Book Review: This Changes Everything, by Jaquelle Crowe
Sometimes, it takes a teenager to understand a teenager, and that’s what makes Jaquelle Crowe’s This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years unique. When she wrote this book, Crowe was 18 years old and personally concerned with the implications of the gospel for teenage life. Any teenager, parent, pastor, or youth leader who shares her concern should pay attention to what she has to say.
As the subtitle suggests, Crowe intentionally wrote This Changes Everything for a teenage audience. The book is a call for spiritual depth and seriousness during the teenage years; at points it reads like a manifesto. She approaches the Christian life thematically and covers a wide range of topics: identity, the story of the Bible, community, sin, disciplines, spiritual growth, time management, and relationships. Throughout the book, she effectively covers a large chunk of Christian discipleship.
SIMPLE, YET SOPHISTICATED
To illustrate her points, she draws from the worlds of social media, fast food, Hollywood, and high school classrooms. Simple intellectual assent to the truths of the gospel, for example, is compared to a “Facebook like” (39). Graphics, charts, and lists are dropped into chapters at key points, and the sentences are generally short and punchy. Crowe may not have been an average 18-year-old, but she writes in a way that’s accessible to a teenager.
At the same time, there’s beauty and sophistication to Crowe’s writing. When describing the fall, she imagines that the effect of sin on Adam and Eve must have been “like the power going out in the dead of winter. The warm light of God’s perfect presence vanished and chill dread must have swollen inside of them” (35). If a parent is looking for something that effectively communicates to teenagers without lowering the bar, Crowe strikes that balance.
Throughout her book, she finds creative ways to incorporate stories from the Bible and Christian history. For example, she uses the life of Paul to illustrate authentic Christianity (19), and she compares the lives of William Wilberforce and Jonathan Edwards to illustrate the importance of time (113–14). By doing so, she exposes her readers to stories that are more powerful and lasting than a simple attention-getter. A teenager who reads This Changes Everything will be getting micro-lessons on both the Bible and church history.
MORE THAN “RELEVANT” ILLUSTRATIONS
To be clear, Crowe has a lot more to offer than relevant illustrations, and she shows sensitivity to many of the challenges facing Christian teenagers. One of those challenges, for example, is nominal Christianity. Because of the deceitfulness of sin, a home where the gospel is faithfully taught and embraced can produce a teenager who simply assumes, rather than believes, the gospel. Crowe directly addresses that problem: “If you take away one thing from this book, let it be this: Jesus has no half-hearted followers. He demands all. And when he saves you, he changes it all” (19). A Christian teenager who reads this book will be challenged to critically evaluate themselves in light of the gospel’s implications.
Most importantly, This Changes Everything is biblically rich. When Crowe outlines the characteristics of a Christian, she turns to Philippians 3:8–11 (19–20). When she outlines the message of the gospel, she surveys the story of redemption from Genesis to Revelation (33–38). When she addresses teenage relationships, she points to Genesis 2:18–22 and Exodus 20:12 (131, 135). By doing so, she communicates to her reader that the Bible is the authority for the teenage life.
Justifiably, Crowe writes with a little bit of a chip on her shoulder at points, because she points out that teenagers are typically treated like they’re not prepared for great spiritual truths (14). In contrast, she identifies the teenage years’ unique opportunity for spiritual growth: “If a tree has a certain bent when it is young, it will completely lean that way when it is old. If we form these good habits and fill our mind with the Word when we are young, God can use it powerfully for the rest of our lives” (82). Beyond teenagers themselves, pastors and church leaders who work with teenagers need to hear Crowe’s words. Not only are Christian teenagers competent to hear the undiluted call of the gospel; many hunger for it.
There’s no shortage of practicality to Crowe’s writing. The chapters are full of clear suggestions for application, book recommendations, and every chapter concludes with discussion questions. When discussing Bible reading plans, for example, Crowe lists six recommended plans and includes a web-link to access each of them (84). Teenage readers who are captivated by the vision of Christianity presented in This Changes Everything will have clear steps to take in response.
HITS MORE THAN JUST THE TARGET
As I listened to a conversation between some teenagers about social media a few days ago, I was reminded of a painful reality: I get a little more out of touch every year. For me, that means that if I want to communicate effectively to teenagers and apply the gospel to their lives, I have to make an effort.
For the reasons I have already mentioned, I’d recommend This Changes Everything to any of the teenagers I lead. However, I believe that the usefulness of this book stretches beyond its target audience to anyone who is working to communicate the gospel and its implications to teenagers. In other words, I’d recommend this book to moms who are trying to disciple their teenage daughters and to youth pastors who are working to communicate great truths effectively to a teenage audience. I would even recommend this book to pastors who preach regularly to generationally diverse congregations.
As I’ve already said, This Changes Everything is a unique book. In the vocabulary and through the experience of a teenager, Crowe interprets and communicates great theological truths for her peers. She takes the insights of spiritual giants like John Owen, Jonathan Edwards, and Francis Schaeffer, pairs them with the contemporary writings of Wayne Grudem, John MacArthur, and Don Whitney, and then fills the pages with references to Twitter, Instagram, and chicken nuggets. What emerges is fresh, relevant, and helpful for teenagers—and anyone who desires to communicate the gospel to them.