RPM, Volume 15, Number 21, May 19 to May 25, 2013

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From?

Part 7 of 10

By Mark Dever

So far in this series we've considered influences from the Presbyterian or Baptist streams. It may surprise some to hear that I think one of the main reasons for the resurgences of Calvinism in American evangelicalism in the 1970s and 1980s came from Episcopalians! Historians know that Episcopalians (Anglicans) are historically a reformed denomination, but few Americans today would associate Episcopalianism or Anglicanism with Reformed theology. That reflects both our ignorance of history, and how much the Anglican tradition has changed over the centuries (especially with the rise of Anglo-Catholicism and theological Liberalism in the 19th century).

Nevertheless, Thomas Cranmer (the first protestant Archbishop of Canterbury) was a reformed theologian. The 39 Articles (the Church's statement of faith) is a clearly Protestant, Calvinistic statement. The Puritan movement was largely a movement of Anglicans. The Westminster Confession was written for the Church of England. And Richard Sibbes was an Anglican!!

Anyway, it should not surprise us, therefore, that the English church has so strongly contributed to the revival of Calvinism in English-speaking America. Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Banner of Truth--all of these are British influences. But in 1973 Hodder & Stoughton in England, and IVP in the US printed a book which had a large immediate effect, and an even larger longer-term effect. Did you notice how the 1970s and 1980s saw a number of books [gerund] God? Like Loving God, Desiring God, Trusting God. Where did that trend come from?

It came from J. I. Packer's book, Knowing God. It was published in 1973. And it has continued to sell, year after year, to seminarians, small-group leaders, Christian study groups. It has been read by hundreds of thousands of Christians. Packer has written many other things which have made him the current grandfather of this reformed movement. (He just turned 81 day before yesterday. Pray for more years of health and strength and ministry.) Many of us have disagreed with his work with ECT, but there is no denying that from his introduction to Owen's Death of Death to his book, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, to his many published articles on theology and history, Packer has been one of the best and clearest and most popular theological tutors of those Christians who've grown up in the evangelicalism of the 1980s & 1990s.

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