The Wanderer

As I walked through the wilderness of this world …

Posts Tagged ‘New Calvinism

Sad fulfilments

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In 2013, Evangelical Press published a book called The New Calvinism Considered (Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk). Here is a quotation from near the end of the book. Sad events in the last few weeks and months are proving true some of these unhappy predictions, and I grieve over those who asked, “What next?” even while I remain grateful for those still asking, “What more?”

From its beginning, the new Calvinism was in some respects a splendid and many-coloured thing. But it did have and still does involve some fearful tensions. It has within it still some wonderful prospects and it contains within it some significant and increasingly evident dangers. But remember that mere fads never last. I am far from saying that the new Calvinism is a mere fad, but there is an appetite for novelty in the world and among professing Christians that has carried and perhaps is still carrying people into this movement on a wave of enthusiasm. The novelty will not last forever and the freshness is already fading, despite what will be the increasingly desperate attempts of some to keep the fireworks going off by increasingly extreme gestures and gimmicks.

I suspect that when the freshness and the newness wears off, we will be left with many people asking at least two questions. Some will say, and are already saying, ‘What next?’ They will look for the next fad, the next new wave, and will jump aboard and be carried on to whatever seems new and stimulating. But some will ask, and are already asking, ‘What more? What else is there? What am I missing? This is the God that I want to know and serve. How can I know him more? How can I know him better without losing that sense of wonder because of God’s love and grace toward me in Christ Jesus? How can I grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ? How can I grow in holiness, becoming more and more like Christ Jesus?’

Written by Jeremy Walker

Saturday 27 July 2019 at 20:43

More on the new Calvinism

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Here I try to map Piper’s assessment – “twelve features [not unique and exclusive distinctives] of the movement as I see it” which are, he said, “not dividing lines” between the old and the new Calvinism, matters of separation – over mine for the purpose of a very brief analysis. I understand that we are not always saying the same things, but it is interesting to look at the points of contact.

See the whole at Reformation21.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 20 March 2014 at 21:49

Coming soon . . .

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Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 4 October 2013 at 18:50

Posted in Book notices

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The rise of the New Calvinists

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Justin Taylor (drawing on Mark Dever) and Tim Challies have been having an interesting conversation about the rise of “new Calvinism.” There are some helpful perspectives and insights here.

First, Justin pointed to ten factors identified by Mark Dever, adding his own fairly typical thoughts. I thought Dever’s were insightful, though Taylor’s revealed a narrower range of appreciation.

Then, Tim – not unexpectedly – zeroed in on the role of the interweb. I think Tim is right.

Next, Justin nuanced that with further thoughts on the internet and institutions. His point about free internet – a ministry rather than business model – is an important one, but I am concerned that institutions apart from the one which Christ has established are not a safe haven for the gospel (even if, as Justin tries to argue, they exist to support the church).

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 3 September 2012 at 09:04

Posted in While wandering . . .

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The New Calvinism considered #4 Conclusions and counsels

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Thanks to those who are still following this little sequence. Today we are finishing off.

Caveats and characteristicsCommendationsCautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels

Conclusions and counsels

 My conclusion essentially is this: be Calvinists. Don’t be New Calvinists or Old Calvinists, whatever those distinctions really mean. Live before God rather than before men. You do not need to capitulate and ride the current of the moment. There is no need to jump on the bandwagon just because it is going past at speed, glowing with the power of the newest technology and applauded by adoring fans. You do not need to panic and circle the wagons, eminently suspicious of everyone who may not be “one of us.” You do not need to lash out, making your wagons in chariots of war in which to ride down and trample upon the enemy.

We may not always agree with them, but we must remember that we are dealing with brothers and sisters in Christ, and should treat them in all respects as such until their doctrine or practice prove that they are otherwise. That means that we must recognize that we are united in Christ, although we do have differences of opinion, some of them significant. God is their Father and our Father, and He is in control of all things for the glory of His name and the good of all His redeemed people. None of Christ’s will be lost. The purposes of our heavenly Father are being accomplished in the earth. His kingdom is advancing. Our responsibility is to live before God to the praise of His glory. We must set our own house in order first, and ensure that our doctrine and our practice marry, that we manifest degrees of heat and of light that are coordinate with and complementary to one another. We neither know all we should do, nor do all we know, and it is in the equal march of faith and life,  knowing and doing, telling and showing, that we gain the platform that will enable us to serve our friends who differ from us in other respects. C. H. Spurgeon, speaking of the attitude of some toward those holy Arminians John and Charles Wesley, said, “I am afraid that most of us are half-asleep and those that are a little awake have not begun to feel. It will be time for us to find fault with John and Charles Wesley, not when we discover their mistakes, but when we have cured our own. When we shall have more piety than they, more fire than they, more grace, more burning love, more intense unselfishness, then, and not till then, may we begin to find fault and criticize.”

I can sincerely say that it is in this spirit that I have written. Our first responsibility is to set our own house in order, and to set out to live in accordance with the light we have received, stirring up our fires of grace and piety and holy endeavor. But be Calvinists. I presume that you believe what you believe because you actually believe it, and have not simply inherited or assumed it. You have, I trust, thought through your convictions. You have searched the Scriptures to see whether the things you have learned from godly men are true, and you have anchored yourself at certain points of doctrine and their corresponding practice because you are persuaded that those things are true and right before God and that you will live accordingly.

If we have done this with a good conscience, then we should hold fast to our convictions and live them out to the praise and the glory of God. Enjoy these things! Enter into the sweet realities of the God that we know in His Son, Jesus Christ, and graciously defend the truths you have come to love and the practices that flow from the principles. You are not obliged to give them up any more than our New Calvinist brothers are obliged to give things up just because we disagree with them. There is and should be scope for us to speak together as those who love the Lord: “To the law and to the testimony!” Let us be ready both to learn with humility where we have something to learn and to teach with modesty where we have something to teach.

The New Calvinism is in some respects a splendid and many-colored thing. It contains within it some fearful tensions. It has within it some wonderful prospects and it contains within it some significant dangers. But remember that mere fads never last. I am far from saying that the New Calvinism is a mere fad, but there is an appetite for novelty in the world and among professing Christians that will carry people into this movement on a wave of enthusiasm. The novelty will not last forever. I suspect that when the freshness and the newness wears off, we will be left with many people asking at least two questions. Some will say, and are already saying, “What next?” They will look for the next fad, the next new wave, and will jump aboard and be carried on to whatever seems new and stimulating. But some will ask, and are already asking, “What more? What else is there? What am I missing? This is the God that I want to know and serve. How can I know Him more?  How can I know Him better without losing that sense of wonder because of God’s love and grace toward me in Christ Jesus? How can I grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ? How can I grow in holiness, becoming more and more like Christ Jesus?”

We need so to live and so to speak that when somebody asks, “What more?” we have a reputation and a relationship that enables us credibly to hold something out, to offer with humble joy the blessings that we have received, just as much as we receive with humble joy whatever blessings we may be offered.

So be Calvinists. Do not panic blindly. Do not capitulate foolishly. Do not strike wildly. Live before God and be determined to learn of Christ in dependence on the Holy Spirit. Serve the triune God and be ready to serve His saints wherever you find them.

Caveats and characteristicsCommendationsCautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels

Written by Jeremy Walker

Friday 23 December 2011 at 08:55

The New Calvinism considered #3 Cautions and concerns

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Over the last couple of days I have been posting some material on the New Calvinism, the fruit of a reasonable period of time trying to get my head around the phenomenon and seeking to work out my relationship to it (and to those who populate the movement at their various points on the spectrum).

Other parts of the series can be traced using the links below. Of course, all being the irenic types that we are, this will no doubt be the least popular of the posts . . .

Caveats and characteristicsCommendations ∙ Cautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels

Cautions and concerns

I also have some cautions and concerns about the New Calvinism. While enjoying some of the emphases and appreciating some of the engagement that these brothers have with the world at large, is there anything here of which to take a more careful and less positive account? As I sought to understand and appreciate the New Calvinism, I was asking myself whether or not there is anything that I might wish to strain out, anything which particularly needs to be tempered? Let me suggest some of my cautions and concerns that may ring true with you.

First of all, there is a tendency to pragmatism and commercialism. I usually enjoy the American entrepreneurial spirit, the “Go west, young man” mentality that I still see in American culture but which is often lacking in Europe (having said that, west of Europe is the Atlantic, so there may be some legitimacy to our cynicism there). However, I wonder if in some parts of the New Calvinism the entrepreneurial spirit has run amok. A principle of pragmatism is applied where it was never meant to be applied. I see a more commercial attitude toward “doing church.” Listen to that phrase: how do you do church? The idea is to get big, stay big and then get bigger. You need to market yourself well and make sure you have got the right people in place. So, if Brother Barry is getting in the way of progress and Brother Barry is a deacon, you remove Brother Barry and replace him with someone who can actually do the job that Brother Barry is not prepared or able to do. That is almost a commercial hire-and-fire model. You need to expand the business? You get rid of the wrong people and find the right people, bringing in workers with the right skill sets to move things forward in accordance with your church (business) model. At points it seems to be a principial lack of principle, as if where the Bible does not overtly speak to a matter we are free to do whatever we please. I am not suggesting that I have heard that said, but if you step back and consider, it seems as if that is how it actually works in practice. It is almost as if a Normative Principle of Life is being applied, as if to say, “If God hasn’t explicitly said this isn’t a good idea, let’s try it!” Here is the flip side of that desire to engage and get the gospel out. The questions becomes not, “What is right?” but “What will work?” If something seems to work, it must be good because it is advancing the mission. Someone might respond by querying whether there are Biblical principles to apply, but – “No! We have to get the Word out and we’ll use whatever means we can to accomplish that.” This can lead to a pursuit of bigness, of numbers, of profile, almost for their own sake. When Time magazine proclaimed the New Calvinism as one of the “ten ideas changing the world right now,”[1] immediately the blogosphere was awash with self-congratulation: “Oh, wow! We’re important, we’ve got a seat at culture’s table!” Really?  Is that what it is all about?  Is that what we are pursuing? What happens when the world does not recognize us? Will the gospel have lost its power, or will we need to change things to win back the world’s commendations? Does God not delight to turn these things on their heads? “Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,” says the Lord of Hosts.

Alongside and because of this we are faced with reams of statistics – they love statistics! Listen to some of the sermons: the introduction is, “Statistics say that this is important, so this is a good and relevant topic to deal with this morning.” This survey says this, and churches are like that, and so we need to adapt and respond to what this latest survey says about the state of the church and the state of the world. Furthermore, there is a showmanship about some of it. There is an element of performance, something overly dramatic or slickly cultured in some of the preaching and presentation. There are gimmicks that creep in at points and I do think there are times in which men in this movement run the church more like a commercial enterprise than they minister to it as the body of Christ.

The second concern is an unbalanced view of culture. A neo-Kuyperian perspective dominates the movement. Perhaps the keynote is this statement from Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not shout, ‘Mine!’” That translates into some parts of New Calvinist spectrum almost as a sense that this world is neutral territory. We are in no man’s land and therefore culture is all up for grabs. We are conquering culture for King Jesus. Therefore nothing is out of bounds. We can take anything this world produces and we Christianize it. One of the classic examples would be something like musical forms. We can take all musical forms, and the uniforms that go with them. We can apparently take the structures that communicate those particular things and embrace them as Christians. We can do this because the forms and the uniforms and the structures are all neutral and we just need to make them carry a Christian message. I think that this is over-realized, almost an over-realized eschatology, a confusion between what is “not yet” and what is “already” in the life of the kingdom. Such thinking has gone beyond the Scriptural norm. Some New Calvinists can be so concerned to be relevant and accessible that they become slaves to hipness. You read some of their books and everything is defined by a narrow target audience. You have to reference The Matrix and then The Lord of the Rings. Then you go for the artsy-fartsy bunch and reference Flannery O’Connor and then for the intellectuals by talking about C. S. Lewis. You get a mass of cultural buzz words, riding the wave of the latest big film series or the book that everyone is talking about. There is a sense in which our friends are doing something well here. They are looking into the sphere in which they are operating. They are trying to understand the language and the culture with which they are dealing and they are sincerely trying to bring the gospel to bear, but it sometimes feels like a checklist to prove how cool they are: “I’ve read all the latest books and I’ve seen all the latest films.” It is an almost-obsession that becomes very easy to mock and mimic. The assumption seems to be that culture is neutral and therefore up for grabs; we just need to use it as the vehicle to bring Christ to bear.

There are two particular areas in which you will see this working itself out: one is worship and the other is evangelism. Again, generally speaking, the New Calvinism does not embrace the Regulative Principle of Worship. It seems to me that the vast majority of New Calvinists believe that all of life is worship (that is one of the phrases you will hear time and time again). There is a sense in which that is true: “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). But what happens if everything becomes worship in precisely the same way? What happens if everything is flattened out? Then there are no peaks or troughs in our experience of coming before God to bring glory and honor to Him. There are no high points and rather than everything being worship, nothing is worship. It is this very reversal that often leads to an aping of the world. A deliberate process takes place in which our worship will be as much like the activity of the world as possible (after all, all of life is worship) but we will just Christianize it. So if our target audience is basically indie kids, we’ll get an indie-style Christian band to sing Christian lyrics in indie style (or indie lyrics with a Christian flavor – either way will work) and then we will preach the gospel. This process is embraced at various different points in various different spheres. So with regard to worship, if we accept that we are always worshipping God and all of culture is up for grabs, there is no needed distinction between the sacred and the profane. That also bleeds over into evangelism because the issue becomes a matter of finding that which attracts people, whatever seems to work. As long as they are coming to hear and as long as we have claimed this thing – whatever “this thing”may be – for Jesus than it no longer matters what forms it takes. I am not suggesting that no people are being reached and none of them are being saved, but the underlying pragmatism together with this view of culture have a tendency to make evangelism drift toward becoming more like the world in order to win the world. Some have suggested that this is really a Calvinistic soteriology allied to an Arminian methodology. The motive may be good, but the means are wrong.

The third caution or concern is a troubling approach to holiness. There are two elements here. The first is what I consider to be incipient antinomianism. Antinomianism in this context refers, in essence, to those who do not believe in the abiding validity of the moral law for those who are in Christ Jesus. I call it incipient because it is there in seed form even if it is not yet fully broken out in doctrine or in practice. As so often, the fourth commandment – the matter of the new covenant Sabbath, the Lord’s day – is almost the first point of contact. Many of the leading lights in the New Calvinist movement would formally embrace or at least align themselves toward what is sometimes called New Covenant Theology. This is where we come back to the fact that these are holy men who seem to be able to hold some curious things in tension – things that, frankly, are in conflict – and yet continue to pursue godliness. They are not always saying that there is no law; often it works out more as a neonomianism (like that of Richard Baxter). We are repeatedly informed that we are no longer under law but that we are under grace, and – here is the corollary that is argued over – that what that means is that we follow Christ but that is not related to embracing and obeying the Ten Commandments.

The second element is related to this. An ongoing discussion continues about the nature of sanctification. Two men who have engaged in this most recently are Tullian Tchividjian of Cape Coral, Florida, and Kevin DeYoung in Lansing, Michigan. Kevin DeYoung is pushing for the more orthodox perspective, and doing so very helpfully, whereas Tchividjian is concerned that there is not enough grace in that process and suggesting more that we are sanctified by faith. You might well ask, “But can you be sanctified without faith? Can you become more like Jesus Christ without faith? ” Of course you cannot! This is a process in which we continue to rely upon the grace of God in Christ. It is in union with Jesus Christ in his death to sin and resurrection life that His power works in us. It is on account of our relationship to Christ that the Holy Spirit takes up residence in our hearts, and we are then conformed to the image of God’s Son. This is a gracious relationship grounded in faith. So there is certainly a need for faith if we are to be sanctified, and we depend upon the grace of God every moment in our sanctification, but we are not sanctified by faith in the same way that we are justified by faith. Rather, we work out our salvation with fear and trembling for it is God who works in us both to will and to do for His good pleasure. A false dichotomy is being established between faith and duty or effort and I think that some of this goes back to Piper’s idea that we glorify God by enjoying Him forever (although I know that John Piper speaks very definitely of the need to pursue and attain genuine holiness as a part of our being saved). But why be afraid of the words duty and obedience and commandment? Our friends are so concerned to talk about grace that it is almost as if an overreaction has occurred against some of these notions of effort and obedience and duty and commandment, which are part of what we do as those who enjoy the grace of God in Jesus Christ. A concern not to be or become legalists has driven some back toward antinomianism. But I am liberated in order to be holy! What is the pattern and framework of my holiness? It is God as He makes Himself known in Jesus Christ, Christ being the perfect transcript of what God is like and the perfect embodiment of God’s holiness, a holiness also made known in His law.

Where this incipient antinomianism makes its entrance, together with this concern that we do not evacuate grace and faith from the process of sanctification to such an extent that you are left with a process that consists in faith alone, these tensions take root. As you work down and out from the men who seem able to hold these things while simultaneously pursuing Biblical holiness, the patterns of history suggest that succeeding generations will fail to hold those elements in tension and the result will be an increasing abandonment of genuine, full-orbed new covenant holiness. I am not suggesting that this is the intention, but I believe that this will be the result.

I recognize that by suggesting that many New Calvinists are in principle antinomians I will be accused of being grossly uncharitable: “How dare you call us antinomian!” But the very next accusation is likely to be that I am a legalist, so at least we are all square! However, in all seriousness, I have seen some insightful comments on this: someone had dared to use the word “antinomianism” to describe the kind of approach outlined above, and it had immediately sparked the usual accusations of a legal spirit in the man who had used the word. It was at this point that someone else who did not believe in the abiding validity of the moral law stepped in with a sensible and sincere response: “Why,” he said, “are we getting so angry about the use of the word ‘antinomian’? If they are right, that is precisely what we are. I do not believe that they are right, and so I would deny the label. But if they are right, then that is the accurate term for what I believe.” This is refreshing honesty! If then, we are right in our assessment above – and I am persuaded from Scripture and history that we are – then this is a nascent form of antinomianism. My fear is that this view will become very attractive to people who want the privileges and benefits and eased consciences of a Christian profession without the demand for holiness being pressed into their hearts resulting in the vigorous pursuit of godliness. Clearly this is not the intention of the New Calvinists by and large. They are not saying, “Let us sin, then, that grace may abound.” My concern is that this teaching may create an atmosphere in which liberty is made a cloak for license.

A fourth caution or concern is a potentially dangerous ecumenism. There is a concern for unity that may end up being at the expense of truth. Remember that this is an eclectic movement, a spectrum not a monolith. There are men all along the spectrum who do not see eye to eye on certain things. The fact that they can be united on things that are of critical and central importance is a wonderful testimony to Christian unity. It is a good and a healthy thing and peace among brothers is a genuine blessing and much to be desired and pursued. However, within New Calvinism a distinction is sometimes made between state and national boundaries. So, for example, the national boundary is what make us all part of the same kingdom: we are all Christians together. State boundaries, for example, are the distinctions between denominations, or with regard to certain practices or convictions. So some of us are more confessional; some of us are more charismatic. Some of us are baptists; some are paedobaptists. These are lower walls between states within a single nation under God, as it were! But who gets to decide which are the state boundaries and which are the national boundaries? I would suggest it is not just those who like the idea of state and national boundaries! My perspective or yours on what should or should not be a national and what should or should not be a state boundary might be different – perhaps radically different – from someone else’s perspective. Depending on who is allowed to categorize and to draw the boundaries, the result can be some very strange bedfellows.

In giving specific examples, it is necessary to identify particular individuals. In the last few years John Piper’s national conferences have included – among some who many of us would be more than eager to hear preach and who a few of us might cross oceans simply to hear pray – such speakers as Douglas Wilson and Rick Warren. These men are receiving what is in essence the Piper stamp of approval. Remember that John Piper is one of the men who is prominent to the point of pre-eminent, one of the figureheads of this movement. I would suggest to you that, however attractive their personalities and impressive their profiles, such men as Douglas Wilson and Rick Warren are moving – if not already – beyond the pale of historic Biblical Christianity. To bring these men in and to give them one of the most visible platforms in this movement is an exceedingly dangerous thing. Again, although Piper may be able to say, “I’ll take this but I won’t take that,” the result for many will be, “Well, Doug Wilson must be good to go,” or, “Rick Warren must be a credible guide.” It easily leads to a suspension of discernment in which one is tempted to take a draught of poison alongside a drop of tonic. While the desire for Christian unity is a good thing in itself, there is a potentially dangerous ecumenism in which some of these men are reaching beyond the bounds of what is safe and orthodox in terms of credible Biblical Christianity.

Furthermore, there is a genuine tension with regard to spiritual gifts. This has been identified even within the movement itself as a potential faultline, a point of division which could cause significant dissension. I think the men who have recognized that tension are right, but the present response is often to keep papering over the cracks even while some are driving in the wedges (please work with the analogy!). So for many the issue of spiritual gifts and the nature of the continuing work of the Spirit of Christ seems to be a moot point: it will not be addressed; it will be overlooked; it will not be allowed to become an issue. In a recent book a number of prominent confessional figures were interviewed (for not only the New Calvinists have their figureheads!), some of whom are working within or on the fringes of this movement. The only contributor to those interviews who specifically suggested that the charismatic influence is a dangerous one was Conrad Mbewe, a Zambian pastor. Almost no one else wanted to address the fact that actually this is a point of genuine tension, a point of potential and actual divide. But it is a significant issue. Indeed, it is becoming more so: just recently Mark Driscoll suggested that the “current global movement in Christianity” is characterized by four theological distinctives: Reformed theology, complementarian relationships, Spirit-filled lives, and missional churches.[2] In the course of this address he made the assertion that “cessationism is worldliness,” a sort of rationalistic, modernistic, Cartesian, Humean skepticism with regard to the supernatural. Not long afterward, John Piper asserted that “God humbles Charismatics by making their children Calvinists; and Calvinists by making their children speak in tongues.”[3] Ahem!

So who is this person, this Holy Spirit, and what does He do? How does He do what he does? When and in what ways does He do it? Is there any difference of nature or of degree between what He was doing in the days of the Apostles and what He is doing now? There are some men within the movement who would, I think, be very close to a more orthodox Reformed perspective (a narrower spectrum), but I think the broad stream of New Calvinism is essentially a continuationist stream. I do not like that language. I do not like being labeled a cessationist, because of the implications that language often carries. I do not believe, in any absolute sense, that the Holy Spirit has stopped working. We depend upon Him entirely, in every moment of our living, our serving, our worshipping. He is the One by whom Christ is made known to us and through whom we enter into and experience and enjoy our union with the risen Lord. We do not want to be driven into a corner where we become so worried about abuses regarding the Holy Spirit that we give Him up.  If so, we would become absolute cessationists, and that would be blasphemous. We are in danger of saying, or of seeming to say, “We are so worried about abuses regarding the Holy Spirit, we will relinquish Him altogether. You charismatics may have Him. We will be absolute cessationists and you will be the continuationists.” That is a caricature of us that we must not embrace. But we must answer the questions: What is the nature of His work? What are the nature, extent and degree of His work in times past, present and future? Are we to expect prophecies, healings, miracles?

When people gather at some of the big New Calvinist conferences, some of these things get put aside. Everybody gets together and gives the impression of a quite complete unity (ironing over a few choppy patches during some of the singing, perhaps). But what happens when everybody goes back to their individual churches? At that level there are radical and significant differences in approach to these things. Ultimately, though, this is not just about whether or not one church believes in prophetic utterances and speaking in unknown or angelic tongues, but with the whole nature of authority in its relation to divine revelation. Where does God speak to us? How does He make His will known today? That has become and must be a flashpoint; it is another place in which many have a strong desire to hold together things that simply do not belong together. You will hear the phrase “Reformed Charismatic.” Some would suggest, with some credibility, that those two things are mutually exclusive, precisely because of this issue of authority and revelation. The questions surely arise, which of those two influences is going to take the ascendancy, and what will be the outcome?

My sixth concern is with what I perceive as a degree of arrogance and triumphalism. I say that exceedingly conscious that I am prone to the very same spirit, but – while recognizing our own frailties in this area – let me suggest more specifically what I mean. This is a young and seemingly successful movement. What tends to happen when you are young and successful? Often you get a big head and you think that you must be right and you just need to keep going and that everyone and everything will eventually fall before you. I fear a developing – and, in some, developed – sense of being above contradiction, that they have it made, and that the movement will continue to roll over all that stands in its way. This is true especially of some of those who are coming in just behind and around some of the figureheads. Such triumphalism breeds overconfidence. At times you will hear men speaking as if they have just reinvented the wheel. For example, one treatment of the church was introduced with the staggering assertion that there has not been a serious consideration of the issue since the days of the Protestant Reformation, the implication being that the gap was about to be plugged. Now if that isn’t a dose of hubristic nonsense, kindly fax me an explanation of what is! I think there may have been just the one or two books dealing with ecclesiology written since the Reformation. Could it be that our friend simply failed to read them? Again, it goes along with the enthusiasm of the movement: “Hey, look! I am just discovering these things!” “That’s great,” we respond, “but so have other people.” “I’ve discovered Edwards,” says one, “let me tell you what Edwards says!” “That’s wonderful!” we reply, “but other people have been reading Edwards before and with you and they  also have some valid perspectives on what Edwards says.” Some of these areas or interpretations of theology have simply been co-opted by the New Calvinists. It is seen in their handling of history; I think at times they can give the impression if you just read history properly you will see that it vindicates the New Calvinism. This is not an isolated problem, and certainly not one from which Reformed Baptists are immune. When you read history, what you tend to find are the examples that say that you are doing the right thing right now, and so we vindicate ourselves: in my own reading, history proves that I am right.  This is not a legitimate way of handling the past.

Alongside of this is a tendency only to dialogue and receive criticism within their own, relatively closed circle. They talk to each other, even about each other, they interact with each other, but if you are someone who has been judged or placed “outside” for some reason, and you have the temerity to suggest that one of the figureheads may have something wrong, then woe betide!

But the issue should not be whether something seems to be working or failing, whether it is big or small, or if one of the big dogs is barking; the issue is whether it is right or wrong. I do think that there are times at which the sense that this movement is young and vigorous and moving – really going places and fast – can blind some of my brothers to some of its inherent weaknesses and can close their ears to those of us who desire their good and believe we have something to offer them as much as they have something to offer us.

Caveats and characteristicsCommendations ∙ Cautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels

To be concluded . . .


Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 22 December 2011 at 08:28

The New Calvinism considered #2 Commendations

with 15 comments

Yesterday I began a well-intentioned survey of the New Calvinism with an attempt to capture some of its characteristics. Today we move on . . .

Caveats and characteristics ∙ Commendations ∙ Cautions and concernsConclusions and counsels

Commendations

The first thing that I particularly appreciate about the New Calvinists is that they set out to be Christ-oriented and God-honoring.  There may be questions as to the degree of their success in this, but I think it is right to acknowledge that it is their sincere intention. One of the springs of this movement has been John Piper’s concern that God should be glorified, bound up in his notion of “Christian hedonism.” He has recast the first question and answer of the Shorter Catechism to suggest that, “Man’s chief end is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever.” We are repeatedly told by Piper and others that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” This is the kind of language that drives much of this movement, seeking that Christ be known and made known to the glory of God. What it means to glorify God in Christ is very much a matter of Jonathan Edwards mediated through John Piper, and this distinctive understanding is a keystone in the movement. What we cannot deny is that this movement is substantially galvanized by concern for the supremacy of God in Christ and that the Lord of Glory be magnified in all things. That is a good thing and something we should embrace. While we may fine tune some of this down the line, we should recognize that this is the sincere aim and it is to be heartily commended.

Secondly, it is a grace-soaked movement. If you read the books, follow the blogs, listen to the conversations, you will hear “gospel-this” and “gospel-that” and “gospel-the-other,” almost to the point of inanity (there has to be another adjective you are allowed to use sometimes!). Nevertheless, the gospel is the great thing and Christ and Him crucified is at the heart of things. Grace has become and has remained amazing to these brothers and sisters. There is a freshness and enthusiasm that comes with this sense of discovery. For example, when you hear John Piper talk about Jonathan Edwards, you hear the abiding excitement of a man who has discovered something that he once did not know but which now has gripped his soul, and that gives him a vigor, an excitement, a freshness. For many in the movement, they have recently come to begin to begin to understand the beauty and the splendor of God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and there is a corresponding enthusiasm: it is not old hat but rather new and delightful, and so this contributes to what is in many ways a vibrantly joyful movement. These friends are excited about the fact that God has loved them in Christ quite apart from their own deserving and that results in a contagious and attractive enthusiasm. They delight to be loved by God in Christ.

Thirdly, it is a missional movement. You may or may not like that buzz word, but it is the one in use. The New Calvinism tends to be passionately and sacrificially missional. There is a desire that the glory of God be known in all the earth and so these friends seek to preach the gospel and to make disciples (there is a good and healthy emphasis on discipleship in many circles). They want to plant churches and to train preachers. Their concern is local, national and international. This is a good model; it is, in many respects, a reflection of New Testament Christianity, and obviously that is to be heartily commended. They are ready to overlook and overcome boundaries that may cripple other people. They are reaching the lost; many of these friends are reaching people that we as Reformed Baptists are not. They are going to places we do not and perhaps will not. They are dealing with people of whom we may be scared. They are having doors opened before them that have never opened to some of us and they are taking these opportunities and they are going in to tell people about the Lord Jesus Christ. I think that this is wonderful and I wish that it were more characteristic of us.

Then, fourthly, it is a complementarian movement. By that I mean it seeks to regard men as men and women as women in their proper places and spheres as God has appointed them. Nevertheless, I want to qualify this slightly in two ways. First of all, in keeping with the movement as a whole, this is a spectrum, and there are manifestations of this complementarianism with which not everyone will  agree: there would be differences in emphasis and perspective at certain points. Secondly, I find it rather amusing that – given all the things that the New Calvinism seems determined not to be about – complementarianism in the realm of gender and male/female relationships and responsibilities is such a big issue, so much so that I could almost put this in the list of defining qualities. The New Calvinists make a big deal about the fact that they are or intend to be biblically complementarian. That concern works itself out as a corresponding influence on what it is to have a healthy family life, what it means to have male leadership in the church, and other such areas. At times the masculinity that is presented becomes almost a caricature (drifting in some circles toward a sort of hairy, Neanderthal, breast-beating machismo) but generally they want men to be men and women to be women. They want that to be so in single life, in married life, in church life, in family life. This is a good and appropriate emphasis proving to be very attractive both to men and women. As women find men who really are men and as men are given opportunity to really be men (especially younger men who are finding models of masculine headship, of vigor, or passion, of endeavor in this movement) one gets a sense of deep answering unto deep.  It is probably one of the reasons why this is a movement of so many younger preachers. They have gathered a spearhead of stable (usually), active, energetic and committed young men to carry the gospel out alongside of whom are many vigorous, active, energetic, and committed women. I think that is, in essence, a good thing.

Furthermore, the New Calvinists tend to be both immersed and inventive. They are immersed in many things. They are immersed in theology, they are readers. If you talk to some of the book publishing houses, including some of the more conservative ones, you will find that some of their major sales are in New Calvinistic circles. The New Calvinists are lapping up high grade theology. They are reading good books and big books. They love to know more about God. They are thinkers. They want to know how God’s truth relates to and works out in the church and the world. They are inventive and immersed in the online world. Many are what are called “early adopters.” The latest smart phone technology comes out and they are the first in line.  And Apple – it’s got to be Apple. If you own a PC you are almost by definition not a New Calvinist. They blog exuberantly and exhaustively. They are at the cutting edge of technology in many respects. They are not afraid to use social media and to harness the power of online interaction. Again, you may have questions about the nature and impact of those media, the effect of the medium on the very message that it carries, but they – often taking account of those concerns – say, “It’s here, let’s get it, let’s use it in order to bring Christ and the gospel to bear on the people who are in these environments.” So they will use both old and new media very effectively to propagate the truth and the New Calvinist take on it. I put those two things together because it is very much the movement that carries along the gospel as they teach it. It is not quite one and the same thing, but they do not come separate from each other: the gospel comes dressed in New Calvinist colors and defined by New Calvinist convictions. All this makes them highly visible and very persuasive in the demographic group who are immersed in online culture, and that is almost everyone who is in their thirties and younger. When I first went to university not so long ago, students were encouraged to use computers to submit at least some of their essays; I wonder if anyone now uses a pen to write an essay. It is only in the last ten to twenty years that so much human social interaction has moved online. So anyone in their mid-thirties and younger is almost by definition immersed in that world unless they have deliberately decided to step away from it. And this is the world that the New Calvinist substantially inhabits, and it is this familiarity which makes them very potent in that narrow sphere. However, this raises other issues: What if you are not part of that significant online presence? What if you do not live online?  What if you know nothing about what a friend calls “TwitFace”? This concentration can lock out some who are not immersed in the same media, but – whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or whatever else it may be or may become – these will be men and women who will be there first and they will be looking to take advantage of these things to the glory of God.

A sixth and final commendation is that this is a movement committed in principle to expository preaching.[1] Again, there are styles and approaches to which I might and would take exception, and there are other things which adhere around the preaching which I would question, but the underlying commitment is to explain and apply the Bible as the Word of God. Many of the leading lights of the movement are pastors and preachers, committed either to systematic expository series or to some other form of expository ministry. The conferences are, by and large, preaching conferences. Discussions revolve around what the Bible says and what it means. Books are written expounding the Word of God. While there are and there will continue to be discussions about whether or not the expositions, conclusions and applications are accurate – the same sort of often-healthy discussions as happen within, across and between other circles – this commitment at least provides some common ground for the discussion to advance: “What does the Bible say?” Where this principle is espoused and not undermined, a common foundation allows for a mutual pursuit of the truth as it is in Jesus.

These are far from the only commendations, but they are at least six areas where I have appreciated and learned from some of the emphases of my brothers and sisters.

Caveats and characteristics ∙ Commendations ∙ Cautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels

To be continued . . .


[1] This commendation has been added following feedback since the material was originally developed.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Wednesday 21 December 2011 at 08:37

The New Calvinism considered #1 Caveats and characteristics

with 9 comments

As some may recall, many moons ago I produced a survey of the New Calvinism. Subsequently, and building upon that, I was invited to address the topic at a sister church in the US, which I sought to do. Following on from that, I was asked to put that material in print, to which I replied, “Tricky, as it’s only a series of headers with a few notes on a sheet of paper.” The upshot was that the original address got transcribed, and I got round – eventually – to editing it. I used the substance of that address recently for a series of adult Bible classes in the church which I serve, and it provoked a lot of profitable engagement. And, now, finally, I am posting it here in its slightly more polished, slightly less personable form. In truth, since I wrote this, the situation has moved on. When I dealt with the situation in the church here, I was obliged to deal with the Elephant Room fracas (where, as you will imagine, I dropped much of the language of brotherly engagement when dealing with those who deny the Trinity or or used it far more guardedly when dealing with those who welcome as brothers those who preach the same heresy), as well as to go into the issues of prophecy and other spiritual gifts in more detail.

[UPDATE: I see that Kevin DeYoung is also reviewing the Young, Restless, Reformed phenomenon at his blog.]

So, asking that you take into account that there are some elements, which – if I were writing it now – would be necessarily more robust, and that this is the briefest version without a lot of the colour and additional comments, I offer herewith . . .

The New Calvinism considered

Caveats and characteristics ∙ CommendationsCautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels

Introduction

What qualifications do I possess for the task of assessing a movement like the New Calvinism? I first came across some of the men who are now known as New Calvinists a few years after John Piper first published Desiring God. A friend of mine was enthusing about this book and told me, “You have to read this book, it will change your life.” I thought that if a friend was speaking of a book in this way then I should at least do him the honor of reading it. Since then I have been engaged with the New Calvinism in various ways. A number of my peers have been very much caught up with it, and I have felt the pressure to imbibe it, to embrace it, to be a part of it.

This interest and engagement have continued even though this movement is largely an American phenomenon. I therefore have something of an outside perspective. (The New Calvinism in the UK is not exactly the same as it is in the US – it does not have the same breadth.) I have appreciated much of what I have seen. I have benefited from some of it and I have disagreed with some of it. The process of evaluation has been (and remains) a long one in which reading, listening, discussing, and going to conferences all played a part. My sense was that this was a significant movement. That was one reason for the pressure to jump on the bandwagon. However, while I did not want to dismiss what was profitable, but neither did I want thoughtlessly to embrace something without careful consideration.

It is out of that tension and that developed process that I hope to bring some observations, as a Christian, a pastor and part of a generation that has seen the New Calvinism take off and take hold over a period of years. However, I also want to issue some caveats, some initial warnings which we must take into account as we look at the New Calvinism.

First of all, this is a personal and pastoral assessment. I am not pretending that I have a monopoly on insights into individual men and movement as a whole. I may be mistaken in what I suggest. There are thousands of blog posts and books and videos and conferences that I have not read or watched or been a part of. If I am ignorant, mistaken, or misguided at any point, I am readily prepared to be corrected and thus to fine tune my understanding.

Secondly, this is a fraternal and irenic assessment. In other words, I speak as a brother with a desire for genuine understanding, true unity and gospel peace. I am not setting out to attack those I consider lunatics and heretics, neither do I intend to lay waste to everything that is before me (even where I disagree). I have several friends who would call themselves New Calvinists, friends whom I respect and appreciate. I am by no means seeking to dismiss them or to trample them into the dust.

Thirdly, I am seeking to provide a balanced appreciation. This is not intended to be a hatchet job. My wife is American, and she suggests with much legitimacy that the British can be professional cynics. I do not wish to give vent to a sarcastic strain, nor fall into the trap of painting a caricature of New Calvinism that could easily be mocked (even in a gracious, brotherly spirit!). Such a straw man is tempting to erect precisely because it is easier to knock down than the real person. I should also point out that I am not setting out to accomplish a sort of Reformed Baptist whitewash, in which I climb up above everybody else, confident in our own superiority in all things, and – looking down on everybody else with a smug air – say, “We are the best. If only you were like us, how much better this world would be.” I it is not my intention to ignore or to defend Reformed Baptists, but to deal with the New Calvinism.

The fourth and the most important caveat is that the New Calvinism is not monolithic, by which I mean that it is not a single and uniform entity. The New Calvinism is a spectrum. It is a broad river with many currents, having different eddies with varying depths and shallows.  In an assessment such as this I have to paint with a broad brush, not having the opportunity to nuance and finesse some of my comments. Exceptions to some of my general statements could easily be found. I understand that, but I am obliged to deal in generalities to some extent, recognizing that there will be exceptions. I will have to refer to points on a spectrum, but I do not mean to imply that all these things are universal or uniform when they are not.

Characteristics of the New Calvinism

What are the qualities of the New Calvinism? How do you define this movement, taking into account that it is a spectrum? Where do you start?

The first – and perhaps somewhat obvious quality – is Calvinism itself, but even this must be qualified. In general, this movement is united by convictions about the sovereignty of God in salvation, hence the name “New Calvinists.” Note, however, that an appreciation of God’s sovereignty in salvation is not necessarily the same thing as being “Reformed.” Furthermore, while there is a very real sense in which Calvinism is more than just the five points, it is not easy to argue that it is less than those points. Here we must take into account that not all the New Calvinists are, in fact, Calvinists. Some are what are called Amyraldians. Moïse (or Moses) Amyraut was a French theologian who developed what was basically a four point Calvinism. The primary point of contention is the nature and extent of the atonement. Several within the New Calvinist movement believe in what is sometimes described as “unlimited limited atonement” – the idea that the death of Jesus was intended for all men but that it is effectively applied only to the elect. (The Calvinist’s conviction would be that the death of Jesus was intended only for the elect and therefore did not fail or fall short in any degree.) Taking all this into account, we admit that the title of the well-known book by Collin Hansen which has become almost a label for the movement, Young, Restless, Reformed, is much catchier than Young, Restless and mainly Calvinistic, apart from those of us who are slightly Amyraldian. Nevertheless, for the sake of simplicity, and my fingers and  keyboard, I will continue to use the phrase “New Calvinism” to describe this movement.

In sum, this movement can be described (slightly inaccurately) as Calvinistic insofar as it maintains a general unity around the notion that God is sovereign in the salvation of sinners. Indeed, one could argue that the true father figure of the New Calvinism is probably more Jonathan Edwards than John Calvin, and even then it is Jonathan Edwards mediated through John Piper.

Secondly, this is a movement of characters (or figureheads, personalities, celebrities or gurus, depending on how pejorative a label you wish to apply, or what kind of a follower you are dealing with). If you spend enough time in this environment you might eventually theorize that there is somewhere an inner sanctum where these magisterial figures sit. These are the men who appear on the key websites, videoed in cool monochrome sitting around discussing great principles and actions and movements while we sit in humble awe as they deliver their weighty opinions. Often these are established figures, the big names who need to be at the conferences in order for them to be real New Calvinist conferences. Alongside of them are the rising stars of the upcoming generation.

You will hear names such as John Piper, Mark Dever, C. J. Mahaney, Al Mohler, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, Francis Chan, Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Tim Keller, Don Carson, Josh Harris, Wayne Grudem. On the websites and in the blogosphere names like Justin Taylor and Tim Challies are prominent. More on the fringes perhaps, and with a more ambivalent relationship, are men like R. C. Sproul and John MacArthur[1] (they are referenced by the movement and have connections within it, but do not necessarily fit into the spectrum). When you enter the world of the New Calvinism these are the names that you will find in almost every place. For example, in the online realm you will find that the hundreds if not thousands of New Calvinistic blogs are rehashing the same videos, passing on the same references, locked in a potentially nepotistic world of self-reference.

This leads to at least two related dangers: the danger of mere imitation and the danger of unintended disconnection. Early in his life Andrew Fuller – who was to become a preeminent Particular Baptist theologian – discovered that the mark of a master plowman was to be able to plow a straight furrow across a field. Fuller assumed that such a standard could easily be achieved simply by laying your plow alongside an existing furrow created by a master and following it. Putting his theory to the test, he took a plow and went along the straight line of the master plowman. When he had finished he looked back to see that although there was a degree of straightness because of the model that he followed, he had also copied and exaggerated all the kinks in the master plowman’s furrow. Fuller vowed at that moment never to be an imitator. The danger of these figureheads is that, in the minds of some, they become celebrities and gurus. Slavishly following them, their disciples reproduce not only much of what is good but also exaggerate them at their points of weakness or aberration.

Furthermore, as we consider some of these followers we find that there is a disconnect between some of the men at the top of the hierarchy – men of profound mental and emotional depth, who seek to hold unusual things in tension in their thinking and practice – and those lower down the tree with, perhaps, lesser vision and capacity. A struggle follows, often issuing in a failure to hold those potentially fruitful or perhaps implicitly contradictory tensions. One or the other side must govern, leading to deviations from the doctrine and practice of the greater man by those of lesser magnitude. In other words, some of what is happens on the ground at grass-roots level can be very far and very unhealthily removed from what is being proposed and modeled at the top.

Thirdly, this is a movement marked by conglomeration. It is a movement of coalitions, of conferences, of networks, and of networks of networks, numbers of men and churches operating together. As mentioned before, this can seem a little introspective at times (not that they are the only ones guilty of that!): they all endorse one another’s books and DVDs, they all refer to one another’s blogs and videos.  Together For The Gospel (T4G) and The Gospel Coalition (TGC) are two of the big overarching events or organizations that holding some of these things together. In addition, there are such groups as the Acts 29 network, Sovereign Grace Ministries, or the Resolved conference series. It is a broad and somewhat eclectic mix, reinforcing the idea of the spectrum and underlining the pursuit of a broad unity.

Fourthly and finally, it is a movement of consolidation. Since its beginning, I think it is discernibly evident that this river is broadening out and slowing down. At least one of its figureheads is very and vocally opposed to the notion of things slowing down. He says, in effect, “Things begin as missions, become movements, then museums and monuments . . . and we are on mission!” And yet it is already a movement, and such a change is of the nature of things; in part it is the process of maturation. The whole machine is slowing down. There is not the same buzz, the same energy, the same drive as once there was. The river is broader and it is slower. The enthusiasm has shifted slightly. I am not saying that there is any less vigor, but this is not the rushing mountain stream it once was, with the dynamism simply to carry things before it. Interestingly, one of the issues coming up more regularly is the idea of succession. Some of the father figures in the movement have sat around to be filmed in weighty monochrome talking about what is going to happen after they have moved on. I cannot be absolute, but there seems to be a slowing down and an awareness that we are entering a period of transition with regard to New Calvinism.

While this list of defining features is brief and broad and far from exhaustive, I trust that those familiar with the New Calvinism as a whole or with specific manifestations of it will be able to see some recognizable points of reference in this overview. Taking all these things about the New Calvinism into account, I want to offer first some commendations and then some cautions and concerns, engaging with these brothers as brothers, and as someone who has appreciated and learned from them in many ways.

Caveats and characteristics ∙ CommendationsCautions and concerns ∙ Conclusions and counsels


[1] In recent days, John MacArthur has delivered a series of quite vigorous addresses to the ‘young, restless and reformed’ crowd, and several of his points were very poorly received, in the main, although some gave a more seasoned and dignified response.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Tuesday 20 December 2011 at 15:26

Posted in Culture and society, Theology

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Holy hip hop?

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David Murray asks some searching questions about the acceptance and promotion of rap and hip hop in some New Calvinist circles. To be fair, he asks some of himself as well:

Am I just expressing a cultural preference? Am I just being a traditionalist or a legalist? Am I making my sometimes-faulty conscience a rule for others? Am I threatening the precious gift of Christian liberty? I have to answer such challenging questions honestly and prayerfully when I write something like this. And I continue to examine my motives and aims.

Even so, he is ready to press on and ask some good questions of others also:

But may I not also challenge highly esteemed brothers in the Lord to ask themselves a few questions: Is your Christ-like longing for the salvation of lost souls in our inner cities, and maybe your personal friendships with some Christian rappers, hindering you from taking a sharp biblical lens to Hip-Hop and a consistent biblical approach to the worship of God? Have you perhaps at times mistaken the incredibly powerful effects of music and rhythm upon the human spirit for the powerful effects of the Holy Spirit? Is “Holy Hip Hop” leading Christians and non-Christians away from unholy Hip Hop and its culture or keeping them in it, and maybe even leading outsiders into it? Is there ever a line to be drawn where we say: this culture is so corrupted that separation rather than transformation may be the right Christian response? Are you at risk of unintentionally undermining the biblical, reformed, and God-glorifying dependence on plain preaching to save all souls, whatever the color of their skin? If the message really is more important and powerful than the music, would removing the music and leaving the bare words excite the same interest and produce the same effect? Why is it mainly white churches that are providing a platform for this, and why are so many African American churches so reluctant to welcome a genre of music that has done so much to destroy their communities and devastate young lives?

Doubtless this one is going to cause a little friction, but – as David says –

If the unqualified promotion of “Holy Hip Hop” had not become so public and prevalent over recent days and weeks, I would probably have tried to conduct a more private discussion about my concerns. Maybe the promoters of “Holy Hip Hop” might have been wiser to consult more widely and seriously dialogue with other Christians outside their circles before going so increasingly public with their fairly unquestioning support of what they must know will divide the reformed movement. Although I now feel conscience-bound to put this into the public domain, I do continue to welcome dialogue, both public and private.

I’m hopeful that the New Calvinist movement is now old and mature enough to seriously and prayerfully consider some concerns from other Christians outside their inner circles, from those who love them, appreciate them, and sincerely desire their long-term spiritual prosperity.

We watch with interest both the responses to David’s thoughtful, irenic and earnest piece, and the spirit in which the discussion will be conducted.

[For more on the new Calvinism, intended in the same spirit, try here.]

Written by Jeremy Walker

Thursday 11 November 2010 at 18:28

The new Calvinism considered

with 125 comments

Note: for those interested in a more developed treatment of this same issue, you can find it beginning here.

A year or two ago it seemed that ‘the new Calvinism’ was all the rage.  Perhaps it has already reached and passed its peak.  Maybe the mission has already become a movement and will shortly become a museum.  Only time will tell.  Certainly the wild rush of the past few years has slowed a little; the river seems broader and flows more gently.  Consolidation has occurred around such organisations as the Gospel Coalition and there are nexuses (nexi?) like Together for the Gospel (T4G) and Acts 29 that also function as anchor points.  Not so long ago you could not read a book, website or news article in some Christian circles without coming up against one of a range of personalities.  The new orthodoxy needed one of a string of names to back it up: “Piper/Grudem/Carson says . . .” almost became the equivalent in some circles of, “The Holy Spirit told me . . .”  It seemed as if the new Calvinism was sweeping the board.  More conservative evangelicals felt the pressure, often ‘losing’ their young people to the heady atmosphere of the new movement.  There was a certain triumphalism in some quarters, a sense of having seen the working future.  In others, there was a sometimes uninhibited aggression.  However, there seemed to be little middle ground: you were either for or against, a committed friend or a committed foe.

I tried to understand what was taking place by immersing myself in the stream for a while: I read the books and the blogs and listened to the sermons and addresses.  I hoped that I got a fair and accurate understanding of this movement.  I found things that were attractive and stimulating and provocative and controversial and worrying.

At a little distance from the swirling storm of popularity and controversy, I recently saw a very brief list of those things which characterise the new Calvinism, written very much from within the movement.  Looking at that list, I thought, “Yes, but . . .” and began to sketch out some other qualities that, it seems to me, are embedded in the mass of new Calvinistic identity.  The list got reasonably long in the end, but I thought that I would work it up and put it out.  It may prove useful, or interesting, or controversial, or pointless.  I think that some new Calvinists would acknowledge and admit much of what follows, sometimes quite cheerfully, but not always.  They might not agree with all the labels I use, or with my own stance on them, but I have set out to be fair and accurate.

Some caveats: I have attempted not to identify and discuss individuals (except where obvious and necessary, and for occasional examples) because this is not about supporting or attacking any one individual.  I also recognise that there are exceptions to most if not all of these rules, hence the introductory wording to each suggestion: I am not trying to make out that the movement is more monolithic than is in fact the case.  Furthermore, I have not attempted to distinguish between the positive and the negative (which will differ depending on where you stand anyway!) but have rather lumped them all in together.  I have not attempted to list these characteristics in order of priority or significance.

That will probably do by way of introduction.  So, then . . .

1.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a desire for the glory of God.  In this sense, I do not think one can legitimately deny that this is a Reformed resurgence.  There is an evident, open, sincere aim at the glory of God in all things, and I think that God is much glorified in many ways by the words and works of many of my new Calvinist brothers and sisters, and I rejoice at it.

2.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by deep-rooted spiritual joy.  This may be one of the reasons why it is so attractive to so many, perhaps especially to those from more conservative Reformed circles who feel that this is one of the things that has been lacking in their spiritual experience.  It flows, no doubt, in large part from the emphasis on the grace of God (see below) and it may flow into some of its more exuberant expressions of worship.  Again, the public face of the new Calvinism is one in which men and women with their hearts made clean through the blood of the Lamb rejoice in their so-great salvation.

3.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by missonal zeal.  As with any vibrant gospel movement, the desire to take the good news into all the world is central.  Evangelising.  Witnessing to Christ.  Church strengthening.  Church planting.  Church rejuvenation.  Training pastors and preachers.  There is a Scriptural readiness to overcome or ignore the boundaries too readily established in the mind and the heart and to preach the gospel to every creature, and to use as many means as possible (although the Biblical legitimacy of some might be questioned) to promote the truth, propagate the gospel, and advance the kingdom of Christ Jesus.  As the movement has advanced, neither the local nor the international elements of this have been left behind.

4.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by an emphasis on the gospel of grace and the grace of the gospel.  Everything is ‘gospel’: New Calvinists do ‘gospel-this’ and ‘gospel-centred that’ and ‘gospel-cored the other’, sometimes to the point of inanity.  By that, I do not mean that the gospel ought not to be at the heart of things, but if we are genuinely evangelical then by definition the gospel should be at the heart of things, and the tendency to badge everything with the word ‘gospel’ doesn’t necessarily mean that it is gospel-soaked and gospel-centred, nor does it guarantee that it will be.  That aside, this is a movement that desires to preach the good news as good news, to proclaim the free and undeserved favour of God to sinners in a way that is engaging, fresh, real and powerful.  One of the great anathemas of new Calvinism is legalism.  Whether or not this is rightly or fully understood I will not argue here, but these friends are desperate to highlight and declare the primacy of grace.  Of course, this is intimately related to the joy they feel and the glory of God they pursue.

5.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by complementarianism.  We are told by these friends to distinguish between the theological equivalents of national boundaries and state boundaries, to appreciate the different between distinction and division.  At the same time, it appears that complementarianism is one of the new Calvinist shibboleths.  That does not mean it is wrong, of course, but it is interesting that of all the things that we are told do not matter in the consideration of unity and separation, complementarianism has become something of a sine qua non.

6.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a return to a more Biblical masculinity.  One could argue that at times this has almost become a caricature (and I would agree, and it has indeed been parodied and caricatured), but it is a welcome if sometimes extreme reaction to the anaemic and limp manhood too often displayed elsewhere in the nominally or actually Christian world.  Alongside and arising from the complementarianism, dignified and vigorous male leadership has received a welcome fillip from the new Calvinism.  Like many gospel movements of the past, this one has been characterised in many respects by the salvation of men (often young men), the calling of men to preach, and a readiness by men to take the brunt and lead from the front.  This is not to say that women are excluded from the movement, but the Scriptural emphasis on male leadership has seen a welcome return.

7.         Again related to complementarianism, it seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the promotion of the family as a basic unit of church and social life.  Once again, such an emphasis can easily become an over-emphasis, but the evident loving affection for wives and sons and daughters that is characteristic of many of the leaders of the movement is an excellent testimony.  The re-establishment of the God-ordained family unit, the outworking of masculinity and femininity in the family sphere, an encouragement to family worship, a readiness to discuss and instruct concerning relationships between men and women, single and married, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers and children, and the like, is often part and parcel of new Calvinism.

8.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by charismatic convictions with regard to spiritual gifts.  It seems as if the nature, extent and degree of the Spirit’s work in what some would say we cannot call post-apostolic times has become almost a moot point in new Calvinism.  What was for so long a genuine line of divide between Christians has seemed to be smoothed over with the rise of the so-called ‘Reformed Charismatic’, a label willingly embraced by many if not all of the leaders of new Calvinism, most of whom would be happy – to various degrees and in different ways – to acknowledge themselves to be continuationists, as the lingo has it.  Interestingly, this is one of the fault lines that seems likely to become apparent again, not least because of its significance.

9.         It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by Calvinist soteriology, with some departures and aberrations.  Again, here is one of the areas where the claim to the name ‘Reformed’ is at stake and much debated.  Generally speaking, in line with the emphasis on the gospel of grace and the glory of God in salvation there has been a distinctively Calvinist take on this issue, and it is here – probably more than anywhere else – that the movement derives the ‘Calvinist’ part of its name.  At the same time, there is – in many of those who are at the forefront of this group – more than a hint of Amyraldism, so I am not sure to what extent this is going to hold water for long.  You will also note that I identify Calvinist soteriology as apart from other elements of historic Calvinism, many of which I think one could argue have been neglected, ignored, or abandoned by new Calvinists.

10.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a generally thoughtful ecumenism.  You only need to look at or think about the names that are at or clustering about the centre to see how broad a movement this is.  It has genuinely united Christians from a variety of backgrounds, and garnered sympathy from many who would nevertheless be unable to share all the distinctives of the movement as a whole.  Issues such as baptism, ecclesiology, the spiritual gifts, and worship have – to some extent – not been allowed to prevent the coming together of believers to serve God either in community or at the very least in co-operation.  Interestingly, though, this ecumenism seems to reach over the middle ground.  By this I mean that there is a readiness to receive and relate to (and receive critique and input from) those close to the inner core of the movement, and then a readiness to reach quite far out from that core for critique and input and relationship, leaving those in the middle ground somewhat isolated.  So, for example, consider the speaking list at some of the last few Desiring God conferences: where else would you find Piper, Dever, Driscoll, Warren, Wilson, Keller, Baucham, MacArthur, Sproul, Storms and Ferguson.  At points on that list you are moved to cheer.  At others, a very Scooby-Dooish cry of “Yoicks!” – mingled alarm and distress – rises from the lips.

11.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by an often pragmatic ecclesiology.  I am glad that it is characterised by ecclesiology at all, that the church of Jesus Christ is in many respects given its rightful place in his plans and purposes for the kingdom.  At the same time, there is often more of the light of nature than the light of Scripture in some of the decisions that seem to be made.  This, then, is a movement in which statistics matter.  This is a movement in which, if you cannot keep up, you have to drop off.  Are you in the way of progress?  Then you are fired.  We are moving onward and upward, so we will hire a worship pastor used to larger crowds or able to generate them; we will hire a technology deacon to take our presentations within and without the services to a new level.  Are you not willing or able to move this fast?  Then goodbye, because you are holding up the advance.  Multi-campus doctrine is one of the examples of this pragmatism; branding and advertising are given a prominence beyond anything the Scripture provides for.  Everything is made to serve the growth of the church numerically and the advance of the mission as stated by the church.  At times the church seems less and less like an organic whole in which every member has her or his part and more like a business in which the chief executive and his team get to hire and fire at will, moulding the structure and its activity according to human will and purpose.  If the church were a business, would I fire some of her workers?  Sure.  But it is not, and I am not at liberty to decide who I want or do not want in or working for the advance of a kingdom that belongs to and is ruled by a sovereign King.  I should, however, add – in fairness – that perhaps at times others outside the movement have not been pragmatic enough, or dynamic enough, in seizing opportunities for gospel advance and employing means about which the Scriptures are silent (this comment is not about the regulative principle, by the way).  By the way, you have to love the names of the churches: all portentous, bastardised Greek or catchy, thrusting urban vim?  Fantastic!

12.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a neo-Kuyperian view of culture.  Here the mantra is that “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”  There is much to be said for such a declaration, but it also needs to be read in terms of the already/not yet dichotomy.  In new Calvinist orthodoxy, it seems to be very much ‘already’ and this often means that culture is considered neutral, and all to be claimed for Jesus.  By extension, nothing seems to be out of bounds, and much that the world says and does can be tidied up, baptised, and brought into the service of Christ’s church.  Of course, it tends to be the culture from which the converts are drawn (see below) that comes into the church, and so we get our reference points and illustrations from all the hip and cool sources, or those made trendy by the movers and shakers.  Star Wars?  Check.  Lord of the Rings?  Check.  The Matrix?  Check.  So we get to be all funky and populist.  Then we get to name check Lewis and Chesterton and Dostoevsky and O’Connor and come over all literary and high-brow.  By and large, the new Calvinism seems ready to co-opt, co-operate with, and/or capture this culture now, without always making assessments about the origin, tendency and direction of particular elements.  Under this heading I am willing to place the whole issue of contextualization, although it might be considered worthy of its own heading.

13.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by doctrinal if not practical antinomianism.  Most of the movers and shakers appear ready to align themselves with New Covenant Theology in some form or other.  As so often, the Lord’s day Sabbath is the first point of contact and conflict on this issue.  However, the default position here, as – I believe – across broad evangelicalism as a whole – is that the moral law has no abiding relevance in the life of the new covenant believer.  That assumption is woven throughout many of the key texts and declarations of the new Calvinism, from the ESV Study Bible downwards (for example, consider these comments in the ESVSB on Romans 14.5: “The weak thought some days were more important than others. Given the Jewish background here (see v. 14), the day that is supremely in view is certainly the Sabbath. The strong think every day is the same. Both views are permissible. Each person must follow his own conscience. What is remarkable is that the Sabbath is no longer a binding commitment for Paul but a matter of one’s personal conviction. Unlike the other nine commandments in Ex. 20:1–17, the Sabbath commandment seems to have been part of the “ceremonial laws” of the Mosaic covenant, like the dietary laws and the laws about sacrifices, all of which are no longer binding on new covenant believers (see also Gal. 4:10; Col. 2:16–17). However, it is still wise to take regular times of rest from work, and regular times of worship are commanded for Christians (Heb. 10:24–25; cf. Acts 20:7)”).  This is having and will continue to have implications perhaps not so much in the sphere of justification (though that will follow) as in the sphere of sanctification.  It is going to mean much for the development of true holiness, and it is only in the next two or three generations of the new Calvinists that these chickens will come home to roost.  Key names among the new Calvinists have laid the foundation for this widespread antinomianism, and it is for me one of the most concerning aspects of the whole movement.

14.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by contemporary worship.  By definition, all of the service ought to be worship, and by definition, anything done today is contemporary, however old-fashioned or new-fangled it may be considered, but you know what I mean.  I personally have no difficulty with songs and music written in the present day, but that is not the same as a willingness simply to co-opt the forms and patterns of the entertainment of the world for the worship of the church.  Nowhere is this more evident than in the sung worship of the church.  Into the mix here also come the charismatic and cultural convictions of many of the key figures.

15.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the driving force of several key personalities.  You know them: there is a centre circle reasonably well-defined, and then the concentric circles around them together and individually.  Piper.  Carson.  Mahaney.  Dever.  Mohler.  Driscoll.  Keller.  Grudem.  Chandler.  Anyabwile.  Harris.  DeYoung.  Chan.  Perhaps a little further out are Duncan and MacArthur and Sproul and Trueman.  Among the bloggers, Challies and Taylor and others.  Read long enough and widely enough and the same names will crop up time and time again.  You might place them more or less close to the centre, but they will be there or thereabouts.  My apologies to those who ought to be on the list and are not, and to the groupies who are now offended because I did not put their idol on the list.  Here you see more than a little of that ecumenism mentioned before.  No new Calvinist conference is complete without at least one and ideally more of these men on the platform.  Each is a little chief in the centre of his fiefdom, many of which overlap.  Of course, it can all seem a little nepotistic, even incestuous at times, as these figures read, invite, commend, and endorse one another in ever-decreasing circles.  Again, God usually works by men in the world, and those men naturally attain to a right and reasonable prominence, but the concentration on a few key personalities, especially in the early days of the movement, was distinctive.  Of course, some of those names are already second-generation names, and it will be interesting to see where things go from here.

16.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the ready embrace and employment of new technologies and media and the platforms that they provide.  The new Calvinism is, to a large degree, an internet phenomenon.  Sermons, videos, blogs, other social media, swirl around ceaselessly in this milieu.  The exchange and discussion of ideas takes place largely online.  Conferences are broadcast and live-blogged, and the lines and colours are laid down by a thousand artists simultaneously, often painting on the same canvas.  Cross-reference and self-reference generate a stupendous amount of traffic.  Look at some of the key blogs, for example, and you will find that they all tend to highlight the same books, events, people and things at almost precisely the same time.  All these platforms nevertheless provide a potent thrust for new Calvinist dogma and praxis, and where others are left behind, the new Calvinism is often at the cutting edge, adopting and co-opting the latest technology (hardware and software) in order to promote either Christ or his servants, depending on your take on particular individuals and circles.  Of course, we must state here that no self-respecting new Calvinist would be found dead using a PC.  The Apple Macintosh and its related accessories are the technological sine qua non of the true new Calvinist.  (I deleted the next bit because it counted as mockery, but let’s just say that it went in the direction of cool glasses and coffee shops, tattoos and T-shirts.)

17.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by a concentration on a younger, more urban demographic.  I recall one new Calvinist church-planting leader voicing his concern at how many church-planter/ing applications he saw targeted precisely the same group as all the others: the young, trendy, hip (when did this admittedly serviceable but not especially remarkable joint become so popular?), urban crowd.  Although some of its leaders are getting old enough to be in them, you will not find much of the new Calvinism catering to the full range of society.  It tends to be quite selective.  I know of a number of churches that – when they began going in this direction – did begin to attract far larger numbers of a certain type and age, but they also began to lose many others.  Again, you can only ride the crest of the wave for so long: what happens to the water ahead, and the waves coming in behind?  This is one area where the willingness to preach the gospel to every creature perhaps needs to take account of the fact that every creature doesn’t like the same fashion, music, art, style, clothes, and approach as those who have made new Calvinism what it is.

18.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by the desire to be big and to have a seat at culture’s table.  Bigness does seem to be a great concern for many.  Bigness – size and numbers – as a by-product of the pursuit of right things in a right way and for the glory of God is perfectly acceptable, but bigness as an end in itself is not something that the Bible promotes in isolation.  Alongside of this goes what sometimes looks like an obsession with being accepted and heard in wider society.  Consider the orgiastic and ecstatic applause and self-congratulation when the big names get on national television, or when the movement gets name-checked by Time magazine.  Is there a danger here that the movement is too concerned with the applause and adulation and recognition of the world?  Does this tie in with the attitude to culture, and what may be a failure to recognise that in this present evil age we are strangers in a strange land?

19.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by an ambivalent relationship to church history.  I know we all tend to pick and choose the bits that appear or tend to support what we now believe, but it is right there on the surface of the new Calvinist vehicle.  Sometimes there is what I can only call a chronological snobbery.  This is not meant to sound as pejorative as it does.  It is part of the laudable enthusiasm of the movement.  What I mean is that there is a freshness of discovery that excites us: we feel, if I may work through Wodehouse back to Keats,

. . . like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific — and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise —
Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

However, just because I have recently discovered some theological gem does not mean that it has never been discovered before, or that I therefore become the sole guardian and interpreter of the tradition.  There may be a whole bunch of trekker’s rubbish upon that peak in Darien from those who have been and camped before.  Neither does the popularity or promotion of our discovery entitle us to be the arbiters of the canon.  Anyway, there is a tendency among new Calvinists either to claim that ground long-broken has been only recently broken by them, or that it has never been broken before and now needs to be broken by them, or because they have broken it no one else is allowed to set foot on it, or that there is no other way of it being broken.  In this way, the great and the good of the past all become proto-new Calvinists.  Take a bow, Whitefield, Spurgeon, Bunyan, Cowper, Calvin, Lewis, Owen, Augustine, etc. etc.  Of course, all this demands quite a bit of historical revision, of which there is perhaps no finer example than C. S. Lewis, one of the new Calvinism’s patron saints.  I am not suggesting that these intelligent and well-read men are not aware of it, but at least let us not pretend nor give the impression that Lewis fits seamlessly into the mainstream of Reformed orthodoxy!

20.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by sensitivity to the judicial and social aspects of the gospel at work in society.  Perhaps in part because there is a left-wing as well as right-wing political input to new Calvinism, it is nevertheless a recovery of emphasis on the God who defends and protects the widow and the fatherless and the stranger, who is concerned for righteousness and justice in heaven and on earth, who takes note of the presence or absence of ethical integrity in the thoughts, words and deeds of men.  Of course, this is very easily dismissed as politically correct or touchy-feely nonsense, but there is, perhaps, more of it in the Scriptures than others have always been ready to admit.  So, on such matters as abortion, adoption, euthanasia, care for the poor and hungry, help for the homeless, and so on, there is a welcome re-engagement and re-appraisal.  Confusion still exists (as, no doubt, it always will) about the relative roles of the church and the individual Christian citizen or subject (two kingdoms theology, anyone?), but there is an awareness of and sensitivity to these issues that is welcome.

21.       It seems to me that the broad stream of the new Calvinism tends to be characterised by Americocentrism.  Here let me bother with another caveat: this is not an instance of cultural jealousy or bitterness, nor is it in and of itself intended as a condemnation.  Of course, there are exceptions to this rule, and of course the movement spills over, especially into the UK and Australia, where the linguistic heritage is shared (so perhaps I should speak more of ‘the West’ that I do of ‘the States’, although I think it is fair to say that America is probably the dominant Western culture, having more influence on others in the West than they have on it).  However, while there are adherents, some of them prominent, outside the USA, the movement has its spiritual and cultural home in the States.  Could this be where some of its cultural distinctive and pragmatic attitudes derive?  Is this part of the reason for its determination and enthusiasm and can-do mentality?  Is this driving the concentration on technology and the referents and foci of the movement?  Time after time we hear men and women happily cradled in the bosom of American/Western culture assure us that the future of the church is in the so-called Third or Developing World.  Is new Calvinism in danger of exporting more of America/the West than it is of Jesus?  By definition, we are to some extent products of our culture, and that is part of God’s sovereign design for our sphere of influence and usefulness.  But could it be that there is sometimes a lack of cultural awareness and a degree of cultural supremacism that penetrates new Calvinism further than we are aware?  This, I acknowledge, is nebulous, easy both to defend and attack precisely because it is so hard to quantify, but it seems to me that this is an inherently Western movement, if not an inherently American one, a movement very much of a certain time and place.  That does not make it inherently bad, but it certainly does call into the question the degree to which it can both last and spread beyond its immediate environs.

At this point, I see no reason to change the assessment I made several months ago, after reading Collin Hansen’s survey of the movement, although I hope I have a better grasp on the whole: “There is much that is splendid about the movement . . . but it contains within it some fascinating and fearful tensions, as well as some wonderful prospects.  Much depends on the legacy of the present leaders, and the readiness of those who follow to pursue a comprehensive Scripturalism that will govern head and heart and hands. . . . observers and participants [need] to gauge both the trajectory and the likely terminus of this curious company, but [they] should also challenge us about the extent to which our faith and our life are keeping pace.”

So there you have it.  Do you agree or disagree?  Is there anything to add or remove?  I should be interested to know what you have to say.

Calvinism and complementarianism

with 4 comments

Kevin DeYoung has an interesting post (generated by one from another blogger, I should add) about why so many New Calvinists are also complementarians, and rigorously so.  He suggests at least four reasons (summarised below) why they are so closely linked:

  1. Historically, opening the door to egalitarianism in one generation leads to bigger errors in the next.  It is a distinctly and definitely slippery slope.
  2. The role of men and women is a huge issue for our day. Gender issues are among the most significant in our day.
  3. Complementarianism tends to signify a number of other important convictions (he suggests that it usually ‘goes with’ inerrancy, penal substitution, and eternal punishment, for example).  In DeYoung’s opinion, a Calvinist complementarian is a pretty safe pair of theological hands.
  4. Practically, it is very difficult for groups and organizations and movements to make both complementarians and egalitarians happy.

These are interesting reasons, not least because we are accustomed to hearing the so-called New Calvinists banging on about the importance of distinguishing between doctrines held in the open hand and doctrines held in the closed fist (i.e. negotiable and non-negotiable matters).

Quite apart from the fact that not all “New Calvinists” are actually Calvinists (some are Amyraldians), I am left wondering who gets to determine the open hand – closed fist classification of any doctrinal matter.  Is it the loudest shouter, the most famous name, or the bloke with the biggest congregation (do downloads count)?  I find it vaguely amusing that we all like to think that we can determine what are the open and closed hand issues, and vaguely worrying that complementarianism is now identified as one of the latter, when so many important matters are – relatively speaking – dismissed as the former.

I am not suggesting that the roles of men and women are unimportant issues, but there are many doctrinal matters which are, historically considered, far more slippery in a slopewise fashion than complementarianism (one might mention antinomianism or unbalanced perspectives on the person and work of the Spirit, both of which seem to be moot points among “New Calvinists”).  Who decides that other issues are relatively unimportant?  I can think of a whole raft of theological positions which do and do not imply faithfulness in other areas, some much more and others much less.  Finally, it can be fairly tricky to keep any ‘organisation’ (one might mention the local church, for example) happy that has people in it at opposite ends of the spectrum on more significant issues.

So, a stimulating and useful post by Kevin, but one which raises more questions than it answers, and certainly demands that the same magnifying glass be employed on other equally-if-not-more-important issues.

Written by Jeremy Walker

Monday 6 July 2009 at 15:29

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