Is the ‘New Calvinism’ Really Calvinism–or Is It Just ‘Five-Point Evangelicalism’?

New Calvinist Montage

Forgive me if I don’t seem to be enamored with the new “emerging” breed of Calvinists that has cropped up and become all the rage in Reformed and conservative evangelical circles during the past 7-10 years.  And forgive me if I dismiss them as five-point evangelicals and ‘sovereign-grace antinomians.’  But, frankly, based on what I have seen over the last few years, that is how I perceive them.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad that the term ‘Calvinist’ now carries less of the baggage and unwarranted stigma of “cold, narrow, non-evangelistic” and even “heartless” Christianity that it did in the bad old days prior to the mid-to-late-20th-century revival of interest in the Puritans and Puritan theology.  The Genevan Reformer and ‘prince of commentators’ has been much maligned and maliciously slandered for too many years by too many “Bible-believing” Christians.

What I am not glad to see is that what is being passed off to the Christian public as “new Calvinism” — i.e., a badly-needed update and remix of the “old” Calvinism — appears to me to be really just a thin veneer of Reformed doctrine applied to the existing populist hull of American evangelicalism.

The first time I heard about “New Calvinism,” was probably only about three years ago when I was doing some online searching for a Reformed theological topic.  I don’t remember exactly what the topic was, but I know it had something to do with Calvinism (and probably eschatology).  I came across a TIME magazine article from 2009 that mentioned New Calvinism as one of the “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.”  Seemed like a bit of really good news at the time.

Finally! The legacy of John Calvin is getting its due.  The recognition, vindication and audience it deserves — and in a venerable old “mainstream media” outlet like TIME.  At last, the seeds sown by 20th-century purveyors of predestination, election and TULIP-driven theology were starting to sprout amongst the newest generation of younger Christians.  “Generation C.”  Finally, rampant evangelical Arminianism had met its cultural and ecclesiastical match.  Score one for our side!

But, alas, that sense of elation, gratification and vindication was short-lived.  At least for me.  Once I became more aware and more familiar with what some of the ‘New Calvinists’ were teaching and preaching (and in some instances, how they were preaching it) — given the more holistic covenantal Calvinism, theonomic-postmillennial-Reconstructionist theology and historic Reformed doctrine and creedal confessions that I subscribe to — I became more uncomfortable and less enchanted with the latent anti-Calvinist, antinomian and quasi-biblical aspects of it.

No small, cultish phenomenon, this.  It has caught on like wildfire in some Reformed and evangelical churches.   It has taken the Southern Baptist Convention by storm.  (And not a perfect one, either.)  It has found its way into ‘conservative’ Reformed and Presbyterian denominations.  It has opened up a whole new market for charismatic continuationist theology!  And it has resulted in a lot of ‘young, restless and reformed’ Christians packing non-traditional churches to hear “unchurchy” sermons preached by “unchurchy” pastors, and worship to “unchurchy” music.

What’s Going On Here?

I have first-hand experience with some of the changes wrought by New Calvinism as it finds its way into the sanctuaries, pews and pulpits (the “DNA”) of otherwise Reformed-Calvinist churches.  Some of the changes are more architectural and visual rather than doctrinal.  But they are subtle (and some not so subtle) and unmistakable.

First, the pews get taken out.  (That’s so Old Calvinist!)  Upgrading to the new, plastic, fold-up chairs.  Out with those warm, inviting community and family-friendly benches.  In with the new, individualistic, one-size-fits-all, pack-em-in-like-sardines-for-Jesus theater seats!

Then the accoutrements of traditional Christianity get removed, especially well-lit worship spaces.  Replaced by dark, spooky, theater-like venues with all sorts of lighting effects to “enhance” the worship experience.  LOUD, pulsing musical numbers combined with soft, sentimental ballads played by talented and gifted folks who transform every worship service into a garage-band, ultra-casual, youth-group-style performance.  An occasional hymn, updated, for old time’s sake.  “A” for effort, guys (and gals).  But, whatever happened to being offered a choice between “contemporary” and “traditional” worship?

But What Are They Teaching?

Well, they’re not teaching Calvinism, that’s for sure.  At least not Calvin’s Calvinism, in my opinion.

Oh, there’s talk about God’s sovereignty, grace, the depravity of man, the holiness of God, authority of the Bible, power of the Holy Spirit, transformative impact of the Gospel, etc..  Generic Calvinism.  But beyond that, what’s missing is the full-orbed, rich and all-encompassing theology of historic Calvinism.  The “new” version is more of a truncated, boiled-down mixture of pietism, TULIP soteriology (with a few bulbs missing) and mainstream evangelical-cultural accommodation, and a heaping helping of doctrinal ecumenism.

A Case in Point

Here is what one of New Calvinism’s pastoral frontmen, Mark Driscoll, had to say when commenting on that TIME magazine article:

New Calvinism Vs. Old Calvinism

FOUR WAYS ‘NEW CALVINISM’ IS SO POWERFUL

  1. Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal and separated from or syncretized with culture. New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.
  2. Old Calvinism fled from the cities. New Calvinism is flooding into cities.
  3. Old Calvinism was cessationistic and fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. New Calvinism is continuationist and joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges. New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them.

http://theresurgence.com/2009/03/12/time-magazine-names-new-calvinism-3rd-most-powerful-idea

Now, go back and read through those four points again, slowly…

Is it just me or is this just a REALLY misinformed and badly distorted misrepresentation of “Old” vs. “New” Calvinism?

“Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal.” “Separated from or syncretized with culture.”  “Fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.”    

“New Calvinism is missional” “Seeks to create and redeem culture” “… is joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit”

“New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them.” 

“Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges.”

Huh?

A better name for this would be, “Four-Point ANTI-Calvinism”!  Historically inaccurate and theologically misleading about what it claims to be a resurgence of.

In the short time that New Calvinism has been with us, it has stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy and interest.  Its leaders have become household names (and lightning rods) in their own right among “Bible-believing” Christians around the world.  Besides Mark Driscoll, there is Albert Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Tim Keller, and of course, New Calvinism’s “senior pastor,” John Piper, and others.  Obviously, these men have all had very good and quite biblical things to say about any number of issues over the years.  But there have also been some troubling aspects to their teachings and beliefs — publicly stated and publicly propagated, which means it is perfectly legitimate and valid to criticize them and ‘call them out’ on it in public — things which should dismay a good number of you, and ought to otherwise undermine some of their credibility and “disqualify” them from occupying their lofty perches as peerless, unassailable fonts of theological knowledge, as many conservative and Reformed Christians hold them out to be.

What Would Calvin Do?

‘New Calvinism’ has gained such a foothold and garnered such a sizable audience and made its formidable presence known in such a big way across the evangelical and Reformed landscape during the past decade, that I think I may take a closer look at it in future posts.

I’m just a layman.  And I’ve got no “dog in the hunt” here.  And I may be completely off-base in my impressions and my analysis.  But I just wanted to share my two cents’ worth and voice my personal perspective on this.  As a Calvinist and as a Reconstructionist.

An Easy Way to Remember the Basic Tenets of Christian Reconstructionism

The Five Points of Christian Reconstruction cover

Acronyms are helpful little things. Especially when you’re trying to remember the main ideas of a particular teaching or the basic tenets of a certain body of thought.

I’ve “memorized” (meaning, I remembered them just long enough to pass an exam or a class!) plenty of acronyms in my day.  Different subjects and disciplines.  I’m sure you have, too.

Theological acronyms are useful that way.  As long as you remember that they’re NOT meant to be comprehensive or exhaustive in any way.  They’re just memory aids.

And they’re not meant to win arguments, either.  In fact, they’re usually formulated as a response to an argument, as a way of clarifying a position regarding a certain matter or a system of belief.  They’re meant to answer (or rebut) specific questions or criticisms that have been raised, sometimes by the opposition, and sometimes by
dyed-in-the-wool advocates of that position or system, who maybe have been clamoring and hankering for some handy-dandy little rhetorical device like this to arm themselves with.

So, Calvinism has its T.U.L.I.P.  Covenantalism–the five-point biblical covenant model explored and explained by Dr. Ray Sutton and Dr. Gary North–has a really cool acronym: T.H.E.O.S.

But, what do Christian Reconstructionists have as their own unique little memory aid to help folks in remembering the main points, the basic tenets of what it teaches?  Something that easily and accurately conveys its most important theological “fundamentals” and distinctives?

“Everything’s Coming Up R.O.S.E.S.

Mark D. Brown a few years ago came up with a good one.  It pretty well touches on the main highlights of what Christian Reconstructionism is all about.  Again, it’s not comprehensive or exhaustive.  It’s only meant to be a “snapshot” of a very far-reaching and comprehensive biblical system of thought.  And, again, you won’t win any arguments with it (but you might win some “converts” from other, less robust biblical systems of thought!”).

Happily, it fits the standard, five-point format of Received Acronymology that Reformed Christians know and love so well!

Here it is:

R – Regeneration

O – Obedience to God’s Law

S – Supremacy of Scripture

E – Eschatology of Victory

S – Separation of Governments

Those of you who have been drinking from the deep (and diverse) wells of Reconstructionism for a while can appreciate the simplicity and accuracy of this short list.

Let’s take a look at each one of these.

REGENERATION.  If you have read anything at all written in the last 40-50 years by Rushdoony, North, Bahnsen, Sutton, Gentry, Jordan, etc., or any of the other Reconstructionist-leaning writers that have covered this topic, you know that, just as in business, “nothing good happens until there is a sale,” in the world of Christian Reconstruction, nothing good happens until there is a soul saved All of what CR teaches and preaches hinges on and emanates from this most fundamental and crucial principle. Anti-Christian Reconstructionist critics never seem to grasp this.

OBEDIENCE TO GOD’S LAW.  This is our theonomic side showing.  We LOVE God’s law (as all Christians ought to)!  We believe in the continuing moral validity of God’s law.  Not because it condemns or confronts us, but because it sanctifies and instructs us!  Good grief, read Psalm 119 (again), for heaven’s sake!  God’s law is a beautiful thing!  It should be our meditation day and night.  It’s only ugly when you see it from a sinner’s perspective, or from an ANTI-nomian point of view (not a good thing).

SUPREMACY OF SCRIPTURE.  No brainer.  God’s Word, the Holy Bible, the Scriptures Contained in the Old and New Testaments, is our final and sole authority on matters of faith, morals, practice, etc..  Period.  We take that for granted, like the existence of God.  In theological circles, this is known as presuppositionalism.  (One thing Reconstructionists have always been good at is wielding lots of multi-syllable, intellectually intimidating theological terms!)

ESCHATOLOGY OF VICTORY.  What’s not to like?  One of the foundational tenets of Christian Reconstruction is the biblical eschatology of postmillennialism.  Jesus is reigning right now as sovereign king from His throne in heaven at His Father’s right hand ever since His ascension, patiently building His Kingdom, slowly but surely, steadily transforming Satan’s corrupt and counterfeit realm here on earth into God’s “reconstructed” Christ-centered Civilization on earth.  The Gospel’s historical success is a foregone conclusion, the ultimate, predetermined outcome of the work of the church in this world before our Lord Jesus returns.  So, all you amillennial and premillennial Christians, STOP being fatalistic, pessimistic, pietistic and defeatist in your theology!  Jesus IS coming–He’s just not coming until He FINISHES what He started here.

SEPARATION OF GOVERNMENTS.  Here’s another area of Reconstructionism that is routinely, wantonly and grossly misrepresented.  Again, real Reconstruction starts with the SELF-GOVERNMENT of the redeemed, born-again individual under God’s law.  Which is then reflected in how that individual goes about implementing and doing government in his other spheres of life.  Family government.  Civil government.  Church government.  All separate, all governed by God’s law.  Anti-reconstructionists, look up “theocracy.”  It means GOD rules.  Not Christians. Not the church. Not a band of crazed fanatics with rocks in their hands (and heads).  God’s LAW governs.  I really wish the critics would read (and more thoughtfully interact with) more of what they endeavor to criticize before they open their mouths!

So, there it is.  A very useful little acronym and rhetorical memory device all our own.

But, of course, Christian Reconstructionism by any other name would smell as sweet.

If you want to read Mark D. Brown’s brief little booklet on R.O.S.E.S., click here.

Calvinist Renaissance in China: Everything’s Coming Up TULIPS!

This article appeared in the London Guardian more than three years ago, but it seems to be making the rounds again online among Reformed and conservative readers.  At least, that is how I came across it (a Facebook post by John Lofton!).

This is good news for those of us on the Calvinist side of the ledger.

It’s even better news for those of us on the postmillennial side of the Calvinist side (we knew it had to happen sooner or later).

And it is still BETTER news (thought not totally unexpected) for those of us on the Calvinist-postmillenialist side who also view it as perhaps God’s hand initiating the beginning stages of reconstruction of China on a biblical foundation.

Now, before the non-Reconstructionists out there get out their long knives and keyboards and poise themselves for counterattack against what I just said, let me clarify, I am only saying that I am GLAD as a Christian and as a Calvinist to see this new development in the spiritual evolution (so to speak) of the people of China.

Obviously, it is better for the Chinese to embrace Calvinism than communism.

And that’s the really GOOD news here.  The Great Leap Forward has finally changed course and become the Great Look Upward!

The writer brings out some stark contrasts between the resurgence of Christianity in China and what has been going on in recent decades in Latin America and Africa.  Here, it is the elite, the highly-educated, the well-heeled, who are experiencing widespread conversions.  There, it is the poor and less educated, mostly.  Here, the movement is an intellectually and philosophically (and even rationally) driven one.  There, well, it is not.  As a result, here, the movement has gravitated towards the “unemotional” virility and theological robustness of Calvinism.  There, the movement has gone in the direction of Pentecostalism and experience-and-emotion-driven Christianity.

But, there’s something more at work here, the writer says.  Something more relevant to the political plight of the Chinese people.

Calvinism isn’t a religion of subservience to any government. The great national myths of Calvinist cultures are all of wars against imperialist oppressors: the Dutch against the Spanish, the Scots against the English; the Americans against the British. So when the Chinese house churches first emerged from the rubble of the Cultural Revolution in the 80s and 90s “They began to search what theology will support and inform [them]. They read Luther and said, ‘not him’. So they read Calvin, and they said ‘him, because he has a theology of resistance.’ Luther can’t teach them or inform them how to deal with a government that is opposition.”

Aha!  So, when the Chinese went looking for a spiritual replacement for the empty promises of communism, they turned to Christianity for answers, and specifically, they turned to Augustine and Calvin.  The communists did such a good job of clearing the religious landscape, they left fertile ground for the seeds of their own destruction to be sown to the next generation.  So, now…

“The youngsters think it is very cool to be Christian. Communism has removed all the obstacles for them to come to Christianity.”

Good job, commies!

But wait, there’s more.

The most conservative estimates of the new converts to Christianity is 500,000; there is a new church built every month. Calvinist Christianity has a culture of phenomenal industry. Calvin himself, in his time in Geneva, preached every day and twice on Sundays: shorthand writers at the foot of his pulpit took down 108 volumes of his sermons, though most of these have been lost and his reputation rests on the books and pamphlets that he wrote himself. In China now, this kind of Christianity is seen as forward-looking, rational, intellectually serious, and favourable to making money.

“Forward-looking, rational, intellectually serious, and favourable to making money.”  Sounds good to me!

There are really only two statements in this article that I take exception with:

“Calvinists despise pentecostalists.”  No, we don’t.  We only despise their theology!

“Although Calvinism is shrinking in western Europe and North America, it is experiencing extraordinary success in China.”

Shrinking in North America?  Really?  He should ask the Southern Baptists and the rest of the evangelical world here about that!

Read the entire article here.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/andrewbrown/2009/may/27/china-calvin-christianity?fb=optOut