July 25, 2011

Has John MacArthur Promoted the Creation of the Young, Restless & Reformed Who, “Embrace the World’s Fashions and Values?”

From his Grace to You blog Dr. John MacArthur laments what has become of the so-called “young, restless and reformed [Calvinists],” (YRR). Did John MacArthur contribute to the creation of what the YRR have become? John MacArthur now tells the YRR to “settle down.” In his introductory article, Grow Up. Settle Down. Keep Reforming. Advise for the Young, Restless, Reformed he says,

The YRR, “cannot be genuinely ‘Reformed’ and deliberately worldly at the same time. The two things are inconsistent and incompatible. To embrace the world’s fashions and values—even under the guise of being ‘missional’—is to make oneself God’s enemy (James 4:4).
In 2009 Dr. Peter Masters wrote The Merger of Calvinism With Worldliness that addressed what he saw then that MacArthur only now acknowledges, but accepts no responsibility for having contributed to.

With Dr. Master’s permission I published his article here (July 2009). In it Dr. Masters names John MacArthur, and by inference Grace Community Church Executive Pastor Rick Holland as contributors of the worldliness that would infect the young Calvinists. This article aggravated many of the so-called "conservative" evangelicals, the very like-minded Stateside Calvinists whom Masters was admonishing for their excursion into aberrant theology and worldliness. His article was prophetic. The only question remaining is whether or not men like John MacArthur will continue the same pattern of contribution(s) to the worldliness he fostered that he now laments. Read this article for that and further details on the problem with the YR&R.

The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness:
An alarmed assessment by Dr. Masters of the ‘new Calvinism’ promoted among young people in the USA

When I was a youngster and newly saved, it seemed as if the chief goal of all zealous Christians, whether Calvinistic or Arminian, was consecration. Sermons, books and conferences stressed this in the spirit of Romans 12.1-2, where the beseeching apostle calls believers to present their bodies a living sacrifice, and not to be conformed to this world. The heart was challenged and stirred. Christ was to be Lord of one’s life, and self must be surrendered on the altar of service for him.

But now, it appears, there is a new Calvinism, with new Calvinists, which has swept the old objectives aside. A recent book, Young, Restless, Reformed, by Collin Hansen tells the story of how a so-called Calvinistic resurgence has captured the imaginations of thousands of young people in the USA, and this book has been reviewed with great enthusiasm in well-known magazines in the UK, such as Banner of Truth, Evangelical Times, and Reformation Today.

This writer, however, was very deeply saddened to read it, because it describes a seriously distorted Calvinism falling far, far short of an authentic life of obedience to a sovereign God. If this kind of Calvinism prospers, then genuine biblical piety will be under attack as never before.

The author of the book is a young man (around 26 when he wrote it) who grew up in a Christian family and trained in secular journalism. We are indebted to him for the readable and wide-reaching survey he gives of this new phenomenon, but the scene is certainly not a happy one.

The author begins by describing the Passion, conference at Atlanta in 2007, where 21,000 young people revelled in contemporary music, and listened to speakers such as John Piper proclaiming Calvinistic sentiments. And this picture is repeated many times through the book – large conferences being described at which the syncretism of worldly, sensation-stirring, high-decibel, rhythmic music, is mixed with Calvinistic doctrine.

We are told of thunderous music, thousands of raised hands, ‘Christian’ hip-hop and rap lyrics (the examples seeming inept and awkward in construction) uniting the doctrines of grace with the immoral drug-induced musical forms of worldly culture.

Collin Hansen contends that American Calvinism collapsed at the end of the nineteenth century and was maintained by only a handful of people until this great youth revival, but his historical scenario is, frankly, preposterous. As one who regularly visited American seminaries to speak from the early 1970s, I constantly met many preachers and students who loved the doctrines of grace, preaching also in churches of solid Calvinistic persuasion. But firmer evidence of the extensive presence of Calvinism is seen from the fact that very large firms of publishers sent out a stream of reformed literature post-war and through the 1980s. The mighty Eerdmans was solidly reformed in times past, not to mention Baker Book House, and Kregel and others. Where did all these books go – thousands upon thousands of them, including frequently reprinted sets of Calvin’s commentaries and a host of other classic works?

In the 1970s and 80s there were also smaller Calvinistic publishers in the USA, and at that time the phenomenon of Calvinistic discount Christian bookshops began, with bulging catalogue lists and a considerable following. The claim that Calvinism virtually disappeared is hopelessly mistaken.

Indeed, a far better quality Calvinism still flourishes in very many churches, where souls are won and lives sanctified, and where Truth and practice are both under the rule of Scripture. Such churches have no sympathy at all with reporter Collin Hansen’s worldly-worship variety, who seek to build churches using exactly the same entertainment methods as most charismatics and the Arminian Calvary Chapel movement.

The new Calvinists constantly extol the Puritans, but they do not want to worship or live as they did. One of the vaunted new conferences is called Resolved, after Jonathan Edwards’ famous youthful Resolutions (seventy searching undertakings).
But the culture of this conference would unquestionably have met with the outright condemnation of that great theologian.
Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthur’s pastoral staff, gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere. At the same time they reflect on predestination and election. Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, showbusiness atmosphere created by the organisers.)

In times of disobedience the Jews of old syncretised by going to the Temple or the synagogue on the sabbath, and to idol temples on weekdays, but the new Calvinism has found a way of uniting spiritually incompatible things at the same time, in the same meeting.

C J Mahaney is a preacher highly applauded in this book. Charismatic in belief and practice, he appears to be wholly accepted by the other big names who feature at the ‘new Calvinist’ conferences, such as John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler. Evidently an extremely personable, friendly man, C J Mahaney is the founder of a group of churches blending Calvinism with charismatic ideas, and is reputed to have influenced many Calvinists to throw aside cessationist views.

It was a protégé of this preacher named Joshua Harris who started the New Attitude conference for young people. We learn that when a secular rapper named Curtis Allen was converted, his new-born Christian instinct led him to give up his past life and his singing style. But Pastor Joshua Harris evidently persuaded him not to, so that he could sing for the Lord.
New Calvinists do not hesitate to override the instinctual Christian conscience, counselling people to become friends of the world.
One of the mega-churches admired in the book is the six-thousand strong Mars Hill Church at Seattle, founded and pastored by Mark Driscoll, who blends emerging church ideas (that Christians should utilise worldly culture) with Calvinistic theology [see endnote 1].

This preacher is also much admired by some reformed men in the UK, but his church has been described (by a sympathiser) as having the most ear-splitting music of any, and he has been rebuked by other preachers for the use of very ‘edgy’ language and gravely improper humour (even on television). He is to be seen in videos preaching in a Jesus teeshirt, symbolising the new compromise with culture, while at the same time propounding Calvinistic teaching. So much for the embracing of Puritan doctrine divested of Puritan lifestyle and worship.

Most of the well-known preachers who promote and encourage this ‘revival’ of Calvinism have in common the following positions that contradict a genuine Calvinistic (or Puritan) outlook:
1. They have no problem with contemporary charismatic-ethos worship, including extreme, heavy-metal forms.
2. They are soft on separation from worldliness [see endnote 2].
3. They reject the concern for the personal guidance of God in the major decisions of Christians (true sovereignty), thereby striking a death-blow to wholehearted consecration.
4. They hold anti-fourth-commandment views, taking a low view of the Lord’s Day, and so inflicting another blow at a consecrated lifestyle.
Whatever their strengths and achievements (and some of them are brilliant men by any human standard), or whatever their theoretical Calvinism, the poor stand of these preachers on these crucial issues will only encourage a fatally flawed version of Calvinism that will lead people to be increasingly wedded to the world, and to a self-seeking lifestyle.
Truly proclaimed, the sovereignty of God must include consecration, reverence, sincere obedience to his will, and separation from the world.
You cannot have Puritan soteriology without Puritan sanctification. You should not entice people to Calvinistic (or any) preaching by using worldly bait. We hope that young people in this movement will grasp the implications of the doctrines better than their teachers, and come away from the compromises. But there is a looming disaster in promoting this new form of Calvinism.

Why do some British Christians who hold the doctrines of grace give enthusiastic reviews to a book like this? There have been times in the past when large numbers of young people have suddenly become intellectually enthusiastic about solid Christian doctrine, only to abandon it almost as quickly. One thinks of the tremendous response the unique oratory of Francis Schaeffer secured on university campuses in the 1960s, and no doubt some young people were truly saved and established, but very many more turned aside. Gripped by the superiority of a biblical worldview, they momentarily despised the illogical, flaccid ideas of this world, but the impression in numerous cases was natural rather than spiritual. The present new, heady Calvinism, shorn of practical obedience will certainly prove to be ephemeral, leaving the cause compromised and scarred.

Has this form of Calvinism come to Britain yet? Alas, yes; one only has to look at the ‘blogs’ of some younger reformed pastors who put themselves forward as mentors and advisers of others. When you look at their ‘favourite films’, and ‘favourite music’ you find them unashamedly naming the leading groups, tracks and entertainment of debased culture, and it is clear that the world is still in their hearts. Years ago, such brethren would not have been baptised until they were clear of the world, but now you can go to seminary, no questions asked, and take up a pastorate, with unfought and unsurrendered idols in the throne room of your life. What hope is there for churches that have under-shepherds whose loyalties are so divided and distorted?

Aside from pastors, we know some ‘new’ young Calvinists who will never settle in a dedicated, working church, because their views live only in their heads and not their hearts. We know of some whose lives are not clean. We know of others who go clubbing. The greater their doctrinal prowess, the greater their hypocrisy.
These are harsh words, but they lead me to say that where biblical, evangelical Calvinism shapes conduct, and especially worship, it is a very humbling, beautiful system of Truth, but where it is confined to the head, it inflates pride and self-determination.
The new Calvinism is not a resurgence but an entirely novel formula which strips the doctrine of its historic practice, and unites it with the world.
Why have the leading preachers servicing this movement compromised so readily? They have not been threatened by a Soviet regime. No one has held a gun to their heads. This is a shameful capitulation, and we must earnestly pray that what they have encouraged will not take over Calvinism and ruin a generation of reachable Christian young people.

A final sad spectacle reported with enthusiasm in the book is the Together for the Gospel conference, running from 2006. A more adult affair convened by respected Calvinists, this nevertheless brings together cessationists and non-cessationists, traditional and contemporary worship exponents, and while maintaining sound preaching, it conditions all who attend to relax on these controversial matters, and learn to accept every point of view. In other words, the ministry of warning is killed off, so that every -error of the new scene may race ahead unchecked.
These are tragic days for authentic spiritual faithfulness, worship and piety.
True Calvinism and worldliness are opposites. Preparation of heart is needed if we would search the wonders and plumb the depths of sovereign grace. We find it in the challenging, convicting call of Joshua:
Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.

1 His resolution of the question of divine sovereignty versus human free will, however, is much nearer to the Arminian view.

2 A recent book entitled Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World by C J Mahaney and others, hopelessly under-equips young believers for separation from the world, especially in the area of music, where, apparently, the Lord loves every genre, and acceptability is reduced to two misleading and subjective questions.

(Italics his, bold and underline mine. Images have been added to illustrate some of that, which Masters warns of.)
The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness is a clarion call to “young people in the USA” and especially timely for young American Fundamentalists. This is a sermon in print, a “ministry of warning” that has been nearly non-existent in American IFB circles. This is a much needed “ministry of warning” to men in Fundamentalism who are rapidly moving toward increased dialogue, fellowship with and tolerance for the “new” Calvinism of “conservative” evangelicalism.

Reprinted by permission from Dr. Peter Masters

Please continue to the next in this series, Dr. MacArthur, “Reforming” Is Not The Answer. Repentance Is!


  1. Lou,
    It is evident that the youth of today are more interested in what is 'cool' and worldly than that which pleases the Lord. They are also less interested in Scriptural instruction and more tuned to intertainment as a reflection of their mode of expressing "Jesus" to the world...and the world loves it! It is compromising the direct instruction of the Lord to 'be separate' and 'friendship with the world is enmity [opposition] with God' James 4:4. More of our youth are willing to sell their souls on the alter of entertainment that to live a life distinctively different from the 'world'. What makes you different from the world Jesus Christ saved you from? is a question all of us must answer.

  2. James:

    Quite the case as you describe it. What JMac and the others in the T4G camp is give to the "restless" the worldly entertainment they crave. So, what JMac won them with at Resolved and T4G he won them to.


  3. To continue your thought, Lou, what you win them with you win them to and you must use to keep them. Church, Christianity are not consumer commodities packaged and promoted to catch the eye of a fickle lost consumer soul.

  4. Hi, Lou ~

    I tracked down Mac's post and read it. Perhaps slightly off topic, but I found this statement of his a bit peculiar:

    "Five years later, the so-called Emergent Church is now in a state of serious disarray and decline. Some have suggested it’s totally dead. Virtually every offshoot of evangelicalism that consciously embraced postmodern values has either fizzled out or openly moved toward liberalism, universalism, and Socinianism. Scores of people who were active in the Emerging movement a decade ago seem to have abandoned Christianity altogether."

    Really? That's not what I've heard nor observed. In fact, a few from Mac's camp have merged with the emergent church (Piper for one), hence the term "new Calvinists". Further, I read an article a few years ago by Lighthouse Trails stating that the term "emergent" was to be dropped and replaced so as to throw off folks into believing it had, indeed folded.


    Lastly, another point I found interesting in Mac's post was his noting with pride the fact that young people are gravitating toward reformed theology in greater numbers (being too smart to be duped by the emergent church) means that the church is getting better, not worse. This, too, is a contradiction to what scripture teaches, which is that apostasy would increase in the last days.

    Until recently, I was not acquainted with the extended teachings of reformed theology, but doesn't it ultimately embrace preterism/amillenialism and/or dominionism? And yet, there are many, many in the reformed groups who would be the first to point out apostasy and its increase via mysticism and ecumenism (as most discernment sites are reformed or support reformed teachers/teachings/LS theology - i.e. Apprising Ministries (Ken Silva); Lighthouse Trails, and many others). There exists a disconnect somewhere which can only lead well-meaning folks into very mixed company and confusion (I consider myself one of those who is beginning to see the light - again).

  5. Lou, It seems that you're upset that these Calvinists are evangelicals and not fundamentalists. I don't understand how it is "news" to report that evangelicals are acting like evangelicals. The reality is that this surge in new Calvinism is taking place primarily in evangelical circles, so of course they are acting like evangelicals. Also, your article reflects some naivety about the history of Calvinism and cessation views. CJ Mahaney is not the author of this. That view has been common -- though maybe not in your small circle -- for decades. Take for example Dr. Wayne Grudem. His Systematic Theology is a benchmark, and for decades he has been promoting a modern day Biblical embrace of sign-gifts, while also promoting storng 5-point Calvinism. Just some observations.

  6. Anon:

    Normally I do not publish comments without a name signed to it. Yours, however, I do want to answer and will later today.

    In the meantime, I encourage you to thoughtfully consider with what Dr. Masters wrote about his State-side Calvinist counterparts. It is both prophetic and profound


  7. This comment has been removed by the author.

  8. Anon:

    This will be the first in a small series of replies I will have to your comment above. If you want to post again, you will need to include, sign off with your full name.

    You wrote, “It seems that you’re upset that these Calvinists are evangelicals and not fundamentalists. I don’t understand how it is ‘news’ to report that evangelicals are acting like evangelicals. The reality is that this surge in new Calvinism is taking place primarily in evangelical circles, so of course they are acting like evangelicals.

    It is not upsetting to me for the reason you cited, they are acting just as they always have, but their actions are worsening, which is why MacArthur, who is one of the prime forces behind the growth of the YR&R AND its worldliness, is now to admonishing them.

    The part that is disconcerting is the men who claim to be loyal to authentic biblical separation like Dave Doran Kevin Bauder, Matt Olson, Tim Jordan, et.al., but are moving in the direction of the evangelicals in principle and in practice. As I have documented many times we have ample evidence that DD, KB, MO will tolerate, allow for excuse and/or ignore both the aberrant doctrine and worldliness of the evangelicals for the sake of growing a convergence with them fellowship and ministry.

    The above and that they are also trying to influence the current and next generation of FB to follow them is why there are growing numbers in FB circles who are increasingly sounding he alarm, admonishing and moving away from Doran, Bauder, Olson, et, al.

    More to follow…


  9. I think it bears pointing out that Masters article does not seem to indicate a causal relationship between calvinism and worldliness, but rather that some prominent American Calvinists seem awfully worldly.


    David Oestreich

  10. Dave:

    I agree with your assessment. Thanks for sharing it.


  11. but doesn't it ultimately embrace preterism/amillenialism and/or dominionism?

    There exists a disconnect somewhere which can only lead well-meaning folks into very mixed company and confusion


    You make some great observations.

    Yes. The New Calvinsim/Neo Calvinism/YRR crowd are covenantal and are seeking to bring the kingdom of God on earth to one degree or another. They seek to form "missional communities" in which the gospel is lived out and God's kingdom can "break through" around them. They are VERY MUCH kingdom focused and you will not hear them speak except in kingdom terms.

    One thing I have noticed in their writings is the avoidance of the words "believer," "saint," and "Christian" to describe the, well, believer. Instead they rely almost exclusively on the descriptors "disciple" and "Christ-follower." The term "believer" is still used on occasion, but it is becoming quite non-standard.

    The thing about the New Calvinists is, they are not doing the things that got people so exercised over Emergent, like Contemplative prayer, etc. (At least, I don't think they are.) They are more doctrinally focused (provided it's Reformed). However, some of the Emergent concepts, such as being "missional," and kingdom focused are core and very much a central part of their identity. I have also seen one of them writing along the lines of "God's dream" still, too.


  12. Thanks, Jan. Always great to hear from you, and as usual, I always learn something new through your comments: very astute observation of yours, that their writings avoid the terms "believer","saint" and "Christian".

    I have also heard the use of "God's dream". Here are two enlightening quotes from the Lighthouse article, the first one listing a few other terms they use, (keep in mind this was written in 2008, and, like an elusive virus, their vocabulary will continue to morph):

    "With that in mind, what words and terms are the emerging church leaders using today? Here’s the list: awakening, emergence, oneness, God’s dream, transformation, new reformation, Kingdom of God on earth, global peace, expansive redemption, rethinking, co-creation, christ-consciousness, and imagination."


    "While it appears that emerging is going to do another split (remember when Mark Driscoll and others divided the movement into a few different groups: revisionist, reformed, and relevant), the point to keep in mind is that it is still emerging spirituality."

    JMac oughta know better!! His supposed ignorance alone makes me very suspicious.

  13. Here is an interesting quote from Dave Ferguson's blog. He is recommending a book written by his friend, Matthew Smith:

    Missional is more than the latest buzzword in Christian leadership circles. Mission is what motivated God to send His people to be a blessing to the rest of the world. Mission is what caused the Father to send his Son to a lost and dying world. In the pages of this book you will feel Matthew Smith’s passion for mission. He understands that every person’s eternity is at stake and the dream of God for all mankind is in jeopardy unless we accomplish the mission of Jesus.

    So here we have God's dream, which apparently is in jeopardy and it is up to us to make it happen. Hmm. (I could be wrong but I think it was just this kind of thinking that led to the pesky situation with Ishmael.)


  14. He understands that every person’s eternity is at stake and the dream of God for all mankind is in jeopardy unless we accomplish the mission of Jesus.

    God's last hope!!! Religion at its finest...(gag)...

  15. Just a couple of thoughts here:

    1. I understand the use of Master's thoughts here. He is a calvinist and doesn't like other calvinists using their knowledge to justify overt worldliness. I agree with his criticism but not how he gets there. Let us not forget that Master's is not only a calvinist, but a covenantalist calvinist. His ideas on worldliness and how he reaches those conclusions are within a framework most of us reject.

    2. There seems to be some confusion about what the emergent method actually is. The ones who declared the movement dead were from within the movement itself. Driscoll's church even largely attracts dissatisfied "christians" rather than truly reaching the lost. I would dare say that his church is more conservative.

    Calvinism has no more connection to emergent than anything else. It isn't the soteriology of calvinism that drives emergent. If it was, then the vast majority of evangelical calvinists wouldn't be so opposed to it.

    3. "Reformed" is a specific theological idea. It includes being covenantalist. MacArthur is a dispensationalist. He has also preached a sermon why calvinists should all be premillennial. When I see him encouraging being "reformed", he wants people to take it to the next step and adopt a biblical eschatology as well.


  16. "Yes. The New Calvinsim/Neo Calvinism/YRR crowd are covenantal and are seeking to bring the kingdom of God on earth to one degree or another."

    Jan, I would like to disagree with this statement. The YRR are NOT covenantal as an absolute statement. Perhaps you didn't intend for it to be.

    The vast majority of them are fascinated by the intellectual appeal of calvinism IMO. They want to be smart. The problem is that they do not work through scripture to have an informed church doctrine, so they wing it or find a group that wings it.

    Those who are actually saved are woefully lacking in discipleship.


  17. The problem is that they do not work through scripture to have an informed church doctrine

    That might very well be. They certainly do not seem to make any sense, though they use "kingdom" a lot. I'm not clear at this point on the relationship between these three streams (Emergent, YRR, New Calvinist. Though I guess you can throw Neo Calvinist in there too as it apparently is not the same thing as New Calvinism), or if there is a relationship per se.

    I have been reading a bit about Karl Barth, who seems to be rather influential in the Emergent crowd. According to one proponent of his, Barth did not like the word "church" and prefers to refer to the body of believers (I'm not sure if he used the word "believer" or not) as a community. Someone else who is a detractor of Barth's says he was a Socialist who refused to denounce Communism and claimed that there was no way Communism could be against Christianity.

    It's a lot to take in and figure out what goes where.


  18. Jan, great thought there. The emergent group is very much caught up with what they deem to be social justice. You will not find many social justice dispensationalists.


  19. What Dr Masters has said in a frank and blunt manner was what has been struggling in my inner conscience. The direction of Resolved conference worship's practices is baffling. While I don't have a problem with updated scriptural based hymns to modern instruments, why the need to create an atmosphere of a rock concert with the flashing strobe lights and rock jamming style beat?

    Going forward, Dr Macarthur and Rick Holland really need to examine whether this direction in style of worship within Resolved is truly helpful to encourage young audience with a calvinistic leaning to a life of consecration. Its just so confusing.