The Evangelical Reformed Movement: A Comeback
- Friday, September 03, 2010
About five years ago, something strange happened in the Christian world: Reformed theology made a comeback. Once perceived as the bright but slightly eccentric and often ignored kid in the corner of the classroom, Calvinism became the new cool kid on the block. To be fair, a significant number of American evangelicals have always believed the doctrines of grace -- that God graciously regenerates sinners who would not otherwise choose to follow him. But for much of the 19th and 20th centuries, those evangelicals tended to congregate in relatively small Presbyterian denominations.
In the 1990s, in a relatively quiet and unassuming way, various churches and ministries began to expand in influence throughout the United States -- all influenced in one way or another by the Reformed vision of a great and glorious God. In addition to the Reformed seminaries, there was Sovereign Grace Ministries (Gaithersburg, Maryland), 9Marks (Washington, D.C.), Desiring God (Minneapolis), Ligonier Ministries (Orlando), Grace to You (Sun Valley, California), and Acts29 (Seattle). Added to this was the Southern Baptist Convention's flagship seminary, where president Albert Mohler led a conservative resurgence to recover the founders' Reformational principles. Each ministry -- valuable in its own right -- operated independently from one another. But through intentional relational networking -- as seen, for example, in Together for the Gospel (first conference, 2006) -- there was newfound camaraderie as it seemed that a fresh work of God was underway.
This fellowship among Presbyterians, Baptists, and a host of like-minded independent churches caught the watching public's attention. Christianity Today, Time, The New York Times, Christian Science Monitor, and the Religion Newswriters Association all took notice. Any accurate analysis of evangelical trends today will take note of the energy behind this growing movement.
The Opportunity Before Us
We write this article not to relive the past, however, but to consider the future. We write not as formative leaders of the movement but first and foremost as grateful beneficiaries. As convinced Calvinists ourselves, we can't help but be thankful for the work God seems to be doing in our generation to renew churches, re-energize preaching, recover the beauty of robust doctrinal engagement, and re-establish the glory of God and the wonder of the gospel in the heads and hearts of his people. Only God could have raised up such a diverse collection of churches and ministries at this time of both great opportunity and also peril.
Where some Christians fret over the loss of Christian consensus in America and the growing ranks of the religiously unaffiliated, we see great opportunity. The demise of nominal Christianity opens new possibilities for genuine discipleship. If people nowadays are going to follow Christ, they want the strong stuff. They want robust theology, a big Christ, a deep gospel, and they aren't afraid of serious demands.
It is no coincidence that this movement of evangelical Calvinists thrives in pockets of America where church attendance has eroded. Mark Driscoll from Mars Hill Church in Seattle, Mark Dever at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C., and Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in Manhattan have three very different personalities and styles, and they represent three age brackets. But each, in his own way, has inspired many young pastors to pour their lives into dying churches and start new ones in cities considered skeptical toward evangelicals.
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