Saturday, November 20, 2010

You Keep Saying That Word...

In a recent study by Barna Research three out of ten Protestant pastors described their church as "Calvinist" or "Reformed". The 31% figure out of a sampling of 600 pastors compares to 32% of a similar sample size ten years ago. Those pastors who assigned a "Wesleyan" or "Arminian" label to their congregations dropped to 32% currently from 37% ten years ago. Attendance size in the congregations of both categories showed an increase from the previous decade.

So what does this mean?

According to a Christian Post article Pastor Kevin DeYoung sees the news as relatively neutral and also believes the number of young believers coming to embrace what is called "New Calvinism" is increasing.

Ed Stetzer thinks the sort of study that was performed is neither large enough nor specific enough to identify the Calvinist resurgence which he feels is a subset of very large pool of the general Protestant category.

The study, while interesting and informative, certainly has its limitations and would not suffice as a basis to discount what many believe is an increase in Calvinistic--leaning believers within evangelicalism. And its director, David Kinnaman, does not seem to interpret it as discounting the possibility of this resurgence.

For example, the survey does not identify the terms such as "Calvinist", "Reform", "Wesleyan", or "Arminian". Respondents , in addition to categorizing themselves, are also left to identify the terms for themselves. So does an Amyraldian put himself in the Calvinist category or choose "none of the above"? Does a Southern Baptist, who, if she affirms The Baptist Faith and Message 2000 is at the very least agreeing with two of the five points of Calvinism (natural man's total inability in spiritual matters and perseverance of the saints) call herself a Calvinist, "none of the above", or an Arminian? What about the respondent who doesn't know what the terms mean but vaguely recalls that Prebyterians are supposed to be Calvinists and he's not a Presbyterian, so he decides he must not be a Calvinist?

Another factor that the survey does not appear to account for is the number of mixed-view congregations, which may very likely be the most significant display of the Calvinist resurgence, but may still be categorized as Arminian by head pastors. In many of the local bodies an increasing number of the membership (possibly even some of the pastoral staff) may have embraced or become sympathetic to the Calvinist position. The remainder of the flock may be composed of Amyraldians, 2-pointers, Wesleyans, and those who just haven't decided. But the pastor may take the approach that the default position is Arminian, even if he himself is one of those leaning Calvinist.

Perhaps the study does confirm, if one accepts that the sample is sufficiently large, that in general the percentage of Protestant churches who officially designate themselves as "Calvinist" or "Reform" has not increased. But it does not measure whether there is an increasing influence of Calvinism on evangelicalism, or whether an increasing number of Evangelical Protestants are Calvinists, or whether a Calvinistic resurgence has influenced a number of former Arminians to adopt an Amyraldian position or a two-pointer position.

And it doesn't tell us about recent trends in the relationship between Calvinism and the Southern Baptist denomination.

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