Last week I had the wonderful privilege of powering through Austin Fischer’s new theological memoir, Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed. At this point, it probably surprises very few that I am and have been an outspoken opponent of Calvinism (a systematic theological system through which some Christians understand concepts like providence, salvation, and so on).
Quite frankly, I have approached the issue with a kind of obsession these past four or so years. For a while there around 2011, the whole thing became a source of great personal anxiety and emotional turmoil. I have read dozens of books, essays and articles from both Calvinist and non-Calvinist scholars, pastors and theologians. I read their blogs. I listen to their sermons. The guys I agree with and the guys I couldn’t disagree with more. Regularly. For better or for worse.
And yet, Mr. Fischer’s book hit me like a breath of fresh air. Much of the compelling discussion taking place over systematic theology happens in the academic world. Scholars use scripture, logic, philosophy, etc. There are, of course, exceptions, but very few written works I know of blend theology and story in such a personal and “pastoral” package. Austin Fischer was a Jesus-follower who found a home in Calvinism.
Eventually, that home became inhospitable. There were trailing phantoms in the shadows. His once welcoming house found itself cold, claustrophobic, haunted. So he left home.
This book tells that story.
It’s enough to carry a fascinating, convicting, provocative read (and it does all of the above very well), but us “anti-Calvinists” can read folks we agree with already all day long just to breathe a heavy “amen!” and go about our business. Something unexpectedly impacting, however, happened while I was enjoying Austin’s book.
it occurred to me that God loves me.
How and why this happened, and what I did as a result of this “new” information, I will detail further in a later post. For now, let me invite my Reformed brothers and sisters to read Austin’s book. (And Classic Arminians, and Open Theists, and Free-Will Theists, etc.)
One of the side-effects of attempting to think critically is honest consideration of the validity of opposing views. That is to say, I cannot denounce Calvinism (with any validity anyway) without fully understanding the view as it is understood by the view-holder, and then weighing the view with full sincerity and consideration. I.e., go to a Calvinist to understand Calvinism, then go to the opponents. Know how to explain the view as the view-holder would explain it. Ask yourself, honestly, could they be right?
Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed lays its intentions bare from the outset: it is not meant to be read as a silver bullet to Calvinist theology. It is not primarily a response or rebuttal to any argument or theologian. It’s Austin Fischer’s story in and out of Calvinism. Sure, there’s a lot of theology along the way, and Romans 9 gets a bit of dissection, but the book is primarily a story. Austin’s story.
As fun and engaging and affecting as Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed is to read for someone who is already not a Calvinist (and/or someone who has never been one), my prayer is that this story finds a home on the bookshelves of my Reformed brothers and sisters.
With humility, with kindness… I believe this book is important.
To my brothers and sisters who identify as Reformed, Calvinist, Neo-Calvinist, whatever… Please consider picking up Mr. Fischer’s book. Borrow a copy. Request one at your library. It doesn’t have to change your mind or upend your world, but it will certainly make you think. I encourage you as someone who does and will continue to read and study the other “team” myself. Email me (josh at showbread dot net) and recommend a book, essay, article, sermon from someone who takes issue with my view. Maybe we can read and discuss together.
After all, as Austin so eloquently puts it: good theology walks with a limp.