John Calvin is back. Whether you like it or not.
This time he’s showing up in the New Calvinist movement. A movement, it seems, with intimidating force.
Last week Time magazine published it’s cover story 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now…
…and included New Calvinism as no. 3.
So, who are the New Calvinists behind this persuasive movement? Great question.
New Calvinists Defined
People who startle. Scare. Upset. Embarrass. They all share–to one degree or another–unrelenting intensity, demanding discipline and showcasing the glory of God.
Yet, as the New York Times reported, New Calvinists are still relatively few in number. Neither are they the next big thing.
Think of them as a protest movement.
New Calvinist Movement Defined
New Calvinists defy evangelical mainstream because they believe it’s gone soft on sin and watered down the Gospel into a glorified self-help program. In part, Calvinism appeals because it’s insensitive to seekers.
Yet there’s a groundswell of twenty- and thirty-somethings who are rejecting seeker-sensitive churches and charismatic congregations–neither which emphasize doctrine–and filling up the seats in New Calvinist churches.
These young adults, raised on a youth group party atmosphere that focused more on music and skits than Bible teaching, are hungry. They’re attractecd to the theological depth of Calvin and his teachings. In fact, it’s Calvin’s teaching that often brings them back every Sunday.
Echoing Emergent language, these New Calvinists say the preaching from Piper and Dever and Driscoll is “authentic” and “true to life.”
More importantly, they say that traditional evangelical theology falls apart in the face of real tragedy. Calvinism successfully explains the harsh world in a way Charismatics or abundant life preachers never could.
New Calvinist Beliefs in a Nutshell
What exactly are Calvin’s teachings? In sum, Calvinism–and the New Calvinist teaching–can best be explained with the acronym TULIP:
Total depravity: we are dead to God in our sins and it takes an act of God to save us.
Unconditional election: God chose to save some people–a remnant–according to his sole desire. We didn’t earn a thing.
Limited atonement: Christ died for this remnant–not for the whole word.
Irresistible grace: Those God chose can’t resist this call to salvation.
Perseverance of the saints: Believers will endure in faith through God’s power.
In truth, these really aren’t Calvin’s teachings. He’s simply articulated what the Bible already says. As Albert Mohler pointed out, simply defining God biblically makes people think in Calvinistic ways.
“I opposed indulgences and all, papists, but never by force. I simply taught, preached, wrote God’s Word: otherwise I did nothing…. I left it to the Word.”
Enemies of New Calvinism
But Calvin and New Calvinists have their detractors. In 2005, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary Steve Lemke warned:
I believe that [Calvinism] is potentially the most explosive and divisive issue facing us in the near future. It has already been an issue that has split literally dozens of churches, and it holds the potential to split the entire convention [Southern Baptist Convention].
In an interesting blog entry, Mark Driscoll crafted a sophisticated rejection of old Calvinism in this way:
1. New Calvinism seeks to create or redeem culture. Old either rejected it or embraced it outright.
2. New Calvinism is urbanite. Old Calvinism is urban-phobic.
3. New Calvinism loves the Holy Spirit and his gifts. Old feared the Holy spirit and his gifts.
4. New Calvinism trusted other Christians. Old Calvinism didn’t.
Not long later, Driscoll amplified his thoughts on that last distinction, possibly motivated by challenges, namely suggesting that we can’t let negotiable elements of our faith turn us into cruel Calvinists–spiteful, cruel and arrogant.
A true-to-life caricature I think we can all agree on. And something to avoid, which Lemke is right to assert.
New Calvinists in Their Bedrooms
In the end, though, New Calvinists will tell you: it’s not about loyalty to Calvin or a movement or a system or one of their preachers.
It’s loyalty to the Word of God. And what it says.
And what it says startles, scares, upsets and even embarrasses. It’s probably not an exaggeration to say, then, that this scene plays out in New Calvinist bedrooms every night: Lying on their backs staring at the ceiling, shaking their heads, these Christians think, “Why would God choose any of us?”
Update: See Driscoll’s Confusion on Old Calvinism. James Grant offers Mark Driscoll’s some clarity on what might have been a short-sighted and confusing post. Mike Anderson of Resurgence fame even chimes in on the comments.
Also, read R. Scott Clark’s sophisticated argument about Driscoll not even being a true Calvinits at Calvinism Old and New.