(Cascade Books, 2014)
I went to college in the thriving Belton-Temple metroplex, right at the heart of Central Texas. Though we had Mexican restaurants that could vie with the best of them, Belton was and is mostly known as one of the many schools Bobby Hill played in high-school football. There are some good things happening there, though. There’s a staggering number of churches in the area, and from what I can tell they mostly seem like good places. One of those churches, which I hear is a very good place, is the Vista Community Church. Austin Fischer, the Teaching Pastor at that church, published a short but substantial little book around two years ago. The book’s title is Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed: Black Holes, Love, and a Journey In and Out of Calvinism. I took a day to read it, and it was really good.
The first thing you should know, though, is that I am a deeply Reformed person. So, this review is from someone who, in large part, the book is written against. And I can verify that my side was not cheapened, demeaned, or straw-manned in order to sell copies or gain converts. No, Fischer did an honest and fair job representing both his opponents and his views. And that, I think, is something that people on both sides of the argument could learn quite a bit from.
So, on to the book itself. This very brief, 109 page book is extremely well written: the style is compelling, the analogies are clear, and the book moves forward in a neatly organized manner. The book is perhaps one of the most readable and stylistically engaging non-fiction volumes on the shelves right now. And, on top of that, the book’s graphic designer deserves a raise. Everything about the beauty of the book, from the words to the colors, are executed perfectly. And that’s reason enough to check the volume out.
Second, and more importantly, I want you to know that the book’s content is substantial. Fischer brings forward very valid reasons for doubting Calvinism, but one should not expect any new insights or arguments from this most recent in a long line of anti-Calvinist pop theological books. The basic claim of the book is that God cannot both be loving and be the ultimate cause of individuals suffering in hell for eternity. Provocatively, Fischer contrasts preaching God’s love at the gates of Auschwitz, which for him remains a difficult but real possibility, and preaching God’s love at the gates of Calvinist Hell, which stretches Fischer’s credulity to the breaking point. While Fischer’s claim is valid, and while he argues it in perhaps the most beautiful prose I have yet read it in, it is a very, very old argument. It stretches not only back to Arminius himself (who lived from 1560-1609, and who is the namesake of “Arminians”), but even to the Council of Orange in 529 (a lesser known and less important church council) which said, “We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.” So, while those versed in the now well-overplayed and over-emphasized Calvinist-Arminian debate (which I personally find quite tiring) will not come across any new or sensational arguments in Fischer’s book, they will hear old arguments rehearsed in a new, compelling way. Think of it not as a new, groundbreaking play, but a fresh reproduction of a Shakespearean classic. We all know Macbeth, some by heart, but that doesn’t make watching Patrick Stewart (best known for his role as Professor Xavier) in the stunning 2010 modernizing reproduction any less fun or compelling. Similarly, Fischer’s reworking of classic Arminian arguments is nothing new, but is a beautiful remastered edition of some very old material.
In conclusion, Austin Fischer’s Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed has this Calvinist’s qualified endorsement. Though I obviously don’t think Fischer solves the problem of divine-human agency (my mind wasn’t changed, after all), nor does he present any substantially new arguments for his side, he does so in a way that provokes thought, dialogue, and respect for both beautiful prose and the theological Other. If you are interested in the debate over divine sovereignty and human free will, and have either never before read about the debate or are looking for a well-crafted distillation of the Arminian position, this book just might be right for you.
Gerhard Stübben is a student at Baylor University’s George W. Truett Theological Seminary. He co-hosts Podcastica Patristica, a podcast about early Christian history and theology, which you can listen to at podcasticapatristica.com or on your favorite podcasting app.