Tis the end of the year, the time to reflect on what has been and what may be. For several months I’ve been pondering a post on this thing that’s been called Young, Restless, and Reformed. What’s good? What’s bad? What needs to be celebrated? What needs to addressed?
For starters, it may be time to retire the name. As you may know, “Young, Restless, Reformed” was the title Collin Hansen gave to his Christianity Today article on the first Together for the Gospel conference in 2006. Subsequently, Collin penned a fine book with the same title. I stole the title for my blog (because “DeYoung” fit so nicely into his phrase). To this day I meet people who swear that I wrote the book Young, Restless, and Reformed. Even when I promise them I didn’t, they insist that I must have. Sorry Collin.
I think the phrase was quite clever. It had alliteration. It played off of pop culture (The Young and the Restless). And it captured a mood: young Christians eager to embrace this new found wonder of deep theology about a big, sovereign God. But, over time, people have wondered whether the young are getting older, whether the restless should settle down, and whether Calvinist soteriology is the same as Reformed. So the name doesn’t work for everyone.
More importantly, I’m afraid the label is often used in a way that makes YRR sound like an organized movement with official standards and spokesmen. The Gospel Coalition is an organized movement and it embraces some of the YRR mood, but the two are hardly identical. TGC was started by, and continue to be led by, Don Carson and Tim Keller–wonderful men, and Calvinist in important ways, but not quite young or restless. Likewise, while Together for the Gospel is a gathering place for many who fit the YRR description, it is a biennial event, not a movement. There never was a plan to sign people up for the YRR team or for certain people to speak for the YRR team, let alone that the YRR mood would replace the importance of local churches and specific denominations.
A Convergence and Resurgence
This thing called the New Calvinism or YRR or the Reformed Resurgence is a constellation of factors, personalities, conferences, churches, and movements. In one sense, YRR was simply the realization that a number of different networks or organizations that had existed for many years actually had a lot of important things in common. From Ligonier to Desiring God to 9Marks to the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals to Grace to You to Southern Seminary to Sovereign Grace to Acts 29 brothers discovered there were many reasons to cheer for each other and work together. The rise of the New Calvinism was, in important ways, simply the awareness that there were more evangelical, complementarian Calvinists out there than we knew.
But in another sense, the New Calvinism is new. The “young” in Young, Restless, and Reformed was not a marketing ploy. A new generation of Christians is being nourished by the doctrines of grace. Evangelical seminaries are full of young men passionate about theology, biblical truth, and the glory of God. From blogs to church planting to conferences to book sales to new pastors to new people in our churches, I believe the Spirit really has been at work in our day to give young people a grounding in the deep things of God. Wasn’t it J.I. Packer who said something like: when I started teaching this reformed stuff I spoke to rooms, then I spoke to churches, and now I speak to convention centers. We ought to rejoice in this progress. No doubt, a few have been bandwagon jumpers or groupies. And some others will drop away. But surely we ought to thank God for every pastor, speaker, writer, blogger, publisher, or church member in these days who has grown hungry for the gospel meat of God’s word and eager to share it with the many others who are hungry to feast on the same.
But there are also challenges facing my generation of evangelical Calvinists. And I’m not thinking here of the outside forces that threaten to undermine a biblical understanding of marriage or a high view of Scripture or the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. I’m thinking about issues that need attention (and are receiving attention) in our YRR circles. Let me mention three of these challenges.
1. Ecclesiology. Evangelicals have never been known for their robust theology of the church. Previous centuries could boast of many learned, almost comprehensive volumes, on the polity, powers, and purpose of the church. We could use more of that today (see How Jesus Runs the Church for a good example). The folks at 9Marks have done a lot to expound a practical, theological doctrine of the church. But some of our biggest disagreements have to do with the church: multisite, worship, governance, the place for denomination, the place for parachurch organizations, the place for trans-denominational entities, the role of the church in society, the relationship between the church and the kingdom, the nature of the offices, the role for ordinary means, and the list goes on. Underneath it all is the question of whether the Bible even speaks to most of our church questions. Maybe our ecclessiology is thin because the Bible is very flexible. Or maybe we have more work to do.
2. Missiology. Recently, Tim Keller and Mike Horton have weighed in on how close we are to a consensus on the mission of the church (more specifically, the relationship between church and culture). Greg Gilbert and I have made our pitch for mission as disciple-making. Other disagree. There is still no consensus on how to think through word and deed, gospel proclamation and social transformation, the mission of the church and our individual callings. Whether we can reach a consensus or not, we must search the Scriptures for ourselves and think through our mission strategies, mission priorities, and missions budgets accordingly.
3. Sanctification. Worldliness is one of our “high places.” We are clear on how the gospel can pronounce us holy, less clear on how the gospel can make holy. Even less clear that the gospel requires us to be holy. We could stand to talk less about the particulars of sex and more about the process of sanctification. And how do we become holy? Is it by getting used to our justification? Or is it also by faith in future promises and by God-given effort? What is the relationship between law and gospel? Is there any grace in law? Can we insist on law out of love for grace? How do justification and sanctification relate to each other and how do they both relate to union with Christ?
To be sure, there are other issues that could use more attention: the continuation or cessation of certain spiritual gifts, the historicity of Adam and Eve, and the role of contextualization in an increasingly post-Christian world. I’m sure my list of three reflects my particular interests and discussions at the moment.
So what is the way forward? Is there a future for YRR? On the one hand, I don’t really care about the future of a label. But on the other hand, I do pray for the propagation of the good theology, expositional preaching, strong passion, and gospel partnerships that have characterized the best of the New Calvinism. I would hate to see these renewed emphases once again subside, whether because of boredom (“the glory of God is, like, so 2005”), a reverse bandwagon effect (“I like Calvinism until other people did”), or a general disease with anything that smacks of evangelicalism.
That’s why–and this will sound somewhat paradoxical–one of the most important steps forward for YRR is for each of us to go deeper into our own churches and traditions. No movement, let a lone a mood, can sustain lifelong mission, discipleship, and doctrinal commitment. The Baptists should learn to be good Baptists. The Presbyterians should not be ashamed to be Presbyterians. Those in a non-denominational context will have a harder time, but they too should learn to swim in the church’s historic stream of confessions, hymns, polity, and theology.
I’m not suggesting all our churches look more traditional (though some of that wouldn’t be all bad). I am suggesting, however, that it’s better to live in a specific ecclesiastical room instead of in the hallway of evangelicalism. This doesn’t mean for a moment we should avoid trans-denominational ventures like TGC and T4G. I continue to think a lot of good can come from the conferences, the resources, and the friendships that these groups foster. But we should read deeply into our tradition, not just broadly across the current spectrum of well-known authors. We need to learn to be good churchmen, investing time in the committees, assemblies, and machinery of the church. We need to publicly celebrate and defend important doctrinal distinctives (e.g., baptism, the millennium, liturgical norms) even as we love and respect those who disagree. We should delight in our own histories and confessions, while still rejoicing that our different vehicles are ultimately powered by the same engines of the Christian faith–justification, the authority of Scripture, substitutionary atonement, and the glory of our sovereign God.
Let’s dream big and labor small. The work God is doing to sharpen the theology, fire the passion, inspire the minds, and join the gospel hearts in this generation will be better and stronger as we go deeper down and bloom where we’re planted.