Sunday, July 12, 2009

An Emergent Calvinism?

Noting the 500th anniversary of the birth of John Calvin, an article in The Tennessean reports on a resurgence of interest in Calvinism, also known as "Reformed theology," among American Christians. One hopes that is the case.

Calvinism emphasizes the sovereignty of God in salvation. People who become believers choose God because He first chose them. Only because of divine election will people be saved.

As the article indicates, this growing interest does not arise only among those who have decided that they agree with all of Calvinism's tenets. Reformed churches tend to offer more depth in their biblical teaching, including more thoughtful reflection both on matters of Christian theology and on the relationship between Christianity and culture, and that emphasis appeals to thoughtful young Christians who have tired of the shallow teaching in many evangelical churches. That was the path of my co-blogger, who initially rejected Calvinist distinctives but began attending a conservative Presbyterian church due to the strong Bible teaching and God-centered approach to worship and ministry. Ultimately, her personal Bible study resulted in her embracing Reformed theology.

Because of the focus on teaching and sound doctrine, interest in Calvinism arises mostly among more intellectually oriented evangelicals. Whether the movement will ultimately reach beyond that core group and have broader appeal in a culture not known for its depth of thought remains to be seen. Certainly, a revival of Calvinism would reverse nearly 300 years of trends in American Christianity, which has largely been a race away from Calvinism toward a more human centered approach to religion. In recent years, Reformed denominations such as the Presbyterian Church in America have seen rapid growth, and interest in Calvinism among Southern Baptists has grown, though not without controversy. Calvinism is also strong among conservative Episcopalians, as well as in a number of other denominations.

Too much of the teaching in typical evangelical churches, including the megachurches that garner so much attention, is vacuous and trivializes the faith. Calvinist understanding begins, in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, with the notion that man's "chief aim" is to "glorify God and to enjoy Him forever." That beginning point points to an understanding of God that sees Him as truly worthy of our worship and devotion.

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