I never set out to “join a movement.” I hadn’t even set out to jump on on a new church strategy bandwagon. I was simply in recovery mode and discovered a larger context that helped make sense of my growing unease with church as it was.
Let me back up.
I learned from Tim Challies that today marks the 10-year anniversary of Collin Hansen‘s landmark Christianity Today article “Young, Restless, Reformed”, which later became a book with the same title. The article featured some now better-known figures in the YRR (or gospel-centered, neo-Reformed, neo-Calvinist, whatchamacalit) camp like John Piper, Josh Harris, Mark Driscoll, et.al. I remember where I was when I first read the article.
Wait- let me back up again.
About twelve years ago I was suffering from the ruins of a life built on private sin and outer falseness. Everything was broken. (I tell most of this story in the last chapter of my book The Prodigal Church.) I was depressed; I was suicidal. I was begging God for some kind of help, any help. And one night the Holy Spirit intervened in a special way, a unique way. I had an experience I have since referred to as gospel wakefulness. I did not get a vision for a new church methodology at a conference; I did not become awakened to Reformed theology. I had come to see God’s grace like oxygen and suddenly realized I’d been suffocating in my current life (and church).
It was this experience that began to create a strong dissonance in my church fellowship. As my wife and I both became more sensitive to the good news of Jesus Christ in our lives, the absence of this good news from our church life became more and more pronounced. We felt like aliens. Everything was so upbeat and peppy — the music was “rockin’,” the creativity was turned to 11, and the messages were inspirational — but we were starving. I had tasted and seen the glory of God in the gospel and was heartbroken to feel like my community was having this withheld from them on a regular basis.
I was still in that church and leading a young adult Bible study one evening at a friend’s home when I looked down at the coffee table to see that issue of CT. The cover had a picture of a guy wearing a Jonathan Edwards T-shirt, which I thought was weird, but the cover story title caught my attention: “Young, Restless, and Reformed: Calvinism is making a comeback and shaking up the church.” As I started reading the article, I suddenly felt like my world was opening up. I had been a Calvinist for a while — “converted” in college, actually — so it wasn’t that part that really intrigued me. And a few of the leaders discussed were familiar to me. In fact, the preaching of John Piper and Mark Driscoll had been especially helpful to me during my depression. It wasn’t a new theology or new people to learn from that Collin’s article gave me — it was a feeling of not being alone.
I was in a huge church but felt utterly alone. Nobody saw what I was seeing. Nobody listened to what I was hearing. It was a strange feeling. And while the YRR piece named the tribe, so to speak, for me, it was about not feeling like what I had experienced was isolated. As I said, I hadn’t been looking to join a movement. If anything, I was grateful to discover I might have been a part of one without knowing it! The CT article was a doorway into sensing that the gospel renaissance that God worked in my life and was working in my ministry was actually something he was doing on a larger scale.
And he continues to do it. I confess there have been times where I’ve been exceedingly frustrated with my tribe. I still think we struggle too much with fear of man, especially as it pertains to “celebrity worship,” but I actually think we’re doing better. It’s one of the severe mercies, I suppose, of some rather notable “falls.” I think we’re getting a little grayer. I think we listen better now. I think we have benefited from international expansion and contribution, ethnic minority leaders, and the test-driving of our theology and praxis in local churches and communities, church plants, and in the open marketplace of ideas of the blogosphere and social media.
I also think, ten years later, the younger members of our tribe seem less restless than we did when we started. For all the flack the millennials take in the wider culture, the millennials I meet in the gospel-centered tribe seem more mature, more settled. They love the gospel and the local church and seem less enamored with big names and big ideas than my generation (X) was, as we were still not fully weaned off what the Boomers fed us.
The gospel-centered seminaries are on the increase. The gospel-centered churches continue to multiply. The gospel-centered tribe continues to feast on the gospel, and it can’t help but have grown us up a bit, settled us down a bit, reformed our hearts and minds a bit.
There will always be room to grow. And perhaps, 10 years later, we still don’t know if this is just a fad. I suspect not, but of course, “but by the grace of God” and all that. But we have seen the emerging church emerge into thin air. Their writers and “thought leaders” have joined Glengarry Glen Ross, disappeared into obscurity, or are off surfing with Oprah or whatever. The mainline’s decline continues more swiftly than most. And while professing Christianity in the west is on the decline across the board, a movement built around the gospel still seems wise. And still feels like home.
Semper Reformanda, friends.
And Collin: thank you.
Young(ish), Settled, and Reformed