John Piper
John Piper

Last week John Piper spoke at Westminster Seminary, and delivered the seventh annual Gaffin Lecture on “The New Calvinism and the New Community: The Doctrines of Grace and the Meaning of Race” (audio and video). That may not sound like the most exciting lecture you’ve ever listened to, but I found some time to listen in today, and found what Piper began with fascinating (especially in light of last week’s Visual History of the New Calvinism). He began by defining what he means by New Calvinism, and to do that he offered twelve defining features of the movement. He was very careful to stress that these are not things that necessarily separate the New Calvinism from traditional Calvinism or make the new better than the old. Rather, these are simply the markers of the New.

Here then, in brief, are John Piper’s 12 features of the New Calvinism.

1. The New Calvinism, in its allegiance to the inerrancy of the Bible, embraces the biblical truths behind the five points of Calvinism (TULIP), while having an aversion to using the acronym (or any other systematic packaging) along with a sometimes-qualified embrace of Limited Atonement. The focus is on Calvinistic soteriology but not to the exclusion or the appreciation of the broader scope of Calvin’s vision.

2. The New Calvinism embraces the sovereignty of God in salvation and all the affairs of life and history, including evil and suffering.

3. The New Calvinism has a strong complementarian flavor (as opposed to egalitarian) with an emphasis on the flourishing of men and women in relationships where men embrace a call to robust, humble, Christ-like servant-leadership.

4. The New Calvinism leans toward being culture-affirming, as opposed to culture-denying, while holding fast to some very culturally-alien positions on issues like same-sex practice and abortion.

5. The New Calvinism embraces the essential place of the local church: it is led mainly by pastors; it has a vibrant church-planting bent; it produces widely-sung worship music; and it exalts the preached Word as central to the work of God both locally and globally.

6. The New Calvinism is aggressively mission-driven, including missional impact on social evils, evangelistic impact on personal networks, and missionary impact on the unreached peoples of the world.

7. The New Calvinism is inter-denominational, with a strong (some would say oxymoronic) Baptistic element.

8. The New Calvinism includes both charismatics and non-charismatics.

9. The New Calvinism places a priority on pietism or piety in the Puritan vein, with an emphasis on the essential role of the affections in Christian living, while esteeming the life of the mind and being very productive in it, and embracing the value of serious scholarship.

10. The New Calvinism is vibrantly engaged in publishing books, and, even more remarkably, in the world of the Internet, with hundreds of energetic bloggers and social media activists, with Twitter as the increasingly-default way of signalling things new and old that should be noticed and read.

11. The New Calvinism is international in scope, multi-ethnic in expression, and culturally-diverse. There is no single geographic, racial, cultural, governing center. There are no officers, no organization, nor any loose affiliation that would encompass the whole. (As an aside, he adds: I would dare say there are outcroppings of this movement that no one in this room has ever heard of.)

12. The New Calvinism is robustly gospel-centered, cross-centered, with dozens of books rolling off the presses coming at the gospel from every conceivable angle and applying it to all areas of life, with a commitment to seeing the historic doctrine of justification finding its fruit in sanctification both personally and communally.

So what do you think? Would you have gone with the same features? Would you have added or skipped any of them?

I don’t think anyone could have predicted that in the twenty-first century the old doctrine of Calvinism would suddenly experience a great resurgence. Yet this is exactly what has happened. The New Calvinism, or the Young, Restless, Reformed, has been highlighted in platforms as diverse as Christianity Today and TIME as one of the ideas that is changing the world today. It has been a major emphasis in publishing and has its own celebrities, conferences and organizations.

But where did this thing come from? And how did it come to prominence? Josh Byers and I have teamed up to bring you a Visual Theology infographic we’ve titled Where Did All These Calvinists Come From?: A Visual History. We highlighted some of the dominant themes in the movement and then progressed through the people, the books, the conferences, and the organizations that have made it what it is. We hope you enjoy it.

New Calvinism Timeline
(click on the graphic above to see the full timeline; or click here for the raw file)

Note: We don’t expect that you will agree with everything we’ve chosen to include and exclude. Also, while the timeline is roughly chronological, individual events within a particular year may not be in the exact right order (so, for example, Chosen By God may have been published after Desiring God, though both were published in 1986).

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They call it the New Calvinism. It is a relatively new movement that has discovered some old theology and brought it into the mainstream. It is a movement titled after its theology, but one formed around its leaders—it can hardly be discussed without reference to John Piper and Al Mohler and Matt Chandler and so many others. It is a fascinating movement that encompasses myself and so many others.

The New Calvinism is the subject of Jeremy Walker’s new book The New Calvinism Considered: A Personal and Pastoral Assessment. Behind that rather austere title is a very accessible book that does exactly what the title claims: it shines a spotlight on this theological movement and considers where it has come from, what it has accomplished and where it may be going in the future.

While the New Calvinism is primarily an American movement, Walker writes from the far side of the Atlantic where he pastors Maidenbower Baptist Church in Crawley, England. This gives him an interesting perspective and one that may be slightly more objective than if he was based in North America. I found myself eager to read his assessment and eager to hear his inevitable critiques.

The first chapter is titled “Comprehending the New Calvinism” and here Walker explains what he hopes to accomplish in his book. He explains that he writes from a personal and pastoral perspective, which means his understanding is necessarily subjective and limited. He seeks to provide a balanced and appropriately irenic appreciation which means that while he is not breathless in his praise, neither is he overly harsh in his criticism. Finally, he wants the reader to know that the New Calvinism is not monolithic and, therefore, he cannot speak to every corner and nuance of the movement.

With those caveats in place, he advances to chapter two, “Characteristics of the New Calvinism.” Here he provides a brief primer of the Calvinistic theology that lies at the heart of it and introduces some of the cast of characters—the pastors, theologians and other leaders. He also writes about some of the conferences and associations that make this thing a movement, and closes by suggesting that as a movement the New Calvinism is already beginning to broaden and slow.

Chapter 3 contains his commendations of the movement. He praises the New Calvinism for being Christ-oriented and God-honoring; for being grace-soaked; for its emphasis on missional living; for its focus on complementarian theology; for being willing to take advantage of new opportunities and technologies; and for its deep commitment to expositional preaching. These commendations come across as sincere and not the least bit fake or forced.

With the commendations in place, he dedicates chapter 4 to a series of cautions and concerns. He warns of: the pragmatism and commercialism that may lie at the root of this movement; an unbalanced view of culture that allows people to Christianize what ought to be rejected outright; a troubling approach to holiness displayed in either antinomianism or unbiblical views of sanctification; a potentially dangerous ecumenism—a pursuit of unity that may eventually come only at the cost of truth and doctrinal minimalism; the unresolved tension surrounding the miraculous spiritual gifts (Note: this was written before John MacArthur’s Strange Fire conference and book!); and finally, a triumphalism, a brashness, that may come when a movement is young and seemingly successful. In the same way that Walker’s commendations come across as sincere, his criticisms come across as genuine and kind.

The final chapter is given to “Conclusions and Counsels.” Here he tosses aside knee-jerk reactions to both the commendations and cautions and urges people to continue to embrace the good but with a greater awareness for those concerns. He says, “[B]e 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. Love and serve the triune God above all, and be ready to love and serve his saints wherever you find them, and however your supreme attachment to the Lord of glory demands it.”

Overall, I found Walker’s assessment very compelling. If someone had asked me to sketch out my commendations and concerns of the New Calvinism, they would have matched his almost exactly. I would have liked to see a few more words dedicated to the women who have been involved in the movement and those who have been leaders within it. After all, while the New Calvinism is distinctly complementarian, there are women who have played important roles within it. I would have liked to have a little less hedging and qualifying in the section dedicated to commendations. And I would have liked a little more prescription. It is easy enough to identify issues, but far more difficult to propose a compelling alternative.

While I am thankful for this movement and while I am grateful to have been swept up in it, while I do love Reformed theology and while I thank God for all the good he has done, still I hold many of Walker’s concerns and believe they are well worth considering.

I believe a book like this is a sign of health for a movement; it is when a movement refuses to examine itself, to admit and respond to weaknesses, that it is destined to fail. A willingness to read and consider such critiques will be an even greater proof of health, and for that reason I commend this book to you. (It is currently just $6.79 at Amazon.Com)

This poem by John Piper has been put into a video to make it more memorable. It is moving in it’s depictions of a mind and heart gripped by grace. Some may be offended or put off by the title. I suppose that can’t be helped, but John Piper gets it. And those who love the gospel as understood and expressed in the historic, biblical categories that have been nicknamed, “Calvinism,” will also get it. If the voices sound familiar it’s because they most likely are, as the end credits make clear.

The Calvinist from Desiring God on Vimeo.

Don’tcha just LOVE Postmoderns? As a matter of fact, as a Christian I do. That is why every chance I get I want to show where their wishy-washy approach to life is not only incorrect, but detrimental to both the cause of Christ and to their own peace of mind (ironically!).

Justin Taylor
Justin Taylor

This morning, Justin Taylor of the Between Two Worlds blog (another blog definitely worth the time to read) quoted Kevin DeYoung, author of “Why We Love The Church” (one that is definitely on my reading list, if only I didn’t have to eventually sleep!) who took postmodern Christianity to task by illustrating the inconsistent nature of their criticisms of the traditional church. Not that there are not things that the traditional church can at least ponder and some things maybe even repent of, but if you are going to level criticism, make sure it is consistent with the Bible and at least with logic.

Here is Justin's post:

Kevin DeYoung, in Why We Love the Church (pp. 87-88, line breaks mine):

But then again, consistency is not a postmodern virtue. And nowhere is this more aptly displayed than in the barrage of criticisms leveled against the church.

The church-is-lame crowd hates Constantine and notions of Christendom, but they want the church to be a patron of the arts, and run after-school programs, and bring the world together in peace and love.

They bemoan the over-programmed church, but then think of a hundred complex, resource-hungry things the church should be doing.

They don’t like the church because it is too hierarchical, but then hate it when it has poor leadership.

They wish the church could be more diverse, but then leave to meet in a coffee shop with other well-educated thirtysomethings who are into film festivals, NPR, and carbon offsets.

They want more of a family spirit, but too much family and they’ll complain that the church is ‘inbred.’

They want the church to know that its reputation with outsiders is terrible, but then are critical when the church is too concerned with appearances.

They chide the church for not doing more to address social problems, but then complain when the church gets too political.

They want church unity and decry all our denominations, but fail to see the irony in the fact that they have left to do their own thing because they can’t find a single church that can satisfy them.

They are critical of the lack of community in the church, but then want services that allow for individualized worship experiences.

They want leaders with vision, but don’t want anyone to tell them what to do or how to think.

They want a church where the people really know each other and care for each other, but then they complain the church today is an isolated country club, only interested in catering to its own members.

They want to be connected to history, but are sick of the same prayers and same style every week.

They call for not judging “the spiritual path of other believers who are dedicated to pleasing God and blessing people,” and then they blast the traditional church in the harshest, most unflattering terms.

Excellent points all!

What is most striking to me is that by taking this approach to criticism of the traditional church, the Postmoderns refute their own argument. By their approach, they postulate that all truth is valid truth and that the details of your belief in Christ are not as important as what those beliefs mean to you. (Sounds like humanistic drivel if you ask me!) But, if all truth is valid truth, why is my belief in:

1. The literal, historical, Jesus, and His death, burial and resurrection (otherwise known as the doctrine of substitutionary atonement, our faith hinges on this point!),
2. The infallible, inerrant, Word of God known as the Bible, (the objective written standard on which our faith is built),
3. The doctrines of Grace as enumerated in the Scriptures, and espoused throughout the centuries by well respected Church fathers,
4. The doctrine of Justification by Grace, through Faith, and not of works, but unto good works, and among other things,
5. Truth is by definition objective, knowable, and ultimately exclusive,

Not a valid belief system? If all truth is valid truth, if you even HAVE a criticism of someone else’s belief system, isn't that a contradiction of your own? It looks at least like a validation of the objective, knowable, and exclusive nature of truth itself. They just may need to reevaluate their truth claims!

As I have said before, I love absurd humor. There is nothing better than absurdity being illustrated by the absurd. It reminds me of a sketch that I saw from Monty Python about two Australian brothers who hunted mosquitoes for their wings (I think a fully intact mosquito wing could bring n as much as a 3rd of a penny!). They brought so much firepower to catch these little bitty insects that it was absolutely hilarious. The most memorable line was when one brother said in a thick Australian accent (which just made it funnier), “People say why don’t you just use fly spray? Well, where’s the sport in THAT?”

Anyway, this came to mind when I was cruising around YouTube and found this one guy’s channel that took aim at a number of evangelists and street preachers affiliated with The Way Of The Master, some of whom are good friends of mine. He just literally lampooned them by using outrageous video clips, none of which came from WOTM, in essence propping up his own straw-man argument. He claimed to be a Reformed Christian but in some of his videos, he used clips with absolutely vile language and when I called him on it, he not only defended his use of the clips, he actually used some of the language to describe what he thought of me! Now, I’ve been cussed out in much more creative and colorful ways, but I certainly didn’t expect to have it happen from a “so-called Christian.” In my exchange with him, I was merely trying to get a coherent Biblical foundation on which he was building his opposition to WOTM and could never get one. All I got was ad hominem attacks, circular reasoning, straw-men, and profanity. My favorite was when he called me a “spineless jellyfish!” That one was a real crack up! Talk about a coherent well-reasoned response! But, I finally cut it off after the profanity and quoted to him Proverbs 9:7-9 (ESV):

7 Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse,
and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury.
8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you;
reprove a wise man, and he will love you.
9 Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser;
teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning.

So I left him saying that it was up to him whether he was a scoffer or a wise man. Sadly, it seems to be the former and he will still be polluting bandwidth with his particular brand of hatred. But as an American, he has the right to be a scoffer. God can deal with him however he pleases, and that is more than satisfactory for me.

So what is the point of this? One thing this guy brought up in one of his videos is the use of apologetics when evangelizing and totally blasted Ray Comfort in particular for not answering direct questions regarding apologetics. Apologetics are an important part of the Christian faith and can be useful in evangelistic settings. But they must be carefully used. I view apologetics like major firepower and when used without discretion for the purpose of just winning an argument, they become like using a bazooka to catch a mosquito! Apologetics are useful when a person is genuinely interested in knowing whether or not the Bible is true, if God really exists, and if He really did create the world (in 6 literal days, I might add!). The important thing though is to get the conversation back to the conscience and to heart matters. (Romans 10:10a, “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness.” This is the area that galvanizes a person’s convictions and worldview and is where we must spend the majority of our time.

So when you are out there talking to people about their soul (you ARE doing that right?!), keep the heavy firepower close, but don’t pull it out too soon and only use it sparingly to get the conversation back on track. Don’t blow away the “mosquitoes.” Find the sheep!

As I said in a previous blog post (“Who's Responsibility Is it Anyway?“), I have been spending a lot of time reading and commenting on my good friend Paul Edwards blog, The God and Culture Blog. The discussions have been rather animated at times, but have always been issue based and very respectful. One particular post brought about an interesting discussion of how the doctrines of grace can influence how we vote in the upcoming election. The main point of the post was a video showing a number of Barack Obama's responses during the forum at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, CA, to Pastor Rick Warren's questions and how Senator Obama's answers sounded as if he was unsure as how to answer the question and that Senator McCain was always ready with an answer to the questions no matter how difficult they may be. The full post can be found at “Remove the teleprompter and here's what you get…”

I had a great discussion with another regular commentator on the blog named Jeff, who was a Ron Paul supporter and always has interesting commentary. He and I do not see eye to eye on many issues, however, Jeff is always thought provoking and a true gentleman. The discussions do not get personal and they stick to the issues at hand and always make for interesting conversation. Here is one of the exchanges on the post listed above:

10. Jeff (AKA Pixelmaster) – September 2, 2008

There are many Calvinist here, I am making the assumption that you are as well. We have been told for the last 30 or so years. Vote “biblical” principles, Vote God’s way etc. Now we have a candidate in McCain who doesn’t have much of a leg up on Obama in the social issues that social conservatives vote for, Abortion and Gay rights and now these same people that told us to vote for principle are now saying we need to vote for the better than worst. Wouldn’t it be more honorable to vote by principle and let the sovereign God, who many Calvinist claim when other societal issues arise, be in control? I am not demeaning Calvinism I just see the capitulation as a conflict to the terminology of the past. BTW I believe in a sovereign God but I am more of a Free willer. I think he let’s us mess up and I think he puts more control in our hands than Calvinist or Reformed would.

McCain is a poor choice for social conservatives bar none, his voting record is crystal clear, he does not care about the social conservative causes. In fact, I would me more concerned with him than Obama because after what happened to him in 2000 he has an axe to grind with the “agents of intolerance” as he put it back then.

12. Greg Rice – September 3, 2008
OK Jeff I’m back!

Your assumptions are correct. I am a fully convinced Calvinist, but have only been convinced within the last two years after many years of questioning all of the things I was taught all of my life. My journey to the Doctrines of Grace (a name I prefer since they have been taught for centuries prior to John Calvin and major Biblical doctrine should be known as such and not just by the name of a mere man that believed and taught them) is a long process that I will not discuss fully here due to the constraints of time (or your boredom, whichever were to come first!) So I will attempt to concisely answer your question, although that may be a real challenge! Here we go.

I do believe that we should vote Biblical principles, but there is more to it than that. Everything we do, no matter what area of life is involved, should be in the advancement of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, because as the Bible tells us, it is the power of God unto salvation. I understand your reservations regarding McCain. As I have stated previously, I have my own reservations such as campaign finance reform (McCain-Feingold is a fiasco), immigration reform (McCain is not strong enough on border security and illegal immigration, which is a shame since he from a border state), global warming (he is much too squishy on this issue), and he tends to be too willing to pander to the other side in the name of bipartisanship (the gang of 14). On the other hand, He is strong on national defense (how can you fight with each other if there is not a free nation to fight within?!), he has been consistently pro-life (some my think he has not gone far enough of the life issue, but there is no way anyone can accuse him of being pro-death-I despise the term pro-choice, by the way!), and he also has proven that he is a man of character, something lacking in this current world of politics.

For the record, the Bible says in Proverbs 21:1 that “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will.” God is sovereign and ultimately his choice for any elected office will be elected. This does not excuse us from discerning which candidate is the best choice in a particular election, based on our Christian faith.

The question then becomes, as Christians, are we more concerned with just being right or are we more concerned with the advancement of the Gospel? In this election, there are only two candidates that have any kind of prayer of winning and ultimately effecting society at large. It seems to me that if we do not vote at all or we vote for a candidate we know has to chance of winning, we then are just as responsible the outcome of the election as we would be if we had voted for the winning candidate. If I vote for Chuck Baldwin, Alan Keyes, or Bob Barr (all of whom have stronger convictions on many issues than the major candidates do and all are fine honorable men and would serve the nation very well), I have essentially given my vote to either John McCain or Barack Obama. Personally, I could not live with myself if I contributed in any way to the election of Barack Obama. I have stated my problems with his beliefs in other posts.

Now for the question of the ages, how do we reconcile the Sovereignty of God against the Free Will of Man? I would be totally arrogant if I were to claim that I fully know the answer. But here goes.

The whole crux of the argument begins with what you believe regarding the Fall of Man and how it affects the Human Race. Romans 5:12 says, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” We are in total rebellion against God because of our sin. (Psalm 14:3, Psalm 53:3. Romans 3:10-12). At the moment of Adam’s sin, Man became spiritually dead and became incapable to choose the right path to salvation. In other words, his free will became incapacitated. The free choice of whether to follow God is still there because God in his general mercy did not annihilate Adam at the point in time for his sin. The problem is that Man no longer had the ability to make that choice. In other words, he was and is in bondage to his will. You can tell a dead man all day long to pick himself up and follow God but until there is a quickening of his spirit, he will not be able to get up.

It is only after the quickening of the spirit can there be a free will. Even after we are truly saved we do make the choice to sin because of the unredeemed flesh in which we still live. The difference is that we as Christian now have a new nature brought about by the Spirit of God in the quickening work of salvation and now we despise our sin. The Apostle Paul discusses this fully in Romans Chapter 7.

Where does all of this lead? For me it means that since John McCain has picked a running mate that is not only pro-life in her words, but pro-life in her actions, I can now put my full support behind his candidacy. The comforting thing to me is that even if the candidate I support does not win the election, I have thought through all of the ramifications of my choice and can go to bed at night knowing that I have been consistent in my faith. I cannot possibly know the plan of God for this nation, but if He wants Obama as president, He will work out all the details and work all things for His Glory. Whoever wins the election, I am still going to praise my God because whoever it is, it will be the choice that brings Him all glory and praise. Thanks for listening and God bless!

13. Jeff (AKA Pixelmaster) – September 3, 2008
Good stuff Greg, I have visited your site and blog and didn’t see a post on this. Personally and respectfully, I still think it a pragmatic choice, although the choosing of Palin does strengthen his commitment to social conservatives. I don’t think McCain is strong on Pro-life issue, I don’t think he is strong on Gay rights issues he has a long history of not being so. I have brought this up before; I would be very concerned with a McCain 1 term presidency. I don’t know if you are familiar with all that happened with the social conservative leaders and him back in 2000 but he has made it quite clear he does not like social conservative. He is saying all the right things now, but I wouldn’t trust him to fight for social values at all if he gets office. Palin may but he would be VP and can’t sign a thing into law.

The idea that social conservatives are considering him, to me, solidifies that we (evangelicals) or more political than religious or faith based. We have been told to vote “God’s way” now we have a guy that has not been for our causes and we are told vote better than the worst choice. Not me. I appreciate you taking the time to explain, Greg, I guess we can conclude that we will agree to disagree

14. Greg Rice – September 3, 2008
Hey Jeff,

I kind of thought we would disagree, but that’s alright. If any two people agree on everything, one of them is totally unnecessary! I do understand your reluctance to support McCain and you have a valid gripe. I was not happy in the least that he became the nominee (I voted for Huckabee in the primary) and have been struggling with how I would vote in November. The ticket ain’t perfect, but it’s better than the alternative. Steven Wright once said “Well you can’t have everything, where would you put it?” Nobody on the right gets what they want in this election, but we sure don’t want what the left will force down our throats. Thanks for the dialog.

To me the bottom line is the advancement of the Gospel and it's effect on society. This includes our involvement in the political process and how our faith guides our choices in that arena. If our faith does not guides our actions in every arena of our lives, we are nothing but hypocrites. I believe this is what the Apostle Paul was driving at in Philippians 2:12-13 where he said,”Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Our faith is to be worked out into every arena in our lives because our only reason as Christians for remaining here is to reach more people for Christ.

Let make sure our lives reflect what we say that we believe and totally integrate our faith in every arena in our lives, first by reaching the lost, then standing for righteousness. But in the end, it is God who will work all things for His glory, which has been His plan since before the foundation of the world.