The New Calvinist movement has been growing for some time and recently Rev. John Piper spoke a bit about it in a lecture to Westminster. You can listen to it (http://www.wts.edu/stayinformed/view.html?id=1758), and Tim Challies has helpfully summarized the Twelve Points of New Calvinismprovided by Piper as well. There are a growing number of posts responding of why they are not New Calvinists, but I cannot resist. Some are even suggesting avoiding excessivecriticism of New Calvinism, but I just cannot do that either. I am not a New Calvinist because New Calvinism is NOT Calvinism. We need not be afraid to say that out loud.
First, it should simply be obvious from the modifier. New Calvinism. Anytime you add a modifier, you are trying to show people that you are something other and different from the thing being modified. Compassionate Conservatism for example is trying to emphasize how it is different, and thus better, than Conservatism. How many people would argue that Neo Orthodoxy was really Orthodoxy? No one. Because the whole point of calling it Neo or New Orthodoxy is to show it is somehow different than Orthodoxy. And examining Karl Barth and John Calvin does show difference abounds. But for some reason today when people are claiming to be New Calvinists or Neo-Calvinists, we think they are identifying with the age old Calvinist message. They aren’t. They are trying to show they are different and better.
Second, Piper’s points show New Calvinism ultimately is self-contradictory. Calvinism does not work when modified and changed. For example point 5 and 6 contradict one another. Embracing the essential place of the local church is in direct contrast to the word “missional”. Anytime you see the word “missional” you should be worried. The missional movement down plays the church in favor of the mentioned personal networks. Number 5 also contradicts number 8 as the centrality of the Word of God does not fit into a charismatic mold. Which means I also think that number 8 contradicts number 1. Those who believe in the continuing revelation do not really believe in the inerrancy and sufficiency of the Bible. If the gift of prophecy or tongues is still around then the canon is not closed. Plain and simple. Let me also point out that number 5 contradicts number 10. The local church is not really emphasized if Twitter is a major way of communicating, educating, and directing to new teachers and publishing books is a characteristic of the movement (also mentioned again in point 12) too. Is this movement pushing local church pastors, or are local churches pushing book publishing pastors in a cult of personality way? This is not how the Reformation went despite our emphasis on certain men today. Does anyone even know what pastors helped reform the canton of Schaffhausen? Who were the men on the ground in Memmingen, Augusburg, or Lindeau? And by the way all of these places were Reformed before Calvin came on the scene.
Third, the fourth point about being culturally affirming while still holding out to some counter cultural points like being against gay marriage and abortion is a pretty vital point that should be considered. I believe Tim Keller would call this “contextualization”. While, I think all would agree that it is impossible to be completely divorced of culture even in presenting the gospel, it is fairly evident that the New (Neo)Calvinist movement goes a bit beyond that to actually affirming and adopting cultural (dare I say worldly) ways to share the truth of God. Whether it is in rap music, “gospel eco-systems”, or the acceptance of evolution, the contextualization of the message of God is a point of great debate and a marked difference from Calvinism.
Fourth, hidden in the fifth point is a little nugget about producing widely sung worship music. This really should be point 13, and is another major difference between Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism. This worship music is contemporary music, which is a major characteristic of Neo-Calvinism’s worship. And it points to a very different view of worship overall. This is a very major point. Contemporary worship has a fundamentally different approach to worship than the traditional. Rev. Tullian Tchividjian admits that having one contemporary service and one traditional is like having two separate churches, sadly his answer was to make one service that “blends” the two. In other words now they have one contemporary service. He states it is an attempt to transcend age and cultural style barriers. But that is not right. The traditional service had done that for centuries. While there are always some stylistic differences in the centuries it easily all fit into a category you could have called “Church music”. It transcended age and culture. But the Contemporary Worship comes in and denies “church music” altogether and proclaims we must put Christian words to popular styles like Punk Rock and Rap as well as Pop to sing in church. It is not an attempt to draw together, but rather an attempt to bring the world into the church, and denies the church’s separateness from the world especially in style of music. The same can be said of things like movie clips, twitter usage, and service structure. The difference simply put is this: Calvinism says worship is where God calls us to himself to worship Him as He demands, and Neo Calvinism says worship is where we use our culture to glorify God.
I could go on and discuss the fruit of some of the New Calvinist Leaders, but I would rather focus on the real doctrinal differences. I know that many want to embrace it and/or pretend it is a good thing, but I fear not. If we grant commonality with this New Calvinism, we are going to end up losing the distinctive call of the Gospel of the Reformation. A call that points to Christ, calls us to overcome the world in Him, and worship Him as He demands, in the churches that He gave. We are being challenged right now on all of those points, we dare not give in.