“Young, Restless, and Reformed” today
Back in September of 2006, the year I started seminary, Collin Hansen wrote a feature article for Christianity Today entitled “Young, Restless, and Reformed.” That phrase became the watchword for a movement of young people who were taking a greater interest in Reformed theology, many of whom were from the Baptist persuasion. In 2009, even Time magazine noticed and spoke of “The New Calvinism” as one of the most influential movements in the United States at the time. The heroes of the movement include John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, R.C. Sproul, Tim Keller, D. A. Carson, and others. The movement was powered by organizations such as Desiring God, Ligonier Ministries, 9Marks, the Gospel Coalition, and others. It involved huge conferences with dynamic speakers such as T4G (Together for the Gospel).
In a November 2022 online article, Jeff Robinson, the director of news and information at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastor of Christ Fellowship Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, reflected on his two decades among the Young, Restless, Reformed (YRR) movement.1 Positively, he lauded the movement for revitalizing the preaching of the Word that had fallen on hard times by the end of the twentieth century. He praised the movement’s commitment to expositional preaching that sees Christ in all of Scripture. He celebrated the movement’s revival of interest in Reformed theology, evidenced for example by the highly anticipated translation and republication of Herman Bavinck’s four-volume Reformed Dogmatics from 2003 to 2008. I was among the many who purchased and began reading those worthy volumes when they first came out in English. Finally, he mentioned as a positive thing the commitment of the movement to communicate the doctrines of grace graciously and joyfully.
But in part two of his article, Robinson remarked that today “there remains a restlessness for some within this movement that leaves me concerned.”2 He listed six concerns, which I summarize in my own words. First, he sees a swing from a legalistic tendency in the church in his younger years to an over-correcting antinomian tendency today that abuses Christian liberty and has “led to numerous ugly moral failures of several well-known leaders.” Second, he notices a preference for intellectual prowess in theology over godliness and humility and reminds us that “sound doctrine should lead to sound living.” Third, he bemoans a tendency among many to try to appease the LGBTQ-affirming masses by wrongly viewing same-sex attraction as some kind of protected sin that forms part of the identity of certain people. Fourth, he criticizes the tendency of many to emphasize cultural transformation on the issues of race and social justice to the detriment of the church’s primary mission to preach the gospel. Fifth, he observes a weakening of complementarianism in favor of allowing women pastors in the church contrary to Scripture. Sixth, while he appreciates many of the parachurch organizations and conferences of the movement, he believes the emphasis on these has hurt the local church since people seem to “want the church to resemble a conference each Lord’s Day” but it’s “difficult for an ordinary church or an ordinary pastor to match that kind of firepower week in and week out.”
Having myself grown up in a conservative Reformed denomination (PRC), like many of you, I am not really a participant but more an observer of this YRR movement. As an outsider looking in, I found Jeff Robinson’s insider critique helpful for understanding some of the good and bad aspects of the movement, which he thinks is now in decline.3 But I would also echo the critique of the late Rev. G. VanBaren in his response to Collin Hansen’s article in the fall of 2006 when the movement was just picking up steam.4 He wrote back then that “one can be encouraged in hearing of those who are not satisfied with ‘seeker services’ or ‘contemporary worship services,’ but desire rather instruction in sound doctrine….” But he also criticized the movement for downplaying differences on “historically difficult issues” like baptism, church government, eschatology, and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Having forged interdenominational ministries and conferences by downplaying those differences on “historically difficult issues,” they now drift apart because of differences on contemporary issues.
I too have been encouraged by the positive aspects of the “Young, Restless, Reformed” movement. On the other hand, seeing it rise and fall so quickly causes me to thank God for His faithfulness over many centuries to preserve the unity of doctrine that is the Reformed tradition and to preserve Reformed churches that hold fast to that doctrine as summarized in the Three Forms of Unity, including the church of which I am a member.
I cannot help but wonder, as this movement that brought Reformed theology into the foreground starts to fade, whether God might still use it to open “a door of utterance” for us as Protestant Reformed Churches to “speak the mystery of Christ” (Col. 4:3) outside our churches in North America. We have been given a goodly heritage of the truths of Scripture and a commitment to teach Reformed doctrine. May God grant us a door of utterance to proclaim the gospel of sovereign grace with joy near and far.
A highlight of the PCA’s 49th General Assembly
The 49th General Assembly (GA) of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) met last summer. Reportedly, the enrollment was the largest ever, and one observer stated his opinion regarding the reason: “People in the pew are angry with the direction of the PCA.” The direction of the PCA has been troubling on a number of fronts, including the promotion of allowing ordination of homosexuals. But last summer, the GA considered “Overture 15” from the Westminster Presbytery to amend the denominational “Book of Church Order” (BCO) by adding the following paragraph: “Men who describe themselves as homosexual, even those who describe themselves as homosexual and claim to practice celibacy by refraining from homosexual conduct, are disqualified from holding office in the Presbyterian Church in America.”5
Dr. O. Palmer Robertson addressed the assembly in favor of Overture 15. Dr. Robertson is a Presbyterian pastor and theologian, born in 1937, who was active in the establishment of the PCA in the 1970s. He spoke at its first General Assembly in 1973. He was teaching at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in 1975 when colleague Dr. Norman Shepherd began injecting the heresy of justification by faith and works into the churches. He wrote the book The Current Justification Controversy to promote peace in the churches and the purity of the gospel of justification by faith alone. Most recently, he served for twenty-five years as a missionary in Uganda. According to a retired PCA minister,
The highlight of the [49th] Assembly was the appearance of Dr. O. Palmer Robertson who has been absent it seems for decades…he was like a man resurrected from the past who spoke a different language than what is heard today in seminaries and progressive churches. He spoke with intellectual passion and read Romans 1:26-28. He pointed to the word “perversion” and how words like “sodomy” and “sodomite” were not used any more. I believe his speech tipped the Assembly to approve Overture 15.6
The overture declaring homosexuals disqualified from holding office in the PCA was approved, but only by a narrow margin. However, it apparently still needs to be approved by 2/3 of the presbyteries of the denomination to be put into effect, but men close to the PCA do not expect that to happen.
The churches of Jesus Christ on earth today are in the midst of a titanic struggle to hold the line against the onslaught of the sexual revolution. May God strengthen us to hold that line. May God grant that, like the esteemed Christian gentleman who addressed the PCA general assembly last summer, we would speak a different language than what is heard in so many seminaries and progressive churches today and would be willing to call this sin what God calls it in His Word, and to call men urgently to the faith in Jesus Christ whereby alone we sinners can be righteous before God.
1 https://christoverall.com/article/concise/my-two-decadesamong- the-young-restless-reformed.
2 https://christoverall.com/article/concise/my-two-decadesamong- the-young-restless-reformed-part-2.
3 He cites as one evidence of the movement’s decline the fact that after 2022 the T4G (Together for the Gospel) conference that began in April of 2006 “is no more…for a number of reasons, including the divisions that have occurred among Reformed brothers.”
4 See “Young, Restless, Reformed” in the “All Around Us” section of the November 1, 2006 issue of the Standard Bearer.
6 h t t p s : / / t h e a q u i l a r e p o r t . com / some – e a r l y – r e a c – tions-to-the-49th-pca-general-assembly/?swcfpc=1. Dr. Robertson’s speech can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/ watch?v=HB1KqTYa9cE.