Why I’m Not A New Calvinist, By One Guy Who Should Be.

“The new Calvinists constantly extol the Puritans, but they do not want to worship or live as they did.” The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness, Dr Peter Masters, Metropolitan Tabernacle, London. [Check out my visit]

I can relate to Dr Masters and this is one of the reasons why, even though I should probably be a New Calvinist, I am not.

I should be a New Calvinist

I was baptised Presbyterian. I graduated from a reformed Bible College. All my church history professors were from Westminster Theological Seminary. My nickname was Spurgeon because I read so much of him and would not preach a sermon until I had consulted what Charlie said on the same verse. I used to fall asleep with a copy of Fox’s Book of Martyrs in my hand. Anything the Banner of Truth published, I bought and read. I SHOULD HAVE BECOME A NEW CALVINIST!

ineocalvinism_0323.jpg

What attracted me was a high commitment to the Scriptures and the no-compromise stance of Reformers who were willing to risk death for their beliefs. I didn’t find the same commitment in other streams of Christianity. If I was living back then, when the Puritans and Covenanters and Reformers were shedding their blood, I would have joined them.

But I am not a New Calvinist.

I have issues with some Reformed theology and New Calvinism which hinder me from going further. In a nutshell, I think a lot of the reformed theology I once considered dear is:

– irreversibly Western and not accountable to nor appreciative of the emerging global-south based theology (afraid of the power shift?)

– strangely stuck in the 17th and 19th Century

– locked up in the New Testament, especially the epistles, and not always sourced sufficiently in the Old in a way that brings continuity and coherency to the New.

– often lacking in an adequate Biblical response to the threat of materialism, consumerism, military aggression, environmental degradation, poverty, celebrity-based pulpit ministry, and a few other issues that seem to be blind-spots.

– overly committed to highly attractional forms of Sunday morning ministry that center too strongly around the one-big-hairy-male behind the pulpit and not enough around sending out the church (priesthood) to preach the gospel in the world during the week.

– an identity forged out of not belonging to the Roman Catholic Church (apparently the bad guys) that often becomes an unguarded smugness against the influences of Babylon in its own backyard.

Or am I missing something?

However, I am thankful that so many inside and outside the emerging church have managed to salvage and secure much of the Reformed contributions under this banner of New Calvinism and amazed that Time Mag took note of it. I even bought a hard copy!  I also have much to be thankful for regarding my many years of immersion in Reformed writings. Some parts of Reformed theology have been recently enhanced in my own mind, including a robust theology of the invisible church. The Book of Hebrews in particular, that I blogged about recently. And probably a whole lot more that will come to mind once I have uploaded this post. I am sure there are eager readers out there who will remind me.

Anyway, Happy Reformation Day!

Check out my Previous Reformation Day Posts: 2006  2007 2008 and others on the topic today:

Campi, The Riddler, Big Al, DeYoung (of ‘Why We’re Not Emergent, By Two Guys Who Should Be‘ fame), a brand new blog that opened today called Justification by Grace . . and . .. . actually, just go back to Campi and click on the bloggers in his “Blogs Worth Reading” list.

Andrew

Andrew Jones has been blogging since 1997. He is based in San Francisco with his two daughters but also travels the globe to find compelling stories of early stage entrepreneurs changing their world. Sometimes he talks in the third person. Sometimes he even talks to himself and has been heard uttering the name “Precious” :-)

23 Comments

  • Yes, you are missing a couple of things it would seem to me. One, a bible. I anticipated a biblical reference ot two. I saw none! And two, I think you mind is missing. I hope you find it before it is too late.

  • Dr Peter Masters article was scathing….wow.
    I can imagine I would be taken to the pastoral whipping shed by that man…I tremble just thinking what theological and ecclesiological lashing I would get. The issues he raises are so valid to discuss but man, he sounded like he would eat someone whole with a bowl of Old Evangelical fire and brimstone; if you disagreed with his stance on anything.
    I tool eschew the “New Calvinism” label but enjoy many of the influences of the Puritans and Reformers….but I guess that makes me a syncretistic heretic instead of a Christian pilgrim who has been blessed by the voices and lives of my fathers past.
    The tone, posture, position and pronouncements in the linked too article…leave me grieved. I see no difference between holding to such esteemed teachers as he apparently is and the “celebrity worship” of the “New Calvinists”…both seem to have found a place on the “pinnacle of the temple” that provides one with a great view down on people.
    I pray a more vulnerable, amiable, hospitable and teachable spirit arises with the founding to the emerging generations.
    Fathers, don’t exasperate your children by coming down hard on them. Take them by the hand and lead them in the way of the Master.-Ephesians 6:4 -from The Message 🙂

  • Nice post.
    “What attracted me was a high commitment to the Scriptures and the no-compromise stance of Reformers who were willing to risk death for their beliefs.”
    My problem is that the Reformers high view of scripture to penetrate deeply enough into social ethics. Luther all but capitulated to a power-grabbing policy on usury that benefited his patrons and devastated the poor, as well as solidifying the drift toward compartmentalized sacred/secular lives.
    When scanning history for radically faithful stream of Christianity it’s hard for me not to admire the anabaptists.

  • Thanks for putting into words my own inarticulate feelings about this thing.
    I think what bothers me as much is that it is an institutional formula that all culture should be shoe-horned into. I don’t read the Puritans that way. I find them trying to apply a faith that joins the heart and head within the context of their time. Their time is not ours and so the institutional form doesn’t apply in the same ways.
    Great post. Thanks.

  • Wow. Thanks for the mention, Andrew. Though I don’t know you, I have known of you through Iggy and Ken Silva… (& no, I don’t believe that saying their names in the same sentence is an oxymoron *big smile*).
    I haven’t had the chance to fully digest Dr. Masters’ article yet, but I did want to say I appreciated your comments.
    Myself, I haven’t made up my mind concerning this “New Calvinism” because for every 2 people I hear from I get 3 opinions.
    Again, many thanks, sir. Happy Reformation Day!

  • I appreciate your proactive thoughts here Andrew but your characterization of reformed folks is true only for a slice of that realm (though it may be the loudest slice). Unfortunately, it isn’t true in the reformed circles I run in.
    I’m seeing a move towards mixture of what David Fitch calls Reformed Missionals and Anabaptist Missionals. See this: Reformed Missional versus Anabaptist Missional versus Pragmatic Missional Just my two cents…
    If we are talking about the Western church in general, your bullet points are right on. Bigtime. I couldn’t agree with you more.

  • Would their anti-equality for women, or patriarchal theology, (a strong, though not monolithic, view of the New Calvinists) also be a reason for you not to join them? (I hope so.)

  • Matt – yes. Just because it has a theological label doesn’t mean it’s not sexist. There are plenty of examples of sexist theologies out there. Whether one thinks it’s justified biblically or not doesn’t change what it is.

  • hi mike and others. my post is biographical so i am not trying to characterize anyone except for myself at that stage in my life. and back then, sexism was not an issue for me.
    other issues that were real, though, and nudged me away from what would become “new Calvinism” involed a credalism that was foreign to my baptist leanings, and a suspicious bias against the supernatural, exorcism, my charismatic friends, and a rigorous missional approach to contextualization in the home countries.
    not saying sexism is a non-issue, just saying it was not for me back then.

  • What’s telling is that all of the comments so far have been by dudes. Seems this is an issue where chicks just don’t chime in. 🙂
    As someone who belongs to a denomination that has ordained women legally since 1979 and currently a woman wears the biggest pointy hat, sexism is a non-issue for me here in the States. If I go to an event and it’s almost all dudes, I decide to play elsewhere. And given that I can go to plenty of church events that are multicultural, if everyone looks more or less like me, I tend to start looking for the exit as well.

  • Great comments all around. I like how there are a variety voices coming through. I am always intrigued by the way that the “calvinism” is portrayed. This concept of the “new calvinism” is particularly interesting. Mostly because it is pointing to a very small slice of the pie. The reformed tradition so much broader and richer than this new generation of reformed baptists.
    I particularly think of a denomination like the Evangelical Presbyterian Church or the Covenant Church. I also think about the early generations of reformers and it was they who spear-headed social just as a result of their covenantal hermeneutic (this hermeneutic doesn’t exist as much in the new calvinism because most are not reformed but progressive dispensationalists who still hold to their separation of OT and NT).
    Although labels seem to be necessary evils (clearly I use them) I like to think it’s time in this emerging, global, generation to begin the process of setting aside these silly divisive labels for the sake of the mission. What is egalitarians could embrace their complementarian siblings as the “weaker brother” (or vice versa), what if the arminian could do the same calvinist (or vice versa)? What if we rallied about mission for the sake of the kingdom and stopped with all the, “I follow Paul, I follow Apollos, oh, yeah, well I follow Jesus” nonsense that was supposed to be done away with in the first century?
    Could it happen?

  • I have serious trouble with Calvinism because of some of the perverse conclusions it comes up with in predestination and election. Meanwhile, you can find enough about the majesty of God elsewhere.
    You don’t need Calvinism to get the good stuff it has to offer. You run a danger of having some dangerous ideas stick to you if you play with that tar.
    Besides, commitment to Scripture is not enough. You need to be committed to the Community of Believers. You need to be committed to the historic teaching of the Church Universal. Removed from the context of other believers and historic teaching, Scripture can be used as a tool for ill. Even the Devil knows scripture.

  • I agree with Ed Berengar the social hermeneutic of the day is far removed from our venerable brothers the Puritans. It should be said that Calvinism is a theological system and as such it only provides a place to hang our theological hats, if you will. Any theological system is a bad one if the Bible can not change it. It is dangerous to advocate any theological construct over the Biblical witness. I am a Calvinist and have been such for over 30 years. Where I am theologically is not where I began way back when. And, I pray to God (every day) that tomorrow I will not be where I am today. Over the past three decades I have seen many socially oriented evangelical observations which have found their way into print and created a great deal of temporary stir. Calvinism for me has always been a stable compass pointing to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. So, if someone wants to create a “new” label for Calvinism let them. Read your Bible, obey the Holy Spirit, follow Jesus, glorify God above all.

  • Can you clarify a bit more how New Calvinism is “irreversibly Western”? Are you making a statement about the movement itself or an observation about those who belong to the New Calvinist “tradition”?

  • Perhaps both. The global south is acknowledged as the new majority but in reality, all confessions and statements of faith bow down to Westminster, and I don’t know if that situation is “reversible” or not.

  • My name is Sophie and I am writing on behalf of Diana Neutze. Diana taught Elise and is now in her 70’s, living in New Zealand with advanced Multiple Sclerosis. We were setting up a blog and website for Diana alongside a facebook page. She asked me to look up a couple of names for her, just people she was interested in seeing where they had got to. Elise was one of them and Diana was pleasantly surprised to find that she has become very successful. Obviously there isn’t a direct contact for her but this blog was the closest I have gotten to personal contact with her. I am aware that if you have contact details you probably won’t be willing to give them out over the internet but I was wondering if you could possibly take the time to email me with what you know of her and if you don’t feel comfortable giving me a contact for her (that’s if you even have one) then you could give Elise Diana’s contact in case she is interested.
    Thank you so much for your time,

Leave a Reply