Throughout history, God seems to use new media to spread revival.
In 2007, Mark Dever made a list of 10 factors that have contributed to the recent rise of the so-called ‘New Calvinism.’ He includes various organizations and pastors, such as Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J. I. Packer, and John Piper. Justin Taylor just added five more factors to the list, observing the contribution of conferences, publishers, seminaries, and other organizations.
And Tim Challies added one more. The Internet, which “allowed people to find community based on common interest—a new kind of community that transcends any geographic boundary.” It was “a catalyst that would allow the isolated individuals to coalesce into a movement”
He concludes by noting a parallel between this movement and the Protestant Reformation of the 1500s.
The Protestant Reformation depended upon a medium that was able to disseminate its ideas; this came in the form of the printing press. With the advent of movable type, books and treatises could be printed in mass quantities and distributed widely, quickly and efficiently. Without confusing the impact and importance of the two movements, I believe it is safe to say that the New Calvinism was awaiting the Internet, the medium through which isolated pockets would be drawn together into a whole.
A Historic Means of Promoting Gospel Renewal
This is worth thinking about. Sometimes God seems to spread reformation and revival in the world through various means of communication that can rapidly spread ideas. And sometimes the revival takes root at the same time as a new means of rapid communication is developed.
In the 1500s, the Protestant Reformation and the spread of the gospel throughout Europe coincided with the advent of the printing press. Martin Luther’s writings that pressed for clarity on the gospel were printed and disseminated far more quickly and vastly than would have been possible without the printing press. The Bible was also translated, printed, and able to be spread abroad.
The Great Awakenings of the 1700s also correspond to the quick spread of ideas and, in particular, to new means of doing so. One of the factors that contributed was a growing global interconnectedness between different parts of the world. Jonathan Edwards was part of a network of pastors from various countries who started corresponding with each other and producing magazines that would tell of what God was doing in different parts of the world. Information about God’s work was spreading faster than it had before. They were also finding other likeminded pastors who were also committed to promoting gospel renewal.
In addition, itinerant preaching of that time didn’t just spread the gospel, it spread news of revival. As George Whitefield spoke the gospel to crowds of thousands in various places, he also also created a spreading awareness of what God was doing in other parts of the world. Here’s how Doug Sweeney describes it,
The most compelling stories he told as he progressed from place to place had to do with the spread of revival through the Anglo-American world. He personified the Awakening and its international scope. He made seven trips to the colonies, preaching all the time and telling the hordes who flocked to hear him of the work of God in places they had only heard about, but which he knew firsthand. He was the era’s great celebrity. God used his fame to extend the work of redemption (Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word, 128).
A New Means of Gospel Promotion
Today there is another new means of connecting people, spreading information, and promoting renewal. The internet. The discussion about the growth of “New Calvinism” can be broadened to speak of a general growth in gospel renewal. It’s not just that the doctrines of Grace are spreading deeper in hearts and broader in the world; it’s the gospel itself that is taking root. It isn’t just about spreading New Calvinism and the doctrines of grace; it’s about advancing the gospel of grace. And one of the means God is using is the internet, with all of the blogs, online book orders, sermon downloads, and twitter links.
The Reformation through the printing press, the Great Awakening through correspondence and itinerant preaching, and today’s growing gospel-renewal through the internet. Each gospel-promoting blog and twitter account plays a small part in the vast spread of gospel encouragement. I hope we see further revival in our day.