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The Economist discovers Calvinists

I recently attended John Piper's Desiring God gathering in Minneapolis, and yes, the Reformed crowd there was pretty alive and well, and the crowd seemed particularly young for a conference. The Economist recently highlighted "The new Calvins," describing a growing trend of Calvinists in the Southern Baptist denomination. Let's first consider the deck, which acts as a subtitle: "Tensions inside one of America's most successful churches." I'm not sure who's defining "successful" or when the Southern Baptists became a church instead of a denomination or a convention.

It would be interesting to know what provoked this article since the growth isn't really new. Christianity Today has covered this development for the past few years (especially Collin Hansen, who wrote a book on the topic).

The Calvinist growth doesn't necessarily seem limited to Southern Baptists; rather, it seems to be a generational development. But the growth within the Southern Baptist denomination is interesting considering the possible theological tensions. The Economist regularly tries hard to explain the history and context, but this paragraph shifts from laudable to laughable.

Calvinism emphasizes that Jesus died only for the elect; Baptists believe Jesus died for everyone. Baptists, by definition, believe that baptism must be an informed choice by the individual, therefore limited to adults; Calvinists believe infants may be baptized. Calvinists think that God selects certain people for damnation; Baptists are more easy-going.

One of the best responses to this paragraph comes from Thabiti Anyabwile, a Baptist pastor in the Grand Cayman Islands.

I don't know any Baptists (I'm one) who would describe what it means to be a Baptists in these terms. And judging by the statistics from the SBC, where baptism ages are dropping like boulders off cliffs, adult baptism is no longer the norm in most SBC churches. And at least among Reformed Baptists, there would not be support for infant baptism. To associate the "new Calvinists" with declining baptism ages in Baptist churches is just journalistic foolishness. To equate the denomination with "the church" is to misunderstand even that local spirit and autonomy that Baptists love so fiercely.

By the way, when did Southern Baptists become known for being "more easy-going"? More easy going than who? We're the "don't dance, don't smoke, don't chew, don't hang out with those who do" crowd.

The magazine uses some vague descriptions that create sweeping generalizations. "Mark Driscoll, a flamboyant, controversial pastor who leads Seattle's largest congregation, the non-denominational Mars Hill church." Journalists regularly use the expression "show, don't tell," but there's nothing in this sentence that helps the readers understand how Driscoll is "flamboyant" or "controversial."

It also seems odd that The Economist would label Al Mohler "the denomination's best-known Calvinist" without quoting him on the trend.

One of our readers asked for more explanation for the theological implications.

Possibly the biggest thing missing in the summary is the division on the definition of the sovereignty of God?

My only issue is with the closing remarks, which characterize neo-Calvinism as a "trend." While it certainly has characteristics like a trend, such as increasing popularity and generation differences, I feel this term is too light. The difference between Reformed and non-Reformed beliefs has a dramatic influence on how believers see God, others and the world.

I appreciate (and subscribe to) The Economist because of its emphasis on historical, cultural, political, and economical context. Perhaps this time around, they could have employed more theological context.

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