The Importance of the Internet for the Church: Tim Challies on the New Calvinism

I’ve written in the past on the dangers and problems that the Internet poses for the church. Internet forums give expression to conflict and division that would otherwise be unknown or at least kept under the surface of church life. The Internet makes it easy to create virtual communities of Christians that have no expression in real, physical life.

For these and related reasons some people think Christian thinkers and scholars should just stay off the Internet. Pastors should focus on their congregations, professors should focus on their students, and scholars should focus on their books and articles.

But in a recent post at his blog Tim Challies highlights the great good that the Internet can achieve if Christians can figure out how to use it productively and constructively. Indeed, this medium is so important that Christians cannot afford not to use it to the best of their collective ability.

The example of Internet success that Challies provides pertains to the movement widely known as “New Calvinism.”

The Internet has allowed people to find community based on common interest—a new kind of community that transcends any geographic boundary. It used to be that people of common interest could only find others who shared their interests within a limited geographic area. The Internet has forever changed this and this is true in any field, whether it pertains to vocation, hobby, sports, religion or anything else…

The New Calvinism is a distinctly twenty-first century, digital-era development. It is the Internet in general, and social media in particular, that first tied the movement together and that have since drawn people in. Where there may have been only five or six Calvinists in a church of several hundred, when they went online they found a whole community of people who believed just what they believed. This dispelled much of the sense of isolation and gave them a corporate identity. People have often remarked that the Christian blogosphere is dominated by Calvinists and I believe this is exactly why—because in those early days of blogging it was the outliers who were looking for community they did not have in their local church fellowships.

Over time there was an inevitable shift so that the Internet was no longer merely tying together those who had long held to Calvinistic doctrine, but it also became the medium through which others were introduced to this stream of theology. What at first simply tied people together now drew new people in.

Of course, there are reasons to criticize the development known as the New Calvinism. It is not perfect, having created its own challenges to the unity and ecclesiology of the church, as well as to important Reformed doctrines like infant baptism. But overall one cannot help but be pleased at the surge of a movement that is so gospel- and Christ-centered.

Old school ecclesiological types sometimes bemoan the fact that 21st Century developments in Christianity are passing by the older confessional denominations and churches. The North American Presbyterian and Reformed Council includes denominations totaling probably less than 500,000 Christians, roughly 0.2% of the population of the United States and Canada. If you want to be discouraged about the recent history of the confessional Reformed tradition, compare that total to the percentage Presbyterians and Congregationalists made up of early colonial America.

What is our problem? I’m not capable of answering that enormously complicated question here, but I do wonder if Challies’ blog post points to at least one part of the solution. Maybe we need to figure out how to use the Internet?

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About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on August 30, 2012, in Calvinism, Internet and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on The Importance of the Internet for the Church: Tim Challies on the New Calvinism.

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