Near the peak of his popularity, Forbes Magazine named Mark Driscoll “one of the nation’s most prominent and celebrated pastors”. His powerful preaching and magnetic personality helped him build an influential church planting network (Acts 29) and megachurch empire. As impressive as this is, perhaps even more astounding is that he accomplished all of this as an outspoken Calvinist. He was a rock star in the Reformed community and a poster-child of the New Calvinism movement. That’s why when Mars Hills Church announced they were shutting their doors at the close of 2014 because of formal charges brought against Mr. Driscoll, many thought it signaled the end of Calvinism within modern evangelical Christianity.
As expected, the Reformed evangelical community was critically affected by the fall of Mark Driscoll and the closing of Mars Hill, but not like you may think. Instead of abandoning Calvinistic doctrines for progressive theologies, many young believers continued to follow the compass of Holy Scripture towards Confessionally Reformed Christianity. This “Reforming of the Reformed” is a major theme in a spectacular new documentary, by first-time filmmaker Les Lanphere, called Calvinist.
Les Lanphere became somewhat of a well-known voice in the Reformed crowd due to his involvement in the popular podcast, The Reformed Pubcast. Undoubtedly born out of discussions from the podcast and Les’ own experience, the documentary is a remarkable achievement that asks the question: what’s next for Reformed evangelicals and The New Calvinism (sometimes called the Young, Restless, and Reformed) movement?
To drive at the answer, Calvinist digs into the history of the Reformation, the origins of the New Calvinism movement, and the principal doctrines of Calvinism (often referred to with the TULIP acronym). Then, the film explores how an entire generation of young Calvinistic evangelicals has matured to uncover the wonderful treasures in the Reformed confessions (The Westminster Confession of Faith, 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, etc.).
With the help of distinguished Reformed theologians such as R.C. Sproul Sr., Steve Lawson, James White, and Scott Oliphant the film brings a much-needed update to the movement. While Calvinist certainly stands on its own, it also works as a sequel to Collin Hansen’s famous 2006 article called Young, Restless, and Reformed. Mr. Hansen even appears in Calvinist offering his own insight on the development of the movement.
One of the pleasant surprises of Calvinist is in the animations/illustrations used to aid the viewer in grasping complicated theological and historical ideas. Often utilizing 8-bit Nintendo game style characters and font, the film artistically plugs into visual stimuli that will be appreciated by those in the New Calvinism demographic. These illustrations add layers of originality, creativity, and entertainment often lacking from many religious documentaries; they make the film truly enjoyable to watch. Also playing on the nostalgia of generation, Calvinist frequently plays clips from some of the movement’s famous sermons (such Paul Washer’s famous “Youth Message” and Matt Chandler’s “Jesus Wants the Rose” sermon). The impact of those messages hits the mark.
Still, we must remember that the film tells a single generation’s journey. It remains to be seen how well the film will be received by those outside the neo-Calvinism movement. Will a Reformed believer in his 60’s be able to relate as well as one in his 30’s? Maybe not. If the film has a shortcoming it’s that its message is so scoped that it might seem unrelatable to some. Nevertheless, what the film sets out to do – it does very well.
As Calvinist winds down, it leaves us with the same question it started with – what’s next? When all the notable, powerful Calvinistic teachers of our age are gone, what will become of the Reformed community? If a movement is only built on the personalities of men instead of the content of their message, it will burn out like the latest fad. We still have Mark Driscoll as a relevant reminder of how easily this can happen.
Referring to itself as a “predestined” film, it’s no coincidence Calvinist is being released nearly 500 years to the day that Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenberg, Germany. The spark that set fire to Europe so many centuries ago is still alive and is evidenced in thriving churches all over the world; the Calvinistic movement is stronger than ever. While Scripture is the only supreme rule of authority, there is still much insight and wisdom to be gained by walking in the paths of confessional Christianity and theological giants like John Calvin.
If Calvinist teaches us anything, it’s that God remains sovereign over salvation and the future of His church. The doctrine of salvation by faith alone does not depend on talented teachers and preachers to make it desirable; it stands on its own and directs our attention towards the glory of God. The gospel prevailed 500 years ago when a single monk stood up to face the giant of Rome, and it will prevail in our current post-Christian age.