June 7, 2013
Friday Five Interview: Kevin DeYoung
Are young evangelicals taking seriously the pursuit of holiness? One author and pastor doesn't think so.
For today's entry in the Friday Five interview series, we catch up with Kevin DeYoung. He is the senior pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University. His blog, DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed, is one of the most popular in the Christian blogosphere. Kevin is a council member of The Gospel Coalition and the author of several books, including Why We Love the Church, Just Do Something, and his latest, The Hole in Our Holiness.
Today we talk to Kevin about the future of the Young, Restless, Reformed (YRR) movement, why pastors shy away from preaching on holiness, and how he manages to root for Chicago sports teams in the heart of Michigan.
Five years ago, Collin Hansen profiled the YRR movement. Where is that movement today?
It’s hard to say what has become or will become of something as amorphous as the YRR movement. There are certainly weaknesses: friendships get frayed and coalitions get fractured. And of course there are the sins that plague any human movement—pride, envy, impatience, judgmentalism, cowardice. But on the whole I think the movement has matured. I’m encouraged by a growing interest in personal holiness and world missions. I’m also encouraged, and this may sound strange, that YRR is not “all the rage” like it was several years ago. People are investing in their specific groups and denominations.
Most importantly, people are investing in their local churches. That’s the key. Our little movement, at its best, celebrates and supports the confluence of many like-minded networks, congregations, and pastors. I believe God often uses movements like ours, but Christ did not promise anything to movements. His promises are for the church (Matt. 16:18). That’s what really matters.
You're part of a mainline denomination (Reformed Church in America) that has endured some of the same cultural battles over homosexuality and other issues. How would you counsel pastors like yourself (with core evangelical convictions) who pastor in liberal-leaning denominations?
I don’t know how to counsel pastors in mainline denominations because I’m not even sure what counsel to give myself. I’ve been a part of the Reformed Church in America my whole life. I was baptized in an RCA congregation, made profession of faith in the RCA, was ordained in the RCA, and have served two churches in the RCA. I’m thankful for all the good churches and godly men and women I’ve encountered in our little, historic denomination. And yet, the divisions in the denomination are massive: a popular and respected seminary professor just published a revisionist book on homosexuality, a classis in New Jersey has an ordained and installed lesbian minister, the denomination may remove the conscience clauses that have protected complementarians like me and my church. We are coming to a crossroads.
The only advice I’m sure of is that evangelical pastors in mainline denominations need to be more involved. As long as we are in these more liberal denominations, we have to do the hard work of attending meetings, knowing our polity, and not shying away from controversy. If we aren’t willing to do that, or if we think the denomination is a waste of time or a lost cause, then we should join with some other group where we can live out our covenant commitments more faithfully.
Your recent book, The Hole in our Holiness, critiques the gospel-centered movement for a tendency to underemphasize holiness. Do you think pastors and church leaders lean away from holiness for fear of being legalistic?
First let me make clear that antinomianism and legalism are both dangers. I hope no one takes my book to be trading one disease for the other. But to answer your question: yes, I think many pastors are so afraid of legalism that they don’t know what to do with the commands of Scripture. Jesus told us in the Great Commission to make disciples of the nations by teaching them to obey everything he has commanded. Pastors can’t be faithful to Matthew 28:18–20 if they aren’t willing to teach their people the indispensable nature of obedience. Legalism is when we make our works to be meritorious. Exhorting God’s chosen, forgiven, and adopted children to obey the commands of Scripture is Christianity.
There is a tension in the New Testament. On the one hand we are told, over and over again, that sanctification is all of grace. And yet there are a lot of active verbs that urge Christians to strive and toil and work in pursuit of holiness. How do pastors balance this in their preaching?
In one sense, no balance is necessary. We can’t work too hard and we can’t emphasize grace too much. Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 15:10 are instructive: “I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” Pastors need to boldly preach all the indicatives of the New Testament. We are dead to sin, raised with Christ, heirs with Christ, seated with Christ, in union with Christ. And we must also boldly preach all the imperatives of the New Testament. The basic ethic in the New Testament is “be who you are.” First we know who we are positionally in Christ, and then we are told to progressively grow into that reality. The entire event—definitive sanctification and progressive sanctification—is from God’s grace. But this doesn’t nullify making every effort in the pursuit of holiness (2 Peter 1:5; Hebrews 12:14).
If you could give one piece of advice to a young pastor or church planter, what would that be?
Don’t forget the fourth “P.” When I started out in ministry I told people that my ministry philosophy boiled down to three things: preaching, prayer, and being with people. Years later, I heard Mark Dever outline a fourth element: patience. I could have used that earlier in ministry. Young pastors and church planters, don’t be in a hurry. You can do less than you think in these next five years, but more than you think in the next 50. Be patient.
Bonus Question: You were born near Chicago (South Holland, Illinois), and I've noticed that you continue to support Chicago sports teams (particularly the White Sox) while living in Detroit. Do your parishioners give you grief about this?
Yes. All the time. Thankfully, for me, the Pistons and Lions haven’t been very good. The Red Wings usually are, but so are the Blackhawks. It’s the Tigers who are particularly annoying. People in my church love their sports, but are pretty good natured about the grief they give ... as long as I don’t ever root for that school in Ann Arbor. That would be much less forgivable.