Time Magazine ranks the “New Calvinism” as number three on the list of the top ten ideas changing the world. This is actually a self-applied term by the Mark Driscoll crowd, and basically it names a movement within the emergentish sector of evangelical Christians (i.e. middle class white people in their twenties and early thirties) toward a few theological emphases. Basically it amounts to an enthusiastic propagation of a strongly deterministic account divine providence and predestination, strong advocacy for a hierarchical theology of gender roles both in the church and home, and a zealous missiology.
One of the key adjectives for this group is the label “Reformed.” They take great delight in affirming their distinct status as the new heirs of the Reformed tradition. They love Spurgeon, Edwards, Calvin, and any and all things Puritan.
However, a look at the theological conflicts within the Presbyterian and Reformed churches in America reveal something interesting. Within actual Reformed churches there is massive infighting over what counts as truly being “Reformed.” Within the more conservative denominations there is a strong surge towards reasserting the Reformed confessions of the sixteenth century as the definition of what it means to belong to the Reformed tradition.
In short, in response to various theological developments, particularly related to Pauline scholarship, there is a massive resurgence of a rigid confessionalism as the definition of Reformed identity. And on the one hand, this is fairly reasonable, I think. After all, if you want the adjective to have an meaning as a moniker it has to have some concrete content. However, if the Reformed confessions are taken as a stable criterion of what counts as being “Reformed”, then the irony is that the New Calvinists are not Reformed at all. Key Reformed distinctives, like infant baptism, Christ’s Eucharistic presence, the threefold pattern of ministry, etc. are not embraced by the New Calvinists.
So, what we really have in this new movment is not actually a rebirth of “Reformed theology” in any historically meaningful sense. What we have is a typically evangelical gerrymandering of historical sources designed to support a few key theological commitments, namely to a strong theology of determinism and gender roles. So, the interesting question to be asking, then, is not “Why is Reformed theology making a comeback?” becuase it, in fact is not. Rather the interesting question is why is there such a substantial evangelical undertow attracting people to a strongly deterministic doctrine of God and rigidly defined gender roles?