A couple of weeks ago I had the privilege of joining with over 12,000 other people at the T4G conference in Louisville Kentucky.
It was a seminal moment.
Whether it will be remembered as the high water mark of the Young, Restless and Reformed Resurgence or not, only time will tell. Two things, however, are absolutely certain: the young Calvinists are riding high and the greater the heights, the greater the fall that follows.
To be clear, I am praying against that.
For better or worse this is my tribe. I love their commitment to the authority of Scripture. I worship the same Big God that they do. I see the same lostness of man, the same Sovereignty of grace, the same call to the nations and the same glory in the Gospel of Christ.
These are my people and I am desperate to see them thrive.
I am not ignorant of the challenges that they face.
The devil would love to bring this movement into ill repute. He would love to see it fall and the beliefs they cherish thrown down into the dust. And he has raised up many adversaries. Some from within and some from without.
From my vantage point – a fair ways from the centre – here are a just a few of the threats that must be faced.
The YRR movement has attempted to be centre bound. It has tended to gather around agreed upon doctrines – such as the doctrine of Scripture, the doctrines of grace and the traditional teaching on human gender and sexuality. On these positions they continue to enjoy widespread unity and agreement.
But the devil is in the details.
Fault lines have begun to emerge – and not in the place where many people predicted. Many people predicted that the movement would fracture along ecclesiological lines but thus far, those differences appear to have been treated as adiaphora.
The factions that are emerging have nothing to do with the volume of water used in baptism or the precise form of congregational government. Instead they revolve around the on-going work of the Spirit and issues of race and politics.
Given that the issues are complex and overlapping several large clusters of people have simply gathered around a recognizable pole.
I follow John Piper.
I follow John MacArthur.
I follow R.C. Sproul.
But is Christ divided? Was Piper crucified for you? Were you baptized in the name of R.C. Sproul? When we say these things are we not behaving merely in a human way?
I fear that this natural and sinful tendency to align with a human leader rather than to think for ourselves will lead many of us into trouble. I love John Piper – but he is not the Pope. I respect John MacArthur – but he is not inerrant. I am in awe of the late R.C. Sproul – but faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ.
Let’s put the party spirit to death once and for all. Let’s seek and pursue the Christ of Scripture and keep human teachers in their proper place.
For who is John Piper at the end of the day? Who is John MacArthur? Who is R.C. Sproul? Merely servants through whom you believed.
We ought not to be surprised that a movement referred to as the YOUNG, Restless and Reformed movement contains a great many young people. I would assume that it contains a great many restless and reformed people as well. However, it is the “young” piece that is particularly concerning.
This past year at T4G there was a gathering of Canadian pastors and leaders scheduled for one of the breakout sessions. Over 600 people attended. In T4G fashion we did a book giveaway and we asked people to stand and sit in response to certain stated criteria. In the course of this tribal ritual I was shocked to discover that in a room of 600 pastors and leaders I had been in ministry for the second longest period of time.
I’ve been in ministry since September of 1994.
That means that roughly 598 people in that room had been in ministry for less than 24 years.
That’s incredible. That’s encouraging. And that’s terrifying.
To be clear I think it’s a great thing that so many young men are going into ministry and holding on to traditional Protestant Christian beliefs about Scripture, the atonement, God’s Sovereignty and the nature of gender and human sexuality – I am thrilled to see that.
Where are all the men in their 50’s and 60’s?
Who will mentor this massive herd of enthusiastic, energetic, courageous, untested, unsettled young men?
It will take more than a few famous people on a stage – it will take regular Christian men – regular, faithful, local pastors to mentor and steer and at times moderate these younger Christians.
Where are those people?
I’ve been looking for them my whole life. Many of them were lost to the pragmatism of the 80’s and 90’s. They became experts in things that never mattered and now they have very little to share with these theologically minded youngsters, and they know it. Many of them became experts in church politics and they are wise enough not to side with the Young Turks so late in their careers. In the renewal movement that I co-lead in my denomination I have had a number of men in their 60’s and 70’s put an arm around my shoulder and whisper into my ear: “I am with you – 100% but I am not in a position to rock the boat. I will be cheering for you and praying for you from a distance.”
I never found that particularly helpful and I’m sure that we will need to offer something more than that to this mass of pastors if we are to avoid scandal and disaster.
The YRR movement has been fueled by some very admirable concerns: the desire to trust in Scripture, the desire to worship God as he is and not as culture dictates, the desire to reach the nations with the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ – these are noble and appropriate motivations. But mixed in with these there were no doubt some motivations of lesser quality.
There was a desire, for example, to be different than the generation that went before.
The Baby Boomers were indifferent to doctrine – by and large – and in bed with the Republican Party – metaphorically speaking. The YRR crowd wanted to make it clear that they were different. For the first 10 years or so of the movement this meant largely avoiding the political implications of the Gospel.
At T4G 18 that all began to change.
Politics was back on the table.
To a certain extent this was inevitable – the Gospel has social and political consequences. But the YRR movement does not appear prepared to facilitate that conversation. The movement appears poised to fracture under the pressure posed by long neglected issues and implications.
If Jesus taught his disciples to turn the other cheek, what need has a Christian to own a handgun?
If the Gospel has broken down the wall of hostility and made of us one new people – then why are we still talking about black and white?
If the mission of the church is to take the Gospel to the nations, then why are so many Christians opposed to immigration?
I’m not telling you what the answers are I’m just telling you what the questions are. Questions are being asked that for over a decade were not being asked and the weight of those questions threatens to derail the movement.
Wise, thoughtful voices are required.
Social media is not the cause of our problems it is simply the screen upon which they are displayed.
So it was at T4G18.
The social media app for T4G18 was an unmitigated disaster. It became a platform for mockery and a forum for personal vitriol. Some of the comments were so bad that they were even reproduced and discussed by Christianity Today.
The Young Restless and Reformed crowd needs to think through its social media strategy. There needs to be some thought given as to whether immediate sharing and total disclosure are values and practices that ought to be maintained.
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent. (Proverbs 17:28 ESV
The Reformed crowd is at it’s best when it is reading and discussing old, multi-volume books that have until very recently been out of print. It is at it’s worst when it is Tweeting and posting moment by moment.
Just as handguns make sinful impulses potentially more impactful (see threat #3) so also social media. People who believe in the total depravity of men and women ought to be more cautious in their adoption and use of these technologies. Encouraging young, restless and reformed people towards unconsidered expression and interaction strikes me as a recipe for disaster. Wisdom requires reflection, editing and prayer. The lack of these things threatens to discredit the YRR resurgence.
Whether this revival becomes another reformation has yet to be determined. Whether the YRR crowd is more Marburg or Munster remains to be seen. I’m praying for the former and I invite you to do the same.
N.B. To listen to Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here; to listen on SoundCloud see here. You can also find it on iTunes.