RPM, Volume 15, Number 20, May 12 to May 18, 2013

Where'd All These Calvinists Come From?

Part 6 of 10

By Mark Dever

In the mid-twentieth century, Calvinism was at a low ebb in America (at least outside of Western Michigan!). I've suggested in this series some factors which explain something of its resurgence. The last one I suggested in the 1970s was the Inerrancy Controversy. In the early days of that--you could say in part, as some of that controversy's earliest fruit (even before the turn-around of the Missouri Synod Lutherans and long before the recommitted conservatism of the Southern Baptist Convention's leadership) was the founding of the Presbyterian Church in America.

Born out of theological controversy in what was then the southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS), representatives of 260 congregations met together in December of 1973 to form what would soon be re-named as the Presbyterian Church in America. Throughout the 1970s this connection of churches grew, mushrooming in the 1980s and 1990s. In its numbers are found many who were once members of Methodist, Baptist and Episcopalian churches. These churches (nearly 1500 of them at last count) have over 300,000 communicant members, and far more in attendance at their churches.

The official doctrinal standard of the PCA is a revision of the Westminster Confession of Faith, a document so associated with the history of Calvinism that it could almost be said to define it in the English-speaking world. This connection of churches became the home to well-known evangelical Calvinists such as D. James Kennedy and James Montgomery Boice. Its seminary grew in size and influence (Covenant Theological Seminary) and Reformed Theological Seminary (Jackson, Orlando, Charlotte) though officially independent, has functioned since the 1970s as the training ground for many PCA ministers. These churches are marked by aggressive evangelism and missions. We've already considered Evangelism Explosion and the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (Ft. Lauderdale), but there are many others that became leaders nationally in evangelism. Briarwood Presbyterian (Birmingham, AL) the location of the denomination's organizing meeting, has also been a vibrant evangelistic church. Campus Outreach has grown out of the ministries of that congregation. Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City is also a PCA congregation. Redeemer is a leader in teaching church planting to Presbyterians and other evangelicals. Reformed University Fellowship is the very effective student arm of the PCA, prominent especially in southern universities. By the late 1990's you could almost assume that the most seriously Bible-preaching and evangelistic congregations near major university campuses would not be Bible churches, or Baptist churches, but PCA congregations. There is no doubt that for the last 30 years, one of the major factors in the resurgence of Calvinism in American evangelicalism has been the organizing and growth of the PCA.

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