Ed Young, Jr. neither referring to Prebyerianism nor Anglicanism

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There will be many reactions to Ed Young, Jr.'s recent rant against Reformed theology in the coming days but, if you listen carefully to what he actually said, it is pretty clear that he is not primarily addressing Anglicans who subscribe fully to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion nor is he referring to Presbyterians who fully subscribe to the Westminster Confession of Faith.

Young is adamant that "Reformed theology can lead to deformed ecclesiology[sic]." Young's complaints against this "Reformed Movement," as he calls it, include the following: (1) they put "God in a box," (2) these are churches full of hip guys in skinny jeans and V-necks, (3) Calvinists don't reach the lost, (4) Calvinists are sheep stealers (that is, they are cool, hip churches with young people who were raised in the church want to go "deeper"), (5) Calvinists are mean-spirited, arrogant, etc., (6) they are not interested in evangelism nor reaching non-Christians, (7) they are more interested in the social gospel, (8) Calvinists don't "reach anybody," and so on.

Young does not embrace the "Reformed Movement" in total but does admit that he shares the following commitments: "the sovereignty of God, election, the inerrancy of Scripture, the priesthood of believers, baptism by immersion," and so on. Young believes that our job is to nominate [the lost through evangelism] and "God keeps on electing them." Skinny jeans, v-necks, Baptism by immersion, cool hip young people, social gospel, etc. is a clear sign that Young is NOT talking about confessional Presbyterianism nor Anglicanism. For example, walk into any confessional Anglican or Presbyterian congregation in America (ARP, OPC, PCA, EPC) and you are NOT going to predominantly find a bunch of hip people who believe in "baptism by immersion."

To whom was Young referring? I'm not exactly sure because he doesn't name them but it's clear he's never been to a PCA church like Tenth Presbyterian in Philadelphia nor Redeemer Presbyterian in New York. Are there a few Presbyterian and Anglican churches with hipsters that seem more interested in social issues. Yes! Those are outliers. Confessional Anglicanism and Presbyterianism both pre-date the founding of the United States of America and should not be included in his description this "Reformed Movement." It is true that churches have the potential to become liberal but that's simply a pattern throughout church history.

In the end, Young does ask a fantastic question: whenever you walk into a church ask, "who are they reaching." This is a great question. Default homogeneity, and the preference for people who are already "like us," is always a tension and temptation in church life. We want comfort and ease.

Young does raise good challenges for confessional Anglicans and Presbyterians but the same goes for any denomination that subscribes to a confession (Catholics, Lutherans, conservative Methodists, etc. are all charged with putting God in a box). Young's good challenges include: (1) being aware that pride and arrogance can settle in quickly because of the commitments to one's tradition, (2) confusing evangelism with converting people from one theological tradition to another tradition instead of evangelizing the unchurched, (3) creating local congregations that rally around safety and comfort (social and cultural homogeneity), (4) divorcing Christian faith from mystery--i.e., there is so much about God we do not know.

Young also revealed that much of his rant was in response to attacks he's received from many in this "Reformed Movement" which explains a lot. I can see why he'd be angry.

In the end, if you're a confessional Anglican or Presbyterian do not be bothered by Young. The shoe that he presents does not fit with your confessional traditions all at all. He's not addressing Anglicanism's nor Presbyterianism's commitment to Reformed theology and connectionalism since 1563 and 1707, respectively.

15 Comments

I am neither Anglican nor Presbyterian (though certainly Calvinist) but I simply do not recognize those whom he was describing. Many of my friends are among the Young, Restless, and Reformed and none of them are skinny jeans hipsters. All of them are desperate to reach the lost with the good news that Jesus saves. Most of them reject homogeneity in the local church and pursue diversity (ethnic, socio-economic, cultural, etc.).

Ed Young is not really on my radar so I do not know who is attacking him. I know there are Calvinists out there who are not evangelistic. A friend who is a CRC pastor openly acknowledges his denomination is not on the cutting edge of evangelism, but they are also not rallying around Calvinism and seeking new converts to TULIP. They are most certainly not wearing skinny jeans and trying to out-cool the other guys (as you pointed out).

I am not sure who the shoe fits. It appears to be stitched together to match many feet.

My guess is he is reacting against people who are tired of all the surface level teaching/preaching, theatrics, etc. and are making their way FROM Fellowship Church TO The Village Church in Dallas. Matt Chandler, the pastor is Baptistic and Reformed. I agree whole heartedly that Anglicans and Presbyterians are not impacted by this rant. I would also add other NAPARC churches that hold to the 3 Forms of Unity (URCNA, RCUS, etc).

JT Richards said, "Many of my friends are among the Young, Restless, and Reformed and none of them are skinny jeans hipsters." Then I guess you're saying that you don't know many of them. You should travel more:). I've seen that a lot, all over the country. A LOT! (esp on the West Coast).

Ohhhhhh, Chris, now that makes sense. Didn't realize they were neighbors.

Ed Young isn't upset about Calvinism. He's upset about something else and he's using what he sees as markers to attack. How else do you combine Calvinism and the social gospel in the same rant?

The saddest thing is that he actually has some really good points buried deep in his rant but many won't hear them because of 1) how he communicates it and 2) the hypocrisy of the messenger. I mean, really, Ed Young criticizing anyone for trying to be fashionable? "Deformed ecclesiology" when his ecclesiology is more akin to a bishopric without any accountability?

He said "reformed theology." I doubt his people will pick up on the distinction.

Well said. I appreciate the reminder that this is in response to attacks he has likely experienced, and that there are some good challenges and questions here.

While I don't see the hipster connection, I can understand the charges of arrogance.

I observed while in college, a group of reformed young men on campus who decided that their newfound fervor for reformed theology meant they should publicly ridicule the large charismatic church in town through articles in a satirical newspaper.

As a young woman who shared their theological beliefs, it was disheartening that these guys saw mocking other believers (who may in fact have needed to be spoken to) as an extension of their love for the doctrines of grace.

But I, too, had something to learn as I certainly had a chip on my shoulder toward "obnoxious young reformed guys". The grace to see my own pride came later and thankfully, it keeps flowing to me (and hopefully, out of me from time to time).

Rusty, if you know about the history of the RCA or CRC denominations then the connection between the Calvinism and the social gospel makes sense.

I think what is really fueling Ed Young's rant is his desperation in the war over a dwindling resource in the church--young white professionals.

As sociologist Robert Wuthnow points out, churches in America grow because they retain their children. White boomers are sliding closer to the grave, their white children are not producing grandchildren in the quantity they used to and those grandchildren are leaving town to find work. With an increasingly itinerant workforce and falling birthrates among white Americans, white churches are left competing over this dwindling resource: the young white professionals.

Once you recognize this then a great deal of the strange behavior going on in white churches (conservative and liberal) starts making sense.

Whatever else Ed Young said in his YouTube rant, one thing came across loud and clear: his church is loosing its college-age members to Reformed campus ministries. Why? Because these Reformed church communities are not anti-intellectual and because they appear cooler than the Baptist churches in which they grew up.

Ed Young is right on both counts. From my experience on a number of university campuses across the US, it is the Reformed Christian students who are the ones who want to dig into the real theological questions. It is also the Reformed church communities that can seem almost suffocatingly precious and cool with a hipster desire for authentic faith and community (and macs and blogs and Sufjan Stevens).

Ed Young knows he can't compete with these churches directly in the battle over the increasingly scarce white young professional commodity. All that is left to him is to demonize the competition. He can't or won't do this in any intellectually satisfying way because that would make him the kind of "gear-head" Christian he is lampooning. Instead he becomes the very caricature of the theologically illiterate hell-fire preacher that drives college-age Christians either to leave the church completely or to seek a better faith.

Anthony,

You're right on that one. I had in mind what's currently in the SBC. The doctrinaire folks Young is worried about are typically even more ready to critique the social gospel than he is.

Dr. Slade's assessment certainly sounds right. Theological precision doesn't seem to be particularly associated with having a lot of babies...too bad...

Meanwhile, this is still happening:
http://www.nytimes.com/2004/12/07/opinion/07brooks.html

Although he mainly spoke about the YRR/New Calvinists, I believe that he was referring to all Reformed folk (though he carefully quantified his statement by saying "most")... but since he's an uninformed joke of a Pastor and an inept theologian, he created a bunch of strawmen in order to take a shot at the main (and pretty much only outspoken) opponents of his "teaching" mega-ministry (the theologically consistent and biblically faithful). In my opinion, he was making a broad generalization (mainly because he mentions election...indeed, a criticism of the Calvinist doctrine of "unconditional election" with regard to the commonly uneducated charge of hyper-calvinism in reference to the unwarranted accusation of the lack of evangelistic zeal). I don't think YRR (and I may be wrong), are as critical (apologetically) as the more historically-conscience Reformed folk, nor are they usually characterized by lack of evangelistic efforts (hence the derogatory "frozen chosen" and "dead orthodoxy" terminology usually reserved for older Reformed Churches)... in fact, his mentioning of "social gospel" (what I assume to be a crack at the "missional" movement) is a contradiction of sorts if one believes Young to only be speaking of the YRR movement. I know he speaks of "building wells" and "short-term missions" as philanthropy without the gospel (which I agree), but his connection of it to unconditional election wreaks of another deliberate misappropriation of Calvinist doctrine by an unqualified opponent. Perhaps there needs to be some clarification from Young's camp, but let's face it... it's not the first (or last) time an adversary of Reformed theology maligned it for the purpose of tightening their grip on the minds of those they influence.

Good points and practical questions in the conclusion, Dr. Bradley. I appreciate the willingness to seriously ponder the "good" criticism that was buried under the straw.

Seems like most PCA churches where I live in in Saint Louis MO want to reach which middle aged white people

It was a very difficult rant to follow. After a few times through, the only substantial complaint I could come up with was that he was perceiving reformed theology as merely fashionable. (Somehow.) Of course, since he does run a website called pastorsfashion.com, the hypocrisy is only more humorous.

If I permit myself to speculate on his psychology, it's far more likely that someone coming to a reformed understanding of Scripture asked him something he did not know or otherwise impugned his knowledge. He was constantly reasserting that as if he was trying to reassure himself or those involved.

In his own words, "Well I can talk over your head like that. *snaps fingers* I can go to the Hebrew, the Greek, I've done theology. You can tell I know"

I go to his father's church in Houston, 2nd Baptist, and I saw him preach over 20 years ago, before he went to Dallas. His dad and him are worlds apart, on many issues, I think more so especially now, but 20 years ago, it was all about church growth, and prosperity was the building block of all most all Houston churches at that time. Remember Lake Wood Church is here... I actually liked JR's preaching back then, and remember being disappointed that he left and that his brother stayed. However, as God grew me the reverse became true for me now.

I know some of the first quotes I heard from a pulpit attributed to Calvin were from his brother Ben Young, which I haven't seen for a long time since I moved up north and attend one of the expansion campuses. However, Jr. seems to have moved far more towards the seeker movement, and Faith movements as well often being seen in rather bad theological company like TD Jakes, and so on and so forth.

So who criticizes him? Well the combination of being a pastor of an SBC Mega church, seeker oriented, and openly embracing Faith Teachers will and is guaranteed to bring him up on the radar screens of all the big name of the current day reformed movement. John MacArthur, RC sproul, Todd Friel, Ray Comfort, and so on and so forth. In fact if you go onto the Wretched facebook page you'll often see him criticized harshly, and often with good reason.

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This page contains a single entry by Anthony Bradley published on June 27, 2012 7:27 AM.

What happened to popular Presbyterianism? :Boice, Ferguson, Sproul, Frame, etc. was the previous entry in this blog.

I believe Morton Smith: says PCA founded on theological commitments and to continue the ethos of the Old South is the next entry in this blog.

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