Aug

29

2012

Justin Taylor|12:22 pm CT

The Rise of New Calvinism, the Internet, and Two Other Factors

For those interested in the discussion about where the “new Calvinists” came from, Tim Challies adds an important factor to the discussion. It’s something so obvious it can be easy to miss.

Challies writes:

There is one factor that neither Dever nor Taylor has listed and one I consider absolutely critical to the growth of the movement: the Internet.

The Internet has allowed people to find community based on common interest—a new kind of community that transcends any geographic boundary. It used to be that people of common interest could only find others who shared their interests within a limited geographic area. The Internet has forever changed this and this is true in any field, whether it pertains to vocation, hobby, sports, religion or anything else. As web sites began to spring up, and then individual blogs and then group blogs and then YouTube channels and Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, people began to discover that there were others like them, people who believed roughly the same things or who had roughly the same interests. Where there may have been only a small number of enthusiasts in a single town or city, the Internet brought together enthusiasts from hundreds and thousands of cities and towns. These people could now congregate online with those who shared their interests.

The New Calvinism is no exception. While the theological seeds had been planted in previous years and decades, the movement was awaiting a catalyst that would allow the isolated individuals to coalesce into a movement. The catalyst in this case was the Internet and social media. . . .

You can read the whole thing here. I agree entirely.

And as long as this discussion continues, let me add two more factors.

1. Not Just Internet, but Free Internet

One commenter on my original post made this observation regarding Piper and Desiring God:

It’s not just that Desiring God and John Piper were trumpeting the Biblical doctrines associated with the rise of the new Calvinism – it’s also the fact that they were aggressively disseminating them for free. To access such a wealth of resources and to not have to even register as a subscriber spoke volumes of the generosity and grace of the God they were proclaiming.

I think this is right. From the beginning (in the mid-90s) Desiring God had a “whatever you can afford” policy. There was also a decision to get everything possible—from sermons to articles to books to videos to audio—online for free. To see some of the theological and ministry rationale behind this, see Jon Bloom and John Piper’s booklet, “Money, Markets, and Ministry: Giving and Selling in the Mission of Desiring God.”

The second phase of this was an article by Matt Perman urging other ministries to “Make It Free.” Key to Perman’s argument was that it’s not enough to be free. Resources must also be easily accessible without registration or subscription. The difficulty of this is that it’s hard to pay one’s overhead and to pay the extensive bills to make this sort of thing happen at a significant level. (On this, see Nathan Bingham’s important reminder.) It means ministries must shift from a revenue model to a donor model. But Perman’s piece became a catalyst for other ministries following suit.

2. Not Just Individuals and Influencers, But Institutions

In the fall of 2006, at a panel for the DG National Conference on “The Supremacy of God in a Postmodern World,” I asked Tim Keller about the then popular trend of Emergent/emerging Christians. Asking him to don his “prophet’s hat” I wondered if this would be merely a footnote in the history of evangelicalism, or would it comprise a chapter. Was it here to stay or would it fade away, replaced by the next fad? Here was part of his answer:

They don’t have institutions, and I do think you need institutions. Evangelicalism developed in the United Kingdom and the United States because of certain institutions: a couple of key seminaries laid the groundwork for the movement, and Crusade, InterVarsity, and Navigators raised up the foot soldiers. Because of this, evangelicalism created something different. But I don’t see that in the emerging church—it’s so anti-institutional, so afraid of authority, that I doubt very much that it can create those institutions and become a cohesive movement. There might be some sort of post-liberal/post-conservative theological party that comes together, and I think it could produce writers and lots of books, but I doubt that they’re going to create churches or any strong communities and institutions. . . . No, I don’t think it’s going to be a strong movement.

Tim concluded his answer by conceding, “Though ten years from now I may be eating my words!” But of course he was exactly right.

The key here, in my view, is that the organizations that are often associated with a revived interest in evangelical Calvinism (from TGC to T4G to DG to 9Marks to the Resurgence to SGM to GTY to Ligonier to Modern Reformation) all exist to serve and strengthen the church. In these circles you never hear lone-ranger Christians ready to give up on the institutional church. These folks are church people who are happy to link arms, in varying ways and to varying degrees, with other Christians who are passionate about the Gospel.

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