Old, Restless, and Reformed (Part 1)
The widespread recovery of Reformed theology over the past two decades has left us with much for which to be thankful. God has blessed us beyond measure with godly men to bring about much-needed correction. John MacArthur has tilled the soil of our hearts with verse-by-verse expository preaching. Paul Washer has blasted away the seeker-sensitive methodology that fostered our doctrinal ignorance. Before going home to be with the Lord, R.C. Sproul peeled back the tentacles of Arminianism that had a choke-hold on our spiritual growth. Millennials, including myself, are spiritual trust-fund babies of the highest order. And yet, like any other recipient of such an enormous blessing, we are at risk of squandering it in our immaturity.
Although we were (and are) right to reject the theological errors of past generations, the danger we face is to inadvertently throw out the pursuit of holiness of past generations. Many of us have recovered orthodoxy at the expense of orthopraxy. And perhaps one of the greatest areas of danger is the issue of Christian liberty. After all, it's not by accident that this resurgence of sound doctrine has been labeled "Young, Restless, and Reformed." Whether the issue is beer, tattoos, or cigars, it’s far too common to see the younger generation of Calvinists rejecting everything about their parents' Christian life—including their sensibilities.
Sure, your dad may not have understood the doctrine of election properly, but he did know that there is little good accomplished by being out after midnight. It's true, your mom may believe in human free will, but at least she can identity the problems with Charismatic theology. No doubt, your grandparents may dig in their heels and cling to universal atonement, but at least they knew how easily alcohol can wreck a family. At the outset, let me be the first to say that Charismatic Arminianism is a crippler of Christianity. As a TULIP-sniffing, Sola-Scriptura-clutching Calvinist, I stand firmly opposed to that awful theology. But I’ll also say that Charismaticism and Arminianism—ridiculous as they are—are not the only things that can cripple our Christian walk.
Christian Liberty and Christian Commercialization
Don't misunderstand—biblical wisdom can sometimes veer into legalism: writing off movies, card games, and dancing as being inherently sinful is a common ditch of the past. We are actually commanded by Scripture to stand fast in our freedom in Christ (cf. Gal. 5:1). But the solution to legalism is the Gospel, not licentiousness. Nor is the solution to legalism flaunting liberties and commercializing Christianity.
Furthermore, it’s undoubtedly true that the issue of Christian liberty can be overblown at times. After all, even though the fundamentalist in me insists on warning of the dangers of some of the aforementioned liberties, there is nothing inherently wrong in them. It's not a sin to drink alcohol (drunkenness aside). It's not a sin to smoke an overpriced cigar (your monthly budget withstanding). It's not a sin to get a “Romans 1:16” tattoo on your arm (knowing that it may warp into “Romans 1:10” or some other unintended passage four decades from now).
But, put down the craft beer for a moment to consider this: it is a sin to cause your weaker brother to stumble (cf. 1 Cor. 8:9), and it is a sin to flaunt your liberties in an attempt to win the unsaved to Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:4-5). Thus, whether the audience is believers or unbelievers, there is a danger that comes with exalting freedom.
Speaking to this same issue several years ago, John MacArthur wisely wrote the following:
One might think any movement that formally affirms Reformation doctrine would be at the vanguard of opposition to the jejune faddishness that has plagued evangelicalism for the past few decades. But that has not always been the case with today's Young and Restless Reformers. As the YRR movement has taken shape, some of the best-selling books and leading figures in the movement have been completely uncritical (and in some cases openly supportive) of seeker-sensitive-style pragmatism.
Worse, the fads and gimmicks some prominent YRRs seem to want to be known for are much more sinister than the shallow diversions that seeker-friendly churches were playing around with twenty years ago. Judging from certain church websites and pastoral blogs, a sizeable core of young men in the YRR movement are perfectly happy to give the world the impression that cage fighting, beer-drinking, cigar-smoking, hard-partying, and other forms of bad-boy-behavior are the distinguishing marks of their religion. Meanwhile, many others who identify with the movement evidently think any talk of holiness—not to mention any concern for taste or propriety—is tantamount to the rankest sort of legalism.
Such an opinion reflects a carnal immaturity that must not be encouraged.
In addition to the area of Christian liberty, the second danger faced in the wake of New Calvinism is the fact that so much of the movement is tied to cultural fads. As MacArthur rightly identified, the YRR movement is characteristically known for being in step with the latest trends. In many ways, this is simply a subset, or outworking, of the Christian liberty issue that is heralded by the movement. Again, likely in response to a form of quasi-legalism held to by their parents, a generation of men and women who’ve learned the truth about their freedom in Christ likewise now realize that the Christian life wasn’t meant to be as stoic as they were led to believe. There’s room for silliness, fun, and frivolity. And because of this dual-awakening (that of Calvinism and Christian freedom), an entire industry has been developed to market theologically driven merchandise to this new customer base.
Mugs, t-shirts, and jewelry plastered with John Calvin’s profile are aplenty. There are Reformed hoodies, Reformed hats, and Reformed journals. In fact, there’s even a coffee line called “Reformed Roasters” with a clever tagline that reads “Coffee That Chooses You.” Again, I want to be clear that I enjoy a good cup of coffee, so if I can support a fellow Christian while getting my morning fix, I’m more than happy to do so. In no way am I opposed to the general idea of promoting sound doctrine in these ways. But the Apostle Paul made it clear that the Gospel is foolishness to the world (cf. 1 Cor. 1:18). And while I certainly don’t believe any of these things constitute “peddling the word of God” (2 Cor. 2:17), I do believe there is a danger in tying timeless truths to contemporary commodities, especially when those particular commodities are seen as “hip” and “cool.”
So, then, what's the actual problem today? The problem is the fact that the Young, Restless, and Reformed crowd isn't all that young anymore. We're still restless, and we're still Reformed(ish?), but we need to come to terms with the fact that time has been marching on. John Piper's book "Don't Waste Your Life" is a teenager now, closing in on 16 years since its first publication. Paul Washer’s “Shocking Youth Message” has been around longer than Twitter (2002 vs. 2006, respectively). The Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference has been around since George W. Bush was President of the United States.
Let's face it: we're no longer kids. On the contrary, we have them. That's where the danger is, and that's where we'll pick up next time.