Book Review | This Changes Everything by Jaquelle Crowe

The youth in today’s society face a mountain of challenges. Questions of identity, worldview, community, guilt/shame, discipline, growth, time, and relationships are the mountains at which they stare. To complicate things, life is crazy busy and bombarded by distraction. In many ways, this and much more could be said about grown adults, as well.

But the tender, formative years of young adulthood deserve a special focus, for they are the years in which the glue of character formation is still wet. As such, habits of the mind and loves of the heart require precious attention. 

What will allow young adults to face these challenges, form good character, and develop holy habits in these days? The answer is: the gospel. The gospel of Jesus Christ who has come to save sinners from their sins through repentance and faith and reconcile them to the eternal God. That’s what will transform our young adult years. To borrow from the simple, yet profound subtitle of the book to be reviewed here, the gospel transforms the teen years

The book is titled, “This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years.” It’s written by a Jesus-following, gospel-saturated, teenage girl who has discovered what the years of young adulthood are for.

“These aren’t our rebellious years; these are the years we rise up to obey the call of Christ. This isn’t our time to slack off; it’s our time to stand out. This isn’t our season for self-satisfaction; it’s a season for God-glorification. Our youth is by God’s grace, in God’s hands, and for God’s fame” (14). 

Crowe carries this same spirit throughout the entirety of her book, further prefacing her hope for her teen readers, “My prayer is that the gospel will change your life, that you will surrender all to the cause of Christ. My desire is that you and I will follow Jesus every day—and nothing will ever be the same again” (15). 

Chapters

Beginning with our Christian identity, Crowe offers a courteous word of caution for young adults to refrain from seeking their identity in “material success or good grades or popularity or clothes or their bodies or their interests,” (27) but instead to find their identity in Christ. This comes, according to Crowe, as we embrace the six-fold characteristics that identified the life of the apostle Paul who treasured Christ, devalued everything else, put faith in Christ alone, knew Christ, suffered for Christ, and became like Christ (cf. Phil. 3:8-11).  

Living out of our gospel identity, however, will seem odd to the world. Crowe writes, “We’ve actually become weird in the eyes of the culture. Teen magazines are not written for us. Modern pop music is not composed for us. The latest TV lineup is not scripted for us” (28). This is all part of bearing the reproach of Christ as young adults. And more of these examples follow in later chapters. 

Moving on from the identity of a Christian, Crowe devotes chapter two to how the story of the gospel changes everything. Into a few short pages she packs a brilliant summary of the gospel from the word of God, working through the typical headings of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration, and showing Jesus as the hero of the story. 

As a result of being enraptured in the wonder of this gospel, Crowe captures the impact this should have on young adults:

“This news shouldn’t produce a superficial change in your life, a mere outward assent or a Facebook like. It should transform everything about how you live—how you talk and dress and think and engage with culture and who you hang out with and what you post on social media and read and find funny and watch” (39).

Here is a gospel that transforms everything!

One area the gospel intersects with our lives is in that of community—who we associate with, who we identify with. And with an unexpected wind of freshness Crowe spends the entire third chapter on the church. This is to be commended because who would’ve thought that a book written to young adults would sound a clarion call on the matter of their responsibility and relationship to the local church? Probably not many.

At any rate, Crowe develops a convincing case for a young adult’s need of and involvement in the local church. She advances through the headings of the gospel’s change on our idea of the church, the gospel’s change on what we do in church, the call to love the church, the call to serve the church, the call to worship with the church, and the call to hold and be accountable to the church. With boldness, Crowe writes that if “teenagers love Jesus, we should be committed to his whole church. God doesn’t call young people to attend as spectators; he calls us to invest” (49). Amen! 

Perhaps my favorite quote in this chapter comes when Crowe puts her finger on the unique contribution that young people make to the local church:

“Teenagers add special life to a church. We bring passion and a unique perspective. We bring enthusiasm and service. We bring an eagerness to learn and a desire to grow. We bring zeal, joy, a love for justice, and deep compassion for the outcast. We are the church’s future” (51). 

Following that chapter on church community, Crowe deals with the prickly subject of sin with a style and substance that is both dignified and frank. Beginning with a brief theology of sin, Crowe identifies and defines the necessary terms of salvation in the gospel: justification and sanctification.

The former term speaks of our deliverance from the penalty of sin. Jesus has taken our sin at the cross and he has given us his righteousness, so that the just penalty of hell and condemnation might be removed from us by God’s grace through our faith (cf. Rom. 3:24). The latter term speaks of our ongoing deliverance from the power of sin, as we put away sin and put on holiness after the likeness of Christ. 

As young adults seek to fight sin and become like Christ, they will benefit from the five-fold strategy for success Crowe lays out:

  • Feed on God’s Word;

  • Hate sin;

  • Repent (a lot);

  • Be accountable to people who love you; and,

  • Be humble.

As a helpful reminder in this fight against sin, Crowe says, “Sanctification doesn’t happen while we sit back and relax. Still, our work is always worth it, because as we obey, our God has promised to be with us, to help us, to mature us, and to give us lasting victory over sin” (68). 

The application of the strategy in chapter four enjoys some overlap with the subject of discipline in chapter five. No, not parental discipline. Spiritual disciplines. What Donald Whitney says are “those practices found in Scripture that promote spiritual growth among believers in the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are habits of devotion, habits of experiential Christianity that have been practiced by God’s people since biblical times” (81). 

All Christians, even those in young adulthood, are commanded to engage these disciplines. But, “[o]ddly enough,” says Crowe, “some people believe that young Christians don’t need to practice the disciplines. They assume we can start them when we’re older. But that idea is found nowhere in the Bible” (81). 

The classical disciplines are provided here by Crowe, things like reading God’s Word, memorizing God’s Word, praying, and evangelizing. But instead of offering academic descriptions for these disciplines, Crowe gives extremely practical advice on performing them. The young adult will find no cookies here in the top cupboard. They are at eye-level for the taking!

The practice of these spiritual disciplines is, as Paul said, “profitable for all things, since it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Tim. 4:8). What present benefits might young adults expect from practicing the spiritual disciplines? Chapter six answers that question by focusing on their growth.

As we discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness we are growing spiritually. And that spiritual growth leads to spiritual discernment, which affords young people the blessing of “looking out over the landscape of our lives; examining everything we encounter; and judging between good and bad, between biblical and false doctrine, between edifying and harmful entertainment, between holiness and sin” (99). 

Crowe offers some practical pieces of advice to teenagers for training their powers of discernment. She suggests they read some books, recommending a handful of her favorites. She proposes they listen to music, too. But not just any music. Crowe offers a helpful grid through which to funnel all potential tunes, encouraging young adults to exercise caution, for “[l]yrics communicate ideas, and those repetitive ideas have pervasive psychological and spiritual effects on us . . . The gospel then must guide our listening” (104). 

And finally, she recommends that young adults imbibe deeply of the nourishing marrow from the biblical sermons they hear on Sunday mornings. “Listening to those sermons,” says Crowe, “is a profound way God has enabled all Christians to grow spiritually, including us teenagers” (107). 

Turning the page puts the reader square in the face of the great equalizer of all humanity: time. Every day has the same number of hours and minutes. And all who are blessed with that must steward that time for the Lord’s purposes. 

And yet, it is quite easy to waste it away. Crowe understands this, and potentially pricks the conscience of every young adult (and even this grown adult!) when she highlights specific ways they can waste time.

“Don’t do the things you know you should do. Abuse media. Be busy with the wrong things, or be busy for the wrong reasons. Avoid your problems with distractions. Don’t rest” (116). 

There is a way to redeem the time, however. And as those who have been redeemed by the gospel, restoring lost time under the providence of God is doable. What should young adults do to redeem the time? Crowe wisely counsels that they should give and do their best, enjoy God’s gifts, sacrifice the idol of comfort, and live in light of eternity. Wrapping up the chapter, Crowe sounds a sober reminder to the reader: “We each have a blink. We can waste it in sinful busyness or laziness or discontentment or distraction. Or the gospel of Jesus Christ can change how we spend our time” (126). May our young people joyfully choose the latter!

To conclude the chapters that form the body of this book is a chapter that fits the description, last but not least. This chapter speaks to the relationships of young adults. Laying the foundation of relationships in God’s good, original design, Crowe then builds with the materials of realities in relationships. They are downright messy, “crazy messy” to use Crowe’s words. 

As sinful creatures we bring sinful dispositions into our relationships that make them challenging. Specifically, we carry with us the potential for idolatry, putting “people on pedestals, a desire to let them occupy places in our hearts meant only for God” (132). Secondly, we bring our selfishness into relationships. This “makes our relationships about personal rewards and single-focused gain. It makes us demanding instead of kind, jealous instead of grateful, arrogant instead of humble” (132). And if that’s not enough “it breeds such an obsessive self-focus that we irrationally arbitrate ourselves as the good and glory in our relationships. It takes without giving” (132). 

Young adults are not immune to these destructive elements in their relationships. That is why in their relationships, Crowe advises, they enjoy close company with those whose purpose is one with ours: to become more like Christ. What specific relationships are impacted by this singular purpose? Crowe mentions in turn those of parents, siblings, friends, and those of the opposite gender. Much is to be gleaned here

Takeaways

My overall response to this book is one of excitement. Here is a young girl seeking to follow Christ in a Christless world. She is doing so joyfully and honestly. She is doing so underneath the leadership of her parents and in conjunction with the local church. And above all she is doing so for the glory of God in the gospel. 

Furthermore, I’ve personally not read a better book to put into the hands of a young person. As a youth pastor, I’m on the look-out for good books for young people. Books that aren’t overly cerebral, with little relevance and application. Books that aren’t underwhelmingly void of biblical content and fidelity. But books that are gospel-centered (this one), relevant (this one), moderate in length (this one [only 155 pages]), and parent-friendly (this one). It may go without saying then but I will be heartily recommending this to parents and students in the coming days!

If I had to offer one quibble in what is an otherwise thorough treatment, it would be that the book doesn’t address the subject of discipleship. Those who know me would expect me to bring up something like this. I’m a firm believer that every Christian is a disciple of Jesus who makes disciples, and that includes young adults. 

Now, exactly how that discipleship gets applied in the life of a young person goes in the area between black and white. But in a book that seeks to apply the gospel to the lives of young people, something on discipleship would’ve been a helpful addition in this reviewer’s kind opinion. Nonetheless, what I offer here in no way detracts from this fabulous book!

A few words to specific, interested audiences. How will this book be of use to a young person? I believe this book will benefit the young adult not only in the gospel-saturated content it offers but also in the questions that cap off each chapter. As an approach, he or she may wish to read the book a chapter at a time, seeking to use the questions to stimulate further comprehension and application of each chapter. 

Christian parents will appreciate this book as well for its recourse to the home. Crowe says things like, “For the Christian teen in a Christian family, accountability should first and foremost take place in the home. If there is unrepentant sin in my life that I’m not aware of, I know my parents will come to me before the church does” (58). Quotes like this should increase parents’ confidence in the things Crowe says, as she accounts how her parents were faithful as primary disciplers in her life in the matter of shepherding her heart through sin.  

I couldn’t help but think that parents will read pages 134-138 with a smile! Those pages exhort young adults to carry out the command to honor their father and mother. There may also be an indirect benefit for parents in these pages as well. 

Specifically, if parents would grow in the characteristics laid out here, namely, of teachers, authorities, disciplinarians, and individuals, and young adults would excel in honoring their parents by learning from their wisdom, obeying their authority, maturing from their discipline, being grateful for their care, and treating them with genuine kindness, we would have households in the Christian faith that would be inching ever closer to the picture of the gospel. And, as Crowe seeks in her book to accomplish, we would living out the biblical maxim that the gospel changes everything. 

The gospel really does change everything. And this book shows how it changes the teen years. Here is fuel for the young adult’s race. Read it with gospel-joy! And be transformed!

Matt HarkeyComment