I recently visited with a friend who is in his mid 60’s and has pastored Reformed Baptist churches for decades. He talked to me about how encouraged he is about the resurgence of Calvinism in the church today, particularly among the young people. He cited the preaching, the books being published, the websites, and the conferences. With glistening eyes he said, “Back in the 80’s when we’d go to Banner (of Truth) conferences we would never have imagined a day like this in our lifetime.”
We are living in something of an ecclesiological bizzaro world where Calvinism is wildly popular. But I want to make a distinction: Calvinism is popular but it is not sexy. Just because something is enjoying appeal among an admittedly increasing amount of people does not mean it is universally appealing.
The public finds our preaching repulsively archaic. You know the way Jonathan Edwards is treated in the history classes? That’s how they think of us. Who can forget the recent article in the NY Times featuring Mark Dever, Colin Hansen and others about this resurgence? The writer’s words were not that flowery:
The acronym (TULIP) summarizes John Calvin’s so-called doctrines of grace, with their emphasis on sinfulness and predestination. The T is for man’s Total Depravity. The U is for Unconditional Election, which means that God has already decided who will be saved, without regard to any condition in them, or anything they can do to earn their salvation.
The acronym gets no cheerier from there. (source)
After all, Calvinism emphasizes the inability, depravity, and rebellion of humanity. It brings up our self-esteem and pride only to smash it. It highlights the free, sovereign, unconditional election (choosing) of God despite our rebellion. At the same time, based on God’s love for the elect, Calvinism maintains an absolute conditional love instead of the infamous unconditional love that many of our contemporaries promote. Furthermore, all of our forefathers historically would be laughed at by the cultural elites. There is nothing attractive about this unless you believe it to be true.
I feel like I am fairly well connected and have a decent read on what is happening today. And when I poke around blogs, twitter, books and sermons I think I see something disturbing happening. Let’s remember our context. In the contemporary church history calendar this chapter of Calvinism’s Resurgence was being foreshadowed during the previous chapter. You remember that chapter don’t you? It was the time of pragmatic, seeker-sensitive, church-growth ecclesiology. It is still here today but not as much as in our previous chapter. My read is that some (many) people have jumped on the Calvinism bandwagon because it is popular rather than because they believe it is necessarily biblical. In other words, they seem to be “on the team” based on pragmatism not theology. How else can you explain career pastoral pragmatists sporting their “Jonathan Edwards is my Homeboy” t-shirts? Yes Calvinism is indeed strangely popular today.
If Calvinism’s popularity continues to expand it will do so because people believe that it is true not just that it works. The doctrine that emphasizes man’s inability and God’s free and sovereign grace will never be attractive unless we are convinced of its truthfulness.