Is there really a Calvinist resurgence?

According to a new study from the Barna Group, the recent Calvinist resurgence may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. We’ve heard a lot recently about the “New Calvinism.” According to many, we are seeing a revival of Reformed theology, especially among younger Christians - i.e., the Young, Restless, and Reformed. So the Barna Group decided to do some research on the issue to determine if there’s any actual data to support the conclusion that we are seeing a revival in Reformed theology. And their conclusion?

….there is no discernible evidence from this research that there is a Reformed shift among U.S. congregation leaders over the last decade. Whatever momentum surrounds Reformed churches and the related leaders, events and associations has not gone much outside traditional boundaries or affected the allegiances of most today’s church leaders.

In their research into the reformed movement in American churches, the Barna Group surveyed Protestant leaders around the country to determine whether they self-identify as Calvinist or Arminian in orientation. And, according to the study, 31% of Protestant pastors identify themselves and their churches as “Calvinist or Reformed” down from 32% in 2000. And , this number has been relatively stable for the last 10 years. So rather than supporting the idea of a significant resurgence in Reformed theology, these numbers suggest that pastors, at least, self-identify with Reformed theology at the same rate as they did 10 years ago.

And from the other perspective, 32% self-identify as Welseyan-Arminian, down from 37% in 2000. Representing a slight decline, this number has fluctuated more over the last ten years, though the researchers offer no suggestion as to why this might be the case.

On the basis of this evidence, the researchers conclude that we currently have insufficient evidence to support the conclusion that there is a resurgence of interest in Calvinist theology. They do acknowledge, however, that there may be factors they have not included in their research which might still validate the idea of a Reformed resurgence. Thus, despite the data, Ed Stetzer concludes,

All that to say, I think there IS a resurgence of Calvinism (particularly within evangelicalism), but since it is younger, and a subset of a very large pool of pastors (for polling purposes), it is not evident via the research.

But, contrary to Stetzer’s conclusion, the Barna data shows 34%  of young pastors (ages 27 to 45) self-identifying as Wesleyan/Arminian and only 29% as Calvinist/Reformed. Thus, even if there is a renewed interest in Calvinist theology, it is not yet sufficient to offset the continuing support for Wesleyan/Arminian theology among young, Christian leaders.

I also found it very interesting that older, Christian leaders were the least likely to identify with either description, with only 26% identifying as Calvinist/Reformed and 27% as Wesleyan/Arminian. And, indeed, it seems worth noting that although 32% of the total population identified as Calvinist/Reformed, and 31% identified as Wesleyan/Arminian, that still means 37% chose not to identify with either description. If nothing else, this would seem t suggest that we need to recognize more diversity than can be captured with a simple Calvinist/Arminian spectrum.

So is there a Calvinist resurgence today? I’m still inclined to think so. But the Barna survey places this resurgence in context, demonstrating that it’s overall influence on the Christian community as a whole is still relatively minimal. Given the relative prominence of many New Calvinist leaders, that does not mean the movement is insignificant, only that it’s overall impact has yet to be determined.

Cooperation with Evil

(This is part of the continuing series on Theology and Philosophy that current Th.M. students are engaged in at Western.  This post is by Renjy Abraham)

As I reflect on the topic of ethics and what we ought to do as human beings interacting in this world, it seems that in general people recognize that the one who willfully and knowingly commits an act is held responsible.  Flowing out of this, it seems reasonable to then believe that no one can be held responsible for the action of others.  On the surface that sounds sensible and right.  But are there circumstances in which we are responsible for the actions of others?  The article, “Cooperation with Evil” by Fr. William P. Saunders addresses situations in which we can join and influence others to do good or evil and therefore we can be held responsible for the actions of others.

Since we have the ability to cooperate with evil acts, to what extent are we held responsible? There are different categories of cooperation, formal and material, which help us come to an answer.

My understanding is that when an individual willingly and knowingly participates in an evil action by another it is called formal cooperation.  In formal cooperation, the cooperator and the actor share intention or purpose to commit the evil act.  In situations where intention or purpose is not shared and one assists in any way, the cooperation is called material.  Material cooperation is then broken up into two categories addressing the closeness of the cooperation.  Simply put, proximate (or immediate) material cooperation occurs when the cooperator’s actions are essential to the action of evil.  Remote (or mediate) material cooperation concerns all actions of the cooperator in which they are not essential to the act, but still aids in the evil act. The example that Saunders uses in his article is of someone getting an abortion. The doctor who performs the act (formal cooperator), the person who drives the individual to the hospital (immediate material cooperator), and even the custodian who cleans the room (mediate material cooperator) all participate to varying degrees in the act of evil.

With all of this, how does one figure out the extent to which they are responsible for the actions of others? It is clear that in formal cooperation, the cooperator should be held at a high level of responsibility. However, when it comes to material cooperation it becomes harder to understand.  Saunders puts forth this guiding question in regards to material cooperation “Is there a proportionate reason for cooperation with this evil action?” His guiding question isn’t satisfactory to me.  It is a good question in that it forces people start thinking about how their actions influence and affect others.  But how does one determine ‘proportionate reasons’?  If someone works as a computer technician at a retail company whose products were made in a sweat shop overseas, as a material cooperator does she have the responsibility to quit her job?  Or is it reasonable to say that her cooperation is so remote and she is providing for her family, that she is justified in her work.  Or for the person who gets a new movie and lets his friend borrow it, knowing that he has the ability to burn the DVD, is he responsible to try and prevent his friend from copying it?    How much should one be willing to set aside the benefits they might gain (the relationship, or the money that is earned to provide for their family) when they cooperate in an act that leads to evil?

I am not looking for a clear cut answer, but principles that better guide us in understanding our responsibility for the actions of others.   Your thoughts?

Flotsam and jetsam (11/15)

One cannot underestimate the importance of 1 Timothy 2:12 in the intra-evangelical debate over gender roles and women in ministry. There is a reason why countless articles and even an entire book have been written on the interpretation of this single verse. In many ways, this verse is the most disputed text in the debate. It is clear that Paul is prohibiting something, but just what he prohibits has been fiercely contested.

The women’s ministry paradigm has been undergoing a subtle but important shift over the last few years. Many evangelical women are now discussing and operating according to an alternative to the emotional, therapeutic, and pretty-in-pink cliché that has dominated for so long, encouraging women to think beyond the contours of the current paradigm and develop a vision for women’s ministry that more actively and intentionally involves the life of the mind. They are identifying and rejecting the experience-driven model as insufficient because without theological substance any impact is merely temporary.

The solution, as I see it, is what I call  “Kevlar theology,” that our theology should be as unbreakable and as elastic as a bulletproof vest.

Sacramentality is the concept that the outward and visible can convey the inward and spiritual. Physical matters and actions can become transparent vehicles of divine activity and presence. In short, sacraments can be God’s love made visible.

  • And, Roger Olson is working at reclaiming Pietism (part 1 and part 2).

A prayer for Sunday…Dietrich Bonhoeffer

O God, early in the morning I cry to you.
Help me to pray
And to concentrate my thoughts on you:
I cannot do this alone.
In me there is darkness,
But with you there is light;
I am lonely, but you do not leave me;
I am feeble in heart, but with you there is help;
I am restless, but with you there is peace.
In me there is bitterness, but with you there is patience;
I do not understand your ways,
But you know the way for me…
Restore me to liberty,
And enable me to live now
That I may answer before you and before me.
Lord, whatever this day may bring,
Your name be praised.

The irrefutable logic of the pre-schooler

My daughters have been a true font of impeccable logic lately. Yesterday, my oldest daughter startled me with the revelation that she was a compatibilist. Today, my youngest daughter (4 year-old) demonstrated her own reasoning skills.

At breakfast this morning, she proudly showed me the  painting she’d made at pre-school the day before. I told her that is was absolutely wonderful, of course, even though I had no idea what I was looking at, and I asked her to tell me about it.

“Oh, those are deciduous trees,” she said.

Now, I love it when little kids throw down words like “deciduous.” When I was four, I think I was still working on “bus.” So, wanting to see how much she actually knew about deciduous trees, I asked her if she knew what the other kind of trees are called.

“Evergreen trees,” she said quickly.

Okay, she’s got that one covered. And at this point she had just about taxed my grasp of tree lore. But, I had one question left.

“What makes deciduous trees different from evergreen trees?”

Looking at me with all the pity that four-year-old eyes can muster, she said, “Um, they’re called deciduous.”

I know when I’m beaten.

My daughter is a compatibilist – where did I go wrong?

My nine year-old daughter came home from school today with a question: “If someone invites you to do something, you want to do it, and you can do it, do you have to do it?” Apparently this is a question that she randomly came up with at school today and tried with several of her friends. And, she’s annoyed because people keep answer it incorrectly.

I got it wrong.

According to my daughter, you do “have to” do whatever is involved in this scenario because you want to do it and nothing is preventing you from doing it. Implicit in her argument is the classical compatibilist notion that our actions are always driven by our affections. Thus, the corresponding action is “necessary” (i.e. determined by your affections), while still being “free” (consistent with your own desires). I don’t know where she came up with this, since I’m pretty sure they don’t teach theories of human volition in her fourth-grade class, but apparently my daughter is a classical compatibilist.

Now I just need to figure out how to explain the consequence argument, the complexity of human affections, and the absurdity rooted deep within fallen humanity. At the rate she’s going, though, she’ll probably figure that all out by next week anyway. So, maybe I’ll just wait.

When frustrated teachers get honest


Flotsam and jetsam (11/12)

Here are a few good links from the last couple of days:

“Theology isn’t important” and Other Ridiculous Things Christians Say

(This is a guest post by Daniel Attaway, Th.M. student at Dallas Theological Seminary.)

“Theology is not important. Jesus commanded us to love God and love others and I don’t need to know about the hypostatic union in order to do that.  I just want to love people and meet their needs.”

I attended a Christian liberal arts school in central Texas and I cannot tell you how many times I heard this statement or one like it.  These comments usually started flowing freely somewhere around November or March (near the end of the semester).  This was a school that was centered around training young men and women for ministry, specifically youth ministry, and statements like these were not uncommon.  That is absolutely frightening! And even more, it is wicked.

There are basically two reasons why this is a wicked mindset and it is based on our manipulation of Christ’s statement, ‘Love God and Love people’ (Matt 22:38-40).

First, part of loving God is saying correct things about Him. Allow me to illustrate—I love my wife.  She is absolutely beautiful inside and out. Her blonde hair, hazel eyes, and 5’10” frame are stunning.  Every time she walks into the room she takes my breath away. She is incredibly talented as well.  She majored in art in college and I love to watch her paint.  When I see her in action my heart is stirred and I worship my God. There is only one problem… my wife is an absolutely gorgeous 5’5”, beautiful brunette with brown eyes, and she majored in accounting in college.  Oh and let’s not forget, when she walks into a room she takes my breath away and when I am with her my heart is stirred and I worship my God.  Now if I were to describe my wife to you using the first description and then you were to meet her, you would think I was delusional.  The point is that I do not love my wife in a way that honors her if when I speak of her I speak falsely.  There were some things that I said that were consistent in both descriptions but one description is true and the other is false.  In the same way, it is disingenuous to say you love God if you take no interest in who He is and when you speak of Him, you do not speak rightly.

Secondly, part of loving others is telling them the truth. I went to a youth conference about a year ago where Matt Chandler was speaking to youth ministers, pleading with us to clearly and consistently preach the Gospel.  He then said, “If you don’t know it, then I don’t know what you’re doing… You are a far more courageous man than I because the Lord is very clear on how He feels about those who lead His people astray.”  Amen!  Now there is a warning that you must heed: if you tell people the honest truth about who God is and who they are in light of Him, then you may not have the most “successful” ministry in town (as we define success).  There may be those who hate you, your family may suffer persecution, and there may indeed be those who would like to see you leave town or die.  The goal is not for people to speak well of us (Luke 6:26), but for us to guard the deposit that has been entrusted to us (II Tim 1:13-14).  As Christians, it is not our calling to pat people on the back while they rot in their filth of sin and ignorance, but to love them enough to tell them the truth.  Not telling them the truth out of fear or political correctness resembles hate, or worse, indifference more than genuine love.

So what is the goal?  Is it balance between knowing your theology and being practical (i.e. loving people)?  No, it’s simply both.  Being a Christian has many implications but here are two: 1) Know theology and be tied to orthodoxy. Whether you want to believe it or not, there are things that are distinctively Christian and when you abandon those things, you abandon the community of faith.  2) Love others and meet their needs. You cannot do this well if you do not have a robust and thoroughly thought out theology because your theology will always inform your practice.  Orthodoxy and orthopraxy can be distinguished but they cannot be separated.  The goal is not to find a balance between these two, but to diligently seek both.

So, who needs theology?  We all do.  Theology is not only important for the theologian or minister but also for laypeople, young and old.  Your bent may be to neglect theology or practice. Both are wicked. The Christian is to do both joyfully and lovingly.  If I were to just focus on theology and neglect to love others, I am not acting Christianly because James 1:27 says, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  On the other hand if I neglect theology I am incapable of truly loving God or people, as Paul writes in 1 Timothy 4:6, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Hold these concepts close together, marry them in your heart and do not neglect either theology or practice because theology is practical (See 1 Timothy—all of it).

Presenting the Perfect Conference Paper

Flashback. I’m reading my first paper at a national theology conference. I’m nervous. At least three people in the room are from schools with open teaching positions that I’ve applied for. Several others probably know more about the subject of my paper than I do. Although I drank at least five glasses of water before stepping to the podium, I already sound like an eight-year-old smacking away at a peanut butter sandwich every time I open my mouth. Good news: I don’t sweat much. Bad news: I already have to go to the bathroom.

Forcing myself to focus on the task at hand, I start plowing through the paper. I even breathe occasionally. I try looking up once, but that just makes me more nervous. What if I lose my place? Better just to keep my head down and get this over with.

There, I’m done. All 5,000 or so words pronounced correctly, no dropped pages, major heresies avoided, paper successfully presented.


What does it mean to present a successful conference paper? And, how exactly does one do that? With AAR just finishing and both ETS and SBL looming, this seems like a good time to reflect on the art of presenting a good conference paper. In The Art of the Conference Paper, Alessandro Angelini offers some good advice for preparing and delivering a conference paper. I would definitely encourage you to check it out. But, here are eight suggestions of my own.

  1. Write your paper. This sounds obvious, but I’ve attended several sessions where the person presented a “paper” that was really just a set of talking point. This can actually be very effective if you’re good at it. If not, it can easily become a rambling mess that goes too long and accomplishes exactly nothing. Until you’ve got a fair amount of experience under your belt, don’t even try.
  2. Write for your listeners. This one is a pet peeve of mine. For some reason, we think it’s important to write with your audience in mind for ever setting except an academic conference. I think it’s important to remember that your audience is hearing your paper, not reading it. Unless they are very talented, they simply won’t be able to follow the complex sentence structures that we think so necessary for academic writing. You’ll have a better discussion at the end of your presentation if they were able to follow the whole argument clearly. (And, by the way, this is true even if you hand out copies of your paper. Your audience still won’t have time to go back and re-read difficult sentences, or they’ll fall behind.)
  3. Minimize quotes and references. I personally find it very distracting when someone has to say “quote” and “end quote” a lot. In some kinds of papers, it’s unavoidable. But, try to keep it to a minimum.
  4. Practice reading your paper. It may sound silly, but reading a paper effectively is more difficult than it looks. You want to be comfortable enough with the paper that you don’t have to stand stiffly at the podium with your eyes glued on the page every second. Practicing your presentation (out loud) will increase your comfort level and lead to a more natural presentation when the time comes.
  5. Identify optional sections. No matter how much you practice reading your paper in advance, you’re like to read it either faster or slower when the time comes. Reading too fast will cause comprehension problems for your audience, but at least you’ll get through it. Reading too slow can be a problem since you don’t want to omit your conclusion. So, identify a couple of sections toward the end of the paper that you could skip if you needed to.
  6. Use PowerPoint carefully. If you’re going to use a PowerPoint presentation to supplement your paper, do a good job. Bad power point slides are horribly distracting and can kill even the best conference paper. If you’re not sure how to creative a good PowerPoint presentation, try Michael Hyatt’s 5 Rules for Better Presentations.
  7. Bring a handout. Unless you’re a bigwig, you’re not going to have so many people attending your paper that you can’t provide at least a simple handout. You wouldn’t present a paper to your students without something to help them follow along, why do it to your fellow conference-goers?
  8. Leave time for discussion. The most valuable part of presenting a paper (other than having something to put on your CV), can be the discussion and feedback that comes at the end. It’s common for beginning paper-presenters to fear this time and avoid it by presenting a paper that is too long and takes up all the discussion time. Don’t.