I remember sitting in a chapel at The Master’s Seminary listening to John Macarthur informally share about some of the different ministries he had been participating in over the previous few months. He said something shocking that I have yet to find in print: “Some of you have been praying for revival. You want revival? Wake up and look around. We are living through the greatest revival since the reformation.”
Macarthur isn’t a lone voice that’s recognized this. In 2006, Colin Hansen wrote an article for Christianity Today entitled “Young, Restless, and Reformed,” which captured a bit of the flavor of this new resurgence of reformed theology. Mark Dever tells the story of how at the 2006 Together for the Gospel Conference he asked people to stand by ages. He writes “Out of 3,000 we had a few senior citizens. Some guys in their 50’s. A lot in their 40’s. A TON in their 30’s. And even MORE in their 20’s.” These observations were what provoked him to write the 2007 article “Where’d All These Calvinists Come From?” where he traces the resurgence of the recovery of the great themes of Scripture from Charles Spurgeon, through Martin Lloyd Jones, to more contemporary figures such as J.I. Packer, R.C. Sproul, John Macarthur, and John Piper.
Taking a look around
I’ve been observing this surge as well. A few months ago I was at a weekend ecclesiology conference. You heard that right-- an event that addressed the topic of church life, government, polity, and other such topics. There are some who believe this stuff drives young people away from, not toward, the church. But the reality was quite different. The room was packed with young men, many sporting beards and tats, holding their ESV Bibles and filling the pews. These men wanted to spend their Friday night and Saturday morning talking about doctrine.
The secular world took note too: in 2009 Time Magazine put out an article titled, “10 Ideas that are Changing the World Right Now” and third on the list was the “New Calvinism.” As you might expect, the writer at Time had a weird understanding of the “New Calvinism.” Regardless, it’s fascinating that such a movement would be on Time’s radar screen.
What does all this mean? Wherever there’s a recovering of biblical authority, robust biblical theology, combined with white-hot intensity and devotion to Jesus Christ, the church advances. Acts chronicles this - where the Word goes it creates life; and when God is creating new life in the world, there are some inevitable results. One of them is an increase in church planting.
Yes, church planting has erupted in the last decade. When people get ahold of the gospel, and the gospel gets ahold of them, they are emboldened toward work and to risk in the service of King Jesus. Off the top of my head I can list several church planting networks that has been birthed out of this new reformed movement: Acts 29, Grace Advance, Sojourn, Sovereign Grace, Summit, Pacific Church Network. We don’t align with all of these networks on every doctrinal point, but they are undeniably one of the results of the resuscitation of reformed doctrine.
The impact on our church
Many of the men who serve in our church have been caught up into this outpouring of God’s grace. Peruse the bookshelves in our offices and you’ll find Packer’s Knowing God and his Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God. For most of us, you’ll see a collection of R.C. Sproul’s works, including The Holiness of God and Chosen by God. We all have an entire shelf’s worth of Macarthur works-- his commentaries, Bible studies, and some of his landmark titles like The Gospel According to Jesus and Unashamed of the Gospel. For some of us, it was John Piper’s Desiring God or The Pleasures of God or Let the Nations Be Glad that fueled us to give our lives to serve in the ways we have. In other words, though whatever revival may be taking place is from God’s hand, the men he has used to bring about this resurgence in our time are the very ones we’ve learned from, been shaped by, and owe our ministries to. That is to say, our church and ministry has been profoundly shaped by the recent retrieval of reformed theology.
In our church, before Pastor Jordan there was Pastor John, who rigorously and unrelentingly preached God’s Word to our congregation for thirty years, championing the cause of biblical centrality. His ministry established a Scriptural foundation stable enough to support a faithful transition to a new pastor. The baton was passed to Jordan, and under his leadership God has assembled an company of like-minded and gifted men. As a pastor-friend who serves at a different church in our community once said, we enjoy an “embarrassment of riches” here at Grace. Indeed, God has been good.
In light of the blessings we’ve enjoyed and the grace we’ve experienced, our desire is to continue the advance of the gospel. Our desire isn’t necessarily to plant or revitalize churches. Rather, our aim is to train up men who can be faithful to train more men who will train others also (2 Tim. 2:2). These men, we pray, caught up in the plan of God and the mission of the church, will be sent to a variety of places: overseas missions, established churches, new locations where church plants are needed, and, as we’ve been experiencing over the last couple months, to church revitalization projects.
As we reflect on the church revitalization in Rancho, let’s remember that Jesus is building his church. It is easy to look around at the state of the American church and despair. Some of the critiques of modern American evangelicalism are well-deserved. Too many churches have traded the transcendence of God for pragmatism, convenience, and entertainment. Others have blemished the name of Christ by moral failure and scandal. Outside the church the temperature rises. American politics and policies continually remind us of their bankruptcy. Hollywood is a trainwreck. All of this is sad. What we must not forget is this: that the church, in many places, is surging. The gospel is moving. The church is advancing.
A small part of the larger story
What we are hoping to do in Rancho is a small paragraph in a larger story; one that has its roots in an ancient promise to Adam about a Man crushing a serpent, a story where weak people slay giants and desert nomads defeat Egypt’s armies. This is the Great Story we have been written into, not by our choice but by our Author’s; and to appear in print, even as a footnote, as a servant of the Great Hero, the Great God-Man, the Lamb who was Slain, is a man’s highest calling.
Jesus is building his church. We all have been swept into this incredible plan for such a time as this. And we have work to do.
This post is part one of three. Stay tuned for more!