I had the privilege to witness Dr. John Piper, former pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, deliver the 7th annual Gaffin lecture today in Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia, entitled: “The New Calvinism and the New Community: The Doctrines of Grace and the Meaning of Race.”
In the introduction of his lecture, he offered to us 12 features that he thinks define the contours of the so-called “new” Calvinism.
These features are not distinctives. Indeed Piper emphasizes that the ‘new’ calvinism should be seen as organically connected to the ‘old’ calvinism in all of its diverse permutations, from C.H. Spurgeon to Abraham Kuyper.
I offer here a paraphrase as I listened:
1. Views the Innerrancy of the bible as implying the five points of tulip while having an aversion against that acronym. The focus is on calvinistic soteriology.
2. Embraces the sovereignty of God in salvation and evil and history
3. Strong complementarianism over against egalitarianism.
4. Leans towards being culture affirming as opposed to cultural denying
5. Embraces the essential place of the local church and thus has a church planting bent
6. Aggressively mission driven – both social and evangelistic.
7. Interdenominational “baptistic” element
8. Includes charismatics and non charismatics
9. Puritan piety and affections emphasis while esteeming the life of the mind and embracing scholarship – Edwards as a model over Calvin whether thats fair to Calvin or not.
10. The serious utilization of social media (blogging, facebook, twitter)
11. International in scope and multiethnic in expression.
12. Gospel and cross-centered in communication.
Piper was humble, and as usual, pastorally and theologically wise. I benefitted from having attended the encouraging lecture, and I would happily admit that my faith itself has been deeply impacted, fueled by, and firmly rooted in the Calvinism that is preached by men like John Piper. I am one of the products of the so-called ‘new calvinism.’ I would not be studying Reformed theology without its conception and momentum. Despite having some differences with it now, I still respect what it is doing in many ways.
In my love and passion for this Calvinism, and the ‘big God and Savior’, as Piper so stresses, that it points to, I do hope that some things could be more emphasized within the movement.
The first is this: despite the healthy emphasis the prominent figures associated with the movement had placed on the need for accountability and a plurality of elders, the movement continues to fuel, for better or for worst, a celebrity pastor mentality. I find it sad that many would name one of the big-named pastors as their model ministers over the local pastors that they are under day in and day out. The big-conference, big-screened, best-selling book-writing ministry becomes seen as that which is to be the end-goal for ministry. This offers a deeply one-sided, at best, or a totally ego-centered, at worst, view of what ministry should be.
Don’t get me wrong, I love the men of the Gospel Coalition, the Pipers, the Kellers, and the like. They are a blessing to the church, and the Reformed presbyterians (like me) ought to emphasize our continuities with them rather than not. They have done for us so much good, and I do believe that these men have done a good, intentional, job at pointing away from themselves and pointing to Christ – but the celebrity, idol-making mentality is so deeply rooted in our hearts that at times it may take over entirely, painting the model ministry in the same light. Pastoral ministry and theological vocations (like all other Christian vocations!) are not to be seen as a pathway to stardom but an affirmation of total servanthood – whether the church in which you minister is numbered by dozens or thousands.
Secondly, I would push those of us who identify with the ‘new calvinism’ to go deeper than reading the usual Chans or Chandlers. There is much good to these books, but we ought not be satisfied with staying at the best-sellers aisle, and we, indeed, ought to move to meatier and better things. I have met too many people who read their Chans alongside books written by Joyce Meyer, and they have done this for years. I have no idea how one could enjoy those two books together! But nonetheless it seems to me that the wealth of new and hip books written by the new calvinists has communicated, contrary to their intention, the subtle message that we just need to stick with these books and thats okay – and whatever books we need to read afterwards will be produced again by them anyway. We need to get deeper into the roots of our faith and not just associate our faith with the new books or the personalities that advocate the Reformed faith today – instead we ought to ground it in the historical church -realizing that the faith we preach is not something new nor a passing fad. The history of Reformed orthodoxy is too rich for us to merely stay with what’s being written today.
Connected to this, perhaps as an aside, as much as I love the works of Jonathan Edwards, I think (don’t stone me here!) his works lacks a comprehensiveness that can be remedied by renewing our attention to, instead, the works of Calvin (yes I do not think that we ought to pay more attention to Edwards rather than Calvin). Calvin’s doctrine of salvation (soteriology) cannot be neatly divorced from his doctrine of the end times nor his doctrine of the church. In our attempt to preach and teach the whole counsel of God (which means, to really desire to teach the whole of the Bible in its connected parts in application to the contemporary sinful world), we must not become one-sided preachers. We must see that Calvinism is not just about predestinarian election. It’s a whole worldview. It’s the whole Bible taken together. A healthy dose of the confessions would be helpful here.
In my view, of course, we also ought to therefore pay more attention to the likes of Herman Bavinck and the Dutch Reformers. There is a comprehensiveness, a totality of vision, a more holistic view of the Reformed worldview propounded by the likes of Bavinck that will, I think, remain unmatched for many more years to come. The ‘new’ calvinism will only be impoverishing itself were it to ignore these rich historical resources – men who had mined the Bible for the benefit of the church.
With that said, I would also say that I thank God that the ‘new’ calvinism are joining together charismatics and non-charismatics (I’m thinking of the likes of Wayne Grudem and Sam Storms). I am so thankful that the Church is preaching the Gospel of the Scriptures once again in a relevant and powerful fashion through the utilization of social media. I am also thankful for the interdenominational nature of the movement, and I hope that the movement will grow more and more. The Gospel of the Reformed faith and the Sovereign God behind that Gospel are too glorious of truths for us Reformed people to only preach to ourselves.
Though, of course, as Piper so rightly preached, if God willed, Reformed theology might cease being relevant tomorrow, and if that’s the case, God will still carry out His Will, and whether any human being is preaching about this God is totally irrelevant to the truth of the matter.