New Calvinism was listed in Time Magazine’s March 11, 2009 issue as one of the ten ideas changing the world. The article named John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Al Mohler as leaders of the movement. At the time of the publication, John Calvin’s 500 th birthday was less than four months away. Now that the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation has come and gone, Calvin’s birthday has been largely overshadowed by Martin Luther’s work; however, the new religious phenomenon bears the name of Calvin. Actually, the writings of the great American theologian Jonathan Edwards have more profoundly impacted New Calvinism, which could be called “Edwards-ism.” Piper’s desiring God emphasis came to him by reading Edwards. With the publication of Desiring God in 1986, Piper created a renewed interest in Reformed theology. Young pastors and many young people became known as the “New Calvinists” because of their zeal and enthusiasm for this theological perspective.
Journalist Collin Hansen of Christianity Today became so interested in the movement that he wrote a book about it called Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. His book traces New Calvinism all across the United States from the east coast to Seattle. The movement has been greatly spread and supported by two large conferences: Together For the Gospel (T4G), which meets every other year, and The Gospel Coalition (TGC), which meets annually. These conferences have been attended by tens of thousands of pastors and young people. Crossway Books has provided huge stacks of Bibles and books of Reformed theology for the attenders.
Many have written in favor of the movement and many others have written critiques of it. A young Reformed pastor, Jeremy Walker, has written a 126-page book called The New Calvinism Considered. Jeremy’s critical yet irenic probe into the movement contains both positive and negative aspects. He defines the movement, commends the positive, and warns of dangers. In defining the movement, New Calvinism is rather difficult to nail down. The movement is not monolithic; rather, it is a conglomeration of many different religious groupings who all say that they believe in the sovereignty of God in salvation. But quite a few of them are Amyraldian in their theology. Moses Amyraut (1596-1664) was a moderate French Calvinist, who denied a definite atonement. He taught universal atonement and limited election. He believed that an atonement made for all is offered freely and only the elect will embrace it by faith.
B. B. Warfield labeled this “an inconsistent and therefore unstable form of Calvinism.” Warfield’s conclusion is very telling in regard to New Calvinism.
On the one hand, Rev. Walker rejoices that Christ is preached by the New Calvinists. He believes the movement is Christ-centered, Gospel-powered and God-glorifying. Much excitement and enthusiasm characterize the New Calvinists who have discovered in the writings of the Reformers and Puritans the beauty, power, and refreshing nature of God’s saving grace. In addition, New Calvinists zealously evangelize online and on the streets. They are reaching many people groups that some of the stricter Calvinists have never been able to reach. New Calvinism highlights complementarianism; that is, men
and women fulfilling their God-given roles. Reading the great works of Reformed theology characterizes the New Calvinists.
On the other hand, Rev. Walker points out some of the dangers in New Calvinism. First, regarding corporate worship, the traditional Reformed position adheres to the regulative principle, which limits the use of elements used in public worship to those revealed in Scripture. Singing psalms and hymns and Bible reading are permissible; however, the New Calvinists tend more toward the normative principle which allows anything the Bible does not forbid. In other words, if it works, use it. This pragmatic approach is seen especially in musical choices: rap, country, and contemporary instead of the sole use of traditional Christian music. In addition, an obvious tendency exists toward worldliness, which seems to stem from an incipient antinomianism. The abiding validity of the moral law with particular reference to the fourth commandment is not strictly upheld. This is obviously the case with some who hold new covenant theology, which does not promote obedience to the moral law as they do not believe that the moral law is the rule of life for the New Testament Christian.
Holiness, duty, and obedience are terms somewhat avoided by many of the New Calvinists; instead grace and love have an overemphasis. One can easily enjoy a comfortable profession of faith in the doctrines without a rigorous pursuit of godliness, and a greater concern for unity prevails rather than a strong desire for separation from heresy. A point of contention among the conglomeration is whether spiritual gifts continue as Reformed charismatics believe or whether they were for apostolic times only as cessationists believe.
Critics of New Calvinism must remember that many New Calvinists are brethren in Christ. They should be treated graciously even when dealing firmly with them on the dangers evident in the movement.
We admire their zeal and vision to reach millennials with the gospel, but lament their failure to adhere more strictly to Biblical orthodoxy. We must all seek a revival of true Calvinism as it promotes the purity and power of the gospel. Let every child of God earnestly pray and seek the Lord for this blessing and endeavor daily to revel in God’s grace and enjoy closer fellowship with Christ.
Rev. Myron Mooney is minister of Trinity FPC, Decatur, Alabama. He presently serves as moderator of
This book is available at Amazon Books.