Calvinism is Popular But it is Not Sexy.

Erik Raymond —  February 18, 2014

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.

Erik Raymond

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Erik has been writing at Ordinary Pastor since 2006. He lives in Omaha with his wife and kids while pastoring at Emmaus Bible Church. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/erikraymond

7 responses to Calvinism is Popular But it is Not Sexy.

  1. I appreciated your thoughts with my lunch today, Erik. I would say this: the pragmatic ministry crowds are still far, far larger (Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit, for example). The smiling pastor books still seem to sell far better.

    But when I am rubbing shoulders with the YRR guys, and I am an old man in comparison, I sense a great earnestness, desire to please God, and theological drivenness that is terribly exciting. I am sure the current river will wane into a more modest creek, and few of us really know how churches will respond to the coming days of being the counter-cultural minority, but the devotion to God and heartfelt conviction of these young men of God I sure hope will endure.

  2. As a Lutheran, which is neither popular nor sexy, this post and ones like it about the “New Calvinism” have me wondering how many points make someone a Calvinist? I think there’s a lot that we have in common, which leads me to believe can someone be a 1 or 2 point Calvinist?

    • Great point. I would say that Calvinism is more than 5 points. Does someone affirm the solas? How do they view how God works in the world(this has impact on evangelism, church gathering, preaching, prayer, etc)? In short, I don’t believe someone could affirm the 2 points and be a Calvinist. They’d have a better argument (3 points) of being an Arminian :)

      • Good point, the 5 points may be a simple summary of it but not the depth of it. I love how you said it, “Calvinism emphasizes the inability, depravity, and rebellion of humanity.” Martin Luther called this the inward curving of the heart.

  3. It’s at least worth mentioning that Calvinism’s current resurgence might be attributed to the preached word of God combined with social media. The best bible-expositors in America today are largely Calvinist (Begg, Piper, MacArthur, Driscol, Dever), and they approach the God of the Bible with reverence and awe. Perhaps modern communication and social media has helped to get the doctrines of grace into the ears of those who otherwise might not have heard them.

  4. Erik,

    I’ve been reading “The Gnostic Origins of Calvinism” by Dr. Ken Johnson.

    http://www.amazon.com/The-Gnostic-Origins-Calvinism-Johnson/dp/149238609X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1385225926&sr=8-1&keywords=gnostic+calvinism

    The author read the Anti-Nicene Fathers which is five thousand pages which is all the known writings of Christians who lived between AD 32-325. He says there was a handful of eyewitnesses to the apostles and their doctrine was identical. The original disciples continued teaching the exact same doctrines and history and all attacked anyone who dared say anything differently. He said it was not until the third century AD that the history and doctrine began to change.

    The question is whether Calvinism came from Gnosticism and whether Calvin picked it up or not. Some won’t entertain the question because it would damage too many reputations of pastors out there and it is like making people change which people don’t want to do.

    I believe Calvinism is proven false by the Bible and I don’t follow Calvin. I follow Christ.

    Chuck