Trading Doctrines Like Pokemon Cards
There is a plague of young men who call themselves Christians and call themselves Reformed who can quote the greatest theologians and speak all the right lingo and call the Puritans their homeboys and who trade Bible doctrines back and forth like they were Pokemon cards. They believe that what makes them Reformed is the right catechism or believe that their doctrine has something to do with beards and beer and cigars but in spite of their facial hair and affinity for certain Christian liberties are nothing but little boys playing church! Listen to me, beloved, Christ did not call you to be a hipster; Christ has called you to be Holy. – Jesus Did Not Call You to Be Hipsters
JD Hall once wrote there are those who trade doctrines like Pokemon cards, and this statement is a fine assessment of believers in our culture. He gave the same line in his sermon on the Young, Restless and Reformed at Reformation Montana in 2015, entitled Jonathan Edwards and Hipster Christianity, in which he spoke of certain young men whose affinity for doctrine seem surface-level at best and is often poorly reflected in their speech and conduct. These types, he claimed, seemed to blow in the wind because theology has come to be more of a hobby than true confession. And hobbies often change with our interests, social group, latest novelties and whims.
Perhaps there’s nowhere this shifting sand is better displayed than in the Young, Restless and Reformed (YRR) movement, and particularly certain corners of the movement in various social media outlets on the interwebs. Perhaps nowhere else getting it so wrong regularly comes as close to getting it so right. Perhaps nowhere else the high hopes of elder theological statesmen are dashed in such bitter disillusion. It has become so close, and yet so far.
In the YRR, things often seem good. There are enthusiastic, energetic young people in their twenties and thirties who are coalescing around discussions of theology and doctrine. They’ve made it cool to read RC Sproul and John Piper. They post Instagram photos taken with their selfie-sticks when they get in new books like Frame’s Systematic Theology or the collective works of John Owen. While others are posting about their fantasy baseball leagues or Auburn vs Alabama, they’re arguing about presuppositional versus classical apologetics. Not even parenthood seems to damper their impregnable youthfulness, as they dress their kids up as Martin Luther and John Calvin for Halloween and have mixed their theology with all the vices of youthful carnality, like a preoccupation with alcohol and coarse jesting (while throwing in Colossians 3:17 to clarify they do it for the glory of God). They’re a jolly young lot and have a better grasp of essential Christian vocabulary than the last three generations steeped in the revivalist or church growth movements, hands down.
And yet, things in the YRR are not all as they appear. Some change their confession regarding baptism like it’s a preference between light and dark beer. Others are postmillennial, premillennial or amillennial based off of what day of the week it is. Heck, some who were Presbyterians yesterday will become Baptists today and Lutherans tomorrow. And each time they make such a transition (or back) they’ll give a social media update to let everyone know they traded a Charizard for a Venusaur, and all the Charizard fans mourn while the Venusaur fans cheer. But no worry, Charizard fans. They’ll be back next week. Maybe. Or they could be on to the Shadow Lugia in a few days.
While we should praise the Lord that our skinny jeans-wearing, bearded brethren aren’t trading Creflo for Joel, it’s a serious problem when they treat even good and historic doctrines like menu items on a buffet line. Golden Corral’s successful business model asks the question, “Who says you can’t have spaghetti with a side of fried catfish and a chimichanga?” And while that taste combination may seem undesirable to some, the girth-growing success of the buffet restaurant chain proves the truism that the consumer is king. And yet, the spiritual equivalent of such buffet cuisine is how some in the YRR camp can call themselves both Calvinist and charismatic. They can consider themselves Reformed and go to a satellite campus church. They can admire the Puritans and act lasciviously. The problem is that in the spiritual realm, the consumer is not king. It’s not commendable that some play musical chairs with Christian doctrines.
In John MacArthur’s epic article, Grow Up. Settle Down. Keep Reforming., the arch-exegete admonishes young men to avoid the immaturity, instability and inconsistency within the movement. MacArthur writes…
Our chief concerns have to do with immaturity, instability, and inconsistency in the YRR movement. It is clear from Scripture, of course, that people who are young need to aim for maturity (2 Peter 3:18; Ephesians 4:13; Hebrews 5:12-14)—not perpetual adolescence. Scripture likewise makes clear that it’s better to be “like a tree planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3) than to be constantly restless.
When theology becomes correlated with coolness, then convictions are driven by trying to prove one’s theological credentials. We’ve all seen it happen. Cessationists sometimes feel the desire to out-cessation each other (you listen to Ravenhill, you heretic?). Eschatology-centric people try to out-eschaton each other (Obama was elected because it’s the premillennialists’ fault). Reformed people sometimes try to out-Covenant each other (if you don’t baptize your infants you might as well be Charles Finney). Family-integrated churches try to out-integrate each other (we only have family bathrooms, ’cause Deuteronomy 6). You get the point. And when you have young men whose coolness, relevance or hipness is directly related to whatever [fill in your niche doctrinal trading card] then they’re on an endless journey to achieve maximum theology coolness points.
While Semper Reformanda (Always Reforming) embodies the spirit of the Reformation, Semper Fluctuatio (Always Wavering) seems to be the spirit of the Young, Restless and Reformed. Becoming less or more [fill in your niche doctrinal trading card] and to accepting or embracing lesser doctrines accordingly is far different than Reforming oneself according to Scripture. If even the teachers in these circles can’t decide on whether they are credobaptist or paedobaptist, for crying out loud, they should find teachers who do not struggle with immaturity, instability and inconsistency.
As the Apostle Paul taught, we must “ no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14, ESV).