Why the "Calvinist" Resurgence is Troubling

Mark Dever has tried to account for the prominence recently of Calvinism among Baptists and independents. Coming in at #6 out of 10 influences is the Presbyterian Church in America:

Born out of theological controversy in 1973, this denomination’s official doctrinal standard is a revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith—a document “so associated with the history of Calvinism,” Dever suggests, “it could almost be said to define it in the English-speaking world.”

“By the late 1990s,” he recalls, you could virtually assume the “most seriously Bible-preaching and evangelistic congregations near major university campuses would not be Bible churches or Baptist churches, but PCA congregations.” From the success of various seminaries to the influence of Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) on campuses to Tim Keller’s ministry in New York City, it’s clear the “organizing and growth” of the PCA has been a major contributing factor to the Reformed resurgence.

Not to be too disrespectful of a communion of like faith and practice, but if I were looking for theological chutzpah in the last quarter of the twentieth-century, I would not be turning to the PCA precisely because of Keller. In fact, since 1986 when Joining and Receiving failed, the PCA has broadened and become flabby, while the OPC has become lean (many thought it was always mean). Does this mean that Dever should have mentioned the OPC? Of course, not. We are small, marginal, and can’t make it in NYC the way Keller has. (Whether the PCA has actually made it in NYC is another question.)

But this account of the PCA and Keller suggests that the new “Calvinists” don’t really get Reformed Protestantism. Inside confessional Presbyterian circles folks are worried about the PCA and wonder why folks like Keller don’t spend some of their considerable capital on trying to help the denomination recover its Reformed faith and practice. (Oh, that’s right, Keller has.) Imagine a Southern Baptist minister or seminary professor mixing it up with Episcopalians or United Methodists and you might have a parallel with Keller’s unwillingness to play within the confines of Presbyterian polity and Reformed teaching.

But if CG’s comment about Baptists needing to venture out on their own and lose their wanna-be-Presbyterian outlook is correct, then perhaps Dever’s estimate of the PCA is just one more version of Baptists, who are only a guhzillion times bigger than Presbyterians, turning their heads to follow a tall Presbyterian blonde. Why they don’t find Lutherans that attractive is a mystery, though it may be an indication of Baptist provincialism. Imagine what the young and restless would look like if they were reading Luther instead of Piper channeling Edwards. Then again, Luther’s theology of the cross might require having to give up Billy Graham.

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