"The New York Times" Tackles the Calvinist Resurgence Within Evangelicalism

M. Dever. Photo Credit: Drew Angerer of NY Times

Calvinism is apparently cool again.  At least that is the image presented by Rev. Mark Dever in the photo accompanying Mark Oppenheimer’s New York Times piece, “Evangelicals Find Themselves in the Midst of a Calvinist Revival.”  I am not familiar with Dever or his ministry at the Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, but his casual and relaxed style, his leather coat, and his faded jeans speak volumes about the nature of this so-called “Calvinist revival.”

I think that a historian of American evangelicalism who is in town for the AHA needs to make a research trip to Dever’s church on Sunday morning.

Here is a taste of Oppenheimer’s piece:

Evangelicalism is in the midst of a Calvinist revival. Increasing numbers of preachers and professors teach the views of the 16th-century French reformer. Mark Driscoll, John Piper and Tim Keller — megachurch preachers and important evangelical authors — are all Calvinist. Attendance at Calvin-influenced worship conferences and churches is up, particularly among worshipers in their 20s and 30s.
In the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, the rise of Calvinism has provoked discord. In a 2012 poll of 1,066 Southern Baptist pastors conducted by LifeWay Research, a nonprofit group associated with the Southern Baptist Convention, 30 percent considered their churches Calvinist — while twice as many were concerned “about the impact of Calvinism.”
Calvinism is a theological orientation, not a denomination or organization. The Puritans were Calvinist. Presbyterians descend from Scottish Calvinists. Many early Baptists were Calvinist. But in the 19th century, Protestantism moved toward the non-Calvinist belief that humans must consent to their own salvation — an optimistic, quintessentially American belief. In the United States today, one large denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America, is unapologetically Calvinist. 
Darryl Hart:  I turn this one over to you.

7 thoughts on “"The New York Times" Tackles the Calvinist Resurgence Within Evangelicalism

  1. Thanks for the reply, Dr. Fea!

    I definitely agree that Messiah is an intellectual place! It makes sense that Sawatsky would encourage us to engage with other facets of Christianity that complement our own. I read his book Gracious Christianity and he himself was a gracious man from what I hear.

    I definitely found myself enriched by the diverse Christian representations at MC. My long-time roommate, for example, was an Assemblies of God guy and now is an AG pastor. We still have lively theological discussions to this day!

    I think it was Spring 2003, maybe, but close enough :-).

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  2. John Chase: Great comment. I have often made the same argument in the context of Messiah College. I am not saying that Messiah is an anti-intellectual place. It is not. But the Anabaptist tradition in which the school was founded does not contain the theological resources for cultivating the intellectual life. I remember former Messiah president Rod Sawatsky telling me that Anabaptists (Mennonites, Brethren in Christ, Church of the Brethren, etc…)need to learn more about how to cultivate a Christian mind from their fellow believers in other traditions. (Of course Calvinists can learn a lot about social justice, community, the dangers of nationalism, and peacemaking from Anabaptists).

    I drove past 4th Presbyterian this morning. I have heard great things about it and have known several folks over the years who have attended that congregation.

    Glad to hear you are doing well. It has been a long time since that U.S. History survey class. I want to say it was Spring 2002.

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  3. I think one explanation for the uptick in Calvinist-leaning evangelicals is a desire for a faith that engages the mind–a priority that has always been high on the list in the Reformed tradition. If you want to think carefully about your faith, then I'm not sure there even exists another rigorous framework for theology. Systematic Theology is almost Reformed by definition.

    Our church (Fourth Presbyterian, also here in the DC metro area) certainly fits this description and offers many classes each semester that are pretty academic, on a variety of topics that change each semester. I think there are many who find welcome at our church for the reasons I described above, and the reasons mentioned in the NY Times article.

    I've visited CHBC twice and have thoroughly enjoyed it both times. (The last time, Mark Dever actually prayed for our church and our pastor by name from the pulpit, which I was amazed by!)

    One time professor Milton Gaither described to me what seemed to happen among Christians leaving college who wanted to be intellectually honest with themselves (especially philosophy majors, like Gaither). He said students either (1) gave up their faith entirely and became atheist or agnostic, or (2) went deeper into the mysteries of their faith and became Catholic or Orthodox. I think that's mostly true, but I think this “new Calvinism” movement presents a good third way for those who want to embrace their faith more deeply. For good or bad, I count myself in this third category.

    There is lots more that could be said about the NY Times author's (mis)understanding of Calvinism or why the gospel and the doctrine of grace is attractive rather than depressing, but my comment is already lengthy!

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  4. Mark Driscoll, John Piper and Tim Keller — megachurch preachers and important evangelical authors — are all Calvinist.

    “The PCA reference is humorous to anyone aware of the many issues involved in that denomination surrounding their re-interpretation of historic Calvinism.”

    Whose Calvinism is it, anyway?

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  5. Dr. Fea: Big fan of the blogging of your books. I am a member of CHBC and we would love to have you come and investigate the church. Feel free to send me an email if you want to come by tomorrow…if AHA can spare you.

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  6. “humans must consent to their own salvation.” I am not sure that this is an accurate statement. Calvin teaches that man does not procure his own salvation, not that he doesn't consent to it. Our wills are renewed and we are enabled to received the grace offered freely (and efficaciously) in the gospel. There is no non-consenting possessors of salvation.

    The PCA reference is humorous to anyone aware of the many issues involved in that denomination surrounding their re-interpretation of historic Calvinism.

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