Christian faith: Calvinism is back
In America's Christian faith, a surprising comeback of rock-ribbed Calvinism is challenging the Jesus-is-your-buddy gospel of modern evangelism.
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"A lot of people think religion is something you piece together [from] ideas you think are sweet and that you personally find beneficial," says Mr. Dever. "No. It's like a doctor's report.... It's an objective reality. It's just what is."Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Calvinism at Capitol Hill Baptist Church
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More broadly, the Calvinist revival reflects an effort to recast the foundation of faith itself. From conservative evangelical churches to liberal new-age groups, the message of much modern teaching is man's need for betterment. Not New Calvinism; its star is God's need for glory. And the gravity of His will is great: It can be denied, but not defied.
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As morning light filters into a fourth-floor room on a Sunday, students huddle on tiered seats, listening to a lecture on substitutionary atonement. The teacher poses a tough question, but a hand shoots into the air, eager to answer with a recitation of the week's memory verse from I Peter 3:18: "For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God."
Scholars and seminarians call this systematic theology. Kindergartners at CHBC just call it Sunday school.
Their parents are downstairs, absorbing seminars, prayers, and a Scripture-saturated sermon that add up to five hours of worship over the day. Just before noon, the adults jot notes as they listen to an hour-long sermon on II Samuel 5-9. These chapters cover King David's glorious reign over Israel, but Dever doesn't skip the tough verses, such as when God strikes Uzzah dead for trying to steady the ark of the covenant.
"Friends, have we sinned like Uzzah?" he asks.
Such statements are meant to prick the hearts of his listeners. Yet he often follows up the hard questions with reassuring comments like: "You and I should not draw a breath today, without living for the praise of God's glory."
This pattern – convict worshipers of their sin, then show them spiritual elation – has a gripping effect on the assembly. After the service, churchgoers linger for an hour, hugging and sharing heartfelt conversation. "I've come to believe and understand that God is not fundamentally about me; He's much bigger than that," says Dan Wenger, a government employee. "The teaching at this church has helped me to see that in context of the whole story of the Bible, not just the parts that make me feel good."
Dever acknowledges that people might well ask, "Why would God make anybody who is going to go to hell?" His answer captures the essence of New Calvinism. "I don't know," he says. "I didn't do this. I'm just trying to tell you what I think is true, not what I like."
Membership at CHBC isn't for the faint of holy. Classes on theology and Christian history are required before joining. At the "Lord's Supper" once a month, members stand and recite an oath that ties them to one another. In addition to Sunday worship and Wednesday night Bible study, they spend hours each week in small-group study or one-on-one "discipling." They say those sessions – a time for confessions, encouragement, and prayer – are the most challenging and rewarding feature of church life.