Things aren’t exactly as they were during those heady days when that first T4G conference took place. We were a happy bunch then, but we are a divided bunch now—roiled over some of the issues I outlined in my concerns, with brawls over social justice and complementarianism chief among them. Collin Hansen proved prescient in his breakout session at the 2018 T4G conference assessing YRR 10 years after his book. Sadly, T4G is no more after this year for a number of reasons, including the divisions that have occurred among Reformed brothers.
Augustine famously wrote in his classic testimony, Confessions, that the human heart is restless till it finds rest in God. Indeed, the best of us can suffer from restlessness at times.
Yet, there remains a restlessness for some within this movement that leaves me concerned. We’re not as young as we used to be, many of us are still Reformed, but too many remain restless in terms of how their theology and ethics land on the ground. In what follows, I will offer six reflections on those concerns.
(If you haven’t read my positive reflections in Part 1, now would be a good time to hear those before reading on.)
1. A Loss of the Complementarity of Law and Gospel.
The Westminster divines and the framers of the Second London Confession gave robust expression to Reformed Theology out of a clear-headed understanding of the complementarity between law and gospel. Yes, the law says “do” and the gospel says “done,” but you cannot understand the holiness of God, man’s need, and the fulsome glory of what Christ did at Calvary without the law.
As Robert Haldane said in his classic commentary on Romans, “Men perceive themselves to be sinners in proportion as they have previously discovered the holiness of God and his law.”
My generation struggled with legalism. In church we talked a lot about which movies were off-limits for believers, whether rock or country music was from God or the Devil, and whether it was a sin for women to wear shorts during summer.
I fear this generation risks over-correcting the previous generation’s error and is slouching toward antinomianism. There seems to be skepticism when it comes to proclaiming the imperatives of Scripture, with such preaching often dismissed as legalism or old-school fundamentalism.
Christian liberty seems to be more in vogue among younger Reformed evangelicals today. This has led to numerous ugly moral failures of several well-known leaders and a generation that is becoming intimately acquainted with the phrase “deconstructing my faith.” Legalism and antinomianism are equally deadly ditches; we need to recover the biblical equilibrium.
2. An Imbalanced Preference of the Mind over a Commitment to Godliness.
Mark Noll’s important 1995 book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind awakened evangelicals of the need to recover a Christian mind, which was one of the great entailments of the Protestant Reformation. I couldn’t agree more. However, I often hear people lauded for their brilliant mind but seem to hear less about their godliness or humility.
Without question, Reformed Theology is a sublime and deeply satisfying exercise of the mind. But we need to recover the balance of our Puritan forefathers such as Jonathan Edwards and John Owen who were among the most luminous intellectual lights in church history and men of profound humility and holiness. Sound doctrine should lead to sound living.
3. A Tendency to Bracket Off Same-Sex Attraction into a Special, Protected Species of Sin.
I have been deeply concerned by the number of writers, pastors, and teachers over the past few years who have openly and rather matter-of-factly identified as same-sex attracted (SSA). Some who struggle with SSA have written on it helpfully and hopefully, but a few seem fixated on SSA and at least insinuate that it is part of their fundamental identity. The Revoice conference comes particularly to mind here.
Same-sex attraction is a bonafide struggle for some and the church should compassionately and patiently apply the healing balm of the gospel to that struggle. But we should never make a particular sin a part of our identity and wallow in it as if to signal to our LGBTQ+-sympathizing neighbors, “See, we’re not such narrow-minded bigots after all.” I fear flirtation may lead to celebration. It is one of the few sins today that receives such kid gloves treatment with an almost protected status. But as John Owen famously said, we must be killing sin, or it will kill us—no matter what form that sin takes, no matter how culturally relevant that sin struggle is.
The term “gay Christian” is dangerous and grossly unbiblical. Can you imagine adopting the descriptor “adulterer Christian” or “homicidally angry Christian” or “covetous Christian”? And even in the church we are attacking the binaries of male and female when God has filled creation with binaries.