In the last two decades, scholars have spoken of both the “Baptistification” and the “Pentecostalization” of American Christianity, referring to the wide influence these traditions have on other churches and denominations.
It might be stretching things to speak of a similar process of “Calvinization” occurring, but there is little doubt that Calvinist beliefs and practices are spreading rapidly beyond their Presbyterian and Reformed church precincts. This is most closely seen in the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), where the growth of Calvinism has caused a new divide in the last decade, but Reformed theology also seems increasingly adaptive to the wider non-denominational evangelical and charismatic milieu.
Christianity Today magazine (May) reports on one of today’s fastest-growing international church planting networks, Acts 29, which manages to bring together non-denominational, SBC and conservative Presbyterian churches, as well as Calvinism and charismatic practices and beliefs. The new leader of Acts 29, Matt Chandler, pastor of the 11,000-member Village Church in Dallas, says it is based on the idea of churches planting other churches and is united on Calvinist beliefs while allowing differences over methods of baptism, the practice of charismatic gifts, and the use of contemporary or traditional worship.
An informal survey of the Acts 29 churches in the U.S. shows that the vast majority use non-denominational names (such as “Summit Church” or “Reflect Fellowship”) and even their websites often do not disclose their denominational affiliations—if any—but rather link to Acts 29 or to regional networks of similar churches that have been planted. Chandler and other Acts 29 officials insist that the network is not becoming a denomination. Chandler, a charismatic in the SBC, adds that the network has 500 churches with 500 more in the process of joining and is aiming to increase its ethnic membership and European church plants.
The new Calvinist adaptability can also be seen in a movement of Reformed churches taking a more sacramental and “catholic” approach to ministry. In the journal Pro Ecclesia (Vol. XXIII, No. 2), J. Todd Billings writes that a “catholic-Reformed” tradition is being revived in theology and at the congregational level. Theologians such as James K.A. Smith and Kevi Vanhoozer are seeking to place Reformed theology within a wider Catholic tradition, an example of which is the recently announced 15-volume New Studies in Dogmatics series from the publisher Zondervan Academic.
To illustrate how the catholic-Reformed tradition is finding its way to the congregational level, Billings compares the Willow Creek megachurch with the City Church of San Francisco, a leader of city-center church plants around the U.S. Willow Creek is based around providing contemporary services and programs to meet “felt needs” to seekers—from dealing with conflicts to improving family life. The City Church’s worship services are “seeker-comprehensible,” but are also “deeply Catholic and Reformed.
Weekly worship includes a proclamation of God’s word together with a celebration of the Lord’s Supper, in the tradition of the early church and Reformers, such as Calvin who desired a weekly celebration of the Supper. Rather than try to ‘catch up’ with the pop culture around it in the strategy of Willow Creek, City Church is unafraid to create its own culture—a culture celebrating creation, the arts, and service to those most vulnerable in the city. City Church is mission oriented, but in a way that sees God’s work through word and sacrament as central to this mission.”
(Christianity Today, 465 Gundersen Dr., Carol Stream, IL 60188; Pro Ecclesia, https://rowman.com/page/ProEcclesia)