RPM, Volume 15, Number 15, April 7 to April 13, 2013

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From?

Part 1 of 10

By Mark Dever

Two events served to bring to the front of my mind the growing prominence of reformed theology among the young in the American evangelical scene.

1) I was having dinner in Manhattan a couple of years ago, seated between a couple of older prominent evangelical Anglicans. They were discussing the drought of good preaching that they had been surviving through for the last couple of decades. I said only a little to them (said that wasn't my impression), but it made me notice the veritable garden that it seems to me in the circles I run in that God is growing up.

2) At Together for the Gospel, April 2006, at one point I asked people to stand by ages. Out of 3,000 we had a few senior citizens. Some guys in their 50's. A lot in their 40's. A TON in their 30's. And even MORE in their 20's. Now, there could be a lot of reasons for that, but let me simply say that when Collin Hansen came out with his interesting article about "Young, Restless and Reformed" in the fall of 2006, I had already observed the phenomenon and agreed with the premise of his article--that there does seem to be something of a reformed revival among those born in the 1970s & 1980s.

The purpose of this series of posts is simply to address the question--why? And I mean that not in a theological sense (our God is sovereign, or because people read their BIbles) but in an historical sense. As a trained historian, I know that suggesting causation among historians is a bit like alchemy among chemists. But it's just too interesting for me to pass up!!

I intend to suggest these sources in a roughly chronological order, wondering, if there were so few self-conscious Calvinists in the 1950's how'd we get so many of them today?

Source #1 is the only source I'll mention which endured throughout the 20th century in a consistent way--the writings of C H Spurgeon.

Of course, behind Spurgeon, and quoted by him, were lots more--Edwards and Whitefield, Bunyan and Owen and the rest of the puritans (SIBBES!!), Luther and Calvin and the other reformers. But no one can top the continuing popularity of Spurgeon and his sermons. If you look at the magnificent 57-volume Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit series of sermons, they are commended by a stunning host of the great and the good among mid-20th century evangelicals. Not only did Spurgeon's younger contemporaries revere and recommend him (like B. H. Carroll, founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) but so did many of the most eminent among the preachers of 1950 and 1960. Simply look at some of those who wrote commendations for the reprinting of the Met Tab series by Pilgrim. Look who was exhorting everyone to buy and read these sermons, and in the most glowing of terms! WA Criswell and Billy Graham. Wilbur Smith and Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Stephen Olford and John Walvoord. R. G. Lee and Charles Feinberg. Herschel Hobbs and Helmut Theilicke. John R. Rice and Harold Lindsell. J. Harold Smith and Curtis Vaughn. Jack Hyles and D. James Kennedy. That list is so extraordinary, that it's pretty safe to say that you couldn't have gotten that list of people to endorse the writings of anyone OTHER than C. H. Spurgeon! Some of them even wrote books against Calvinism, but they praised Spurgeon.

If Spurgeon was the underground aquifer bringing down the nutrients of earlier generations to those after him, then it was this generation of preachers--many of them anti-Calvinists--who, ironically, were the aquifers who brought us all Spurgeon. And friends, if you keep being told to buy Spurgeon, eventually you'll probably read Spurgeon. And if you read Spurgeon, you'll never be able to believe the charge that all Calvinists are Hyper-Calvinists, and that Calvinists can't do missions and evangelism.

Spurgeon seemed about as healthy and balanced as a Bible-believing Christian can be. In his preaching He exalted God's grace, centered on the cross of Christ, instructed Christians and pled with sinners.

It was Spurgeon who said in his sermon on I Cor. 1:23-24, "I have my own private opinion, that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and him crucified, unless you preach what now-a-days is called Calvinism. I have my own ideas, and those I always state boldly. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism. Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith without works; not unless we preach the sovereignty of God in his dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor, I think, can we preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the peculiar redemption which Christ made for his elect and chosen people; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation, after having believed. Such a gospel I abhor. The gospel of the Bible is not such a gospel as that. We preach Christ and him crucified in a different fashion, and to all gainsayers we reply, "We have not so learned Christ."

Many of the ministers who now decry what these young people believe are the very ones who commended Spurgeon to them. And these young men have trusted their pastors' recommendations.

That's one of the places that I think all these young Calvinists have come from. Special Added Value: I'm writing this in Geneva, Switzerland, where I'm to be lecturing and preaching until Thursday (DV). From the place where I'm staying, I have a clear view of mighty Mt. Blanc. I am reminded of the quote of one of Spurgeon's admiring contemporaries, John A. Broadus, one of the founding professors of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Broadus said, "The people who sneer at Calvinism might as well sneer at Mt. Blanc."

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