Wednesday, March 31, 2010

CSM weighs in on the new Calvinism

The Christian Science Monitor recently ran an article that has been getting some attention throughout the blogosphere. It is about the renewed popularity of Calvinism. Of course, this is anything but a new story. Several years ago Christianity Today and many other publications noted the resurgence of Reformed theology. Some have wanted to dismiss this simply as a fad. Certainly there is always the reality of "bandwagonism" with any popular movement. But my experience is that the Reformed resurgence has been primarily driven by two factors: 1) a more careful study of Scripture by a growing number of Christians and 2) a corresponding disgust for the lack of sound doctrine and preaching within evangelicalism.

Of particular interest to me was the article's attention to Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington D.C. I admire very much Capitol Hill Baptist and their pastor Mark Dever.

Membership at CHBC isn't for the faint of holy. Classes on theology and Christian history are required before joining. At the "Lord's Supper" once a month, members stand and recite an oath that ties them to one another. In addition to Sunday worship and Wednesday night Bible study, they spend hours each week in small-group study or one-on-one "discipling." They say those sessions – a time for confessions, encouragement, and prayer – are the most challenging and rewarding feature of church life.

"Christian fellowship is so much more than hanging out with friends," says Claudia Anderson, a magazine editor. "It involves spiritual intimacy, support, learning, counseling, and stunning acts of kindness."

Christopher Brown, a lawyer, concurs. "I came for the theology but stayed for the community," he says. "As Americans, we're so individualistic. But the New Testament rebukes this 'rugged individualism.' We're not saved to be lone rangers."

The BlackBerry-wielding Millennials who worship here say they crave teaching that challenges them – "preaching for PhDs," as one puts it. Ask them what books they're reading, and they won't mention "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo." They'll reel through names of 17th-century Puritan preachers like a pack of baseball cards...

At CHBC, several members say they became authentically Christian only after a friend studied the gospel with them verse by verse. "As I studied the Bible, I saw that God has every reason to send me to hell," says Connie Brown, a kindergarten teacher. "God broke me down – and renewed my heart."

New Calvinists talk about their sin a lot. Despite that – or rather because of it – they exude not guilt but great joy. Their explanation: If we play down our sinfulness, we'll play down our gratitude for the magnitude of God's love and forgiveness.

Many members were drawn to CHBC precisely because they had yearned to be "convicted of their sin" again and grown frustrated with "watered-down preaching." School vice principal Jessica Sandle says she came after the pastor at her former church read a book on growth and became consumed with filling pews. "So he stopped talking about sin, and why we need God," she says.
The article concludes with some less than illuminating thoughts from Phyllis Tickle, a leader in the emergent church movement.

Carl Trueman has posted an appropriate response to Miss Tickle's historical revisionism.

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