The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘Collin Hansen

Revising “Young, Restless, Reformed”

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 4 February 2009 at 09:00

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What is it to be Reformed?

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When I reviewed Collin Hansen’s book, Young, Restless, Reformed, I asked a question about what it meant to be Reformed.

Furthermore, there is – if not a confusion – at least a question of terminology. Most of the subjects welcome the Reformed label, but how accurately is it being applied? It seems that most of those involved in this movement share a Reformed (or, at least, a Calvinistic) soteriology. The question is raised even in the book as to whether this really constitutes “being Reformed,” as well as how much it matters. Do we need, for example, a Reformed ecclesiology, a Reformed pneumatology, or Reformed worship (or all of the above) in order to call ourselves genuinely ‘Reformed’? In other words, would the patron saint of the new Calvinists, Jonathan Edwards, recognise all these individuals and groups as Reformed? One could argue that this very question may be redefined by weight of numbers involved in this movement who do not embrace what has traditionally been, and been accepted as, part of the Reformed package. On this basis, there may be many who will wonder whether or not they are a part of this movement, and whether they want to be, and – if so – to what extent. This is especially so where the question is being begged over the extent to which the church is reaching the culture as opposed to the culture assimilating the church.

Scott Clark is even blunter than I am.  An interview with Collin Hansen has raised the same issue again for him.  Clark uses the label ‘Baptist’ to make his case:

You can’t simply redefine ‘Baptist’ by fiat and you can’t impose such a minimalist definition [i.e. “I believe in baptism”] on the word ‘Baptist’ because, after all, all Christians believe in Baptism. Defining it that way doesn’t tell us anything about the person using the adjective. It becomes meaningless.

The progression of Scott’s argument is solid, but it is – I think – clear that, by the time he has done, there are not that many people who can use the word “Reformed.”  Here is his thinking:

So it is with those of us who are identified with the historic Reformed Churches and with their confessions. Our people spilled blood for being called Reformed and for confessing the Reformed theology, piety, and practice. The Synod of Dort did not simply issue five canons against the Remonstrants, they also published a church order and they worked on worship and other ecclesiastical issues. To break into the Armory (where the Synod met) and to steal the Five Points from the ecclesiastical context in which they were formed and in which they were meant to be applied and to use them alone to define the adjective “Reformed” is just vandalism and identity theft.

I’m glad folk want to identify with the Five Points of Dort. I’m glad that folks are interested in the Reformed reformation. Keep coming. The road to Geneva is a nice trip and I think you’ll enjoy the destination. If you’re hungry, we will feed you. You don’t have to steal. It’s okay, we love you. Indeed, we’ll put a Geneva gown on your ministers, we’ll baptize your children in recognition of their status as covenant children and we’ll offer you communion in the body and blood of Christ regularly (the Geneva City Council is dead, long live communion). We have a polity, a piety, and a passion for the lost. You’ll love it.

It is interesting to see that – perhaps tongue in cheek – being Reformed involves (of necessity?) wearing a Geneva gown to preach and being a paedobaptist, as well as enjoying the Lord’s supper.  Do you have to sing psalms only to be Reformed?

st-pierre-geneva-2I am a Reformed Baptist.  Can I be?  I hold to the 1689 (Second London) Baptist confession of faith.  Am I allowed to use the label?  Where does one draw the line?  At which point does your standing in the stream remove you from the current?

Don’t get me wrong: I agree with the essence of what Scott is saying.  To simply hoick the label ‘Reformed’ on to any believer who holds to the five points (or even four or so of them) is to empty the phrase of much of its significance.  But where does being Reformed start and end?  Do Scott Clark or Richard Muller finally pin it down?  Is being a Reformed Baptist an inherent contradiction?

I agree with Dr Clark that being soteriologically Reformed is not enough to warrant the label, but I want to affirm my standing in the stream of historic Biblical Christianity.  All of which demands an answer to the question: if you need to (and I agree with Scott that you do need to), where do you draw the line?

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 22 January 2009 at 20:52

Machen’s worrier children

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Carl Trueman reviews Young, Restless and Reformed by Collin Hansen here.  My own review, should you be interested, is here.  I think that there is some healthy overlap between them.  Trueman has some warnings about a movement that relies so heavily on a few powerful personalities, and some encouragements about the abiding relevance of the eternal truth found in the unchanging Word of God.  The latter are particularly helpful for those tempted to chase the latest fad: we will always be out of touch – and, more dangerously, “tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine” – unless we are perpetually and principially grounded in the truth of the Scriptures.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 4 July 2008 at 08:47

“Young, Restless, Reformed”

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young-restless-reformedYoung, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists by Collin Hansen

Crossway Books, 2008 (156 pp, pbk)

Dever; Driscoll; Duncan; Challies; Harris; Horton; MacArthur; Mahaney; Mohler; Piper; Sproul: these are the meats sometimes uncomfortably sandwiched between the pages of this book, together drenched in “Reformed” mayonnaise. Young, Restless, Reformed is the exploration by Christianity Today editor-at-large Collin Hansen of the phenomenon of the new Calvinists, the so-called Reformed resurgence.

With the exception of a few scant references, the focus is entirely on the US. Nevertheless, most of the names will be familiar to those with an interest in Reformed doctrine and practice. Hansen begins with John Piper and “the Piper fiends” (Pipettes?), before surveying “Ground Zero” (Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, where Al Mohler holds sway), then considering the Mahaney/Harris axis at Covenant Life Church and the New Attitude conference, and ending up with Mark Driscoll at Mars Hill in Seattle. In between and helping us along the way are a multitude of other movers and shakers and bit-players. Hanging over it all is the far-from-spectral but somewhat ambivalent figure of Jonathan Edwards.

It is, in many respects, a joyous read. To see a substantial recovery of Biblical truth on such a large scale cannot be anything but exciting. To see the unity and co-labouring it prompts and promotes is delightful. To read of predominantly young men and women in the modern West giving themselves to prayer and the study of the Scriptures is thrilling and humbling.

Hansen does take time to consider the detractors and the devaluers, but there is a sympathetic tone that makes plain that Hansen is fundamentally ‘on-side’ with those of whom he writes. This perhaps contributes to the fact that the book can read more like an exercise in comprehension than in analysis: it provides a snapshot rather than a vigorous assessment.

Another weakness is that the whole scene can appear somewhat incestuous and self-referential. The book is about or refers to people who endorse it in the blurb, read by them, reviewed by them (often in the Web 2.0 environment). The same people are writing books from the same publishers and referring to one another’s blogs. Is there a danger of self-congratulation, of failing to recognise that this is a much bigger community than it was, but still not that big or effective a community? Might the mutual back-slapping hide the fact of how much work there still is to do?

Furthermore, there is – if not a confusion – at least a question of terminology. Most of the subjects welcome the Reformed label, but how accurately is it being applied? It seems that most of those involved in this movement share a Reformed (or, at least, a Calvinistic) soteriology. The question is raised even in the book as to whether this really constitutes “being Reformed,” as well as how much it matters. Do we need, for example, a Reformed ecclesiology, a Reformed pneumatology, or Reformed doxology (or all of the above) in order to call ourselves genuinely ‘Reformed’? In other words, would the patron saint of the new Calvinists, Jonathan Edwards, recognise all these individuals and groups as Reformed? One could argue that this very question may be redefined by weight of numbers involved in this movement who do not embrace what has traditionally been, and been accepted as, part of the Reformed package. On this basis, there may be many who will wonder whether or not they are a part of this movement, and whether they want to be, and – if so – to what extent. This is especially so where the question is being begged over the extent to which the church is reaching the culture as opposed to the culture assimilating the church.

Finally, and leading on from this, one must ask, So what? and, Who cares? We must understand what is the trajectory of this movement, and what its terminus (or termini, if it splinters). We must watch its effects. Will the somewhat insular nature of the new Calvinist community betray it into a failure to preach the very gospel it boasts of recovering to those in need of Jesus on our doorsteps? In some circles there seems to be a very real temptation to preach to the converted (in the essential sense of that word), gaining ‘converts’ from other Christian camps rather than from the world around us, to argue other believers into our camp far more than to proclaim a saving Christ to needy sinners. Surely if we are constrained by what Warfield defined as of the essence of genuine Calvinism (of Biblical Christianity) – “a profound apprehension of God in His majesty, with the inevitably accompanying poignant realization of the exact nature of the relation sustained to Him by the creature as such, and particularly as a sinful creature”[1] – then it will work itself out in a determination to have God glorified in salvation as well as among the saved, in both reaching the lost and teaching the reached.

There is much that is splendid about the movement described by Hansen, but it contains within it some fascinating and fearful tensions, as well as some wonderful prospects. Much depends on the legacy of the present leaders, and the readiness of those who follow to pursue a comprehensive Scripturalism that will govern head and heart and hands. Reading this book will help observers and participants to gauge both the trajectory and the likely terminus of this curious company, but should also challenge us about the extent to which our faith and our life are keeping pace.


[1] B. B, Warfield, Works, vol. 5, Calvin and Calvinism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1991), 354.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 10 May 2008 at 09:06

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