Friday, December 14, 2012

Book Review: Rebels Rescued: A Student's Guide to Reformed Theology

The author is Brian H. Cosby, who is the lead Pastor at Wayside Presbyterian Church in Signal Mountain, Tennessee. He is the author of the youth ministry best-seller, Giving up Gimmicks and has also published biographies on John Bunyan and David Brainerd. 

Cosby begins the book by asking an important question, “What is Reformed Theology?” In this introductory chapter and/or introduction, the author sets the course for this brief 112 page book. His goal is simply stated on page 3, “This book is an introduction to Reformed Theology with a particular view towards teenagers”.

How does Cosby plan to achieve such a lofty goal? To begin, he purposely makes the book ascetically relevant. The front cover is bright red with funky lettering and a title that attracts the rebellious teenager, Rebels Rescued. Also, the graphics of the chapter titles remind the reader of paintbrush strokes and possibly a subtle graffiti theme. For all of his anti-gimmick language, Cosby is keen to draw upon the angst of the American adolescent.

Furthermore, the words of the chapter titles are simple and shrewd. Total Depravity is replaced by Rebels at Heart. Limited Atonement is For His sheep. Irresistible Grace is booted for Mastered by Grace. Sola Scriptura is cast aside for Enjoying God’s Word. Cosby’s emphasis on theological concepts rather than the classic terms is a clever, astute strategy. Lastly, the illustrations used by the author are modern, personal, well-placed and humorous. Oh, and one more thing: Dr. Cosby surprisingly evades the fatal flaw of cheesy rhetoric, which can quickly annoy a perceptive teenage reader.

Another pertinent question this reviewer asked was, “Did the author water-down Reformed Theology in order to make it palatable to his teen audience?” Not at all. In Cosby’s chapter on Unconditional Election, the author seeks to save Calvin from popular criticism. He argues,
“Because Calvin seemed to take freedom away from man, Calvin has been given a bad rap. But what Calvin sought to do, however, was to show that man’s heart is not free to begin with. Our hearts are prone to wander away from Christ every time—if left on our own. Apart from God’s grace in giving us new hearts to love him, we remain chained and imprisoned by sin and unbelief. There is no freedom apart from God’s work of grace and it’s grace precisely because his salvation is something we don’t deserve.”
No mincing of words here. How about Limited Atonement? Cosby must have soften on this point, right? Judge for yourself.
“God is not in the business of taking risks. He’s in the business of purposefully saving his people by grace. He doesn’t scatter the breadcrumbs of atonement across the world in hopes that some will happen to see them and eat. No, God sent his Son to die for his people “according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:5). Christ’s death was purposeful, intentional, and definite!”
And yet Dr. Cosby never shoots over the heads of his audience. Though he uses illustrations generously, he intensely desires the reader to understand that ‘Reformed Theology is first and foremost biblical theology (p. 5). This statement is reinforced by a liberal splattering of biblical references, which can be found on virtually every page.

Any theological system has its detractors and the Reformed perspective is no exception. In this book, Dr. Cosby endeavors to address the most common objections to Predestination and Limited Atonement. Again, I was astounded how seamless and succinct these arguments were. No tangents, no hobby horses. In dealing with the issue of evangelism and predestination, the reader is simply reminded that God ordains not only the end, but also the means. Therefore, there is no room for indifference towards the proclamation of the gospel. 

The concept of Limited Atonement is without question the most debated of the Five Points of Calvinism. Cosby wisely funnels all his attention to 1 John 2:2, the preeminent text used to attack this doctrine. Here he gives the typical retort, discussing the various ways to understand the word “world” and then gives the reader John’s contextual meaning of the “whole world”. I was a little surprised the author did not allude to the wide evangelical disagreement about this doctrine, but again, a comprehensive 100 page book on Reformed Theology limits such eye-opening statements.


It is a habit of this reviewer to alert the reader to inherent flaws or inconsistencies within each book. I have no criticisms. In my opinion, this is one of the clearest treatments of Reformed Theology I have ever read. Rebels Rescued is a literary landmark in the genre of Youth and Theology.

I guess if I would to add anything, I wish Dr. Cosby would have included a robust appendix, which would better prepare the small group leader or young theologian from the verbal darts of the anti-Reformed community.


This book is a masterpiece. It should be read by every youth leader and used as annual curriculum in every teenage small group. Furthermore, Cosby’s work should be used as a theological primer in Christian colleges and/or given as a membership gift in churches that reside in the Reformed tradition. 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Cross Focused Reviews as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."


  1. Clint,

    Fabulous review! Thanks so much for being part of the Rebels Rescued blog tour.

  2. Clint,

    Thanks for the review- very helpful for us youth guys.I would definitely consider using this in my discipleship groups (btw- "small" is a lame word to use for a biblical concept. Teach at every moment!)

    It is always helpful to read succinct books like this for my sake too. Helps refresh and even crystallize thoughts.

    Along the same lines as this book, have you read Challies book on the 5 Sola's? I thought that might be a good primer on that aspect of Reformed theology as well.