Future of Evangelicalism
The Evangelical Reformed Movement: A Comeback
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.
The meaty theology of Calvinism has other aspects that bode well for its future. For one, the intellectual nature of the Reformed faith means that it tends to exert a disproportionate influence on Christian thinking and institutions through writing, scholarship, and formal theologizing. Second, the accent on God's providential care over all encourages Christians to count the cost of discipleship in an increasingly hostile culture and trust God for the outcome.
Throughout the centuries, missionaries such as William Carey and Adoniram Judson have found encouragement to persevere from the promise of God's sovereignty. If the future holds further erosion of nominal Christianity, evangelical Calvinists are equipped to endure. Finally, a firm commitment to the full trustworthiness and authority of scripture -- along with a settled conviction in substitutionary atonement and justification by Christ's righteousness through faith alone -- are historic and essential rail guards to keep evangelicalism on a biblically faithful path.
The Peril Ahead
At the same time, we see peril. In the wider evangelical movement the richness of the biblical gospel is often marginalized, sometimes unwittingly. The gospel becomes a bullet-point summary with little power, simply a stepping stone to social activism, or the gateway to what really matters -- effective parenting, marital bliss, and financial rewards.
In this perilous and divided situation, evangelical Calvinists are often perceived as one more partisan voice clamoring for attention and market share. Worse, we are caricaturized as mean-spirited doctrine police known more for what (and whom) we are against more than what we celebrate. Still others think the new Calvinists are faddish disciples of dead Puritans or groupie-like Piperazzi.