New York Times reports on Calvinist resurgence

The New York Times has just published a feature on the resurgence of Calvinism among evangelicals. The story features Mark Dever and Collin Hansen as well as remarks from Arminian critic Roger Olsen. That fact that this story even made it into the nation’s paper of record is significant all by itself. For that reason alone, you don’t want to miss this one.

The end of the article asks whether the reformed resurgence is a fad—a movement that is here and then gone like the emergent church. I think that comparison misses the point. There are many important differences between the two movements that render them apples and oranges.

The emergent church represented theological innovation. The reformed resurgence is a rallying around something old. The emergent church comprised a theologically liberal impulse. The reformed resurgence comprises a conservative one—one rooted in the rallying cry of the reformation Sola Scriptura.

The emergent movement was here and then for all practical purposes has left us. I predict that will not be the case with reformed resurgence. It has proved to be an enduring tradition over the centuries. To be sure, its popularity may indeed wane in North American evangelicalism. In fact, that is almost surely to happen eventually. But it is not likely to go extinct like other theological flashes in the pan. The tradition will go forward even if its current popularity doesn’t. That’s the difference.

In any case, you can read the article here.

14 Responses to New York Times reports on Calvinist resurgence

  1. Chris Ryan January 4, 2014 at 12:14 am #

    I’m all for Sola Scriptura, but I’m not sure how a theology/doctrine created 1500 years after Christ can be said to be conservative…I can’t say how big the Calvinist movement might grow, but it seems to me that pre-destination is a self-limiting principle.

    I’d think a large percentage of ppl would think, “Given my life & lifestyle I can’t possibly be pre-destined for salvation”, just as some ppl might think “Given that guy’s life & lifestyle he can’t possibly be pre-destined for salvation.” I think those are 2 big emotional forces that are hard for even the very best preachers to overcome. I don’t see how a pastor navigates that built in factionalism.

    • Andrew Orlovsky January 6, 2014 at 8:39 am #

      Chris, I had many of those same emotional issues with Calvinism as a baby Christian until I heard an excellent exposition of Romans 9 by a Campus Crusade for Christ leader. I did not become a Calvinist overnight, but as I studied scripture further, it seemed to me that what we call Calvinism is a better scriptual explanation for our election that all other views (Arminianism, Molinism, Pelgianism). I think that any preacher who encourages his flock to carefully study the Bible, rather than just look at it for an occasional emotional lift, will find more and more of his congregation becoming Reformed.

  2. Dylan Valliere January 4, 2014 at 3:38 pm #

    Chris,

    “Calvinism” wasn’t invented in the 1500s. The theology goes back to the earliest days of Christian church history and, a Calvinist would say, to the Bible itself. You can find many in Church history espousing the doctrines of grace throughout church history, just not by that name.

    Secondly, the potential misunderstanding of any doctrine does not make that doctrine true or false, worthwhile or unworthwhile. The foundation for any doctrine being true or false is the Bible. Period.

    Finally, you wrote, “I’d think a large percentage of ppl would think, “Given my life & lifestyle I can’t possibly be pre-destined for salvation””. This hypothetical person’s biggest problem is not his lifestyle or his understanding of “Calvinism”; his number one problem is that he does not understand the gospel of Jesus Christ–that salvation is not by works or merit. That’s neither a Calvinist or Arminian issue. That a basic Christian issue across all lines within orthodoxy.

    Ironically, it’s precisely the U in TULIP that would be most helpful to such a person–how great is it that your election is not in any way dependent on you–if it were up to us to qualify for election, none of us would never get in! What grace that God should save the likes of me and of you and of Paul et al.

    • Chris Ryan January 4, 2014 at 11:54 pm #

      I don’t usually like doctrinal debates, Dylan, b/cs they’re often unwinnable. Humans–even us Sola Scriptura types–tend to see what we want in the Scripture. What concerns me most abt Calvinism is the *societal* ramifications. Some conservative Christians already latch onto aspects of Libertarian philosophy; they already agree with Ayn Rand that there are “makers” and “takers”. Ted Cruz & his father are examples. AFAIK Cruz in no Calvinist, but I think its a certainty Calvinist theology will intertwine with Libertarian impulses & the result will be a Christian version of Rand’s “makers” and “takers”–people who believe that they’re privileged at birth to go to Heaven & those unlike them are heathens destined for Hell. I already see some ppl doing that, saying that “Jimmy Carter isn’t a real Christian” even though he’s the only POTUS in history to teach Sunday School every Sunday. This disdain of fellow Christians over differences in politics is unChristian to say the least. So, God bless you, I think you and Denny have your work cut out for you in warding off this mindset.

      • Andrew Orlovsky January 6, 2014 at 8:47 am #

        Actually, a theological sound Calvinist should recognize that he is no better than those who are not elected, he just recieved a completely undeserved gift from God even though he himself deserves nothing but hellfire. An Arminian could just as say, I am smarter and better than you since I chose to follow God, while you stupidly did your own thing. I’m sure that some people who give much to the poor only do it to stroke their ego (Look what a nice generous person I am, unlike you greedy misers). Just because something can be abused does not make it untrue and Calvinism is no different.

      • Andrew Orlovsky January 6, 2014 at 8:49 am #

        Also, If we are going to inject the “makers and takers” philosophy into Calvinism, it is clear that God is the only maker. The rest of us, whether elect or reprobate, are all takers.

  3. Dylan Valliere January 4, 2014 at 3:45 pm #

    Denny,

    It is noteworthy that the New Calvinism is getting noticed by the NYT. I’m a little disappointed by a couple aspects of the article unmentioned in your post above.

    The first issue I have is the unhelpful description and summary of Calvinist theology:

    “The acronym summarizes John Calvin’s so-called doctrines of grace, with their emphasis on sinfulness and predestination.” A far better summary would be along the lines of “Calvinism is a theological perspective which emphasizes the absolute sovereignty of God, particularly in regards to salvation or soteriology.”

    The second issue I have is the pejorative tone taken. After mentioning 2 of the 5 points of TULIP, and semi-adequately explaining only one, the author states: “The acronym gets no cheerier from there.” Without coming even close to giving the reader enough information to begin to understand the topic, the author presents the issue in a negative light. Even when citing opponents (Olson), the issue isn’t the theology but rather an attack on some individuals who hold that particular theology.

    • Denny Burk January 4, 2014 at 3:53 pm #

      Totally agree, Dylan! Right on!

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