Monday, March 31, 2014

Why New Calvinism is not Calvinism

                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 (, 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. 


Jeremy B said...

To your first point, adding a modifier does not necessarily mean it becomes something other than what is being modified. It could just note a distinctive, as in "German Reformed", or it could mean something with an aim to replace what was there previously - which seems more apt in this case.

To your second point, I agree that the importance of the local church is actually diminished. Neo-calvinism however, has not cornered the market on this, the "reformed" world itself is doing just fine in displacing the local church through its own book publishing, coalitions, conferences, and its own set of celebrities. We easily decry a John Piper, but what of an RC Sproul? Has the tacit acceptance of divergent views at Ligonier been influential in the acceptance of divergent views in the church at large? Does it bother anyone else that St Andrews is independent?

The focus should likely be closer to home however, the focus should be on self. The fact that they find the market they do, would seem to have much to do with the failure of the local church to be faithfully involved in the lives of its people. This is not a charge to you personally, or to church officers in general, but to us all. If we have not love, we are nothing.

To your third point, one need answer what exactly culture is before saying they affirm or deny it. In this case, the response will change with the spirit of the age, instead of changing to conform to the Spirit of the ages. Schilder has his issues, but on the issue of Christ and Culture, I think him worthy of reading.

To your fourth point, if you want "church music" that transcends age and culture, sing Psalms...acapella even.

Finally, not sure why any think they can claim (or would want to) any social media platform (whether Twitter, Facebook, or even Blogs like this one). Doing so, like you've pointed out, makes one question other claims that have been made.

Lee said...

I see your point in verse one, but at the very least even adding the modifier "German" is to let you know something specific to expect or not expect within "Reformed". It is there to modify Reformed in a specific direction.

It is true that the "reformed" have our own mega stars. This is the way culture as a whole is drifting. I do think it is exaggerated in the New Calvinism movement. RC Sproul has his Ligonier and pastors at an independent church, but RC himself is within the PCA and subject to their jurisdiction. Can the same be said of Driscoll? Piper? CJ Mahaney? It seems New Calvinism is farther down the track on this one.

I like your point about conforming to the Spirit of the Ages. Nice turn of phrase. I do think it is clear if we look at some of the New Calvinism that it is much closer to just blindly adopting culture than anything else. Proving this point would take a lot of time. Just go look at Mark Driscoll and his church, and that should prove my point enough.

Psalms done acapella has always been a minority position in the Reformed church and even more of a minority position among the church throughout the ages. Ambrose is writing hymns in the 300s. That is a "French Reformed" thing and later a "Scottish Presbyterian" distinctive. Not that one cannot sing the psalms, but exclusive psalmody is a minority position. The people of God have always desired to sing praises to the Lord Jesus, and have felt free to do so in song. "O Trinity most blessed light, O unity of sovereign might" penned in the mid 300's transcends ages and is clearly church music.

Ultimately the point here is not that the Reformed church is perfect or free from fault, but that this New Calvinism movement is a dangerous one, in my opinion. It is more worthy of warning than praise.

Jeremy B said...

Agreed, theoretically RC Sproul is subject to jurisdiction, even if the church where he labors is "out of bounds". Of course, RC's view on second commandment violations seems out of bounds as well, per the recent volley with Bob Godfrey. For a variety of reasons, I won't hold my breath for

Agreed, Neocalvinism is further down the road with each of the characters referenced having their own particular issues. Not sure much else needs said, I mean...Driscoll sees things , and Piper thinks NPP/FV is not a different gospel.

One can undoubtedly find words penned in the fourth century that point to timeless truths, as one can find words penned today that point to timeless truths. The Psalms however, being Scripture, and Scripture being sufficient in itself, are those timeless truths. To divorce Christ from the Psalms is to understand neither. The RCUS Directory of Worship gives a primacy to the singing of Psalms, a primacy that should be restored in practice. Historically, German Reformed practice regarding Psalmody has been detailed elsewhere. As to acapella, the definition being "in the manner of the church" seems like it should have some bearing on what is considered as "church music".

In conclusion, like you've said, Neocalvinism is worthy of warning and not praise. In particular because of the likelihood of its influence among congregants in reformed churches, if not among church officers themselves.

Lee said...

Singing psalms is of course a good thing. And one done in the RCUS. St. John's averages about one a Sunday. It is the Exclusive part of psalmody that is the problem. You are right that the Psalms speak of Christ, but in types and shadows. Do we not now have the fullness that we must continue to praise Jesus without his name and only in types and shadows?
As for your link, I have to respectfully disagree with the historical claims in that piece. Constance was reformed before Strassborg (so the "primacy" of German ought to go there and they were dedicated hymn singers), Bucer was not the primary Reformer there until after 1531-32 upon the death of Capito's wife, and Bucer clearly approved of the inclusion of hymns in the worship in Strassborg anyway. Those are just a few points.

But these are points I guess I can deal with next. I might as well return to the Three Forms vs. Westminster and talk about psalms and worship in general.

Jeremy B said...

Thanks for the response(s) Lee

Acts 10:48 mentions baptizing in Jesus name, yet we know the Trinitarian formula is commanded in Matthew 28:19. Psalm 2 certainly refers to "kissing the Son". The Psalms also have plenty of references to Yeshua, so Psalm singers do indeed sing the name of Jesus. Richard Bacon develops this thought further on page 27ff.

I for one hope the Psalter Hymnal joint effort by the URC/OPC will be received well, and will be worthy of such a reception. Hymnbooks which do not include the 150 Psalms are at the very best incomplete for use in the one Church, the one Israel, the one people of God.

Regardless, I very much appreciate the work of the RCUS, St Johns, all the work you do, and of course - the Three Forms v Westminster topic.