Which is it? “The End of Christian America” or the rise of “The New Calvinism?”

Newsweek and Time give contrary versions of Calvinist influence in America

The cover story of the April 13, 2009 issue of Newsweek (The End of Christian America by the magazine’s editor, Jon Meacham), talks about the ramifications of a study that showed that the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen ten points in the last two decades. Meacham spotlighted Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an outspoken proponent of American Calvinism. Meacham quotes Mohler’s online column, where he wrote, “A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us. The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.”

However, the cover story of the March 23, 2009 issue of Time Magazine was about 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” The Number 3 idea: “The New Calvinism.” David Van Biema writes about “the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle's pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom's hottest links.” Collin Hansen’s book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists (following his cover story in Christianity Today) offers enough evidence to Time Magazine that Calvinism is making a comeback. And, of course, Albert Mohler is quoted in the Time article, boasting about the superiority of Calvinist Theology.

So, here we have a strange juxtaposition!

In the Newsweek article, Mohler (in his classic inflammatory fearful rhetoric) is rallying the Calvinist troops against the demise of Christian influence in American culture and the insidious godlessness that will destroy what many believe this to be: a “Christian Nation.” He told Meacham, “The post-Christian narrative is radically different; it offers spirituality, however defined, without binding authority. It is based on an understanding of history that presumes a less tolerant past and a more tolerant future, with the present as an important transitional step.”

In the Time article, Mohler is triumphantly touting his movement as one of the 10 great ideas that are changing the world. The reason? Mohler says, “The moment someone begins to define God's [being or actions] biblically, that person is drawn to conclusions that are traditionally classified as Calvinist.”

Here’s what’s happening as I see it.

As the nation is becoming more turned off by the Religious Right and by Christians who have narrowly defined Christianity as a set of beliefs that one must affirm in order to be “saved,” those that have been in this camp are rallying their troops against the enemies, and tightening the screws on their theology. This creates zealousness among its adherents, and actually grows the numbers. It looks like the next big thing.

But is it?

Perhaps it is the last dying gasp of a movement that has seen its time come and go. Or perhaps it is a signal that a mediating position is about to come to fruition, one that embraces the best that Calvinism has to offer but with humility, gentleness, and respect. Perhaps it is a signpost to a better way, one that comes as the swinging pendulum slows down and level heads and hearts begin to prevail.

We’ll explore these possibilities next.

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