Calvin Makes a Comeback Among Young Pastors

There have been a lot of doom-sayers writing recently about the evangelical movement.   The Christian Science Monitor wrote of “the coming evangelical collapse” (March 10). Newsweek had a cover story entitled “Is Christianity Dead in America?” (April 13).  ABC News did a special on “America is  Becoming Less Christian” (March 9).  


Into this mix comes TIME magazine on March 12, with a feature story called “What’s Next?” identifying hot trends on the horizon.  Among other things, it highlights: jobs are the new assets, recycling the suburbs, bio banks, survival stores, ecological intelligence, and the new Calvinism.  Say what?  That’s right—it notes the trend of “the new Calvinism.”


TIME is only discovering what Christianity Today observed several years back in an article called “Young, Restless, Reformed:  Calvinism is making a comeback—and shaking up the church.”


This past week I experienced this movement firsthand as I attended The Gospel Coalition 2009 Conference in Chicago—“Entrusted with the Gospel.”  I honestly expected to attend an event of several hundred pastors, most of whom were in their mid 50s and graying.   Instead I found some 3,000 twenty to thirty somethings, with T shirts, ballcaps, and ipods.  They were listening intently to addresses by Tim Keller, John Piper, Ajith Fernando, Mark Driscoll, D.A. Carson, and others. 


Ted Olsen, managing editor of Christianity Today says that this new Calvinist movement is where the energy and passion are in the Evangelical world.”   His comment is striking because usually discussions of the “emerging church” get most of the publicity for its attractiveness to the young, when in fact, the new Reformed movement may actually be a larger movement with a stronger institutional base.  


So what explains this Reformed resurgence?  One explanation for this movement is that Christians everywhere are searching for security.  Emergents long for the ancient church.  Although when you ask them which one, which tradition, and why this one and not that one, they never seem to be able to explain it.


The neo-Calvinists are looking not just to Calvin and Luther, but to Jonathan Edwards, the Puritans and Augustine!   


Another explanation is that this younger generation is reacting against the shallowness of boomer evangelicalism.  They want to move beyond church growth, marketing and manipulative revival techniques to something with greater substance and weight.  They are looking beyond structural renovation and entertainment and towards spiritual reformation.  For them, this is no time to play around.  They are earnest and passionate.     


Furthermore, it seems that these young pastors and leaders are bothered by the drift of the evangelical mainstream.   They are impatient with its accommodation to post modernism, its trendiness, and its penchant for dumbing down young people.  For them, present day evangelicalism has often lost the gospel and slipped into moralism.  It  is too soft on sin and too weak on grace.   They seem bothered by this.  At the same time they are hungry for theological depth, for more Bible and more gospel.   They are attracted to a bigger God who is sovereign.   Since many of them have grown up in a culture of brokenness, they are drawn to a message of God’s sovereign grace which brings wholeness.


This Reformed resurgence seems to differ somewhat from older Reformed movements.  It is more cooperative and accommodates differences in baptism, church government, and eschatology.  It seems focused on the gospel as a center point so that “JC” ultimately does not stand for John Calvin but for Jesus Christ in his incarnation, atonement and exaltation. 


There is nothing dour about it.  It is drawn to  the joy, the passion  and mysticism of Jonathan Edward’s Calvinism.   Sometimes it is tinged with manifestations of the charismatic movement.    It is not afraid of the city, but rather has a vision for redeeming culture.    It seeks to be not just missional, but missional and rooted.


Here’s hoping that this movement can keep its balance!   If it can maintain an emphasis both on the doctrines of grace and a life of graciousness, it could be a powerful force in the coming years.  


It makes me grateful for a denomination like my own—the Evangelical Presbyterian Church with its foundation on the Essentials and the Westminster standards, and with its emphasis on both truth and love.

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