The “New Calvinism” is not essentially a new form of Calvinism. Theologically, it is not really any different. Well, I take that back. The New Calvinist’s do all accept the five points of Calvinism as well as monergistic regeneration and have a very high view of the sovereignty of God which, I would argue, is the bedrock of traditional Calvinism. I will get to the differences in a bit.
“The New Calvinism” is simply a designation given for the 21st century resurgence of Calvinism among Evangelicals and conservative Christians. I suppose the union between Evangelicalism and Calvinism would be the most unique element that might make it “new.” Evangelicals have been Calvinists in the past, but they have always made awkward bedfellows, never really knowing what to say to each other. In the New Calvinism, the engagement is over and the wedding ceremony has taken place. They are together and the marriage is stronger than any could have expected. This union would also account for its modern-day (re)surgence. This combination between Evangelicalism and Calvinism makes the New Calvinism more ecumenical. In other words, they are not separationists and can find fellowship with others who don’t agree with them on every detail. While they are still very conservative in their theology, they have adopted the dictum, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty…” Oddly enough, the New Calvinists, while very passionate about their Calvinism, do not even believe that the central tenants of Calvinism are of cardinal importance.
There is a very strong charismatic openness in the New Calvinism that was not present before. Previously, practically all Calvinists were cessationists, believing that the supernatural gifts of the Spirit ceased in the first century. Now there are many who are continuationists, believing that the supernatural sign gifts are still in effect today. It is not necessary to be a tongue-speaking Calvinist to be a part of the New Calvinism, but you probably wouldn’t be offended by it either. Certainly, you would not be dogmatic about it either way.
In a lot of ways, the New Calvinism can be seen as Evangelicalism’s response to the “Jesus-is-my-homeboy” theology of much of pop-Evangelicalism and seeker-Christianity. It also places a choke-hold on the prosperity Gospel, replacing the its-all-about-me theology with an its-all-about-God theology.
With its high view on the majesty of God and his preeminence in all things, there is a very strong emphasis on suffering and pain in relation to God’s plan. It would seem that the surging awareness of pain and suffering in the twenty-first century has helped fuel the spread of the new Calvinists as they are ready to allow for much suffering in God’s plan. Suffering and the sovereignty of God: this is a unique emphasis to the new Calvinists.
The surgence is evidenced by the numbers, especially among the 20-somethings. In the SBC, only 10% of the pastors right now are self-proclaimed Calvinists. However, nearly one-third of those graduating from seminary today profess to be Calvinists. They can be found in the blogs, conferences, and the new Calvinist megachurches. They are followers of R.C. Sproul, John Piper, Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, and Mark Dever. However, there is something interesting about the primary theological hero of the New Calvinism. I could be wrong, but it does not seem to be John Calvin (as much of a hero as he still is), but American theologian Jonathan Edwards (as well as plenty of hat tips to John Owen).
There is an intense Edwardian passion that identifies the New Calvinism that is utterly infective for many who are tired of complacency in doctrine in the church. People who lack stabilization are finding strong foundations here and are being fueled by the hope and drive toward ultimate truth and relevance.
Calvinistic critics of the New Calvinism claim that it is not really Calvinism at all. The more significant differences with classical Calvinistic or Reformed theology has to do with the New Calvinism’s ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), eschatology (doctrine of the end times), and view of infant baptism. In each of these cases, the New Calvinism does not necessarily have to follow the traditional models. One can be a New Calvinist and not believe in or practice infant baptism. One can have a memorialist view of the Lord’s supper. You don’t even have to believe in Covenant Theology to be a member! Although, many would argue that Calvinism has never really turned on anything but its soteriology and theology proper. If this is the case (and I believe it is), the New Calvinism is a legitimate Calvinistic movement.
So far, I think that I could qualify as being a poster-boy for the New Calvinists. The only critique that I have of the movement is one of perception, not one of intention. It is that the New Calvinist movement is just that—New Calvinist. As strong as I am on the reformed doctrines of grace and as much as I love the Evangelical attitude, Calvinism is not what we are about. Calvinism simply represents one interpretive component of the Gospel. No matter how important we might believe this component to be, it pales in comparison to the bigger picture of Gospel. I am a Christian who believes in the atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Christ first. My Calvinism comes forth or fifth.
Anyway, that is the new Calvinism…are you one?