Dr. Ligon Duncan: The Resurgence of Calvinism in America
Dr. Duncan is Senior Minister at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, MS. He is a native of Greenville, South Carolina, was born and reared in the home of an eighth generation Southern Presbyterian Ruling Elder. A 1983 graduate of Furman University, he received an MDiv from Covenant Theological Seminary and studied Systematic Theology at the Free Church of Scotland College under Professor Donald Macleod. He earned the PhD from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1995.
There is a reformed resurgance going on. It is young. It is vast. It stretches across at least the English speaking world. In Bible churches,, Baptist churches, independent churches, charismatics churches. There is a fever for the glory of God that has gotten into the blood stream of a new generation. What is going on? Where did this come from?
Some of you know Iain Murray’s introduction to William Cunningham’s Historical Theology: In the year 1800 weakness, slumber and death reigned in the church of Scotland. God did three things to change this situation:
1. The publication of The Life of John Knox by Thomas M’Crie
2. The conversion of a minister: Thomas Chalmers
3. The birth of a series of little boys from 1801 – 1810: McCheyne, Buchanan, etc.
This led to a revival of reformed theology in Scotland that impacted the entire English speaking world.
1. This new Calvinsim is not the full orbed confessional Calvinism of the three forms of unity or the Westminister Confession. It draws FROM these tradtions with an appreciation for its soteriology but without an appreciation of the ecclesiaology of the old calvinism.
2. As we look at this work, it is a mixed work. But there is no work on this earth that is not a mixed work. There is impurity in the new Calvinsim.
Nine Factors Contributing to the Resurgence of Calvinism:
1. Three Preachers: one from the 19th Century, one from the middle of the 20th Century, one who is still preaching today: Charles Haddon Spurgeon, David Martyn Lloyd-Jones, and John MacArthur. A Baptist, a Presbyterian, and a Dispensationalist.
Amazing the variety of preachers you find who will recommend the works of Charles Spurgeon.
Spurgeon has consistently across this century introduced generation after generation of Bible preachers to Calvinism.
Martyn Lloyd-Jones, of whom J. I. Packer says “the greatest preacher I have ever heard and the greatest man I have ever known.” His impact is staggering on 20th century evangelicalism. His influence on Tyndale House, Intervarsity. His Studies in the Sermon on the Mount impacted pastors who had never read anything like this kind of exposition. His book Preaching and Preachers, and Spiritual Depression – a massive impact on this generation. A masterful expositor of Scripture. He was empahtically a Calvinist, from the Welsh-Methodist Church brought sound, reformed theology in the language Scripture into every sermon he preached. Would preach an evangelistic sermon every Sunday evening.
John MacArthur from a dispensational, Bible Church background, yet so committed to the word of God he was willing to go wherever that word took him and it took him right into the doctrines of grace.
2. Books. The grandfather of them all: The Banner of Truth Trust. Established by Lloyd-Jones and Iain Murray for the preservation of reformed, Puritan writings. Published systematically and carefully, sound solid Puritan preaching. Precious remedies against Satan’s devices. Led to a deepening of a grasp of spiritual truth. Spawned many other publishers of many good books.
3. An Evangelist. The idea of a Calvinistic Evangelist would not have struck anyone as surprising in the 16th, 17th, 18th, or 19th Century. Somehow in the 20th Century, perhaps because of the pragmatic revivalism that resulted from the second great awakening, Calvinism became disassociated with evangelism. Whitefield read Matthew Henry four times on his knees in order to help him in his preaching. Matthew Henry was the great English non-conformist Calvinist.
Along comes a man named D. James Kennedy who was a passionate Calvinist who was a committed evangelist. We may question some of his methods, but we cannot question his commitment to the gospel. After Dr. Kennedy it became impossible to say that Calvinists can’t evangelize because of their theology. He dispelled the myth that Calvinism was anti-evangelistic.
4. The Battle for the Bible. The greatest theological controversy of the late 20th Century that stretched across denominations. There were many prominent non-Calvinists that took a stand, the great names associated with the defense of Scripture: R. C. Sproul, Packer, Boice, Roger Nicole, are all Calvinists. Sproul and Packer wrote the affirmations and denials adopted by the Council on Biblcal Inerrancy. Calvinism was spread through the denial of the inerrancy of Scripture by theolohical liberals as God raised up men to stand against them.
5. Two Church Controversies, in the old Presbyterian Church and in the Southern Baptist Church. The father of L. Nelson Bell, the father of Ruth Bell Graham, the father-in-law of Billy Graham, former missionary to China who returned from the field to confront the theological liberalism in his denomination in 1940. In 1973 fifty thousand people left that old church to establish the Presbyterian Church – the largest conservative Presbyterian church in the English speaking world.
At the same time in the 1970s there was a conservative resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention. Since R. Albert Mohler became the president of Southern Seminary, there has been a revival of the Calvinism of the Abstract of Principles.
6. A book and an Anglican. The book: Knowing God. The Anglican: J. I. Packer The book that put him on the landscape is Fundamentalism and the Word of God, no finer defense of the authority and inspiration of Scripture. That evangelical Anglican, because he was trusted by the larger evangelical world – endorsed by Billy Graham – introduced a whole generation to a sovereign God and the doctrines of grace. His introduction to John Owen’s Death of Death has been influential in the lives of many .
7. A Theologian Philosopher who can popularize: Robert Charles Sproul. For a half century faithfully laboring teaching church history and philosophy to thousands through his radio ministry.
8. A force of nature named John Piper. John Piper is transfixed and intoxicated by Jonathan Edwards and he channels him every time he preaches. What sets Piper apart: All unction about God’s truth comes from God. Theological precision meeting up with life consuming passion. A woman who sat under Piper’s preaching said, “The first time I sat under his preaching I was terrified, and then I realized I had never known the God of the Bible. Then I fell down and worshipped this God.”
9. The decline and death of liberalism. Liberalism is either dead or dying in our culture sustained only by the life support of endowments. The nominalism of days past is now in a hostile, secular environment. The rise of secularism and the decline of Christian nominalism has caused a generation of young people to rise to find something they can pin their lives on – they have looked to the Calvinists. These young people were drawn to Piper, Mohler, and others because they were being told the truth and not merely what they wanted to hear.