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Young, restless, and confused

John Calvin evokes a range of responses. For some Christians, the theology of this sixteenth century theologian is dangerous. Calvin’s stress upon God’s sovereign choice trumps human free will, putting in question God’s love. After all, why would a loving God condemn those to hell who never even had a say in the matter? And with an arbitrary God plucking up saints, the need for evangelism is brought to a screeching halt. For many Christians, God’s sovereign choice in salvation is unfair at best and cruel at worst. Even worse than Calvin’s theology are Calvinists themselves who tend towards theological snobbery.

For other Christians, Calvin’s contribution has been a blessing to the Church. God’s sovereign choice in salvation is a deathblow to self-righteousness. God’s unilateral resuscitation of the dead sinner magnifies grace, making the desire to proclaim the mercies of God to unbelievers irresistible. For these Christians, rather than being unfair and cruel, God’s ways are unsearchable and profound.

Curiously, a growing number of younger Christians are resonating with Calvin’s thought. In Young, Restless, Reformed, journalist Collin Hansen describes this swelling interest in Calvinism, especially among younger Christians. Even Time magazine recognized “The New Calvinism” as one of ten ideas currently changing the world. This Time story mentioned the likes of Mark Driscoll, Albert Mohler, and John Piper as key leaders in the movement.

Piper in particular has played a large role in popularizing this movement. In addition to his prolific writing, popular sermons, and other resources available at his website desiringgod.org, Piper’s annual Desiring God conference is a symbol of this renewed interest in Calvin’s thought. This year’s conference, which drew more than 3,000 attendees and centered upon cultivating the life of the mind, came with a cloud of controversy and confusion surrounding it. The controversy centered upon the selection of Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, as a keynote speaker. This choice lit up the blogosphere sparking a video response from Piper defending his selecting Warren. While many Piper followers were disappointed and even angry about Warren speaking at the conference, for most the reaction seemed to be a mix of confusion and intrigue.

Because of a family emergency Warren was not actually there but was able to present his message via video. As the attendees waited to hear from Warren there was a mood of excitement in the building. What was this influential and widely known Christian going to say?

After a minor technological glitch, Warren’s message commenced. He began by reminding attendees that there is a war taking place. This war is the battle for one’s most important asset, their mind. The individual’s mind is severely handicapped. It is opposed to God. Warren spent the bulk of the talk delivering principles for helping Christians win this battle of the mind. In closing, Warren provided the acrostic T.H.I.N.K. which called upon Christians to Test every thought, Helmet your head, Imagine great thoughts, Nourish a godly mind, and Keep on learning. In all, Warren communicated a clear, digestible lesson that garnered warm approval from Piper and other speakers at the event.

There is a question worth pursuing in all this. Might Piper’s choice of Warren and the subsequent outcry point to something about this resurgent Calvinism? For many of these Calvinist-leaning Christians, Warren represents the antithesis of their vision of ministry. Warren is pragmatic and programmatic. Warren is not theologically driven, but methodologically driven. In contrast to the sharp edges of Calvinist theology, Warren’s theology seems softer, garnering mass appeal as evidenced by his wildly successful The Purpose-Driven Life, which is said to have sold more copies than any other hardback book in American history.

Many of these young Reformed pastors are turned off by the whiff of anything programmatic. Programs and predictability dominated many of their experiences growing up in church and they want to shed those things. Instead, many of these pastors are interested in being rooted in the past, reading old theologians, singing old hymns (although often to new tunes), participating in old practices (like catechesis and the recitation of creeds). Many of these young pastors would like to think that God’s incomprehensibility makes “church-growth” techniques seem naïve.

Whatever is fueling this increase among Reformed types, one can be sure they pepper many Oklahoma Baptist pews. In fact, while at the conference I saw a handful of Oklahoma pastors and congregants who had made the 800 mile journey to Minneapolis.

Author: Casey Shutt

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  • Brent

    Casey,

    Did you enjoy the conference?

    I think what you have said in this short assessment is very fair. I would also agree that it is Piper who has ignited this interest, but add that it was Louie Giglio through the Passion Conferences that gave Piper a platform to influence (for good or bad) the lives of so many young evangelicals and especially Baptists.

    On another note, it is sad that so many people fail to see beyond the doctrines of “Calvinism” to appreciate all that John Calvin has passed on to us in not only a wealth of additional theology and biblical studies, but also western foundations for economics and government. Though to be fair, he also had glaring blemishes (Servetus).

  • Yea, I thought the conference was good. Kevin DeYoung, Francis Chan, and Piper were particularly good. It was also great to get out of town for a few days and spend time with others from my church.

    I never attended the Passion conferences but remember many who did during college. Yea, Giglio probably did play a role in popularizing Piper.

  • Great article Casey. Really enjoyed it. I’m always amazed that Calvinists get painted in the light of hating evangelism and missions (not that I’m disagreeing with the points you made), because the beauty of the Gospel is that it propels us to evangelize and to fulfill the Great Commission. I’m happy to be Reformed and I think more Calvinists would say more importantly than Calvin, we love the Gospel even more. I think you make a very fair assessment of the “New Calvinism” and think it might open some doors in a place like Oklahoma that has historically been against Reformed theology. By the way, we had developmental psych at OBU together. Long time ago!

  • Casey Shutt

    Thanks for the comments/thoughts, Ryan. Yea, that was a while back. I hope all is well with you these days.

  • Rick Jerman

    In my younger days as a Christian I was very much an Arminian, after nearly 50 years of Bible study and teaching I can say I am a Calvinist. What saddens me is how John Calvin always seems to be the one blamed for a system of theology that presupposed him. James Arminius, who came along after Calvin’s death, challenged an existing and excepted belief and he seems to get a free ride. The TULIP came along because of Arminius not Calvin. Calvin’s teaching goes far beyond the 5 points.

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