Jeff Robinson

My Two Decades Among the Young, Restless, Reformed – Part 2

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.”[1]
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.
Read More
Related Posts:

My Two Decades Among the Young, Restless, Reformed – Part 1

One of the great strengths I’ve observed in many modern Reformed ministries, particularly in John Piper with his emphasis on joy and satisfaction in Christ and in R. C. Sproul’s with his exuberant teaching ministry, is what I like to call compassionate Calvinism. Many of my professors, pastor friends, and many of my living ministry heroes are joyful Calvinists, and their preaching, teaching, and writing reflect reverence, joy, and grace.

I’ll never forget attending the first Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference in 2006 in Louisville.
Thousands of voices joined together to sing old hymns with profound energy and zeal, only to sit at rapt attention for hours as well-known Reformed teachers expounded the Word of God. We attended pre-conference events, and in one of those, I learned what a blog was and pondered whether I should start one (I didn’t, but hundreds of others did).
Here’s what I remember most about those late April days sixteen years ago: It was a happy gathering. I was happy. My friends were happy. We were hearing the Word of God preached by our theological heroes and it was all deeply edifying, convicting, rejuvenating—I could add any positive “ing” adjective to the list.
I also remember reflecting backward a decade, in the mid-90s, to the time when I first embraced Reformed theology. There seemed to be so few of us who held to Reformed doctrine in the mid-90s, and we probably seemed idiosyncratic, maybe even weird to some of our fellow evangelicals.
But here sat thousands to hear hours and hours of preaching that flowed out of the doctrines of grace. God’s work in drawing hearts to these glorious doctrines amazed me. It felt like revival that only God could bring.
Young, Restless, Reformed: Its Rise and Fall
That happened during the early years of the burgeoning Reformed movement, what I like to call the age of the mega conference, the coming of age of what Carl Trueman calls “Big Eva”: T4G, Ligonier, the Shepherd’s Conference, Desiring God, The Gospel Coalition, and seemingly dozens of smaller conferences.
Reformed parachurch ministries and publishers—some of which had been laboring faithfully since the 1990s and even prior to that, but in relative obscurity—gained prominence and dotted the landscape: Desiring God, Ligonier, 9Marks, the Council for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood, The Gospel Coalition, Radical, Crossway, Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing, Banner of Truth, Sovereign Grace Ministries.
In the early 2000s, a team of Reformed scholars produced an excellent English translation of the Bible, the English Standard Version, which became the go-to version for many pastors in the Reformed village.
In 2009, TIME magazine cited “the New Calvinism” as among the top 10 thought movements influencing the United States, and indeed, to those of us in ministry at the time, that seemed demonstrably true. The internet enabled us to download a variety of popular Reformed teachers such as Piper, Sproul, MacArthur, Dever, Mahaney, Keller, Carson, the now infamous Driscoll, and many others. In a real sense, the worldwide web did for this new reformation what Gutenberg’s printing press did for the original.
In September of 2006, my longtime friend Collin Hansen wrote a memorable article that in 2008 became a noteworthy book (I’m still waiting for the movie!) giving the movement a nickname: Young, Restless, Reformed—or YRR. In Hansen’s parlance, my alma mater, Southern Seminary, was ground zero in educating the many young Baptists among us who were restless and Reformed.
The YRR world was a happy place then, but all these years later, that joyful place seems long ago and far away.
Read More
Related Posts:

Galatians Is the Antidote to Legalism and Antinomianism

Paul’s strong admonition in Galatians 1 helped spur Luther and other Reformers to recover the true gospel in the Reformation. The same gospel must be asserted and reasserted in every generation. Peter sought to stir up our minds by way of reminder because we are a forgetful people (2 Pet. 1:13). And the first thing to go, usually, is the gospel. But the gospel we reassert must be the gospel of God’s grace in Christ. As Paul points out in Galatians 1, all other so-called “gospels” are the broad road that leads to destruction (Gal. 1:6–9).

I’ve found that many Christians, post-conversion, tend toward legalism or antinomianism in their pursuit of sanctification.
I’ve seen this trend both in churches I’ve pastored and in Christian friends. One woman grew up in a strict Reformed Baptist home. She always tended toward legalism and fought it biblically for years. Another friend was converted in his mid-thirties after spending many years searching for joy in bars and honky-tonks. He has battled an antinomian impulse for many years. Others pendulum-swung after conversion: from legalism to license, or vice versa.
Not all Christians struggle deeply in one of these areas, but the tendency is widespread. That’s why we so desperately need Galatians.
Give My Life Back to Jesus?
My discovery of the spiritual riches in Galatians came at the end of a long road. For more than a decade, I tried to follow Jesus by “rededicating” my life to him over and over and over again, maybe two hundred times. I was converted at age 10 and was fortunate to grow up in church. That church preached the gospel pretty well. My sin. His grace. Repentance. Faith. Forgiveness. Reconciliation. God’s anger at sin and sinners was always present.
But discipleship and sanctification? Not so much.
Although my childhood church helped me understand how to become a Christian, it took me a lot longer to learn about the pilgrimage that follows salvation — the need for daily repentance and killing sin, praying for the fruit of the Spirit, and other crucial elements of sanctification. I lived as if justification came by grace through faith but sanctification came by law.
My life was a frustrating merry-go-round of sin — rededication, law-keeping in my own strength, sin, rededication, law-keeping — you get the picture. I had to keep proving to God that I was serious about him. Practically, it was a strange brew of Baptist nominalism and Roman Catholic formalism.
Sanctified by Grace
Then, at a national conference for Christian men in 1995, I heard a plainly worded sermon on Galatians 2:20:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Through the preaching of that passage, God worked in my heart. The gates of paradise swung open (to use a phrase from Luther), and I walked through. At age 28, I understood (perhaps for the first time) that both justification and sanctification are by grace — I was saved by grace and am now being sanctified by grace. Though I hadn’t yet begun to study the Reformation in any depth, I comprehended more clearly two vital solas: sola fide and sola gratia.
I understood how they applied to my daily walk with Jesus: I was saved (justified) by grace through faith alone, and I am being saved (sanctified) by grace through faith — the life I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God. For all the effort involved in the Christian life, we grow, at bottom, by faith in Jesus Christ, as we rest on the grace he gives us. The cycle of rededication, sin, and rededication stopped; my growth in the Lord accelerated, and I eventually entered the ministry with a heart to help others.
And I fell in love with Galatians. Nearly 25 years later, I have preached or taught through Galatians five times and have read meditatively through it dozens of times.
Read More

We Need Old Hymns: God Moves in a Mysterious Way

The world is groaning, we are groaning, but God is protecting us, forging our faith on the anvil of affliction because of his love for us and because of a passion for his own glory. Charles Spurgeon once said that God’s sovereignty is a doctrine for rough weather; “God Moves” is a hymn for stormy days, and there are many such days in a fallen world.

God Moves in a Mysterious Way  by William CowperGod moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform; he plants his footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.Deep in unfathomable mines, of never-failing skill; he fashions up his bright designs, and works his sovereign will.Ye fearful saints fresh courage take, the clouds that you much dread, are big with mercy and will break in blessings on your head.Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust him for his grace; behind a frowning providence, he hides a smiling face.His purposes will ripen fast, unfolding every hour; the bud may have a bitter taste, but sweet will be the flower.Blind unbelief is sure to err, and scan his work in vain; God is his own interpreter, and he will make it plain.
I love this hymn for the same reason I love Romans 8 and country music. I’m not talking about modern-day country music, the kind that is slick and well-packaged, the sort that is merely countrified pop music. By country music, I mean Hank (Senior), Cash, Jones, the Hag. Legends, all, whose lives were marked by the profound suffering and searching of which they sang. They were not dime store cowboys and neither was the author of “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”
In some ways, the British poet William Cowper is to classic, Reformation-tradition hymnody what Hank Williams was to country music: both men perennially suffered deep, dark depression and anguish of soul. Out of their pain, each man wrote deeply emotional, heart-felt poetry that was set to music. Of course, their biographies part ways there: both diagnosed the illness that drove their angst in a deeply fallen world, but only Cowper found the transformative cure, locating his healing balm in the old rugged cross. Sadly, Hank sought solace in the bottom of a whiskey bottle and died of an overdose of alcohol and pain killers at 29. Hank sang “I Saw the Light,” but never seems to have run to it.
Two bruised reeds, two smoking flaxes, two different outcomes, but two men who were unsentimental about the mysteries of life and God’s providence east of Eden. “God Moves” is my favorite for two fundamental reasons: the story of the man behind the lyrics and the robust theology of Romans 8 that it expresses in unforgettable poetry. Every time I sing it in corporate or family worship (and I love the revised tune by Bob Kauflin and our friends at Sovereign Grace Music), I think of its author, and I am strengthened by the grace of which it speaks.
Embattled Soul
John Calvin referred to fallen humanity and the world in which we live as broken actors performing on a broken-down stage. Cowper’s brokenness was as profound as it was palpable. In his excellent biographical essay on the life of William Cowper, John Piper wrote of him, “The battles in this man’s soul were of epic proportions.” Indeed.
Cowper lived from 1731 to 1800, a contemporary to John Wesley and George Whitefield in England and Jonathan Edwards in America. Heartache was his handmaiden virtually from birth. William and his brother John were the only two among seven siblings to survive past infancy. At age 6, his mother died giving birth to John, leaving William deeply distraught. Cowper moved from school to school before landing at Westminster school in 1742 where he was bullied mercilessly by older students. While studying for a career in law as a young adult, he fell in love with his cousin Theodora and sought her hand in marriage. Her father refused to consent to the union and nuptials were never exchanged. Lost love left him crestfallen.
Read More

Scroll to top