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What is the “New Calvinism”? . . . And Are You a Part of It?

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?

37 Responses to “What is the “New Calvinism”? . . . And Are You a Part of It?”

  1. Truth Unites... and Divides April 5, 2010 at 5:38 pm

    What is the “New Calvinism”? . . . And Are You a Part of It?

    Rev. Kevin DeYoung writes an article titled “Why Do the New Calvinists Insist on Complementarianism?

  2. I am – at least the beer drinking part

  3. Great post, Michael.
    I’m one of ’em…I was one before we had a title. :-)

  4. CMP,
    Just a comment on you statistics from the SBC. I wonder how much of this has to do with a firm commitment to Calvinism on the part on young people, and how much of it has to do with the faculty being increasingly Calvinistic as a result of the purging of the moderates from the SBC and it’s seminaries. It should be no surprise that someone who goes to a seminary with a high percentage of Calvinist professors will graduate as a Calvinist. I see it in my area where we have 3 Evangelical Christian schools and those who go to a certain one, despite having no prior conviction on the subject, tend to graduate as Calvinists. Why?? Because the professors at that school tell students that Calvinism is the only Biblical view and Arminianism is unbiblical. Furthermore they bring in almost exclusively Calvinistic teachers for chapel times.

    Ultimately what I’m getting at is that your statistics may be a result of indoctrination more then they are of students being presented with both options as viable and then choosing one over the other.

  5. Michael T,

    I think it’s a combination of that, and younger people’s hunger (as Michael has mentioned above) for ultimate Truth and significance. Let me see if I can explain.

    And for those out there who are big fans of Piper (as am I), don’t take this the wrong way…but I think a large reason so many young people are drawn to the New Calvinism is because of the passion and “certainty” men like Him bring to their preaching (and I don’t necessarily think this is a bad thing. Let me explain; see below).

    For example, it’s hard to walk away from one of Piper’s sermons without saying, “wow what passion, he must know what he is talking about.” This is especially the case (from my personal experience) with younger people (myself included) who are very impressionable. That’s not to say that what he is saying is incorrect or wrong, it’s just to say his confidence in the teaching and preaching of the doctrines of grace really connects with people who are in a sea of relativism and just want something solid to stand on. They want Truth and they want to know that what they believe is solid.

    The biggest problem I have with the “New Calvinism” is that so many people who like being in that “camp” don’t really (from my experience) understand some of the basic “problems” with the view and are overly defensive when you bring them up. Or get upset with people when they use the “mystery of God” line, but then when you take them to their system’s logical end the “mystery of God” line is completely acceptable. Peculiar to say the least.

  6. John Calvin’s writings are much more nuanced than most “Calvinitsts” are. His prolific writings (which I have admittedly only scratched the surface of) deserve more than a five letter acronym! And I think you are right, Michael. As my pastor has reminded me time and again, Jesus Christ is at the heart of what we do and who we are, not John Calvin. If we put out a stumbling block may it be Christ himself, not John!

  7. Lisa Robinson April 5, 2010 at 6:41 pm

    You know that as soon as you mention the “C” word, people pounce

  8. Some in the Confessionaly Reformed camp like R. Scott Clark are NOT happy BOTH with the New Calvinism and Jonathan Edwards.

  9. Nice! I ask in an email and I get a whole post! Thanks, Michael…and ah, Yes, I am one!

  10. Definitely, though we’ve found that the label itself often distracts, because of the close association it has in people’s minds with particular patterns of ecclesiology, and—worse—the historied arrogance of many Calvinists, and—worst—the fact that most of my generally evangelical friends have difficulty in distinguishing between (orthodox) Calvinism and (unorthodox) hyperCalvinism. “Reformed,” as a title, is certainly gaining some traction, though I’ve heard some significant debate over whether anyone outside confessional circles, and particularly those that do not hold to historically Reformed views of baptism, the Lord’s Supper, etc., can legitimately lay claim to the term. (These days I’m inclined to think that it’s probably not clear to say that I’m Reformed, but quite clear to say that I’m a Reformed Baptist…)

  11. Michael, years ago you introduced me to Calvinism and it has stuck. Why? Because I have found that reformed teachers TEACH. I grew up in mainstream evangelicalism and teaching was rare to non-existence in the places I visited.

    I’ve been drawn to the URCNA group because of their solid teaching and because they are making a strong effort to be more evangelical. No group is perfect, but I see positive, forward-moving excellence in this group of dedicated Christians. It inspires me — and it comforts me — like I’ve finally come home after a long, weary journey through nonsense, distortions and irrelevance.

    Not sure where I would be today without Sproul, S. Ferguson, D. Thomas, Michael Horton and others in the reformed crowd because finally — finally — I have found sound teaching and don’t feel like I need to keep wandering from church to church trying to figure it out.

    So thanks for that push :)

  12. There is a great evil in the theology of pain and suffering. In this way: Christianity opens, attracts us, with wonderful promises of prosperity and miracles; but then, once we sign up, it starts to call back its promises. And ends by telling us it has come to give us pain and suffering, and make us like it.

    That is clearly not moral. What if you signed up for a new, wonderful car; but then once you signed on to pay, the automotive distributer told you that it was really a piece of junk; but it was our holy duty to learn to love that.

    No honest person would do this of course. And no intelligent person would buy it.

  13. “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.”

    Why do I get the impression that this is a subtle (or not so subtle) response to the Piper/Warren (silly) dust-up?

  14. CMP,

    I suggest that there are deep and lasting implications for adopting a theology that emphasizes God’s sovereignty over man’s will. Fundamentally, the churches in America (at least) are being divided into two camps – those who believe God is sovereign in all things, and those who believe God is not sovereign over the will of man. What I term “Hyper-Evangelicalism” or “Hyper-Arminiansim” has spawned millions of people claiming to be followers of Christ who are fundamentally not attracted to the sovereignty of God. It is not that they don’t love God, but rather, that they don’t see God as sovereign over everything; and I would argue if he’s not sovereign over all, he’s not sovereign over anything.

    I understand your reticence in associating your theology or faith with someone who has been dead for 500 years. However, your statement “I am a Christian who believes in the atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Christ first. My Calvinism comes forth or fifth.” may be insufficient (I don’t know your mind) at communicating how important understanding the sovereignty of God is.

    For how can I be said to believe in the atoning death of Christ if I do not believe in the sovereignty of God? The death of Christ doesn’t atone for anything in the mind of a hyper-arminianist until such time as the bargain in completed by my act, my exercise of my will. How may I be said to believe and have faith in the resurrection of Christ if I do not believe God to be sovereign? For what purpose was the resurrection if I do not believe that the work is done yet? If I believe that my very salvation is in peril until such time as my sovereign will is exercised in the eternal solution for my soul’s peril, what good is the resurrection? It is an incomplete work waiting for my approval and assent.

    Indeed, I believe that faith in God’s sovereignty is more important than you may realize, for it separates you and I from those who believe in a small god… In the end, the difference is not like pre-tribulationalists verses mid-tribulationalist. Rather, the issue of sovereignty strikes at the very essence and identity of God.

  15. I think there may be another difference. I’m not sure it’s accurate to say that all the Calvinists accept, in the strict John Owen sense, all five points of Calvinism. Bruce Ware and many others incorporate a form of unlimited atonement in their Calvinism.

  16. You post sums the movement pretty well Michael, thank you! Yes, I am one of them as well. Edwards “End for Which God Created the World” finally did it for me…or I guess you could say I was floored by it!:)

  17. I am only a poor lowly 4-pointer. I guess that means I do not qualify as a new Calvinist. :(

  18. 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.

    Now that’s balanced Calvinism! Our identity comes from Christ and the gospel, not doctrinal distinctives. And our basis of fellowship is the Spirit’s bond of regeneration, not doctrinal distinctives.

  19. When I listen to (re)surgence/Reformed theologians talk about Calvinism, I almost always hear clear nuance in their “5 points.” For instance, Driscoll claims he doesn’t hold to Limited Atonement in full. Horton is very nuanced and very clearly not holding to the “popular notions” of “5 point Calvinism.” (And is right about many points, IMO). In fact, very few Reformed Theologians (be they New Calvinists or traditional) hold to the 5 Points as popularly understood.

    My point is that this New Calvinism can be decidedly different than what most assume is 5 point Calvinism. And among the young adopters of this new Calvinism, there is such a wide spectrum of belief.

  20. It seems to me that the “new calvinism” has become a cult of personality. Young people have flocked men such as John Piper and Driscoll becasue they supposedly have such a “high” view of God and yes, they do have conviction. I really think it is because they say things for shock value more then most. I wonder if the new NC’s actually understand Calvinism and its implications. Do they understand the implications of Determinism? Did God actually make David sleep with Bathsheba? Did he make him kill Uriah? If so then why did he hold David accountable for these actions? Does he find great pleasure in killing children? Did God kill David’s son for an action God made David do? These are tough questions, but I am getting a bit tired of the “new Calvinists” making claims that suppossedly glorify God when in fact they may offend him. I think the new calvinism will begin to fade to a more balanced view as the hype wears off. Did Jesus really only offer salvation to a few. Has most of the world really been created to be tormented in hell, without a valid choice, for His good pleasure. The NC’s will claim that I don’t understand their teaching, but I think I understand it better then they do sometimes.

  21. Kevin R:

    I’m not new or old calvinism, but a Christian because of my faith in Jesus Christ and his shed blood……I believe God to be sovereign , able to change men’s will, but he doesn’t exercise that dominion. That’s free choice which may be impacted by many factors, some from God, but he leaves us with choice……so thanks for your point of view, but no thanks!(LOL) I’ll be gracious because you might be correct, I’ll ask him about it one day, face to face!!!

    Peace and love , we’re fighting the same battle!

    JIM

  22. Michael,

    Great post! I noticed others mentioning it too, but I wonder if the threshold of 5-pointer might be just a little too high for New Calvinism? Can a 4.5-pointer not be a New Calvinist? What about a guy that’s .8 in two points, that’s still a 4.6?

    All joking aside, this is a great post and a good observation. You might just be in a position to hint at a different name for this and it could stick. Any ideas?

  23. David Barnhart April 7, 2010 at 6:43 pm

    Hey MIchael, Sorry to hear about your coccyx pain–very difficult. Those little segmented bones sometimes get twisted or injured. A good Chiropractor is necessary to humanely straighten the situation out. Did you fall recently? or sit down hard on something? Sometimes a synergy adjustment by a chiropractor can relieve it.
    Will pray for relief and enlightenment for help

    In Christ,
    David

  24. Rayner Markley April 7, 2010 at 6:56 pm

    Kevin, ‘small God’? Yes, the God who operates everything without regard to human will is a big god. And the God who incorporates human will into his plan is big also. The manner in which God exercises sovereignty in no way diminishes that sovereignty. Sovereignty isn’t at issue. Calvinistic theology is just the thing for those who need or desire rigid structure in their lives, and it imputes that onto God also.

  25. I don’t think I’m a “new” Calvinist. When I went over, I went ad fontes. I’m relatively young – perhaps a bit older than the average – but I am covenantal, amillennial, and such – and I’m confessional. That, I think, is the real differentiation between the “new” Calvinism, and “old”. Confessional Calvinism seeks to catechise, and to give a solid doctrinal foundation that perhaps is lacking in the “new” brand.

    A lot of the confusion, also, is due to what we refer to as the “cage stage” – where the new (as in just-learned) Calvinist explores the implications of the theology. As many have said, the essence of maturity is balance. What many lack as yet, is that balance. I know I do, in many respects – but as Spurgeon says – “it is no little thing to put into the hands of a young man a weapon which can slay his foe, which he can easily learn to handle, which he may grasp tenaciously, wield readily, and carry without fatigue; a weapon, I may add, which no rust can corrode and no blows can break, trenchant, and well annealed, a true Jerusalem blade of a temper fit for deeds of renown.”

  26. Yup – this is pretty much where I am today in my theological understanding.

    I also see one significant difference between New Calvinism and traditional. Most traditional Calvinists I know seem to be adherents of worm theology while most New Calvinists (myself included) are not.

  27. Maybe we the tired framework of Calvinism vs. Arminianism is no longer a helpful way to approach the deep questions of God’s soverignty, free will, etc?

    http://newwaystheology.blogspot.com/2010/04/calvinism-is-not-point-and-neither-is.html

  28. Maybe the tired framework of Calvinism vs. Arminianism is no longer a helpful way to approach the deep questions of God’s soverignty, free will, etc?

    http://newwaystheology.blogspot.com/2010/04/calvinism-is-not-point-and-neither-is.html

  29. In response to Michael T and John M I have to say that for me, it was partially Piper, but also Robert Morey and R.C Sproul. I would hope that people who are Young Restless Reformed, Wrestled with their doctrine. Piper’s book Desiring God wrestles with the text and shows us all the tough parts of Scripture that we have to deal with. Piper takes on the verses head on. As someone has said, it “teaches”! Plus to see it all through scripture(as Piper points out) doesn’t hurt either.
    As a SBC guy, I have ot say that I find the London Baptist Confession very attractive as well as the three forms of unity and the Westminster Confession. I’ll throw in Luther’s shorter catechism for short. I do hope that one day there will be Reformed Baptist Study Bible with said creeds and catechisms in the back.
    Well that’s my two cents. Good to see you on here Razor’s Kiss.

  30. Spot on, Michael. It certainly sounds like most of my Acts 29 compadres.

  31. I have been hearing alot of harsh statements from the reformed/Calvinistic community about the “new” Calvinism over the last year. Seems like its pretty much 3 issues the “traditional” reformed, is complaining about this “new”Calvinism.

    1)that they not “truly” reformed cause they don’t follow the “traditional” a Presbyterian/reformed church government. Well lets see the particular baptists did not have “reformed” church government. They were just as bit as Calvinistic as the Presbyterians and congregationalists. Either do the congregationalists, but one would be hard pressed to say that Johnathon Edwards was not Calvinist.

    2)The new Calvinism is not truly “Reformed” cause they may not in some churches follow the “traditional” reformed confessions like the Westminister Standards or Three Forms of Unity or neither of London Baptist confessions. This is totally not true. I have seen some “independent/bible” type churches confessions of faith over the years and their pretty calvinistic

    3)that these new Calvinists are too “spirit-filled”,”fruits of the spirit”. Well im sure the first Great Awakening was that way and it was very Calvinistic

    I guess my point is just cause a church or a movement is not your “type” of Calvinism. That doesn’t mean they are not true blue Calvinists. I mean if u follow the 5 points”Tulip” in your theology, you are considered Calvinist.

  32. I am not… I am not of Apollos nor of Paul… nor of Cephas… to make such a claim is to be carnally minded and to think just as mere men… I know the question that comes next “What are you then?”… I am a Christian… that’s the correct Biblical term… right?

  33. Nathan Stmarsaille June 8, 2012 at 8:34 pm

    Old and New Calvinism have one thing in common: They are both heresy that errs on virtually every foundational point of God’s plan of the Redemption and how it is worked out.

    • Jesus was a heretic? No man can come to Me unless………… do all come? All that the Father has given Me……….are all given?
      You assert things in vitriolic self righteous terms. Everyone likes God being everywhere except on the throne

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