Old, Restless, and Reformed (Part 2)
In Part 1, we briefly considered the rise and ramifications of the Young, Restless, and Reformed movement. Today, we consider the results.
What comes to mind when you think about your mom's hairstyle from a couple decades ago? What about your dad's clothing? Your grandparents’ interior decorations? Words like outdated, goofy, and hilarious may come to mind. But if you were to ask them, they'd probably tell you how great the style was at the time.
Now consider this: your kids will feel the exact same way about your current lifestyle. The aspects of your life that are deemed hip and relevant now will likely be the subject of kindhearted mockery by your children in coming years. Of course, if we're referring to fashion, that's not a big deal (in fact, some of our current fashion already deserves mockery!). But if we’re talking about the widespread return to sound doctrine, via the Reformed resurgence, that would be disastrous.
So then, also consider this: the more you tether your theology to current trends, or the "cooler" you try to make Calvinistic Christianity appear, the greater danger you face portraying timeless truths as temporary trends, in the eyes of your kids.
In other words:
Your kids will not embrace John Owen just because he's supposedly your "homeboy."
Your kids will not love theological study just because you read The Institutes with a Budweiser in hand.
Your kids will not rejoice in sovereign grace just because you have an impressive Cuban cigar collection.
Your kids will not value the doctrine of Limited Atonement just because you have John 10:15 tattooed on your bicep.
Your kids will not engage in presuppositional apologetics just because you show them a "Reformed Thug Life" video.
Your kids will not pursue a working knowledge of Koine Greek just because you sport a "δουλος Χριστου” t-shirt.
Your kids will not appreciate historic creeds and confessions just because you have “1689” on your car’s license plate.
Your kids will not get excited about the 5 Solas just because you dress their younger sibling in a Martin Luther onesie.
For the sake of clarity, it's worth repeating: none of the aformenentioned trends are inherently sinful. In fact, in and of themselves, most of them are rather mundane. But if you’re tying sound doctrine to current trends in an attempt to make Christianity attractive, you’re operating on a wrong understanding of how good theology makes a long-lasting impact on the hearts and minds of others. You’re also overestimating what your kids will think is “cool” in a decade or two. To that end, “Coolvinism” (the nickname given to “Cool Calvinism” by its critics) presents two primary dangers for your children—one related to lifestyles, and the other related to liberties.
As already described, one of the great dangers in commercializing Calvinism is that it borders on the exact same pitfalls as the seeker-sensitive movement: drawing men and women (and children) to the Bible based on something other than the Bible. It’s been well said that “what you win them with, is what you win them to.” For that reason, it’s no wonder why so many megachurches have to continue pushing the envelope when it comes to the production value of their worship service, the number of in-house amenities provided, and the variety of “extracurricular” activities they offer. When you intentionally draw people to your church based on something other than Scripture, you’re going to have to keep upping your game to keep them there. Or, as my friend Pastor Mike Abendroth often says, “When the Bible’s not enough, nothing’s enough.” Ultimately, the seeker-sensitive model tries to win the hearts of people by portraying Christianity as an attractive addition to their lives. But once the fun hits a wall, so does the attendance.
Modern-day Calvinism can quickly fall into this same pitfall, especially for us Young, Restless, Reformed types—and our kids. If your son’s heart is unconverted, nothing about your lifestyle will change that. They may enjoy Reformed swag like coffee cups, t-shirts, and Bible covers for the time being, but that’s not the same as finding enjoyment in Christ. Just like with the seeker-sensitive church attender, you’ll likely find yourself constantly trying to conjure up Reformed excitement in order to keep your child’s attention. But once the thrill dies off, plan on their interest following suit.
Don't get me wrong—I enjoy wearing t-shirts that depict biblical truth. But I'm under no illusion that any t-shirt will heavily influence any of my children (all of whom were born as sin-loving, totally depraved rebels) toward saving faith in Christ. I get a good laugh out of the various Calvinistic theology memes that are created daily on social media. But I don’t assume for a second that my nerdy sense of humor will find a home within my daughter’s understanding of the Christian faith. In other words, I don’t believe for a minute that my lifestyle is the power of God unto salvation for these youngsters. The Gospel is that power (cf. Rom. 1:16).
Beyond the lifestyle of the YRR movement, the other major pitfall—perhaps even more sinister—is that of flaunting Christian liberty. The Apostle Paul made it clear in 1 Corinthians that our liberties do have their limits. Speaking of eating food sacrificed to idols, Paul said, “But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Cor. 8:9). In the first century, those with an overactive conscience didn’t understand how Christians could eat meat that had been previously used in a pagan worship service. Thus, Paul wanted to make sure that those who knew they had the freedom to eat anything also tempered that freedom with love for their fellow believers who didn’t quite grasp this newfound liberty (cf. 1 Cor. 8:4). If the stronger brothers were to ignore the tender consciences of their weaker brothers, perhaps saying something like “Oh, get over it!” it would be nothing short of sin. In fact, Paul went on to say, “And so, by sinning against the brethren and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food causes my brother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause my brother to stumble.”
The application here is that even though your children may not be “brothers” in the immediate sense that Paul used (until they come to faith in Christ), they nonetheless have consciences that are more tender and need to be be guarded accordingly. If your use of Christian liberty, as a YRR zealot, wounds your child’s conscience (especially if they become confused between liberty and worldliness), it’s sin. Children are naturally prone to being influenced—whether for good or bad (cf. Eph. 4:14)—and it’s our job to steward them, as gifts from God, appropriately.
Therefore, be warned: if you pair Calvinism with beer and present it to your kids as a package deal, don't be surprised if they take the beer and ditch the Calvinism. If the Reformed rapper you like bumping to at home begins partnering with secular artists, don’t be surprised if your kids’ musical tastes make the same drift at some later point in time. The more Calvinism is associated with flaunting liberties, the greater danger there is in causing our little ones at home to stumble. Your children look to you for spiritual guidance, so if you portray being a Calvinist as one who acts like the world while musing about double predestination, they’ll pick up on it. And it’s a foregone conclusion that their flesh prefers the world more than sound doctrine.
The Truly Reformed Solution
So how do we avoid these dangers? How do we teach our kids the biblical truths recovered by the Reformation, and in a way that is spiritually edifying? The first thing we must do is limit our own liberties for their sake. In other words, we simply need to mature in this area.
As John MacArthur said,
If I could impress on Young, Restless, Reformed students just one word of friendly counsel to address what I think is the most glaring deficiency in that movement, this is what it would be: ‘Brothers, do not be children in your thinking. Be infants in evil, but in your thinking be mature’ (1 Corinthians 14:20).
We’ve already grown older; now it’s time to grow up.
Secondly, rather than trying to shoehorn our children into a love for good theology using gimmicks, trinkets, entertainment, and hobbies, we need to do the hard work of Bible exposition. Ultimately, we need to do the work of the Reformation—teaching the full counsel of God, verse by verse—just like Luther, Calvin, Knox, Zwingli, and other great men of the past did. I’ve often said, “Everyone wants to be a Calvinist, but no one wants to preach like one.” The Reformers did not change hearts and minds by appealing to the common man's fashion sense or beverage preferences; they simply taught the Bible. If you try to raise a family of Calvinists using seeker-sensitive techniques clothed in trendy Reformed garb, your kids are liable to look back on their spiritual upbringing and laugh at how antiquated it all appears. But if you look to raise a family of Calvinists through verse by verse exposition of God’s Word, your kids are liable to look back on their childhood and praise the sovereign, electing, predestining God of the Bible.
Let’s get to work.