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The Rise of the New Calvinism

Calvinism has been growing in the Southern Baptist Convention, and now encompasses about 30 percent of SBC churches. It has an appeal among church leaders and members who "want a robust, full, holistic understanding of the person and world of Jesus Christ," says pastor Daniel Montgomery of the Sojourn Community Church in Louisville, Kentucky. These doctrines of grace have helped his congregation grow.

Montgomery says that Reformed theology reflects "a desire to return to more foundational truths." The certainty of Calvinism speaks to "a generation that really longs to go into deeper analysis of theology and deeper analysis of biblical studies," seeking "a kind of comfort that God is in control of things," according to Rhyne Putnam, a professor at the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, speaking in a 8-minute news video prepared for Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, a source for cutting-edge reporting at the intersection of religion and society.

The rise in Calvinism is not welcome among all members of the SBC, however. Some worry that the rising tension between Calvinists and non-Calvinists could eventually split the Southern Baptist Convention. Correspondent Robert Faw notes that the Calvinist doctrine of predestination, "the belief that God selects some but not all souls for salvation," raises questions for some Southern Baptist clergy and theologians about evangelism, a core element in SBA ecclesiology. But according to pastor Montgomery, there is no contradiction in believing in predestination and continuing to evangelize, because no one knows who is and is not chosen. It is, he says, "a tension that we're to live with and a paradox that we're to embrace rather than completely solve." On the other hand, people like Dr. Steven Lemke, provost of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, says "we worry that the emphasis on wrath or righteousness seems to be overriding the statement that's very clear in Scripture that God is love, and God does allow human response to play a role, and we are accountable for our choices."

For more on congregational growth and decline, see our feature article, "Denominational Decline Related to Birthrates, Societal Change." For more resources on congregations and congregational research read "Best Resources on Congregations. Also see the subheadings under our "Research" tab.




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