Young, Restless, and no longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey in and out of Calvinism caught my attention and I read it through in one sitting. I will do a two part review beginning with some observations and commentary. In Part 2 we will look closer at the book’s provocative content.
Monday, March 17, 2014 and many University of Michigan Wolverines’ fans are down in the dumps because the Michigan State Spartans won the Big Ten crown with the score 69 to 55 on March 16. Now imagine that a Young, Restless and Reformed neo-Calvinist is a rabid Wolverine fan and Austin Fischer, author of Young, Restless, and no longer Reformed, is a rabid Spartan fan. Believing as all evangelicals do that theology should inform and transform life, we would expect to see the YRR neo-Calvinist sitting motionless and silent as the Big Ten tournament game unfolds. His theology requires such a response. Meanwhile, Austin is beside himself with joy as the Spartans play and he gets very concerned when the Wolverines start a scoring streak. The YRR guy knows that before God created anything, in deep eternity past God willed an exhaustive, eternal decree so meticulous that all nanoparticles do only what God’s decree contains. One nanoparticle out of sync with God’s decree totally destroys, so he is taught, God’s sovereignty. The YRR cannot cheer the Wolverines nor can he scream at the Spartans. Why? The final score (the end) and all the plays that lead to it (the means) are just as they are because God decreed them so. Did I write “God”? The only proper response of the YRR guy is to say, no matter how the game turns out, “Glory to God.”
Watch out for Pelagianism! This is the most dreadful feature of human experience according to Calvinists. Not a nanoparticle of Pelagianism must contaminate the pure atmosphere of “sovereign grace.” A nanoparticle of Pelagianism is worse than the most massive and despicable evil. Yet, if all is decreed and the human will ultimately does not matter, Austin Fischer writes, “And you are expected to act as though it [the will] does. You’re supposed to run on the treadmill and pretend you’re running the race of faith. This forces you into the awkward position of seemingly suspending your theology in order to live faithfully—because living faithfully requires living with meaning and living with meaning requires choice. You believe God determines all things, and yet act as though your will is not completely determined” (97-98 emphasis his). So the YRR cheers for the Wolverines. Does God really decree people to be happy and to love? This produces theological schizophrenia in the minds of Calvinists because the Trinity they worship is schizophrenic (Fischer, 47; a point made also by Gregory Boyd in God at War, see, e.g., 231-237).
I know this tension myself because like Scot McKnight, who wrote the Foreword, and Austin Fischer, I, too, was once a glowing, convinced Calvinist. Louis Berkhof’s Systematic Theology was my devotional material. I was a mixed up Calvinist, however, because while theologically a Calvinist, I was a peddler of the Four Spiritual Laws (a dreadful Arminian document). I got so frustrated once with a person I was “witnessing to” on a Chicago commuter train that when he resisted my “gospel presentation,” I told him, “The reason you don’t believe is because you’re not one of the elect!” I shudder at having to give an account to Christ for that outburst.
Calvinists must contemplate the implications of their theology. I do not see how it does not drive them nuts. A wise theologian and excellent preacher once told me that “neurotic” is the only word he could find to describe the esteemed David Brainerd as he wrote his journal entries struggling to know if he was elect or not. It seems one would have to hold Calvinism in suspension while going about daily life. That is, until you need to teach or debate it. The heart of Calvinism’s gospel is a view of God’s sovereignty that is not shaped enough by the mangled-lamb Savior, Jesus the Christ, and the love of God.