Why is Calvinism Back in Style?

I prepare nearly all of my sermons in the library of the local seminary. It’s a conservative, Reformed Seminary. As I prepare, I sometimes overhear conversations and people watch. Then, when I leave, I try to stay abreast of trends in church and theology. Between the two I feel like it can be said safely: Calvinism is back in. It’s booming as a theological system right now in it’s updated form: the New Calvinism.

I’m blessed to know a number of the New Calvinism’s rising young stars in ministry. Their churches are thriving, their vision is huge, and they are surprisingly conservative doctrinally. If you saw them on the street you’d never know it. They don’t look like heresy detectors or doctrinal conservatives. They sometimes look like they own the local coffee house or tattoo parlor.

I posted on this a couple of years ago on this when Time Magazine rated the New Calvinism number three on it’s list of Ten Ideas Shaping the World Right Now.

For those unfamiliar with the New Calvinism, think Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Mark Dever, Tim Keller and Al Mohler.

Here’s my question: Why? Why is Calvinism back in style?

My thought is that New Calvinism offers a really big God in a time when God was brought just a bit too low by some in popular evangelicalism. The New Calvinism offers a correction to radical free-will, sentimentality, and what might be called holy humanism at a time when the world seems out of control and headed in the wrong direction. I also think the New Calvinism offers doctrinal clarity at a time when evangelicalism isn’t.

The down-side is … well… it’s Calvinism–complete with total depravity and pre-destination. Despite it’s problems, I think many of us would do well to listen to overarching truth it is successfully passing on: a really big God and the importance of doctrine in the life of God’s people. Ironically, these used to be doctrinal strengths of traditional evangelicalism. Today, traditional evangelicals need to be pushed on these things.

Thoughts? Why do you think the New Calvinism is exploding? Do you agree that traditional evangelicalism sometimes drifts toward, “radical free-will, sentimentality, and what might be called holy humanism ?”

Dr. Tim Spivey is Lead Planter of New Vintage Church in San Diego, California. He is the author of numerous articles and one book, "Jesus: The Powerful Servant." A sought after speaker for events, Tim also serves as Adjunct Professor of Religion at Pepperdine University. Tim serves as a church consultant, and his writings are featured on ChurchLeaders.com, Church Executive magazine, Faith Village, Sermon Central, and Giving Rocket.

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29 thoughts on “Why is Calvinism Back in Style?

  1. Calvinism is back because it is the truth. Men have tried to destroy it for 2,000 years and have failed. God won’t let it die. If there is a great Reformation coming-and there might not be-it will be led by the Calvinists,just like the first Reformation. God is “pickey” about sharing His glory.

  2. I agree with your assessment. Actually I have the sense that though our roots are very entangled, we are getting over wounds of pulling away and able to see the matter more objectively several generations down the line. The strong emphasis on Covenant and God’s sovereignty resonate with Job’s whirlwind kind of a God and “work out your salvation with fear and trembling, knowing that it is God who is at work within you both to will and to work for His good pleasure” kind of teaching. Raccoon John Smith’s struggle is over for us in the Restoration Movement, and we need to be alert to restore everything that is in the teaching of the Apostles and Prophets, including a correct, non reactionary teaching of the clear Pauline doctrine of predestination – Romans 8 and Ephesians 1 among others. I may try to catch you at the Westminister Library some day. When are you typically there? I’d enjoy a chat.

  3. because there are always upswings in conservatism and fundamentalism when times are rough. people look for certainty, usually in the past, and for someone else (i.e., god) to make decisions for them rather than risk the chances of free will. the result is a predestinational, conservative theology rooted in tradition, as opposed to creative, liberal theology.

    and, if you can couch the old, conservative theology in a screen printed hoodie and designer jeans, then the calvinism will *look* like a progressive movement focused on social justice and inclusion, but will essentially be neo-fundamentalism. 😉

  4. There are things that I just don’t get about Reformed theology, but one thing I love about this new movement is the deep commitment some of its leaders have. And commitment might be the wrong word…certainty maybe. A lot of the neo-Reformed circle have kept me honest recently, as I have moved past a lot of my super-conservative/legalistic of four or five years ago. They seem to be grounded, stable, and I think that’s what has lead to their growth.

  5. Calvinism embraces a big God but….
    Calvinism has this and that but…..
    Calvinism…but….

    I read/hear this about a religious way of thinking that was formed in reaction to Catholicism way back when and today is making a come back.
    My question is, the big BUT. The destination thing that rides everywhere with Calvin. From what I can see, Calvin reacted against the Catholics and their you buy your way to heaven by saying no you can’t God chooses who gets to go.
    So, what is the difference?
    Man telling God what to do?
    It seems to me that a major flaw, and I would call this a major flaw, in a religious way of thinking would make it one to not follow.
    Isn’t this just another way of placing a burden or stumbling block onto the backs of people?
    By grace I am saved..not by my works…

  6. I feel that Calvinism is back in style because people are always looking for significance. Purpose, for all of its side effect is still extremely popular. I do not mean to imply that reformed theologians are peddling their understandings to Christian consumers.I think they take scripture seriously and have a huge respect for God’s sovereignty. I just think humanity struggles more with a small view of man than a big view of God. It seems that many can live with concept of total depravity; but can not comprehend a life without God’s purpose within every detail of life. We are good with being sinners we struggle with God actual giving us dominion.

    “Free In ways I never should be”

  7. WhWhat’s new about Calvinsim? Only the leading personalities so far as I can tell.

    Perhaps Calvinists are dead wrong about some of their conclusions. At least they are thinking about and talking about many passages of scripture that most Evangelicals would rather not be in the Bible. Passing over a text with a “It really doesn’t mean what it seems to say…” or some other glib comment is hardly good scholarship.

    I must say I am impressed with the level of accountability many Calvinsists subject themselves and their peers to. All of us can learn from those with whom we disagree.

    Finally, we have much more in common with Calvinists as “free will” people than we care to admit. I doubt God wants us to take sides.

      • I was speaking in jest – kinda. I suspect there is something fundamentally amiss in the Neo-Reformed movement. I suspect this, not because of their theology, some of which I appreciate and some which I strongly disagree, but rather I suspect this because the leading voices of advocacy for it, with the exception of Tim Keller are mean. And they are mean-spirited, to boot. I know this tree is rotten because of it’s fruit.

        The same was true of much of my tribe during my lifetime. I believe Jesus said something about fruit and not theological dependence to a single system – a system, IMHO, some Neo-Calvinist have deified.

        My hunch is, as another commenter suggested, that the Neo-Reformed movement is an over-response to post-modernity (or whatever you want to call it.) Neo-Calvinism is locked-downed and hammer tight. Those in and those out are well-defined, immovable.

        Yes. There is a big God in Neo-Calvinism. The problem is that their God is SO big and human actions are so small, it’s okay for them to be jerks to people without risking offending the God who has already decided who’s going to hell and who’se not. After all, the individual is either predestined or not.

        More to say, but I’ll take some Neo-Reformed attacks now.

  8. Calvinism (the adherents obviously prefer the tag “Reformed”) offers structure and answers for people who are uncomfortable with mystery and struggle. It makes some difficult things in Christianity make sense as long as you’re willing to ignore or explain away the rest. It doesn’t really matter to a lot of folks whether their answers makes sense in context of the totality of scripture; it’s a system and a lot of people accept it.

    People in churches of Christ have been that way with legalism, the CENI hermeneutic and exclusivism-over-ecumenicism; other fellowships and movements have their written and unwritten systems.

    I’m not sure that Christianity was ever meant to be a system or even a religion, but rather a way of living/living/giving as Jesus lived/loved/gave. Men have been trying ever since the ascension to make it something else.

    Calvinism, like many other systems (including Restorationism), has an advantage in concentrating on mental assent to concepts — which is pretty easy — above living a selfless life.

    That’s HARD!

    • Keith, it’s interesting to view Calvinism as a system that is anti-mystery. They would view themselves as the opposite. I’m gonna mull that one over for a while. Thanks for the comment.

  9. Tim,

    I agree, that Calvinism is back in a more updated form. We don’t have to look hard to find Mark Driscoll, John Piper, and others who are supporting this revival. I also agree that too often the God that has been represented by many churches seems too small. However, I am not sure Calvinism really does justice to the bigness or largeness of God. In my view, predestination and total depravity as theology have their ceilings as well, and their own inherent issues when it comes to speaking and teaching about God.

    As much as I disagree with a lot in the theology; I do welcome their perspective in correcting, pushing, and questioning me in my faith and understanding of God. I think I wish my perception was that they were willing to participate in an open and beneficial conversation instead of what I understand to be an aggressive and confrontational voice; but this is just my perspective.

      • Tim,

        I’m interested in who you think is “the best of them” that can disagree without resulting in legalism? I ask this, because I feel like the majority that I encounter are aggressive to insulting.

  10. I not a Calvinist an I do have some strong disagreements with some the doctrinal claims made by historical Calvinism but I must agree with you in your assessment for its renascence. Despite my other disagreements, I do appreciate the focus on a big God.