Faculty View | Today’s Calvinist Resurgence
Dr. Kenneth Stewart, professor of theological studies & author of Ten Myths about Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition
WHEN TIME MAGAZINE trumpeted the resurgence of Calvinism in March 2009, it highlighted something evangelical Protestants had long been observing. This resurgence seems traceable to the 1994 release of Dr. Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology, which relayed the teaching of Grudem—a charismatic, Baptist and Calvinist—to wide segments of evangelical Protestantism not previously oriented to Reformed doctrine. Beyond Grudem (a Phoenix, AZ, professor), pastors such as John Piper of Minneapolis, Mark Driscoll of Seattle, and C.J. Mahaney of Gaithersburg, MD, are regarded as the heralds of “new Calvinism.” Meanwhile, Calvinistic doctrines have gained fresh attention within the Southern Baptist Convention, where Calvinism had earlier declined to minority status. Now, from centers such as the Southern Baptist Seminary, Louisville, come signs that that day is over.
The trend on which Time commented is a recent trend. Yet Reformed theology never disappeared in America; there have been regular resurgences of the Reformed faith within America’s Presbyterian and Reformed communities. Two now-deceased P.C.A. ministers, James M. Boice and Francis Schaeffer, were figureheads in such an upswing in the 1970s and ’80s. Did not this resurgence assist the launch of the PCA? The Banner of Truth movement launched a resurgence in the 1950s; it is ongoing. A resurgence also surfaced in the 1920s and 1930s, a time when, across the Western world, Christians were attempting to replace the hubris that had preceded World War I.
Given this timeline, one might infer—regarding Time’s story—that we should simply assume that this momentary fervor will inevitably give way to another, still future resurgence. Yet this is an “armchair view.” Instead, I recommend a stance towards the new Calvinism combining affirmation and caution.
The new Calvinism should be affirmed by us because it demonstrates that there is a hearing in America for the themes of biblical authority, faith in Christ alone, and the role of electing grace. Have we assumed that Americans wouldn’t listen? Have we become too intent on guarding the faith, and not focused enough on taking the gospel to unbelievers? There are pages in the book of the new Calvinists we should read. It is good to see PCA men and women making common cause with the new Calvinism in conferences and on blogs.
There are also reasons for caution. More than is acceptable, the growth of the new Calvinism is tied to strong personalities: a circle of leaders who preach, blog, and go from conference to conference. Our commitment is not to personalities but to Christ, not to conferences but to the local church, not to best-sellers but to the Scriptures and the Reformed faith summarized in our Westminster Standards. There has also been a rise of rancor. Some Christian friendships have been broken; some congregations have divided. One observes too a jockeying over who occupies the high ground of closest fidelity to the Calvinist heritage.
Taking a broad view, this is an exciting and promising time for friends of the Reformed faith. Let’s seize the day!