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.