Whether one reads the young, restless, and reformed guru, Collin Hansen, or takes seriously Ed Stetzer’s statistics that suggests Calvinism is on the rise (especially in the SBC), or accepts the rhetoric that Reformed church planting leads the pack by a country mile in new church starts, The Barna Group’s newly released study “Is There a “Reformed Movement” in American Churches?” rains on the Calvinistic come-back parade >>>
For at least 10 years, Barna has tracked American non-Catholic clergy who identify the churches they serve as "Calvinist or Reformed." Presently, about a third suggests this phrase identifies them. What’s worth noting is, the percentage is relatively unchanged over the 10 year period (in fact, the raw percentage actually decreased from 32% to 31% presently). Barna’s conclusion is, “an examination of a series of studies among active clergy during the past decade indicates that the proportion that embraces the Reformed label has remained flat over the last 10 years” (emphasis mine). On the other hand, those who embrace "Wesleyan or Arminian" is notably down but virtually the same as those identify as "Calvinist or Reformed" (32% identify as "Wesleyan or Arminian").
So far as generational matters are concerned, of young pastors (ages 27 to 45) surveyed, 29% described themselves as "Calvinist or Reformed." while 34% identified as "Wesleyan or Arminian." My own age bracket (boomer generation) was relatively the same as the young generation (about half/half) However, the ones least likely to identify as either were pastors 65 or older.
Denominational parameters revealed a decisive edge in mainline bodies for "Wesleyan or Arminian" at 47% and "Calvinist or Reformed" at 29%. On the other hand, non-mainlines were slightly more “Calvinist or Reformed” (35% to 30% for "Wesleyan or Arminian"). In addition, though many view “Calvinist or Reformed” as more likely to be theologically conservative, Barna notes “a greater proportion of these leaders described themselves as "theologically liberal" than was true among Wesleyan/Arminian leaders (17% versus 13%).” Similarly surprising the slight edge “Wesleyan or Arminian” had (65%) to seminary completion (“Calvinist or Reformed”, 62%).
Some initial observations
First, the much publicized revival of “Reformed” theology in America may be nothing more than a over-blown news story. Indeed Time Magazine’s proclamation that Neo-Calvinism is one of the top 10 ideas changing the world right now may have been significantly premature. Is it possible that the young, restless, and reformed looks much more pervasive than it is because of its latent tendency toward what church growth expert, C. Peter Wagoner, once described of self-absorbed churches—navel-gazing? Same speakers, same conferences (with different names), same panel-discussions, same books, same mentors, same agenda, same, same, same…
Second, while Ed Stetzer supposed in his statistics an incredible increase of Calvinists in the SBC, along with a rise in seminary graduates who profess “Calvinist or Reformed,” his numbers are definitively at odds with Barna. Understand: I am not necessarily challenging the validity of Stetzer’s numbers at this point. Rather what I am noting is, assuming Lifeway numbers are fairly accurate, what is apparently happening in the SBC is not what is happening in the larger church culture according to Barna’s research.
If this is so, one must ask why? Is there a connection between the rise of “Calvinist or Reformed” focuses on our seminary campuses and the SBC? Are we allowing a “Calvinist or Reformed” agenda to take place in our convention similar to the “Calvinist or Reformed” agenda taking place at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary? Why is Calvinism on the rise in the SBC, when, in Barna’s words, “[Calvinism] remained flat over the last 10 years” in all Protestant bodies?
What is more, if Southern Baptists are being "calvinized" in such a way as is atypical in the church at large, is this not a phenomenon about which to be especially concerned? Are top positions in the denominational structure being stacked with high-profile Calvinists? Is the number of Calvinist leaders in the convention atypically high? I remain highly interested in whom the trustee's search committee names as the next president of the International Mission Board. Will he have undeniable ties with Al Mohler's strict Calvinist coalition in Louisville, Kentucky?
We wait to see.
Third, while we are told being “Calvinist” or “Arminian” is insignificant (at least insignificant according to Ed Stetzer contra Al Mohler) to our younger pastors, and that they just want to “preach the Word,” Barna concludes young pastors are just as inclined to spar over theological labels as the famed boomer generation. In fact, according to Barna, pastors 65 and over are the ones least likely to concern themselves with theological labeling—at least so far as “Calvinist” or “Arminian” is concerned. Perhaps we could learn from our elder spiritual fathers.
Fourth, while Al Mohler insists the contours of “Reformed” constructs are the sole literary messiah to deliver us from godless Liberalism, thus officially “protecting” the gospel, Barna’s research suggests more “Calvinist or Reformed” pastors consider themselves as “theological liberals” than do those pastors who are self-described “Wesleyan or Arminian.” Similarly, more “Arminian or Wesleyan” pastors are likely to be seminary graduates indicating a myth exists about the exclusively “scholarly,” “academic,” aura claimed by many for Calvinism in distinction to non-Calvinism.
Finally, there is hope for many young, non-Calvinists who may feel over-whelmed because they do not buy what neo-Calvinism sells—a neatly wrapped, theological package which can answer all questions about life and theology with the famous five petals of a Dutch flower. Rather they remain biblicists at heart and skirt systematic theology for a decisive and robust biblical theology. Additionally, because they do not embrace the muscular Dortian Calvinism experienced in the young, restless, and reformed communities, conferences, and other events, non-Calvinists prefer to stay-away. This could result in a sort of communitarian abjection among many young non-Calvinists. In other words, they sense they just don't "belong" or "don't fit in" among their generational peers.
However, according to Barna, of the youngest generation of pastors (ages 27 to 45), only 29% described themselves as “Calvinist or Reformed,” while 34% identified as “Wesleyan or Arminian.” If Barna is correct, not only does this pull the theological rug from under our conventional wisdom that young pastors, as a whole, are swallowing "Reformed" theology hook 'n all, there also remains every reason to predict future conferences springing up which focus less on the “five points of Calvinism” and “Reformed” constructs of thought “necessary” to “protect” the gospel, and more on a John 3:16 Conference approach, with young pastors leading the charge.
With that, I am…