The Week in Books, No. 33

In Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists journalist Collin Hansen attempts to describe a trend within the “young” demographic (which he defines as high school through 30 somethings) toward a theology of faith that contains more depth, Biblical scholarship, and recognition of the profound holiness of God. Hansen interviews young people, pastors, theologians, and leaders, and gives the reader a good glimpse of the dynamism of Reformed thinking these days.

Although the author found that there is wiggle room in the definitions of terms surrounding this trend, he concludes that “Reformed theology…broadly emphasizes God’s sovereignty and the five Reformation solas (by grace alone, by faith alone, by Christ alone, by Scripture alone, for God’s glory alone).” At times throughout the book Hansen refers to Reformed thinking as Calvinist, although he acknowledges that some people are uncomfortable with the historical ramifications of that name, even as they embrace the theology of the five points of Calvinism which all basically point to God’s sovereignty and man’s inability to save himself. (I know that’s too reductionist, but I don’t want to get into a long discussion of the fine points right now, you can read the book if you’re interested).

One person Hansen interviews points out that the young people of the 1960s and 1970s were turned off by the staid worship of their parents, and thus founded the more touchy-feely, seeker-sensitive, “cheesy Christianity” type movements that the young people who grew up in the 1980s and 1990s are now reacting against by a return to theological depth. Hansen diagnoses the failings of “youth group culture” – that it’s by and large pretty lame and offers a watered down faith at best, and at worst a “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism” that fails to deeply engage and satisfy young people who are already dealing with a post-modern and nihilistic culture.

The response is not a return to staid tradition, but rather a rediscovery of theological principles grounded in scripture, and commitments to Biblical orthodoxy mixed with enthusiasm and vigor. I found the section on reformed Baptists to be interesting, and the section on Calvinist charismatics to be even more so. The latter includes people like C.J. Mahaney from Sovereign Grace ministries, who espouses Reformed theology but is not a cessasionist in regards to gifts like speaking in tongues, healing, and so forth. This type of Reformed thinking is spreading particularly in Latin America and other areas with a charismatic bent. Someone quoted in the book referred to Calvinist charismatics as “charismatics wearing seatbelts” in reference to their application of Biblical context and restraints on the alleged excesses that sometimes go along with charismatic practices.

Another chapter I found particularly intriguing is devoted to a new movement toward Reformed thinking in hip hop. I had no idea that there is an entire record label devoted to Calvinist rappers. The artists Hansen interviews talk about the structure of hip hop as being well-suited to communicating theology. One artist said, “The power of hip hop is because it’s primarily a lyrical medium. It has ability to communicate large amounts of information at one time. When you’re able to do that, you’re able to transmit a worldview.” I thought that was a good point, especially considering the negative worldview communicated in most of the genre, and thinking about how powerful a tool hip hop could be to reach demographics who don’t get much exposure to the things of God (and that includes the suburban kids who listen to it).

Overall I thought this book was well-researched, well-written, and would be a good book for you to read if you’re involved in ministry or interested in cultural studies.

Unlike Indu Sundaresan’s first two novels, “The Twentieth Wife” and “Feast of Roses,” her latest work, The Splendor of Silence takes place during World War II rather than the India of the Mughal Empire. Frankly, I enjoyed the first two books more. I thought the bookend structure of “The Splendor of Silence” was clumsy (young girl doesn’t know who she is so she retreats to a beach house and reads a letter than informs her of her past) and has been done before ad nauseum (heck, it was even done better in Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood). It’s unfortunate that Sundaresan started off that way, because the actual story is well done and would have stood better on it’s own without the literary device bookends.

Although I was familiar with the basic history of India under British rule and the struggle for Indian independence, reading about how that world impacted individuals resonated with me far more. I don’t think I had really grasped before how shocking and disgusting the level of racism and condescension was – the policies and prejudices described in this book seem so backward that it’s difficult to imagine those attitudes persisting so far into the 20th century. It also made me realize that it wasn’t really that long ago that similar attitudes, policies, and prejudices were officially sanctioned in America too.

I’d recommend “The Splendor of Silence” if you’re interested in India, but again I’d recommend “Feast of Roses” and “The Twentieth Wife” more highly.

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