I will be writing for the next few days from the International Society for the Study of Reformed Communities, meeting at Princeton, NJ. My particular contribution is a paper on the Peace, Unity, and Purity Task Force report of the Presbyterian Church. Most of the contributors here, though, are from the Dutch Reformed stream, rather than the Presbyterian stream, of worldwide Calvinism. The general theme of the conference is a consideration of globalization and pluralism in relation to the Reformed churches.
Globalization is an encouraging theme for the church as a whole. Whenever I get mired in the decline of the mainline church in America, or the near disappearance of Christianity in Europe, I am lifted up by the sheer exuberance, and massive growth, of Christianity in the global South. Philip Jenkins makes a forceful case in The Next Christendom that the center of gravity in the church has already shifted south of the equator. Jenkins, an English Catholic working in America, is particularly good on documenting Anglican, Catholic, and Pentecostal growth in the (former) Third World. Reading his book as a Presbyterian, though, I was struck with his near silence on how the Reformed churches were doing. I was, thus, particularly looking forward to this conference.
So far, though, the papers are pretty gloomy. Everyone knows about the huge significance of the Calvinist tradition in shaping the modern world in the first place (thank you, Max Weber). Few of our papers, though, report great vitality in the Reformed churches worldwide today. Globalization, in our consideration thus far, comes as a dissolving, even secularizing force to the Presbyterian and Reformed churches. The most encouraging reports have merely documented ways to slow the Calvinist church's decline in the face of globalization.
Globalization today has been good for heart religions, like Pentecostalism, and those streams of Christianity with a strong place for a religion of feeling. Calvinists, though, are the headiest of Protestants. So far, this current wave of globalization has not played to Reformed strengths.