Where Did All These Calvinists Come From?

12 sources God has used to reinvigorate Reformed theology in this generation.

“If you keep being told to buy Spurgeon, eventually you’ll read Spurgeon,” Dever says. “And if you read Spurgeon, you’ll never be able to believe the charge that all Calvinists are hyper-Calvinists and cannot do evangelism or missions.”

 

Seven years ago this fall, a young journalist named Collin Hansen wrote a cover story for Christianity Today titled “Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism Is Making a Comeback—and Shaking Up the Church.” In it he remarked:

Partly institutional and partly anecdotal, [the evidence for the resurgence] is something a variety of church leaders observe. While the Emergent “conversation” gets a lot of press for its appeal to the young, the new Reformed movement may be a larger and more pervasive phenomenon.

Two years later, Hansen released his movement-defining book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists (Crossway, 2008). Traveling to destinations like the Passion conference in Atlanta, Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Southern Seminary in Louisville, and Mars Hill Church in Seattle, he sought to tell the stories of young people discovering Reformed theology. (Hansen, now editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, has since reflected on the book and the movement here, here, and here.)

One year earlier in 2007, Mark Dever proposed in a series of blog posts 10 factors that sparked this resurrection of Reformed theology among younger American evangelicals.

Now six years later, the “young, restless, Reformed” movement has only grown. The fact you’re presently reading The Gospel Coalition blog, which didn’t exist as recently as 2009, offers additional evidence.

Last week, Dever dusted off his 2007 series and delivered it, with a few changes, as an hour-long lecture at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. “If there were so few self-conscious Calvinists in the 1950s,” the pastor-historian asks, “how did we get so many today?” In what follows I offer a taste of his non-exhaustive, roughly chronological attempt to answer that question—12 sources God has used to reinvigorate Reformed theology in this generation (timestamps included).

1. Charles Spurgeon (10:39)

Dever likens the 19th-century Baptist preacher to an underground aquifer “bringing the nutrients of early generations to those after him.” Surprisingly, though, the “aquifers who brought Spurgeon to us” were countless 20th-century pastors—many of them anti-Calvinists—who enthusiastically commended his sermons.

“If you keep being told to buy Spurgeon, eventually you’ll read Spurgeon,” Dever says. “And if you read Spurgeon, you’ll never be able to believe the charge that all Calvinists are hyper-Calvinists and cannot do evangelism or missions.” Indeed, the Prince of Preachers seemed about “as healthy and balanced as a Bible-believing Christian could be.” It’s an irony of history that many of the ministers who “now decry what young Calvinists believe are the ones who recommended Spurgeon to them.”

2. Martyn Lloyd-Jones (14:43)

Though lesser known in America than in Britain, “the Doctor” had a preaching ministry for more than 50 years that “shaped countless thousands of Christians” in the mid-20th century. “Even if many born in the 1970s and 1980s haven’t heard of Lloyd-Jones,” Dever remarks, “chances are their ministers have, and have been influenced by him. Both John Piper and Tim Keller have offered eloquent testimony to ‘the Doctor’s’ influence on their own preaching.”

A pastor of enormous influence, Lloyd-Jones was “the one man in 1940s, 1950s, 1960s British evangelicalism you had to deal with.” As Dever recounts, “No other figure in the middle of the 20th century so stood against the impoverished gospel evangelicals were preaching—and did it so insightfully, so biblically, so freshly, so regularly, so charitably—all without invoking a kind of narrow partisanship that wrongly divided the churches.”

3. The Banner of Truth Trust (23:03)

Have you ever read a Puritan book? Chances are you can thank Banner of Truth. In 1957 Iain Murray and others with a shared vision and budget began reprinting classic Puritan and Reformed titles. “No such editions from the English-speaking tradition had been popularly published for a century,” Dever explains.

Motivated by truth more than by sales, the Banner’s “assiduous work in publishing in the 1950s and 1960s and 1970s has clearly helped to bring forth a harvest in the 1980s and 1990s and still today.” The libraries of pastors today are filled with books written centuries earlier due in large part to this vital publishing ministry.

 

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