Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

Resurgent Calvinism's Influence among Baptist Ministry Students and Its Implications for Women in Ministry

Academic journal article Baptist History and Heritage

Resurgent Calvinism's Influence among Baptist Ministry Students and Its Implications for Women in Ministry

Article excerpt

A national survey of ministry students reveals that Baptist ministry student attitudes about Calvinism and Arminianism correlate strongly with their view of women's roles in ministry.

During much of the twentieth century, Calvinism receded into the background of American religious culture. Many Christians no longer felt an attraction for Calvin's stern theology with its emphasis on human depravity and sharp limits on human free will. American Christianity had lost its appetite for Calvin's worm theology, making the title of Robert Kendall's masters thesis, "The Rise and Demise of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention," an apt description in 1973 of the waning state of Calvinism in many of North America's theological circles. (1) Those responsible for hymns and songs of worship reflected this theological shift as they excised the worm from denominational hymnals by substituting less offensive terminology. In the 1956 and subsequent editions of the Baptist Hymnal, for example, the phrase, "for such a worm as I," changed to the more palatable version, "for sinners [my emphasis] such as I." (2) Another version of the hymn sought to eliminate its worm theology altogether by modifying the phrase to read, "for someone [my emphasis] such as I." (3) A late twentieth century version of "Amazing Grace" similarly replaced the psychologically abrasive phrase, "that saved a wretch like me," with the esteem-friendly version which describes God's grace "that saved and set me free." (4)

Worm theology, however, is rising in popularity again on a tidal wave of new Calvinism. (5) The cover story for the September 2006 issue of Christianity Today Magazine, "Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism is Making a Comeback--and Shaking Up the Church," documents the resurgence of Calvinism especially among young conservative Christians. (6) In March 2009, Time Magazine also featured the movement in its cover story, identifying this "New Calvinism" as one of the ten ideas changing our world. (7) Christian music once again is reflecting the shift in theology. The author of the Time Magazine article, David Van Biema, notes that the more intimate "Jesus-is-my-buddy" songs of the 1980s have given way to current popular songs that highlight God's majesty in contrast to human degradation. (8) Even David Crowder--not known as a Calvinist--composes lyrics that magnify God while describing people as "stained with dirt, prone to depravity;" God is "everything that is bright and clean," the opposite of humanity. Crowder further elaborates on the plight of the human condition: "the harder I try the more clearly can I feel/the depth of our fall and the weight of it all." (9)

Calvinism has spread well beyond the walls of the Reformed Church and Presbyterianism to include, among others, a significant percentage of Nondenominational Christians and Southern Baptists. Calvinistic doctrine is being promoted not only through contemporary Christian music, but also through youth conferences, college campus ministries such as the Reformed University Fellowship (RUF) and Campus Outreach, and through the books, sermons, and blogs of popular Calvinistic leaders like John Piper, Tom Ascol, Mark Dever, and Mark Driscoll. (10) Wayne Grudem has authored a foundational systematic theology for the movement, (11) and conservative Reformed study Bibles are further bolstering resurgent Calvinistic teachings. (12)

Many young Southern Baptists have gravitated strongly toward five-point Calvinism, making it their primary theological framework for interpreting Scriptures and understanding God. Some Southern Baptist seminaries have likewise been shifting to a Reformed theological focus, thereby further promoting and reinforcing Calvinistic beliefs among their students. This is especially the case at the Southern Baptist flagship seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. The result is that a growing number of young conservative Baptist church leaders are adopting a strongly Calvinistic belief system. …

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