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Where Did the New Calvinism Come From?
August 29, 2012
Justin Taylor recently revived Mark Dever’s 2007 series of articles titled “Where’d All These New Calvinists Come From?” This was a ten-part series that looked to the rise of New Calvinism and sought to discover the sources of a theological resurgence. Dever said,
Of course, theologically, the answer is “because of the sovereignty of God.” But I’ve never been convinced by hyper-Calvinism’s argument that because God has determined the ends, the means don’t matter. Means do matter. And as a Christian, as an historian who had lived through the very change I was considering, I wondered what factors had been used by God.
Dever originally offered ten of these factors:
- Charles H. Spurgeon
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- The Banner of Truth Trust
- Evangelism Explosion
- The inerrancy controversy
- Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)
- J. I. Packer
- John MacArthur and R. C. Sproul
- John Piper
- The rise of secularism and decline of Christian nominalism
With the benefit of another five years of data-gathering, Taylor offers several more:
- The publication and explosive success of Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology
- The Passion conferences
- September 11, 2001
- The role of Christian publishing (Eerdmans, P&R, Baker, and now Crossway and a number of smaller publishers)
- The steady growth of seminaries (e.g., Westminster Theological Seminary, Westminster Seminary California, Covenant Theological Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, etc.)
- The rise of organizations devoted to developing and networking around a God-centered, gospel-driven vision. Dever mentions MacArthur, Sproul, and Piper—associated with Grace to You, Ligonier, and Desiring God. To that list could be added the Gospel Coalition, Redeemer City to City, Together for the Gospel, Acts29, 9Marks, Sovereign Grace Ministries, etc.
There is one factor that neither Dever nor Taylor has listed and one I consider absolutely critical to the growth of the movement: the Internet.
The Internet has allowed people to find community based on common interest—a new kind of community that transcends any geographic boundary. It used to be that people of common interest could only find others who shared their interests within a limited geographic area. The Internet has forever changed this and this is true in any field, whether it pertains to vocation, hobby, sports, religion or anything else. As web sites began to spring up, and then individual blogs and then group blogs and then YouTube channels and Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, people began to discover that there were others like them, people who believed roughly the same things or who had roughly the same interests. Where there may have been only a small number of enthusiasts in a single town or city, the Internet brought together enthusiasts from hundreds and thousands of cities and towns. These people could now congregate online with those who shared their interests.
The New Calvinism is no exception. While the theological seeds had been planted in previous years and decades, the movement was awaiting a catalyst that would allow the isolated individuals to coalesce into a movement. The catalyst in this case was the Internet and social media.
The New Calvinism is a distinctly twenty-first century, digital-era development. It is the Internet in general, and social media in particular, that first tied the movement together and that have since drawn people in. Where there may have been only five or six Calvinists in a church of several hundred, when they went online they found a whole community of people who believed just what they believed. This dispelled much of the sense of isolation and gave them a corporate identity. People have often remarked that the Christian blogosphere is dominated by Calvinists and I believe this is exactly why—because in those early days of blogging it was the outliers who were looking for community they did not have in their local church fellowships.
Over time there was an inevitable shift so that the Internet was no longer merely tying together those who had long held to Calvinistic doctrine, but it also became the medium through which others were introduced to this stream of theology. What at first simply tied people together now drew new people in.
Thus this movement has not been carried by magazines or radio or televangelists—not primarily. Rather, it has been carried by the new media, the videos and blogs and podcasts. It has been carried by books that have been reviewed on blogs and purchased online. Through it all, the Internet has played a critical role. It has provided the forums for introducing people to this theology, for discussing the parameters of the movement, for reacting to the challenges that have come at it from outside and from inside.
The Protestant Reformation depended upon a medium that was able to disseminate its ideas; this came in the form of the printing press. With the advent of movable type, books and treatises could be printed in mass quantities and distributed widely, quickly and efficiently. Without confusing the impact and importance of the two movements, I believe it is safe to say that the New Calvinism was awaiting the Internet, the medium through which isolated pockets would be drawn together into a whole.
Where did the New Calvinism come from? It came from all the sources that Dever and Taylor identified, and inevitably some they have overlooked. And it came through and in some ways because of the Internet.