Don’t Hold Back! Essentials of the Reformed Faith for Faithful Service in a Pluralistic Setting

2 Timothy 1.1-5 and the Introduction to the Conference for Presbyterian & Reformed Chaplains in Europe,12-14 February 2010

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God according to the promise of the life that is in Christ Jesus, To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.  I thank God whom I serve, as did my ancestors, with a clear conscience, as I remember you constantly in my prayers night and day. As I remember your tears, I long to see you, that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well (2 Timothy 1.1-5 ESV).

Of the Second Epistle of the Apostle Paul to Timothy, Matthew Henry wrote:

“As this was a private epistle written to St. Paul’s most intimate friend, under the miseries of imprisonment, and in the near prospect of death, it shows the temper and character of the apostle, and contains convincing proofs that he sincerely believed the doctrines he preached.”

“He believed the doctrines he preached.” That sounds funny to our ears, or least to mine. I would imagine that Paul believed what he wrote, what he preached. But maybe Paul wondered if Timothy knew that. I wonder if Timothy ever wondered about the doctrines that were putting his mentor in prison, and might likely, probably, cost him his life. Thus, Timothy might have well thought that such doctrines could also kill him. I think that this is what Paul is getting at when he speaks about teaching with a “clear conscience.” He believes what he teaches, and he teaches it all the way through his life.

This conference is about doctrines—doctrines that can kill you, doctrines that could end your career, doctrines that run preachers out of churches, and doctrines that save souls, heal wounded spirits and are nothing but the Gospel of God and the only thing we have to say. That is the point of 2 Timothy: the doctrines that can kill you are the doctrines that bring life. It is a strange arrangement. But it is the way of the Cross. And is the only way we have been given to go. That too is the point of 2 Timothy.

And this weekend, we are here to consider the doctrines, consider our context for teaching those doctrines, and quite frankly, and rather simply, to stir you up to,

Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it (3.14).

The Context for Our Conference

We are living in interesting times. We are, as Howe and Strauss predicted 11 years ago in their best selling book, The Fourth Turning. These Harvard sociologists rekindled an interest in cyclical history with their ground-breaking book Generations. Business leaders and demographers and even preachers began to use the language of Strauss and Howe to describe the 13 recurring Anglo-American generations. Names like Boomers and Busters and Gen X became commonplace. Even the military uses them to describe the generational idiosyncrasies that bear upon the mission of the United States military. But the Fourth Turning took Generations and ramped it up to seek to establish that history, and Anglo-American history, in particular, is operating on a cycle of “natural rhythms of social experience.”

This cycle, they claim, is nothing new but is the ancient Roman understanding of the saeculum: a unit of time that comprises basically a human life span. Thus about every eighty to one hundred years there is a historical turning. Like the seasons, there are four. And these four repeat. The first turning is a High—a time of “strengthening institutions and weakening individualism when a new civic order implants and the old values regime decays.” The second turning is an Awakening. This is an era when the civic order “comes under attack from a new values regime.” The third turning is an Unraveling, as the old civic order decays under the weight of the new values that were introduced in the Awakening. Then comes the Fourth Turning. It is a winter, a crisis. How does it come? The writing of Strauss and Howe was amazingly accurate, off just a few years. But they wrote in the late nineties, as they were researching for the book:

“Sometime around the year 2005, perhaps a few years before or after, America will enter the Fourth Turning…a spark will ignite a new mood. Today, the same spark would flame briefly but then extinguish, its last flicker merely confirming and deepening the Unraveling-era mindset. This time though, it will catalyze a Crisis. In retrospect, the spark might seem as ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as trivial as a Tea Party.”

I didn’t make this up. And so their prediction of the beginning of this Fourth Turning, a time in which the nation, and as it is related to the world, undergoes catastrophic change, tax revolt, governmental crisis and more. World wars happen in Fourth Turnings. Institutions decay. And “with American weaknesses newly exposed, foreign dangers could erupt.” They authors describe an escalating national and world drama that touches on politics, religion, isolationism, racism, protectionism, anti-immigration, economic firestorms and the emergence of a new generation, the Young Heroes, basically your children and grandchildren who are around age 8-18 years old today, taking orders from the old Prophets, the Boomers, now moving into older age. Into this scenario, great wars are fought to the bitter end. And what emerges from that time is a new time of growth. A new High—like post World War II America. And a new order will arise, for the better or the worse.

But if we are in winter, then we see it ever so clearly in the ministry. We see the fears, the broken dreams and broken promises in the lives of people. The old civic order is decaying. Sarah Palin and the Tea Party movement are soaring in popularity as older order systems flounder. Republicans and Democrats scramble to reassure themselves that they matter even as millions of Americans of all ideologies now recognize the coming of winter and seek shelter. But always in such times there are those who seek to use the cover of this winter for opportunism.

During these times we could see things like old conservatives seeking to gain ground or old liberals seeking to use the icy years to introduce old ideas that couldn’t take before. We may be seeing that in our society. We may be seeing a robust, all out attack on Christianity and including an intolerance of not only evangelical Christianity, but also Reformed Christianity.

Yet at the same time something else is happening which many of you never thought you would see. Without intending it, we have come to the place where Calvinism is, well, cool. We were awakened to this trend by articles such as Collin Hanson in Christianity Today in 2006, which grew to become a very popular book, Young, Restless, Reformed. Tim Challis summarized not only the book, but also the movement itself, when he wrote:

“Restless youth are discovering anew the great doctrines of the Christian faith. Weary of churches that seek to entertain rather than teach, longing after the true meat of the Word, these young people are pursuing doctrine.”

American Christian youth are turning to the faith of the Puritan founders. They go to hear D.A. Carson lecture on Justification. They go to hear John Piper call them to a life of missions. Names like Mark Dever, Al Mohler, Tim Keller and R.C. Sproul (remember him? He is more popular than ever) draw thousands and thousands of people to their preaching events and their books. Publishing houses like P&R, Crossway, Christian Focus, Banner of Truth can’t keep up with the demand for more and more Reformed books. Seminaries like RTS and Covenant and Westminster and others are doing well, despite the recession, because recessions and “winter” Fourth Turnings cannot stop the ground swell of “Tea Party theologians,” who are crying out for the theology and Gospel witness of John Calvin and John Knox, the Puritans and the Covenanters, Jonathan Edwards and Charles Hodge.

These seminary students are demonstrably younger. They are coming because of influencers like Les Newsome of the Reformed University Fellowship at Ole Miss, or “RUF” singers like Matthew Smith, or by actually reading Calvin or the Puritans in places as divergent as Grove City College and the University of Oklahoma. One sermon that I preached, “Discerning God’s Call on Your Life” became a top download for our seminary on Apple’s  iTunes U as RTS now reaches 125,000 downloads per week! But in a real way this is the anticipated thing that happens when winter settles in. We cover up with the old quilts of our grandmothers. We go back to the faith of our mothers and our grandmothers. We return to the

…sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and  your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well  (2Timothy 1.5).

Of this faith, R. C. Sproul recently spoke hopefully about this phenomenon in American Christianity:

“The roots of reformed theology are springing new branches that go beyond the boundaries of traditional Presbyterian and Reformed bodies. Thousand of Baptist Christians are recovering their roots in the Reformation and untold numbers of ‘broad Evangelicals’ are looking for more substance and finding it in the historic writings of the thoroughgoing Reformed tradition.”

Even the New York Times is telling us that something is happening. Their columnist Molly Worthen recently wrote:

“…[certain new young Reformed preachers have] resurrected a particular strain of fire and brimstone, one that most Americans assume died out with the Puritans: Calvinism, a theology that makes Pat Robertson seem warm and fuzzy.”

She is rightt (about the resurgance of Calvinsim that is: no comment on Pat Robertson being warm and fuzzy). But again, you see what is happening: in the winter, in crisis, in a Fourth Turning,  you go back to the shelters, the old paths, the familiar places. And in this we who hold to the Reformed faith are in a good position. But even as in the 17th century when Puritanism was ascending in England, led by young squires from places like Emmanuel College, Cambridge, a veritable Puritan factory, and stoked by wise and unbending Scottish pastors like Samuel Rutherford, and English preachers like Jeremiah Burroughs, and Welsh ministers like Christopher Love—sought after Reformed celebrities of their day—this youthful movement was being opposed by the older orders. William Laud, the Archbishop of Cantebury, urged Charles I to lay down the Arminian law against the Calvinistic uprising.

The result was a civil war that pitted king against Parliament. English Puritans sought a league with Scotland to fight the King’s army and thus came the Solemn League and Covenant in 1638. Then the Parliament turned to create what became known as the Westminster Assembly of Divines to settle matters of Church and in particular the doctrine of the Church, the worship of the Church, and the ecclesiastical make up of the Church. Thus, the Westminster Assembly of 151 members, 30 of them laymen, met on July 1 of 1643, with both houses of Parliament present, to begin their work that lasted until around 1648, 1,163 sessions later.
Though the movement began to fragment over secondary and tertiary matters and overly political involvement, the ideas that were hammered out five days per week, from 9:00 in the morning until 1:00 or 2:00 PM in the afternoon, producing five great documents: the Directory of Public Worship, the Form of Government, two catechisms, and its premier work, the Confession of Faith, which in its 33 chapters includes 1,500 proof texts.

Indeed, the founding of our nation is in many ways the blooming of these ideas. And today Philip Jenkins has written books like The New Faces of Christianity and Mark Noll has written  The New Shape of World Christianity to show us that the ideas are living on and now blooming again in the global east and the global south. And thus the Anglican Archbishop of Uganda, Henry Luke Orombi, would open the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin this last summer in Geneva. He will also be the opening preacher at the World Reformed Fellowship in Edinburgh, meeting in April of this year. Calvinism is alive. But it is changing faces even as the Spirit is moving in our generation. The grace that is appearing in Africa and Asia is now returning to us! The Anglican Church in North America recently convened, having been planted by missionary bishops from Africa, South America and Asia. The new Archbishop (The Most. Rev. Robert Duncan) of the Anglican Church in North America, a Calvinistic-friendly group that is more Reformed than any other Anglican group in America, claimed at his convocation address (in June 23-25, 2009 at Bedford, Texas) that he had one goal: plant 1,000 churches in five years.

The Archbishop summed up the formation of this new Anglican province by saying, “It’s about the mission…” The Stated Clerk of the Presbyterian Church in America was so excited about his address that Dr. Roy Taylor told the Administrative Committee, on which I serve, that the PCA needs to have that kind of man address our assembly. He is reformed and he is on fire for Christ and the doctrines of the faith. I agree. So there is grace in winter in this Fourth Turning, if you will.

But that grace is going to be tested in winter, just like it was when Christianity appeared on the scene in Rome, and when Cranmer and Latimer and Ridley appeared on the scene under Bloody Mary and a most unreformed Catholic hierarchy bent on the hunting down and eradication of Protestantism in England in the 16th century; or just as it was when the Westminster Assembly hammered out amidst sectarian violence and war and bloody regicide and run away inflation and hardship and trials of the most severe nature. Grace is growing in winter. And the Reformed faith is and will grow, I believe, in this winter season of our nation. And it is winter. It is, to use Strauss and Howe’s phrase, The Fourth Turning.

What do we face in this winter?

We cannot help but agree with Alan Carlson that we are in a “civilization crisis” and one that devolved as a result of what the great, early Twentieth Century Lutheran economist, Wilhelm Köpke, described as

“a cultural retreat…a squandering of our inheritance linked to a continuous process of secularization.”

But there is more that we face than just a declining morality.

We face icy roads of Pluralism. Pluralism is an ideology. Pluralistic is an environment. One must be rejected or embraced. One is simply a fact of doing ministry. The Reformed faith, which we hold to be nothing more than the faith of the Bible, will not allow us to compromise on the truths of Christ and Covenant. We can be faithful to the old Reformed faith within that within a pluralistic environment, but the icy roads can hurt us. We can put on the brakes and if we do we go sliding. To navigate the icy roads we will face requires wisdom, and even being innocent and cunning at the same time, traits which our Savior warned us that we would have to employ in difficult times. But the next feature of this winter landscape could change it all.

We face the blistering Northeasters of governmental intrusion. This could come on the work of chaplains and ministers of the Gospel in general. For instance, the president of the United States has now said in his state of the union address that the military must abandon “Don’t Ask—Don’t Tell” and embrace open homosexuals into the military. The ramifications of this for faithful Gospel ministers are many, not to mention the ramifications for our military and our society. It is not clear whether the populate will go along with this. When winter sets in, old ideological fights must take the back seat to the emerging problems that become life threatening. That may be one of the greatest challenges to a presidential administration at this time: sorting through their agendas which would have been possibly successful before the crisis, before winter started, and trying to turn them into legislation during the early years of a crisis period in history, when the electorate is more concerned about jobs and war than social engineering. That is where I see us.

But I may be wrong. I did not come to forecast, hypothesize, prognosticate, or give political views. I came to say that within an obviously changing environment, both positively and negatively, it is time for us, as ministers and as chaplains in the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission to stand our ground, to not hold back on the truths that we believe to be the Word of God. And if indeed we are in winter, then it is time for grace. And grace is what we major in, because that is the faith of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Concern of our Conference

So in winter, Doug Lee has asked me to think and pray and work and prepare to call us to return to the Confession of Faith, the doctrines of grace, and to stand strong—with a warm and winsome expression of that faith, of course—but to stand strong and don’t hold back:

  • In proclaiming the Reformed faith in a winsome and warm way in all that you do:
    • In your ministry to your family, for the essentials of the Reformed faith are the essentials you want most for your family;
    • In your preaching; for the essentials of the Reformed faith are the essentials you want most for your sermons and devotions and Bible studies;
    • In your counseling; for the essentials of the Reformed faith are the essentials you know will bring Gospel transformation to the human soul;
    • In all of your work as a chaplain in the United States military; for the essentials of the Reformed faith are the essentials you will become force multipliers as men and women are grounded in a Biblical and Reformed worldview that impacts everyday decisions and thus impacts our very nation;
  • Therefore hold your convictions with “a clear conscience:” you were not only ordained to preach these doctrines, but there is something more.

It is not just that the old reformed faith is simply the Gospel. It not only that the Reformed faith is the Gospel and is revealed by the Bible to us as how God is redeeming the world, one life at a time, one family at a time, nations and peoples, generations now and in the future. It is not just these vital things. It is this: You cannot withhold that faith which convinced you. You can’t do it, not only because it is a denial of Christ’s command, but you can’t withhold that faith because that is the faith that gives you joy and gives your ministry meaning. You love the Reformed faith or you wouldn’t have come into your Reformed denomination.

Last week I spent three full days teaching on Renewing Your Passion for Preaching at the US Air Force Chaplain College. While there I called them to what Eugene Peterson has named, “vocational holiness.” It simply means doing the things you were called to do in order to bring about God’s purposes as well as to realize vocational satisfaction. And today I call you to theological holiness. You have sworn that the Reformed faith is the system of doctrine taught in Scripture because you believed it. You believed it when you heard Francis Schaeffer teaching it, or you heard Sam Patterson preaching it or Jim Baird or D. James Kennedy preaching it, or you read more of Edwards than just “Sinners in the Hands…” while in college, or you first heard that Martyn Lloyd-Jones sermon tape.

But somewhere, somewhere back there in your past, God shook you. He leveled you beneath the awesome doctrine of His sovereignty, or He quieted you with the doctrine of Assurance, or He shook you up with the doctrine of “by faith alone, through grace alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, and to the glory of God alone.” Maybe He got you when you began to admit that the eschatological charts were too complicated, and that the oneness and unity of the people of God allowed you to claim Abraham as your own spiritual father. And all you knew was that Christ came and He was coming again. And you had to leave the rest with the Lord.

Maybe you read Kistemaker or took Kistemaker on Revelation 21 and his kind, gentle but precise exegetical skills allowed you to see the great apocalyptic book of Jesus in a new way. Maybe it was the old Pensacola Bible Institute, or maybe it was a commentary by Ed Clowney, or maybe it was someone who invited you to a small but faithful grace preaching congregation. And you heard the minister, whose name you cannot remember today, teach about that grace: a grace of God that is unmixed with man’s efforts. Maybe it was a chaplain. Maybe a coach or a teacher. Maybe a fellow worker, or a tract on a train. Maybe it was the teaching of your parents that finally took root. But however God dealt with you, and you came to see that the Reformed faith is the faith of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the faith of Jesus and of Paul. And you stood on the shoulders of giants like B.B. Warfield who wrote of this faith:

“Theism comes to its rights. Calvinism is religion at the height of its conception. Calvinism is evangelicalism in its purest and most stable expression.”

And that faith became your faith.

Your call to the chaplaincy was to preach that faith in a pluralistic culture, but nevertheless to preach it, to love it, to share it with young soldiers and airmen and guardsmen and sailors and Marines, to preach it at chapels at West Point, to share it in caves of Kandahar, on carriers in the “Gulf,” and in a Bible study in a barracks at Patrick Henry Village in Heidelberg.

But something might have happened. The pressures are so many: rank, pluralism, distance from a presbytery or other Reformed chaplains, or the winter of intimidation and confusion over the future. Maybe you are not as excited about that faith as you once were.

Welcome to our conference. I will no longer lecture you on sociological theory or even ecclesiastical history or current events. I want to take you back where we started: in 2 Timothy. There Paul is going to download his heart to a young pastor who has been suffering, and maybe, as we read the text, is even weakened by opposing forces and by the fatigue of ministry. He will be bolstered in his faith by one who is about to die and knew it. His letter of instruction and of encouragement to “Don’t Hold Back!” comes from a cell and comes from one who is not holding back himself, though his stance will cost him his life.

Welcome to a time where my goal will be to simply baptize us in the warm waters of this epistle, to feel the flow again of the Reformed faith, as we see it so clearly in Scripture, wash us, cleanse us, renew us, and anoint us for fresh service to Christ and to people. Our method will be to walk through each chapter, take a time out for a small group interaction as we wrestle with one or more of the expositional truths, applying to the military setting, and then coming back together to talk about it as a group. Then we will pray. And I want to sing a song over you before you go, and to seek to love you, the way you loved me last year, when you gathered around to lay hands on me in my role as a president of Reformed Theological Seminary.

I want to now return, in this winter, in this time of our lives, to encourage you, “Don’t Hold Back.” And together we will seek to see how the essentials of the Reformed faith, the essentials of the faith that Paul urged upon Timothy in this epistle, will be used of the Lord in our lives, in our ministries.

Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it (3.14).

“Don’t Hold Back!” begins with 2 Timothy chapter one. There will be nothing fancy. Just text, exposition, talking it through in small groups and large groups, and prayer. May God bless us as we begin. May He glorify Himself in our lives as believers, as ministers, and as chaplains in the winter of our lives. And may many souls be thawed out, Narnia-like, from the icy charms of Satan, and brought into the presence of Aslan the righteous, even our Savior Jesus Christ.


1 Matthew Henry, Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Condensed) Ver. 7.1 (Accordance Bible Software).

2 William Strauss and Neil Howe, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, Kindle ed. (New York: Broadway Books, 1997).

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid. 72-75

6 Ibid.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid. 5705-5707.

9 See page 8 in Michael Milton, “The Once and Future Calvin,” Monergism (2009).

10 Ibid.

11 From his blog, and here quoted from his review of Young, Restless, and Reformed at

12 See the online article at

13 Rev. Brian W. Kinney, ed. The Confessions of Our Faith: The Fortress Edition, with a historical introduction by Dr. David B. Calhoun ed. (Fortress Book Service and Publishers, 2007).

14 Philip Jenkins, The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South (Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006).

15 Mark A. Noll, The New Shape of World Christianity: How American Experience Reflects Global Faith (Downers Grove, Ill.:IVP Academic, 2009).

16 See the press conference video at

17 Quoted from Milton.

18 Ibid.

19 Chaplain (Brigadier General) Douglas Lee, United States Army (Retired) is the Executive Director of the Presbyterian and Reformed Joint Commission on Chaplaincy and the Coordinator for Chaplain Ministries for Mission to North America in the Presbyterian Church in America.

20 The syllabus is located online at

21 See Eugene H. Peterson, Under the Unpredictable Plant: An Exploration in Vocational Holiness (Grand Rapids, MI: W. B. Eerdmans, 1992).

22 See Milton.

Matthew Henry’s Commentary (Condensed) 7.1. Accordance Bible Software.

Howe, William Strauss and Neil. The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy. Kindle ed. New York: Broadway Books, 1997.

Jenkins, Philip. The New Faces of Christianity: Believing the Bible in the Global South. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Kinney, Rev. Brian W., ed. The Confessions of Our Faith: The Fortress Edition: Fortress Book Service and Publishers, 2007.

Milton, Michael A. “The Once and Future Calvin.” Monergism  (2009). [accessed February 11, 2009].

Noll, Mark A. The New Shape of World Christianity : How American Experience Reflects Global Faith. Downers Grove, Ill.: IVP Academic, 2009.

Peterson, Eugene H. Under the Unpredictable Plant : An Exploration in Vocational Holiness. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1992.

About Michael A. Milton, Ph.D.

Michael A. Milton, Ph.D., MPA (University of Wales; University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill), is an American Presbyterian pastor, theologian, and author.
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