Time magazine, the world’s largest circulation weekly news magazine, in an article published in 2009, listed ten ideas that they reckoned were changing the World Right Then and placed New Calvinism third on their list. That will give us some idea of its significance, if not in Britain, certainly in North America.
New Calvinism is a movement within evangelical circles which professes to embraces the fundamentals of 16th century Calvinism; whilst also claiming to make itself more relevant in the modern world. The emergence of this New Calvinist movement probably took shape around 2006, when an article was published describing a revival of Reformed theology that was taking place among young Christians in the USA. The article was written by Colin Hansen, a junior editor of Christianity Today. He formed his conclusions after travelling around the United States, visiting leading churches and institutions, and talking with theologians, pastors, and Church members.
New Calvinism claims that it is seeking to follow the theology of men like Jonathan Edwards, the New England Puritan, who twice saw revival in his church in Northampton, Mass. and C. H. Spurgeon, the English Baptist minister who is often described as the last of the Puritans. This New-Calvinism movement involves individuals such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Timothy Keller and Albert Mohler.
Hansen’s book entitled: Young, Restless, Reformed, A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists, pays tribute to these celebrities of New Calvinism. Hansen believes that a genuine religious revival is taking place, and makes the following observations:
1. John Piper is the chief spokesman for the resurgence of Calvinism among young people.
2. Mark Driscoll, and his Mars Hill Church in Seattle, are highlighted as evidence of the 'missional' emphasis of this New Calvinism.
3. Albert Mohler, and the Southern Baptist Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, are leading a resurgence of Calvinism in the Southern Baptist Convention.
What are the beliefs and practices of this movement and what should our response be to it? Is this New Calvinism to be welcomed or avoided? Is it Scriptural? Is it the same as old Calvinism and its adherence to the Scriptures and orthodox Christianity? Would Jonathan Edwards and C. H. Spurgeon be supporting it, if they were around today?
In seeking to answer these questions we want to look at some specific areas and measure up what this movement claims to believe with what the Scriptures teach. As ever the Word of God is to be our final court of appeal in faith and practice. Consider:
New Calvinism is a broad church that encourages doctrinal freedom, and discourages doctrinal disagreements. They pay lip service to historic Calvinism. New Calvinism is closely allied to Neo-evangelicalism. Let's be a little more specific:
Charismatic beliefs are prevalent in New Calvinism. There is within New Calvinism a rejection of Cessationism which believes that the charismatic/supernatural gifts of the New Testament age ceased with the completion of the canon of Scripture. Many new Calvinists do not believe these gifts have ceased.
For example, John Piper Piper is on record telling his experience of hearing God speak audibly to him, early one Monday morning. The date was 19th March 2007. The passage he was meditating upon was Psalm 66:5–7. He described it as God lifting him by the shirt collar.
Mark Driscoll claims that he has the gift of discernment that allows him to see the sins of people in his congregation. Even to the extent of highlighted past abuse in their lives.
Christ not the only way of salvation among New Calvinists. Timothy Keller, senior pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York, was asked by Martin Bashir in a television interview: Is Jesus the only way to God? Keller's answer is very revealing. In reply he said: God may have a trap door for unbelievers that I haven’t been told about. He also said that: he does not know what happens to unbelievers who die without Christ. This type of reply would be no surprise coming from a Liberal or a Modernist, but coming from someone who claims to believe in the doctrines of grace it is alarming.
A defective Gospel presented is present among New Calvinists. Keller says that to be a Christian your soul has to ‘get Jesus’. What does this mean? He believes the presentation of the Gospel must be culturally sensitive. People must be shown that their best cultural aspirations can only have a happy ending in Christ.
A synopsis of their presentation of the Gospel is then given. First, the gospel must be presented briefly but so vividly and attractively that the listener is virtually compelled to say, “It would be wonderful if that were true, but it can’t be!” The second stage is to dismantle objections to Christianity and show why it can be true. The third stage is to present a longer explanation of the person and work of Christ.
That may sound very appealing but it is totally against the teaching of Scripture. The gospel will never be attractive to a dead, corrupt sinner. The gospel is, and always will be, an offence to the world. The gospel is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles, 1 Corinthians 1:23.
At its worst it could be charged with making no difference between that which is holy and that which is profane, cf. Ezekiel 22:26. Dr Peter Masters wrote an article in his Sword & Trowel' magazine about New Calvinism and he entitled it: The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness. It could be well argued that New Calvinism embraces entertainment religion. John Piper describes himself as a 'Christian hedonist'. An 'hedonist' is someone who believes that pleasure is the highest good and proper aim of human life.
The idea that believers should strive to live in obedience to God’s moral law is dismissed as legalism. No, says the New Calvinist, we are free in Christ. Some New Calvinists teach that Christians are free in Christ to do anything that is not specifically forbidden in the Bible. So smoking, tattoos, reading worldly magazines, watching adult films and salacious TV programmes, immodest dress, crude language, coarse joking are regarded by some as acceptable behaviour; for, in the eyes of New Calvinists, these forms of conduct are not specifically forbidden in the Bible.
Mark Driscoll is well known in USA, and elsewhere, as 'the cussing pastor', because of his use of inappropriate crude language when preaching. He has even had to remove some sermons from the internet because of the outcry against their content in this regard. Some of his books have even received criticism from the ungodly because of their content. Driscoll is also on record as saying that he hates rules in life. He says that he hates religious people who have rules to obey, and lists of 'dos' and 'don’ts'. God has a list of 'dos' and 'don'ts'! They are called the Ten Commandments, cf. John 14:15,23: If ye love me, keep my commandments. Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.
The Bible has a description for people like this. It is found in Jude v4. They are men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness who are no better than filthy dreamers.
Contemporary Christian Music is rife in New Calvinism. This forms of music involves the employment of different genre of music to worship God. Forms of music that originated in the world among the ungodly are deemed acceptable. Instead of sacred music, that is reverential and ministers to the soul, there is the employment of that which is sensual or rebellious and that entertains the flesh.
New Calvinism is awash with Contemporary Christian Music. Concerts are held to attract young people where thunderous music is played and the place pulsates with youthful energy for upwards of three hours. All forms of contemporary music, 'rap', 'holy hip-hop' and even 'rock music', are accepted as permissible for Christians to enjoy.
Driscoll says that God loves punk rock music. Those who say that this type of music is not right for Christians are labelled as legalists.
We haven't even touched upon the issues of dress and appearance. New Calvinism accepts and follows the ways of the world. Young and old should avoid it!
Assent to the Apostles' Creed is all that is required for one to be accepted as a Christian in many circles. This means New Calvinism is sympathetic to Romanism. We have already mentioned its attitude towards charismatic churches and their leaders. The pursuit of false ecclesiastical unity is a cardinal error of New Calvinism that leads to all manner of compromise.
New Calvinists refuse to separate from unsound doctrine, and even the most extreme forms of false teaching. Many form spiritual alliances that are more about pragmatic advantage than about the proclaiming the true gospel. There is what is known as The Gospel Coalition which brings all sorts together.
New Calvinism adds the social gospel to their gospel of salvation. It believes that a central aspect of the gospel is an attitude of social activism that aims to redeem culture and save the world. It promotes social programs to care for the poor.
New Calvinism is also tied in with 'The Emerging Church' movement and its errors. The Emerging Church is hodge podge of beliefs and practices, from liberal to conservative. They contrast themselves with what they describe as 'The Inherited Church'. That which brings The Emerging Church movement together is their disillusionment with organised churches and religion. The Emerging Church supports the 'deconstruction' of worship, evangelism and how the Christian lives in this world. Similar beliefs, and those who practice them, are to be found within New Calvinism.