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Les Lanphere is making a scene

Call them Five-Point Calvinists. Call them the “Young Reformed.” Call them unapologetic craft beer enthusiasts. Just don’t call them late to the party.

Calvinism is back,” declared Time Magazine in 2009, heralding the movement as one of the top 10 ideas changing the world that year.

Here at gospelthread, we’re deeply committed to Reformed theology—specifically the rich gospel-centered way that it interprets every passage of the bible in light of the gospel of Jesus.

Les Lanphere likes Reformed theology, too—so much that he’s making a movie about it.

Les Lanphere is the filmmaker behind the successful Kickstarter campaign to make a documentary called "Calvinist."

Les Lanphere is the filmmaker behind the successful Kickstarter campaign to make a documentary called "Calvinist."

As a filmmaker, Lanphere has worked on films like “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” and “Epic,” and specializes in a type of post-production called “compositing,” or taking all of the elements in a scene and making everything look like it works together.

In fact, compositing might be a nifty way to understand how God has coalesced some of the unlikeliest people around the unlikeliest of doctrines under the banner of “Young" and "Reformed.”

It’s quite a scene. And it works.

“Some of these Young Reformed people I’m talking to don’t look like me, don’t look like my pastor, but they are just as much in love with the Lord,” Lanphere told me. “It’s a beautiful thing to see.”

For the past month, he has laid aside graphic design and become a journalist, hot on the heels of one of his favorite stories. This one’s about his people—where they came from, where they’re headed, and what they need to remember right this moment.

“Calvinism should change the way you live your life, it should change your family,” said Lanphere, a husband and father of four. “The thing I’m most passionate about is helping people realize that the Five Points of Calvinism should ultimately lead to Reformed worship.”

Part retrospective, part explainer and part prophecy, “Calvinist” already has Lanphere flying all over the country to sit down with people like Joe Thorn and, soon, Kevin DeYoung. He’s going to let them tell the story of how Reformed theology made a roaring comeback in 21st century America.

“I think some of us (Young Reformed) have moved past that honeymoon stage of realizing how beautiful and life-altering these things are,” he told me. “And, really, how insane the movement was—everyone becoming Calvinist at once. I want to revisit that. I want to see that again with fresh eyes, to look back and realize how crazy it was, that we all had this same experience.”

Ultimately, he hopes that by revisiting the origins of the movement, he can help restore some of the awe that characterized its members early on.

“I feel like we’ve moved into the place where we’re trying to sift through the nitty-gritty of the doctrines, which is good,” he said. “But I want us to still be in awe.”

So “Calvinist” will be for Calvinists, of course.

But it will also provide a fresh look at the actual doctrines of John Calvin, for critics of Reformed theology who think they have it pegged—or who base their opinion of the movement on a handful of tense debates over the Five Points.

Without even realizing it, Lanphere spent the past several years laying the groundwork for a killer Kickstarter campaign by hosting a podcast called “Reformed Pubcast,” which is about the seemingly disparate subjects of theology and craft beer: On every episode of the show, he explained, “We’d have a beer and talk about theology. We started a Facebook group, and the Facebook group kind of took on a life of its own.”

There are now 12,600 members in the group—mostly young people “who are theologically minded and Reformed in their theology—and at least OK with seeing pictures of beer, if not passionate about craft beer and cigars.”

These were the folks who, in the course of a few days, pledged tens of thousands of dollars of support, and spread the word far beyond their own online community.

“I thought maybe, over the course of the month, I might hit” the original goal of $35,000, Lanphere said.

Well, the campaign hit $35,000 in three days and kept going. As of this writing, the project has raised nearly $68,000, giving Lanphere the ability to hire some extra help, conduct additional interviews, and expand the scope of the project far beyond his original vision.

Backed by more than 750 Kickstarter investors, Lanphere hopes to be done filming by January, and will release the film either next summer, or on Oct. 31, 2017—the much-heralded 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

“Ultimately, God wants this movie to exist,” Lanphere said in good, sound Calvinist parlance. “So I will do my best to obediently put my hands to the work, and do everything I can to make a good movie."


Les Lanphere

  • Current city: Port St. Lucie, Florida
  • Home church: Christ the King Presbyterian Church, Port St. Lucie
  • In one sentence, what do you do for a living? I am (apparently) a filmmaker.
  • How does the gospel shape your work? I am passionate about what the Lord is doing in this generation, and I want to help celebrate this movement of God.
  • Tell us about someone who has been influential in your Christian life and what you learned from them: My pastor, J.C. Cunningham. He has shown me how important the local church really is to the Christian life, and given me the beginning of an understanding of what worship truly is.
  • What was your introduction to the gospel-centered/Young Reformed movement? When I was an Arminian, a lot of my friends would confront me and debate with me. The final nail in the coffin of my Arminianism was a Paul Washer video. He explained what regeneration actually was, and I very dramatically became a Calvinist in one moment.
  • Recommended reading? Right now I’m going through A.W. Pink’s “The Attributes of God,” which is a short book, but great; and I have started reading “Biblical Theology” by Geerhardus Vos, which is really challenging, but a blessing even though it’s hard.

Now that you know the story of the storyteller who’s telling the story of the Young Reformed movement, check out his Kickstarter campaign, which wraps up on Saturday. Below is a trailer to whet your whistle, as they might say in the Reformed Pub.

Drawing a crowd

Kill your self-ie stick