Barna and the New Calvinists
In a new study
on the influence of the NeoReformed or "New Calvinist" movement on the church,
the Barna Group concludes that "there is no discernable evidence from this
research that there is a Reformed shift among U.S. congregation leaders over
the last decade." A number of
evangelical Christian leaders (such as Skye
Jethani and Ed
Stetzer) maintain that the study seems to contradict their on-the-ground
experience. With the growing
popularity of New Calvinist books and conferences, and with leaders like Mark
Driscoll and John Piper becoming the secular media's go-to Christian voices,
the NeoReformed movement appears to truly be the next
new evangelical thing. Yet according to Barna, there are no more pastors
who identity as Reformed today than there were ten years ago.
I've frequently questioned Barna's methods and conclusions.
Here I wonder if the researchers are forgetting the ways in which perception is
often reality. A culture or
subculture's zeitgeist is not easy to measure. The influence of the NeoReformed crowd--often evidenced
through hyper-Calvinist theology, strict gender roles and belief in penal
substitutionary atonement as the litmus test for one's faith--goes beyond pastors
or even church members self-identifying as Reformed.
I've been shocked recently to discover the stealth influence
the movement has had on evangelical friends and family. When I was attending a conservative
evangelical Bible church some 12-15 years ago, the church believed in a
free-will theology and mocked people who followed a human like Calvin instead
of following only the Bible. These
days, the same friends still think following Calvin is wrong, yet their
theology is pure Calvinism. They
truly believe that their theology comes from a plain reading of scripture, and
they become really confused when I point out how their "biblical" theology has
shifted. They never call
themselves Reformed, but for all practical purposes, that is what they are.
I see a comparable influence at work in the church I
currently attend. The church is
very much an emerging church--we are postmodern, the leaders read all the
emerging authors--yet we do not call ourselves emerging. In fact, most of the people at the
church have no idea what the emerging church is. But we are influenced by the movement.
So I would not dismiss the influence of the NeoReformed
crowd simply because it cannot be easily measured. Minds are being changed (whether they realize it or not)
through books, radio shows, magazines and conferences. Ideas have power. And for those of us who worry about
what the influence of the NeoReformed message means for the church--especially
for women in the church--I don't think we should let this study convince us to
stop being watchful.