover. If you have ever asked yourself, “where are all these Calvinists coming from?” then this book is for you.