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With Keller’s Death, ‘Young, Restless, and Reformed’ New Calvinists Are at a Crossroads

As the movement grew, aspiring pastors began to flock to seminaries that taught the so-called doctrines of grace. Mohler’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky; The Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles; and Piper’s Bethlehem College and Seminary in Minneapolis began churning out so many young, zealous pastors that the movement made national headlines.

Wendy Alsup in 2023. Submitted photo

Wendy Alsup in 2023. Submitted photo

Author Collin Hansen, whose 2008 book “Young, Restless, Reformed” chronicled the movement’s early days, explained Calvinism’s appeal to young Christians to Time magazine in 2009, saying, “They have plenty of friends: what they need is a God.”

Author Wendy Alsup, a longtime member of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, said she was drawn to the church’s surprising pairing of intellectual rigor and approachability. This approach translated into a veneer of sophistication. “At the time, it meant that you could dress more hipster and drink beer, as opposed to a lot of the fundamentalist upbringing I had,” said Alsup.

But most importantly, many of those who encountered Calvinism around this time say their faith suddenly blossomed under its influence. Former Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear said in a recent interview that, growing up, his understanding of God was “too small.” He struggled to give God the kind of devotion the Bible demanded, Greear said, which left him bewildered.

Things began to change after he read “The Religious Affections” by the Puritan writer Jonathan Edwards, who described a God big enough to commit his soul to — bigger than the figure who appeared in the seeker-friendly megachurches he’d grown up in.

“There was something about the Reformed presentation of the gospel that rang deeply in our hearts,” he said. “Because this was the God that had been talked about through all of the Bible stories we’d been hearing.”

Like the original Reformation of the 1500s, which advanced on the strength of the printing press, the new Reformed Christians were bolstered by a revolution in publishing — the internet allowed web-based apologists such as The Gospel Coalition, whose site draws 10 million viewers a year in the U.S. alone, to issue a constant stream of arguments.

Kristin Du Mez. Photo © Deborah K. Hoag

Kristin Du Mez. Photo © Deborah K. Hoag

Kristin Du Mez, professor of history at Calvin University and author of the 2022 bestseller “Jesus and John Wayne,” said the movement made Calvin’s tortuously layered doctrines accessible. “It was kind of a snack size theological instruction and very accessible, very popular for that reason,” she said. “But with a sense of being a weightier take.”

The resurgence also benefited from more traditional formats. In 2001, Crossway published the English Standard Version, a new Bible translation that used traditional terms such as “mankind” and “men” to denote human beings and favored a complementarian reading of the Scriptures. Its success backed a publishing empire, according to Joey Cochran, an American religious historian and editor of the Anxious Bench blog at Patheos.com.

In this Cochran sees a resemblance to Dispensationalism, an end-times theology based on the work of John Nelson Darby that popularized the concept of the Rapture in the early 1900s. Dispensationalism also had its own Bible — the Scofield Study Bible. It spread through radio broadcasts, the new tech of the time, and low-cost print publishing. Similar to Dispensationalism, whose Rapture theology is now widely considered a core biblical belief, new Calvinism used its network to plant ideas such as complementarianism firmly in the evangelical conversation.

But perhaps nothing created the Calvinist phenomenon more than conferences. Thousands of young evangelicals like Greear found each other through events run by organizations such as Together for the Gospel — known as T4G — and The Gospel Coalition. They forged long-term friendships and cooperation across denominational lines that continued as they gained pulpits across the U.S.