Is there really a Calvinist resurgence?

According to a new study from the Barna Group, the recent Calvinist resurgence may not be all that it’s cracked up to be. We’ve heard a lot recently about the “New Calvinism.” According to many, we are seeing a revival of Reformed theology, especially among younger Christians – i.e., the Young, Restless, and Reformed. So, the Barna Group decided to do some research on the issue to determine if there’s any actual data to support the conclusion that we are seeing a revival in Reformed theology. And their conclusion?

….there is no discernible evidence from this research that there is a Reformed shift among U.S. congregation leaders over the last decade. Whatever momentum surrounds Reformed churches and the related leaders, events and associations has not gone much outside traditional boundaries or affected the allegiances of most today’s church leaders.

In their research into the reformed movement in American churches, the Barna Group surveyed Protestant leaders around the country to determine whether they self-identify as Calvinist or Arminian in orientation. And, according to the study, 31% of Protestant pastors identify themselves and their churches as “Calvinist or Reformed” down from 32% in 2000. And, this number has been relatively stable for the last 10 years. So, rather than supporting the idea of a significant resurgence in Reformed theology, these numbers suggest that pastors, at least, self-identify with Reformed theology at the same rate as they did 10 years ago.

And, from the other perspective, 32% self-identify as Welseyan-Arminian, down from 37% in 2000. Representing a slight decline, this number has fluctuated more over the last ten years, though the researchers offer no suggestion as to why this might be the case.

On the basis of this evidence, the researchers conclude that we currently have insufficient evidence to support the conclusion that there is a resurgence of interest in Calvinist theology. They do acknowledge, however, that there may be factors they have not included in their research which might still validate the idea of a Reformed resurgence. Thus, despite the data, Ed Stetzer concludes,

All that to say, I think there IS a resurgence of Calvinism (particularly within evangelicalism), but since it is younger, and a subset of a very large pool of pastors (for polling purposes), it is not evident via the research.

But, contrary to Stetzer’s conclusion, the Barna data shows 34%  of young pastors (ages 27 to 45) self-identifying as Wesleyan/Arminian and only 29% as Calvinist/Reformed. Thus, even if there is a renewed interest in Calvinist theology, it is not yet sufficient to offset the continuing support for Wesleyan/Arminian theology among young, Christian leaders.

I also found it very interesting that older, Christian leaders were the least likely to identify with either description, with only 26% identifying as Calvinist/Reformed and 27% as Wesleyan/Arminian. And, indeed, it seems worth noting that although 32% of the total population identified as Calvinist/Reformed, and 31% identified as Wesleyan/Arminian, that still means 37% chose not to identify with either description. If nothing else, this would seem t suggest that we need to recognize more diversity than can be captured with a simple Calvinist/Arminian spectrum.

So, is there a Calvinist resurgence today? I’m still inclined to think so. But, the Barna survey places this resurgence in context, demonstrating that it’s overall influence on the Christian community as a whole is still relatively minimal. Given the relative prominence of many New Calvinist leaders, that does not mean the movement is insignificant, only that it’s overall impact has yet to be determined.

About Marc Cortez

Theology Prof and Dean at Western Seminary, husband, father, & blogger, who loves theology, church history, ministry, pop culture, books, and life in general.

Posted on November 15, 2010, in The Modern Church and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. I kinda thought that there was a resurgence of Calvinism among Southern Baptists, more than a general resurgence. Hence, the fundy flavor of it all.

    • People have definitely been talking about it as a broader movement, particularly among baptists and non-denominational types.

      I was also interested to see in the study that Pentecostal pastors were a little more likely to identify as Calvinist. That’s certainly not what I would have expected.

      • In his blog James K.A. Smith says that Pentecostals identify as being more Reformed than Wesleyan namely in their view of Sanctification (not necessarily Soteriology). CoG (Cleveland) would take on more of a Wesleyan model of Sanctification in it’s perfectionistic tendencies. Whereas AG (a larger Pentecostal body) have sided the Reformed model of Sanctification. So when Pentecostals state that they are Reformed, they very may well be thinking in terms of Sanctification. I think Smith is right in stating that we need to make sure – when doing these survey’s – that we are working from the same definition of terms.

        You can check out Smith’s comments here:
        http://forsclavigera.blogspot.com/2010/11/barna-report-on-new-calvinism.html

      • I saw that in Smith’s post and thought it was an intersting contribution to the discussion. I didn’t knoe about the way “reformed” labels functioned in Pentecostal circles. That was fascinating.

        Of course, this. insight by itself suggests that the label “new calvinism” need substantially more nuancing before it can serve usefully in meaningful discussion.

  2. I think it is just that Calvinists have started shouting louder recently, so it seems like there is more, but when they get sore throats they will quieten down and leave the rest of us alone again. Personally i just turn the old i-pod up when they get going.

  3. We can blame James K.A. Smith’s interaction with Pentecostalism for the increase in Calvinistic Pentecostals. 😉

  4. Actually, that is only partly a joke. The recruiter for Calvin Seminary told me that Calvin College and Regent University, as institutions, have had a increasingly close relationship.

    Go figure.

  5. The relationship between continuationist theology and Calvinism is not that unusual, e.g. Wayne Grudem, Sam Storms, JKA Smith, etc. Even at Westminster, there were several guys there working on PhD’s who were Pentecostals – they thought there was a seamless connection b/w the Calvinist view of the Spirit and the practice of tongues, etc.

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