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.

Challenges Ahead

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.

What Now?

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.

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Comments:


67 thoughts on “Whither YRR?”

  1. Justin Stone says:

    Dr. James,

    If you want to call dogmatic uncompromising adherence to crystal clear biblical truths a heresy, then by all means, call dogmatic uncompromising complimentarianism a heresy, as well.

  2. Dear Brothere Justin: If you want to Lord it over your brothers in the name of unchecked complementarianism (a trojan horse by any other name is still a trojan horse), While a functional complementearianism is biblical, Peter is very clear about the issue of elders lording it over God’s heritage. Eldership that is not founded in humility, that lacks the grace of facing the possibility that it could be wrong, that refuses to be questioned or that will not countenance any sort of opposition, takes on that dimension which led to the mess in Rome. I remember a friend’s son who was put under discipline in a church for a weight issue (gluttony is a sin, you know). But they never recognized any questioning of their understanding of his weight issues (in this case a genetic one). They simply applied what they perceived teo be the Bible framework to his situation and well you can guess tehe rest. A simplistic approach to biblical issues and lifestyles can severely damage God’s people and harm the Gospel cause, especially when it lacks cognizance of the depth of scriptural teachings.

  3. J.R. says:

    Brothers, I am a complimentarian and am much agrieved by recent characterizations of the position and attempts to defend our position. Some of YRR’s simply want to call everyone who doesn’t agree with their particular application of complimentarianism a heretic. That is a wrong attitude and approach.

    Now, today, Desiring God posted an excellent video of John Piper and Darrin Patrick discussing this topic. I commend it everyone wholeheartedly:
    http://vimeo.com/33672102

  4. Jim at 1:18 p.m. pointed out the thing that jumped out at me. Brothers?

    I’m not YRR. I’m Reformed, middle aged, a happily married woman, mom, and would probably call myself an egalitarian (so I guess that makes me the heretical enemy even though I am your sister in Christ).

    It is interesting how many people here commented about interacting more effectively with the “other side”, the egals, etc. as though they were the enemy. Do you really view them that way? Your own brothers and sisters in Christ that you will spend eternity with? I sincerely get the impression that many YRR truly do not understand egals and their sincere love for Christ in the midst of their egalitarianism. Linking to an article about feminism and declaring that is what your sisters in Christ really want as egals is so far off the mark it isn’t even funny.

    I think many of the YRR have done a great job of turning people off to the Reformed tradition. I have lost track of how many times I’ve felt almost embarrassed to admit to being Reformed in the course of conversations online because people have been so turned off by the aggressive, obnoxious, and rude YRRs making their presence very known online. What is sad is they think ALL Reformed people are this way. Even if it is just a small segment of the YRR group doing this, it reflects on all of you. If you really want to advance the wonderful doctrines of grace, I suggest demonstrating a lot more grace to those who disagree with you.

    If you want to move forward as whatever new YRR labeled group you will be, I suggest you strive to truly understand your brothers and sisters in Christ who may hold to a different view on secondary matters rather than mischaracterizing their beliefs and motives. Honestly, I think as a group (not singling anyone out here) you have left a bad taste in the mouth of many that love and serve the same Christ you do.

    BTW Kevin – Your friend, Doug Phillips, was my pastor while I was in college and for a number of years after. His strong expository preaching of the Reformed doctrines had a tremendous impact on my spiritual life. :-)

  5. Ryan says:

    Is there any TGC treatment of cessationism/continuationism anywhere? Would love to see a fuller discussion of this issue at some point…especially given vanilla evangelicalism is currently Charismatic/Pentecostal

  6. jeff Baxter says:

    Thanks for your work Kevin. Keep up the good work holding the line of sound doctrine! Merry Christmas!

  7. I went over to Dr. Piper’s website and reviewed some of his materials on manhood and womanhood, and, behold, his discussion on his mother fitted rather nicely with what I have come to believe is the functional nature of complementarianism. Seems that mom stepped up to the plate every time dad was gone on a revival or conference and she coudl administer some very adult and masculine chastisements. When daddy came back, she gladly let him run the show. My son and daughter never forgot what a flyswatter my little wife could wield, when they laughed at her light chastisements. Sometimes a woman can turn into a tigress. Having been raised by a woman of the old Frontier days, I can tell you that they command respect…just as much as a man. Size, strength, mental wherewithal, class, color, and gender matter little, when it comes to the great struggles and services of life. Someone put it so well: It ain’t the size of the man; it is the size of the fight in the man. I have known some men who were small in size, but I would not have wanted to meet them in any kind of combat at any time for any reason. Kings use to think they could govern just simply because God set them up, but the very story of America proved that to be a lot of baloney. God’s ways for man are the ways of balance, checks and balances, if you please. Calvinistic theology and politics and economics, etc., all tend to checks and balances which allow for the utmost freedom under the circumstances of our man’s fallen nature and madness. Why did Bancroft and others call America, England, Scotland, the Netherlands, and Geneva “calvinistic republics.” And then there is that Presbyterian Witherspoon…who was the cause for the King of England or someone commenting about him cracking that his colonies had run off with a presbyterian parson. Functional complementarianism says the rule of another, including husbands and wives, elders and churches, must be that of checks and balances. You dare not trust any one with too much power..except the Lord Himself, and He delegates His power with checks and balances. The clarity of scripture is the problem. Read it and think you understand it, and you will find that its depth and subtlety is far greater than you could ever imagine. Get a good grasp of that balanced, flexible, creative, constant, and magnetic way of working, that is, its teachings set up a tension in us and enable us to become such, and people will leap at the opportunity to serve with one of such maturity, understanding, and compassion. Functional, folks, functional.

  8. David Salverda says:

    I worry a little bit about the movement focusing on a select few individuals and not life in the local (non-mega) Church. Interesting article below:

    http://www.challies.com/guest-bloggers/the-problem-with-pastor-as-rock-star

  9. Sallie, good luck getting self-evaluation from the YRR crowd. Justin Taylor tried that a couple months ago on his blog and the fecal matter thrown in the comment section outdid any primate house.

  10. Nathan says:

    Why do the first 4 paragraphs of the post sound just like the same pleas and ruminations from the Emergent crowd in the last 5-6 years when everyone was chastising them for, well, everything?

    Sounds like you’ve made a bed you don’t want to lie in, Mr. DeYoung.

    We have to be careful when we’re quick to apply a certain measure if we’re not certain we want it applied to ourselves. Jesus said something about that, I think. :D

    Happy New Year!

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Kevin DeYoung


Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (RCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. He and his wife Trisha have six young children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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