How the modern concept of self-creation turns Christian community into personal identity.
The recent death of pastor-theologian Tim Keller sparked nostalgia for my young, restless days as part of the Young, Restless, and Reformed (YRR) movement he helped lead.
As someone raised in Christian fundamentalism, it offered me a kind of holy rebellion where free grace, contemporary music, and cultural engagement came packaged with God’s glory and power. But two decades on, I find myself less Young, Restless, and Reformed and more Old, Tired, and Reorienting.
I can’t help but wonder how I got from here to there. What path led me from the traditions of my childhood to and through other ones? How much of my spiritual path was chosen, and how much was given? Was my spiritual life “begotten or made”?
The idea that our faith journeys are larger than our choices challenges the very spirituality most of us take for granted. A committed personal relationship with God is a feature of most modern expressions of Christianity. My 17-year-old son, for example, finds it anathema that children could be baptized against their will. He’s not making a theological claim so much as an anthropological one, informed by a larger American culture that assumes self-creation through choice.
In fairness to him, the majority of low church traditions—including the one I was reared in—hold this same individualist assumption. Commitment to personal conversion and voluntary association may also explain why nondenominational churches now represent the largest segment of American Protestants.
These churches are deeply and inexhaustibly modern, not because of their sneakers and fog machines, but because they align with our contemporary understanding of choice. Without a denominational progenitor, they embody self-determination …