Thinking Out Loud

August 26, 2010

The Cultization of Calvinism

It happened again yesterday.

My son got a package in the mail from the Christian camp where he did a four-week leadership training course, containing a magazine and other resources.

John Piper was on the cover of the magazine, there were advertisements for Crossway Books and the ESV Study Bible, a couple of references to Mark Driscoll, a reference to the Together for the Gospel conference.  And many such clues that this was not really a mainstream Christian publication.

I’m okay with that.   I told him he should make an effort to read every article.   I’m glad the camp took the time and expense to send it to him, along with an encouraging personal letter from the two directors of his leadership course.   We actually worshiped in a Christian Reformed Church just two weeks ago.

But it was another reminder how there are different clusters of people, belief and thought; and how, just as Calvinists of previous generations were somewhat segregated by Dutch ethnicity, today New Calvinism has emerged as a dominant (especially online) cluster.

Some of you probably like the word cluster over the word cult, but in fact, any identifiable group fits the dictionary definition; the problem is that we’ve tended to use it in the last 30 years or so as an abbreviation of false cult, which is another matter entirely, usually involving unique books and writings considered to be divine, and often the presence of private compounds and Kool-Aid.   However, of the eight definitions of cult at, only #6 indicates “a religion or sect considered to be false, unorthodox, or extremist, with members often living outside of conventional society under the direction of a charismatic leader.”

The decision by the largest online Christian book distributor to set up a separate site just for people of Reformed doctrine is another example of this.  The company has massive buying power, and has a large share of the Christian book business, but surveys revealed it was seeing only a trickle of commerce from Calvinists because they preferred to buy from their own sites, where presumably materials are carefully filtered.   The larger company had no choice than to do that filtering.

But this is something that neither Charismatics nor Catholics have ever propelled them to do.    The Charismatic and Pentecostal world — as any visit to the Elijah List site will confirm — has its own authors and a large supply of its own worship music, distinct from the mainstream worship we hear on Christian radio.

But Calvinists are readers, and as the blogosphere indicates, many are also writers, though a good percentage of the bloggers employ more of a ‘cut and paste’ approach to content generation.   (With, I might add, a great overlap into another emerging subgroup, the Academics.   American prosperity has permitted large numbers of U.S. Christians to enjoy advanced and continuing education, but much of the writing, as Acts 18:15 and 2 Tim 2:14 reminds us can consist of quarreling about words which leads to strife.   See also this post.)   On the other hand, other brands (or cults!) of Christianity tend to be more about about doing which is why the internet has, just as one example, a critical shortage of Salvation Army bloggers, as I noted in back in May ’08.

But because of the fragmentation taking place, I suggested to the senior editor of Christian Retailing magazine that instead of just having Charismatic and Catholic specialty bestseller charts, they should also have a Calvinist or Reformed specialty list each month as well.   Really, if they’re going to do the former two, they might as well do the latter.    But what if he takes my advice?

The result would be distinctively Reformed shelves in Christian bookstores (which probably already exist in some) where Calvinists could browse the shelves untainted by titles which disagree with their views.   And what is the result of that?

The larger picture is that it takes Reformed people and Reformed literature out of mainstream Evangelicalism, and takes mainstream Evangelicalism out of the Reformed sphere of awareness.   It increases compartmentalization; a kind way of saying it advances what I’ve termed here the cultization of Calvinism, which, I would think from God’s perspective at least, is rather sad.

What is, in a discussion like this, the better part?

I believe one of the healthiest dynamics of Evangelicalism has been the cross-pollination that takes place through inter-denominational dialog (Br. – dialogue) and worship.    Instead of conferences where only one theological brand is raised, we need to encourage events in which a variety of voices are heard.   Instead of bloggers posting blogrolls where they are afraid to list someone who is outside their faith family, we need to be familiar with the much wider Christian blogosphere.    Instead of encouraging Christian young people to only read certain authors and one or two particular Bible translations, we need to encourage them to study the wider compendium of Christian thought.

Basically, we need to avoid situations where our personal preferences lead to being cut off from the larger, worldwide Body of Christ.

Paul Wilkinson


  1. Brings to mind world missions among unreached people groups. When an effort to work among an UPG begins, denominationalism diminishes because the people are so unchurched, and because the workers are so few. Workers support one another, and the new beleivers ought to be encouraged to find their own voice and way of worship… Apparently Mongolia has only a single denomination – the various agencies there wisely allowed a new indigenous church to develop once communism fell.

    Comment by brian — August 26, 2010 @ 11:38 am

    • Great comment. People from groups that are almost adversarial in North America have no problem working side by side in those conditions; they suddenly recognize the ‘others’ as brothers and sisters.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — August 26, 2010 @ 3:06 pm

  2. amen, paul. another post that needs to be required reading in the church.

    Comment by randy morgan — August 26, 2010 @ 8:25 pm

  3. The thing I like most about your blog, that keeps me reading every day, is that you don’t try to answer your own questions every time. Your posts provoke thought, and I have yet to look to see what you “are”, because I can see clearly that you are a thoughtful, caring christian. If you posted something that flies in the face of the fundamentals of God’s Word, I might have to have a peak :-)

    I stumbled across a Catholic forum a few years ago, and knowing nothing about catholics, I had many questions about the topics being discussed. Call me naive, but I had no idea I was a Protestant- Reformist-Calvinist-Baptist-Lutheran-Methodist-Evangelical-Fundamentalist. I learned a lot about the Catholic faith, but not without shattering the concept of myself simply being a Bible-believing christian.

    Comment by Laura — August 27, 2010 @ 2:51 pm

  4. Great post, Paul. As a member of a church that appears to be molding itself into the category of which you speak, I find myself struggling with some of these issues. From the inside, I’m struggling with a sense that we take far too much pride in forming “Holy huddles” with a quick desire to study, follow, and implement every suggestion from the prominent leaders of this movement. Also, there tends to be a far stronger favor towards the radical rather than the traditional, and this is not always wise as it has alienated some of our most faithful and more traditional members. This shift also appears to have turned our focus inward and away from the ministry of reaching out to a lost world through evangelism and missions. In fact, rarely are we encouraged to be active in missions(except to support our own denomination’s missionaries). In summary, it is my opinion that this change in focus is a pursuit for the approval of men (within their own “huddle”), rather than the quest to hear our Master proclaim “Well done, good and faithful servant”.

    Comment by Sonny Davis — August 29, 2010 @ 6:24 am

    • Your closing sentence is especially interesting. I’ve always felt that there is an underlying motivation to gain approval by quoting the right translation, re-posting the right bloggers, and mentioning that you’ve read the right books.

      I’ll leave it at that, but it’s a really good point. I think it has to do with our human quest to “belong” and our desire for acceptance.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — August 29, 2010 @ 4:28 pm

  5. […] starting a new movement.   I see that happening in so many ways, as I wrote just a month ago, in August, 2010. Leave a […]

    Pingback by Top 98 Blogs: Somebody’s Idea of “Best” Isn’t Mine « Thinking Out Loud — September 27, 2010 @ 5:36 pm

  6. Couldn’t have said it better. I am glad you mentioned that is usually academics that tend to migrate to calvinism, as it explains as you said all the discussion about its truth in blogs. My believe is Jesus came to tell us first and foremost to LOVE one another and the Lord, and issues like calvinism bring division more than anything. Academia is running and ruining our country with people that have lots of great ideas that don’t actually work when put to the test. Kind of like liberalism and academia go hand in hand.

    Comment by Brian — October 27, 2010 @ 11:13 pm

  7. […] I worry about the fragmentation that seems to be brewing in one particular segment of the larger Body. I worry about both how it […]

    Pingback by Calvinist Doctrinal Diatribe Continues Online | Thinking Out Loud — June 11, 2013 @ 6:40 am

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