New Calvinism, also known as the Young, Restless, and Reformed Movement, is a movement within conservative Evangelicalism that embraces the fundamentals of 16th century Calvinism while seeking to engage these historical doctrines with present day culture.
This is a definition from searching google with the term “New Calvinism.”
A young person’s church culture today can be extremely varied. You can walk into a church with dim lights, disco stage, multi instrumentalists playing electronic dance music, stage plays, preachers talking about “how to get better business success” and “how to have better sex,” and find a slick website that describes a multitude of happy games nights and food gatherings at homes. Or… you could walk into a cafe setting, through a glass door into a well lit room with multiple band members singing hymns with a new style, a preacher talking about Philippians in an 8 week series, young families bopping to the music with reverence and a happy demeanor and small groups that pray, eat and take communion together week after week. What’s the difference? One word: Calvinism. There has been a backlash against the big haired, 1980’s Pentecostal televangelist style of charismatic religion that flooded every Pentecostal church with the name “river” in their name. Young people have become savvy to this kind of flagrant heresy. They want more. They want solid Christianity. They want God proclaimed truthfully, and real authentic community with solid teaching and well lead churches that are gospel-centred with a high level of deep teaching. This lead to a movement called the “Young, Restless ad Reformed” movement that has taken off since around 2005. There’s a few ways we could analyse this, but one of the first things I wanted to say about this movement is that, at it’s heart, it’s a good thing! God does want us soaking up good teaching, reaching our community in meaningful ways in our own context, and for us to exalt Him in genuine worship no matter the style or volume within reason. But there’s light and dark sides to all movements. I first heard of Mark Driscoll when in Naracoorte living under Pentecostal teaching and loved the sudden urgency of his messages. They were powerful. One message of his involved him yelling at young men in his congregation in regards to their mishandling of sexuality and treating women wrongly as professing Christians. This refreshing reality was great to me. Someone in a stable marriage with casual clothes exposing falsehood among Christianity with doctrinally sound sermons that really did point people to Jesus. But there was a seedy underbelly. Among all of the gospel centred messages, bold missions, great sounding worship and incredible historically accurate sermons, Mark Driscoll lead an angry style of pastoring. He had a hot temper, and let it fly on numerous occasions from the pulpit and from the closed doors in meetings. He plagiarised entire passages from books to transfer them into his own books such as “Who Do You Think You Are?” about our identity in Christ. Dangerous sexual practices were freely given permission in his book on marriage that only recently came out worldwide.
Young people everywhere started to shift from being flimsy, swaying reeds to strong cedar trees planted by living water during Mark Driscoll’s grip when he was at his height of popularity. He held a sort of authoritarian, manly, godly style of harsh yet loving style of preaching and teaching to his Mars Hill church. He managed to convince a spiritually dying world that they can be saved through Christ in a rough Seattle environment in the USA. This ministry grew out of a controversy, though, of course language, sexually charged sermons and rough and ready leadership where he happily claimed he would throw people under the bus if they didn’t get on board with his vision for the church.
Here is a quote from Mark during a sermon about the vision for his church:
“Too many guys waste too much time trying to move stiff-necked, stubborn, obstinate people. (pause) I am all about blessed subtraction. There is a pile of dead bodies behind the Mars Hill bus (laughs) and by God’s grace it’ll be a mountain by the time we’re done.
You either get on the bus or you get run over by the bus. Those are the options; but the bus ain’t gonna stop. And I’m just a—I’m just a guy who is like, “Look, we love ya, but, this is what we’re doing.” There’s a few kinda people. There’s people who get in the way of the bus.
They gotta get run over. There are people who wanna take turns driving the bus. They gotta get thrown off (laughs). ‘Cuz they wanna go somewhere else. There are people who will be on the bus, leaders and helpers and servants, they’re awesome.” (Silva, K “Mark Driscoll’s Dead Bodies and Chris Rosebrough with another one’s off the bus,” Viewed December 17, 2015 http://apprising.org/2012/07/03/mark-driscolls-dead-bodies-and-chris-rosebrough-with-another-ones-off-the-bus/).
This preacher, who had a stoic, strong and commanding presence, gained popularity with solid doctrine, manly messages about how to treat women and stay strong in the faith, exposed error, named false teachers and even had a great slick doctrinally solid worship team. This facade wasn’t enough to hold up the failure to lead well behind closed doors and on the telephone. New Calvinism, with all of it’s great teachings, doctrinal footholds and great tenants, fell flat under the weight of anger, hidden shouting matches and angry letters to board members to disappear if they try to make a case against Mark’s leadership style. Nevertheless, this empire crumbled when the allogations of plagiarism were found to be true, and his domineering style caught up with him and his entire church network, including the TV beamed ones… were gone.
However there remains hope. Despite this monumental example of how not to run a church or treat your staff (an example we know all too well) the premise behind returning to solid doctrine, gospel-centred preaching and ditching flamboyant, extravagant and soulish antics every Sunday is a completely positive one. New churches are popping up everywhere with the soul purpose in mind to glorify Jesus and serve the community with missional activities that really enrich lives and they still keep the gospel of Jesus Christ at the forefront of everything they do. They guard the Bible as sufficient for life and godliness, and hold to the 5 solas of the reformation. All strong points. It is when these are jettisoned, usually, that things fall into disarray and celebrity preaching can easily creep in. This young, fresh, new, fruitful movement is positive for Christianity because it is attempting to regain ground based upon old truths that are timeless – the sufficiency of scripture, the deity of Jesus, good soteriology and a strong sense of community among the attendees of all ages. The foundations are good, the ecclesiology is good, and the whole thing is a great turn for Christianity as a whole. Young people actually had to, at some point, get desperate enough and search through church history enough to find that church practices have gone so far from orthodox Christianity that they’ve become a completely different animal to Biblical gatherings of believers. This is what pushed the New Calvinism and Young, Restless, Reformed thing. And that’s a positive first step. Where the movement goes from here is entirely fluid, but the foundations have been laid through deep scripture searching and a return to orthodox doctrine that it’s too late to now go back to Charismatic mania and holy rolling and gimmicky church. Young people who are thinking want a real, authentic and unrefined Christ with gospel-centred theology that is biblically sound and echoes what the apostles have said, and it’s what they’re getting through New Calvinism to a degree.