Scott Lamb is both a friend and a contributor to Discerning Reader. I’m pretty sure he reads even more books than I do and we knew that sooner or later he and I would read the same title at the same time. Sure enough, that happened recently with Collin Hansen’s Young, Restless, Reformed. Because I had written a review of it, Scott decided to focus instead on the story behind the story, so to speak. He wrote what I found a fascinating article on just how big and how wide this movement really is. I thought you would enjoy it to, so decided to post it here. I do so primarily because I think Scott provides a good warning to us, and particularly so in the final paragraphs. From here on you’ll be reading Scott’s article.
In a nutshell, before reading the book I would have thought the movement was larger and more influential. The metaphor of “ocean” comes to mind. After reading the book, I am given to thinking that the movement is more like a pond, maybe a lake.
That is not a prediction of what the future holds. But this is a book about the present (last 10 years or so), and I am less inclined to think much of the movement after reading Hansen’s work.
I am not shooting the messenger (Hansen) in any way, shape, or form. I read the entire book while leaning on a wall about six feet from my post office box. Then I read it again a day later, again with enjoyment. I really want you to read it too.
I do think there are many recent aspects of the groundswell of Reformed theology that are entirely missed. There are also many foundations of the movement which have been vitally important, but which lack any formal attachment to the Reformed camp. I will come back to these in a later post.
Let me throw some spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.
Spaghetti on the Wall
Are we overly optimistic about what is going on? Are we just having self-referential Calvinist conversations with ourselves? Perhaps you don’t think so?
Well, you are reading a book review about Calvinism…to be posted on Calvinist Tim Challies’ book review web-site…about a book that reports on the rise of young Calvinists like Tim and a bunch of our friends and mentors…and Tim wrote an endorsement for this book on the back cover…and now a review of the book…and he also wrote a book published by the same company as this one…a company that publishes a mountain of books by Calvinist authors mentioned in this book…and since you are a Calvinist you may decide to buy this book and comment on it on your own blog or on Amazon.com…and then we will link to your blog and say, “A Reformed friend of mine who is on staff at Piper’s church wrote a great review of Hansen’s new book”…then some other Calvinist will interview Hansen, himself a Calvinist…then we will all get in our cars and head to a conference where 75% of the folks mentioned in the book will either be preaching or listening (or live-blogging)…
Suddenly, a certain joke about cousins marrying cousins comes to my mind.
Am I saying there is anything wrong with friends and colleagues and pastors networking together or talking about common interests? Absolutely not. I’m just saying that we’d better not read our own press clippings and jump to the wrong conclusions. Is this “new Calvinist” pond little or big? The answer depends on who we hang out with.
In our self-referential excitement over the movement toward Calvinism, there are two errors I am afraid we could easily make:
Although we should take joy over the number of folks gaining passion for biblical truth, will we foolishly begin to believe that the majority of Evangelical Christianity is actually making a turn toward solid theological conviction.
Although the numbers do represent individuals who are coming to truth, will the local church itself be changed and challenged and loved? We love our Reformed theology, but will the “young and restless” part only serve to bring out the devilish individualism characterizing so much of American Evangelicalism. We grew up in “typical” churches, and have “escaped” the poor theology, but will we now spend the rest of our lives proving that we are “not the like the church we came from”? Will our mantra be- “Give us books, conferences, audio sermons, and blog-buddies, but keep us far from messy relationships with Arminians in our local church.”
Let me provide a few illustrations of what I am thinking.
How Wide the Influence?
In our Calvinist circles, we get real excited about the 275,000 copies of Desiring God sold. But wait. Hasn’t Rick Warren’s Purpose-Driven Life sold over 24 million copies (as of 2006)? Wow, that is a ratio of 1:100.
Warren is extremely influential (understatement of the year), and that influence is felt directly at the level of the local church - in a very widespread manner across the nation and across the denominational spectrum.
Perhaps we are actually only 1/100th as influential as Warren.
Do you wish those numbers were the opposite? Yeah, so do I. But they aren’t.
How Big Is Ground Zero?
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary gets a lot of attention in Hansen’s book. He calls Louisville “Ground Zero” for Calvinism. An astounding number of ministers are being trained at SBTS. Four thousand students receive theological education by 180+ total faculty. The largest Protestant seminary in the world runs on a budget of less than $40 million dollars (2006).
But consider another number - $95 million. In one year’s time, that is how much money Joyce Meyer fleeced earned through donations and conferences.
When you consider that the $40 million at SBTS comes from the tuition payments of 4,000 students and also from a portion of the offerings of 40,000 SBC churches, it absolutely boggles the mind to consider that a woman who preaches a false gospel can get her hands on twice as much money!
Think about how many individuals it must take to rake in $95 million. These are huge numbers. This is real influence.
SBTS, a.k.a. “Ground Zero for Calvinism”, only has HALF the budget of just ONE prosperity-gospel preaching woman.
A Huge Gathering?
The 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference drew 3,000 men, and probably could have gotten 2,000 more in the door if space was available. I was there. It was great!
But Joel Osteen draws in 10,000 on any given weekend that he takes his show on the road. Speaking of Osteen, if you add up the royalties for every book authored by MacArthur, Sproul, Piper, Mahaney, Begg, Boice, Duncan, etc. - would the total come anywhere near the $12 million advance Joel received for his last book alone? Not a chance.
Does Wal-Mart carry anything by Sproul, Piper, Mahaney? Can you buy a “Chosen by God” board game?
And speaking of publishing, Crossway and a few other faithful companies serve up 80% of what young Calvinists are reading. So, does that mean sound biblical theology is going to prevail among Christian publishers too ? What about the other 50-75 Evangelical Publishers Association companies? What percentage of their books can we get real excited about?
Are we reading our own press clippings, and getting worked up in the wrong way?
How ironic it would be if God-centered theology truly caught fire throughout the church, only to come crashing into the brick wall of flesh-boasting about numbers and influence.
How terrible it would be if Calvinist soteriology got branded on the hearts of young people, only to have them choose individualism over God-glorifying commitment and dedication to the local church. Christ did not die on a cross for a conference, campus Bible study, or book publisher. He laid down his life for the church.
As Calvinists who dwell on total depravity, understand that it is fully well possible to receive a rich theological treasure, only to squander it through sin.
However, as Calvinists who well on divine grace and sovereignty, understand that “He who began a good work” can and will continue to purify the bride of Christ by His grace and for His glory.
Let us make sure our passion begins and ends with Soli Deo Gloria, focusing our boast on the cross of Christ alone.
I really enjoyed reading this book and thinking through these issues. Thank you Collin.
Tim here again. I think Scott is on to something here. While we need to continue to bless and praise God for the work He is doing in drawing people to Himself, and especially in those who are young and restless, let’s realize that this movement is, in relation to the rest of those who confess Christ, very small. Let’s always remember that there is still much work to do and that we must not take pride in being part of any movement, even one as exciting as this. We are to boast only in the cross. Let our pride and our joy be in the great work of Christ.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on what Scott has written.