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.