Understanding the New Calvinism: Personalities & Networks

With a basic explanation of the Calvinistic aspect of the New Calvinism completed, it is time to move forward to an understanding of New Calvinism. What makes New Calvinists new? How do they differ from historic Calvinists?

New Calvinism is more easily identified and described than defined. E. S. Williams’ definition that it is “a growing perspective within conservative evangelicalism that embraces the fundamentals of 16th-century Calvinism while also trying to be relevant in the present-day world,”1 while somewhat helpful, could also define any number of modern evangelical efforts and movements which are trying, in one fashion or another, to reach postmodern people with the gospel.

The current wave flowing through evangelical cutting-edge ministries of all stripes is that the church is hopelessly out of step with the surrounding culture and that if it does not change it will die.2 As Hugh Halter and Matt Smay state in their book The Tangible Kingdom, “What worked in the past simply does not work today, and we must adjust to culture.”3 Virtually all of those associated with New Calvinism would subscribe to a similar philosophy, but this is not uniquely defining of the movement. Nor is New Calvinism exclusively found in an official organization or denomination, as it transcends such structures and is more ecumenical in nature. Rather it is better identified by personalities, conferences, blogs and websites which are promoting Reformed-charismatic philosophies, doctrines and concepts of engaging culture.

It seems to be a movement that is particularly attractive to younger evangelicals who have grown tired of watered-down, anemic, anti-intellectual forms of Christianity that no longer challenge them. Some of the personalities who will be listed below have offered meat-and-potatoes theology which engages the minds and hearts of youthful believers looking for something deeper and more relevant from their faith. As a matter of fact Colin Hansen entitled his book Young, Restless and Reformed to describe this very group.

Yet, a number of the key leaders are hardly young, I think in particular of John Piper, D. A. Carson, Timothy Keller, Wayne Grudem and C. J. Mahaney. Jeremy Walker, in his insightful book The New Calvinism Considered, goes so far as to say,

One could argue that the true father figure of the New Calvinism is probably more Jonathan Edwards than John Calvin, and even then it is Jonathan Edwards mediated through John Piper.4

This is arguably true, for Piper’s emphasis on the doctrines of grace, sovereignty of God, passionate preaching, intellectual faith, Christian hedonism (the idea that we are all joy-seekers, but the Christian is to seek their joy in Christ), and openness to charismatic teachings of the spiritual gifts are prevalent throughout the young, restless and Reformed. Piper’s fingerprints are all over the movement but he is hardly alone.

Some other prominent names include the following:

Timothy Keller

Keller’s apologetic methodology has hit the right note with those who have grown up surrounded by a largely postmodern worldview. Keller seems to be an interesting mix between old school Reformed, with its emphasis on orthodox doctrine, and postmodern apologist, alternating between the two approaches depending upon which group he is addressing.5 Keller’s focus on social and mercy ministries also resonates well with young adults today.

D.A. Carson

Carson is the co-founder, with Keller, of The Gospel Coalition, an extremely popular blog filled with articles promoting Reformed thinking and theology and with leanings toward New Calvinistic ideas. While an excellent theologian and commentator with many wonderful books to his credit, nevertheless Carson rejects cessationism. Carson and Keller are co-founders of The Gospel Coalition, which is defined by its website as a “broadly Reformed network of churches which encourages and educates current and next generation Christian leaders by advocating gospel-centered principles and practices that glorify the Savior and do good to those for whom He shed His life’s blood.” These goals are accomplished largely through its website as well as through conferences and publications.

Wayne Grudem

Grudem has done more theologically to pave the way for this movement than perhaps anyone else. This is due to his prolific writings that combine both excellent, readable and solid Reformed theology with a defense of the charismatics’ teaching on the spiritual gifts. Grudem’s teaching on this subject will be examined more closely in a future article but, in general, in his book The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, as well as in his Systematic Theology, Grudem champions a position that all the gifts, including the sign gifts, especially that of prophecy, are viable today.

However prophecy in the New Testament era is not without error, according to Grudem. He believes that New Testament prophets, unlike Old Testament ones, are unreliable and non-authoritative. The Lord is giving prophecies today, but these are polluted prophecies because a portion of the revelation may be of God but another portion may be of one’s own imagination or even misunderstood by the receiver. This allows for the continuation of prophecies today, something highly prized by the young, restless and Reformed, but does not demand infallibility, as was required of the Old Testament prophet of God (Deut 18:20-22).

C. J. Mahaney

Mahaney is the former president of Sovereign Grace Ministries (SGM) and former pastor of Covenant Life Church in Gaithersburg, Maryland. He resigned the presidency of SGM in 2013 in the midst of some strong accusations and resistance to his leadership. He now pastors the Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Kentucky. In 2006 he co-founded Together for the Gospel (T4G), a coalition of Christian leaders who have found common ground in the gospel but differ on some other doctrinal issues such as charismatic gifts and cessationism.

Mahaney and SGM have been at the center of the birth of Neo-Calvinism and its growth, clearly combining Reformed theology with charismatic practices and musical styles. Together for the Gospel has been a means by which many outside the movement have been exposed to this emphasis. This is especially significant since some who are very strong cessationists, such as John MacArthur, regularly preach at T4G.

Mark Driscoll

Driscoll has been one of the strongest leaders among the young, restless and Reformed. He was founder and pastor of Mars Hills, a megachurch in Seattle, Washington, which is spread out over 13 campuses, and founder of ACTS 29, a church planting network, now led by Matt Chandler, used to start and promote Mars Hills clones. On the one hand Driscoll’s Calvinistic beliefs are strong enough to receive the endorsement of the likes of John Piper; on the other hand he has described himself as a charismatic with a seat belt. However, reading some of Driscoll’s books would reveal that his seat belt has come unbuckled and, more recently, so has his life and church empire. Nevertheless it is claimed that Driscoll’s sermons are the most downloaded of any preacher in America and his influence would be hard to overestimate.6

Since New Calvinism is largely centered around personalities, websites, blogs and conferences, the above offers some flavor of the movement. Let’s move now to some other identifiable marks.

(Next: New Calvinism and the Charismatic Gifts)

Notes

1 E.S. Williams, The New Calvinists, Changing the Gospel (London: The Wakeman Trust, 2014), p. 7.

2 See Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, The Tangible Kingdom, Creating Incarnational Community: The Posture and Practices of Ancient Church Now (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2008), pp. 59, 94.

3 Hugh Halter and Matt Smay, p. 108.

4 Jeremy Walker, The New Calvinism Considered, a Personal and Pastoral Assessment (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2013), p. 22.

5 See Iain D. Campbell and William M. Schweitzer, ed, Engaging Keller, Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical (Darington, England: Evangelical Press, 2013), for documentation and discussion concerning this feature of Keller’s ministry, esp. p. 21.

6 Williams, p. 39.

Gary Gilley Bio


Gary Gilley has served as Senior Pastor of Southern View Chapel in Springfield, Illinois since 1975. He has authored several books and is the book review editor for the Journal of Dispensational Theology. He received his BA from Moody Bible Institute. He and his wife Marsha have two adult sons and six grandchildren.

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There are 27 Comments

Don Johnson's picture

Jim wrote:

Was this written before the crash and burn of Driscoll? And well-documented C. J. Mahaney issues?

From the way those sections are stated, it appears to me the author is aware of these events.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Ron Bean's picture

Jim wrote:

I don't think I still have it

Are Baptists Calvinists? 

I was basically a 1 pt calvinist (let's call it "once saved always saved") when I started seminary in 1978:

I knew Ken Good and remember this book. While not all historic Baptists were Calvinists, the majority were. The oldest Baptist church I know of in Virginia (1754) held to the Philadelphia Confession of Faith as dis the churches in their association. BTW, this church is still in existence, still lists that confession as its doctrinal standard, yet is, in practice, extremely anti-calvinistic.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Bert Perry's picture

Did anyone else get the creeps at this statement?

Since New Calvinism is largely centered around personalities, websites, blogs and conferences, the above offers some flavor of the movement. Let’s move now to some other identifiable marks.

Not that I'm arguing the point; I think the author is right.  But if I were Keller, or Driscoll, or Mahaney, or Macdonald, or others, I'd either be offended or humbled at this.  "OK, if it's all about us, or perceived as all about us, we screwed up, period."

Here's a point that makes the case that Gary Gilley is absolutely correct; Elephant Room 2.  When you greet a non-Trinitarian preacher as a brother--one who just happens to be filthy rich--and then affirm his modalist explanation of the Trinity and at least a portion of his prosperity theology (I'm talking about T.D. Jakes), I think it's safe to say that personality and prosperity are what is at issue, and not any coherent view of Calvin, and that leaving the question of cessation vs. continuation aside completely. 

Chantry has this hilarious bit about this movement to John Lennon's "Imagine."  Enjoy.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jim's picture

He said: "Since New Calvinism is largely centered around personalities, websites, blogs and conferences"

By the way, much of fundamentalism has been "largely centered around personalities": The Bob Jones, RV Clearwaters, et al. 

My hypothesis is that Calvinism has been suppressed in fundamentalism:

Jim's picture

Michael Riley on Calvinism and fundamentalism: I can't find the link to his article but Riley is a very solid fundamentalist AND a Calvinist. He wrote an article (may have been in a Nick of Time) where he wondered if as a 5 ptr he would be accepted in fundamentalist circles. 

 

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Well, some are and some aren’t. That's also true historically.
And not all non-Calvinists are anti-Calvinists.
And, of course, it depends on your definitions.

In keeping with allowing both sides a say,
Kenneth H. Goode‘s book “Are Baptists Calvinists?”
is responded to by
R. L. Sumner in his book,
“Fights I Didn’t Start, And Some I Did, Round 2.”

http://biblicalevangelist.org/store/index.php?category=2

Some might want to read both sides.

David R. Brumbelow

Jim's picture

David R. Brumbelow wrote:

Well, some are and some aren’t. That's also true historically.
And not all non-Calvinists are anti-Calvinists.
And, of course, it depends on your definitions.

 

Obviously some Baptists are not Calvinists. But historically the seed for the vast majority of Baptist was the 2nd London Confession. And it was and is unashamedly Calvinistic. Even to the point of particular redemption

 

Ed Vasicek's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Did anyone else get the creeps at this statement?

Since New Calvinism is largely centered around personalities, websites, blogs and conferences, the above offers some flavor of the movement. Let’s move now to some other identifiable marks.

Not that I'm arguing the point; I think the author is right.  But if I were Keller, or Driscoll, or Mahaney, or Macdonald, or others, I'd either be offended or humbled at this.  "OK, if it's all about us, or perceived as all about us, we screwed up, period."

Here's a point that makes the case that Gary Gilley is absolutely correct; Elephant Room 2.  When you greet a non-Trinitarian preacher as a brother--one who just happens to be filthy rich--and then affirm his modalist explanation of the Trinity and at least a portion of his prosperity theology (I'm talking about T.D. Jakes), I think it's safe to say that personality and prosperity are what is at issue, and not any coherent view of Calvin, and that leaving the question of cessation vs. continuation aside completely. 

Chantry has this hilarious bit about this movement to John Lennon's "Imagine."  Enjoy.  

 

Since I became an evangelical/fundamental Christian in 1974, I have seen one fad after another.  This New Calvinism is a big one, but it, too, IMO, is a fad, albeit better than most.  Some people quote Piper and Keller as if they were persons of the Trinity; gets me in the gut (and I have a good sized gut!).  There is no doubt, however, that D.A. Carson and Wayne Grudem are either the very top or very close to the top when it comes to evangelical scholars today.  It is sad, though, that people like Ryrie or Pentecost are suddenly no longer scholars. How did that happen?

"The Midrash Detective"

David R. Brumbelow's picture

Another view of Baptist history and Calvinism, from a scholarly review:

“Are the majority of Southern Baptists or have the majority of Southern Baptists been consistent, five-point Calvinists? I think the answer is no” -Dr. Dockery

The second category is Baptist Calvinism. Although the earliest English Baptists arose out of the Calvinist context, they were not “classical Calvinists.” According to Yarnell, “in every historical instance, the Baptists specifically rejected, or at least significantly modified, the theological method and numerous dogmatic conclusions of the reformed.” Thus, for Yarnell, “Baptists have always had both an appreciation for and a healthy distrust of Calvinism.” This is further borne out by the New Hampshire Confession of 1833, which significantly “toned down” Dort and the Second London Confession, and became the foundation for the Baptist Faith & Message of 1925, 1963, and 2000.

-Dr. David L. Allen, SWBTS

http://www.baptisttheology.org/baptisttheology/assets/File/CalvinismaRev...

David R. Brumbelow

G. N. Barkman's picture

Article IX.  Of God's Purpose of Grace

      "We believe that Election is the eternal purpose of God, according to which he graciously regenerates, sanctifies, and saves sinners; that being perfectly consistent with the free agency of man, it comprehends all the means in connection with the end; that it is a most glorious display of God's sovereign goodness, being infinitely free, wise, holy, and unchangeable; that it utterly excludes boasting, and promotes humility, love, prayer, praise, trust in God, and active imitation of his free mercy; that it encourages the use of means in the highest degree; that it is ascertained by its effects in all who truly believe the gospel; that it is the foundation of Christian assurance and that to ascertain it with regard to ourselves demands and deserves our utmost diligence."

Some might call the New Hampshire Confession "toned down."  Others might say it was condensed for sake of brevity and to accommodate the educational level of an agricultural society.  I doubt that anyone would evaluate the above article anything but clear Calvinism.

 

G. N. Barkman

TylerR's picture

Editor

I love the NHCF. I don't think it is really "toned down" much. I think it is probably the best confession I've seen; it presents a very unapologetic but gracious Calvinism. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ed Vasicek's picture

Guys, believing in election/sovereign grace does not make on a Calvinist anymore than believing in the Trinity makes one a fundamentalist.  In both instances, it is an important part of the equation, but not the whole equation. Calvinism is not just about Soteriology, it is about hermeneutics, ecclessiology, and eschatology as well.

"The Midrash Detective"

Rob Fall's picture

but, there are many who get all hissy with a person who isn't comfortable with the label "Calvinist" because of the non-soteriological issues involved.

Ed Vasicek wrote:

Guys, believing in election/sovereign grace does not make on a Calvinist anymore than believing in the Trinity makes one a fundamentalist.  In both instances, it is an important part of the equation, but not the whole equation. Calvinism is not just about Soteriology, it is about hermeneutics, ecclessiology, and eschatology as well.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

Joel Shaffer's picture

"and founder of ACTS 29, a church planting network, now led by Matt Chandler, used to start and promote Mars Hills clones."

Two of our pastors at New City church went through ACTS 29 network assessment process (and for different reasons chose not to plant under their network), and in my extended conversations with my fellow pastors, ACTS 29 are not planting clones of Mars Hill.  In fact, there were many guys at the assessments that tried to be Mark Driscoll clones and envisioned planting a Mars Hill type of church and found themselves not even being  considered for ACTS 29.  Also, I know two of their board members, Eric Mason and Leonce Crump (both lead pastors at churches whose demographic is mostly African-American) chose very different ways of planting their churches than Mars Hill.   

And I have another friend who is planting a ACTS 29 church and he happens to be a dispensationalist (he graduated from Moody Bible Institute).  

Although the author is right on many of its points about New Calvinism, he still falls into the trap of over-generalizing.   

 

G. N. Barkman's picture

That's almost always a problem with every discussion--defining the terms, and being sure everyone is using the same dictionary.  I would argue, strongly, that Calvinism is all about Soteriology.  True, many Calvinists also differ from many modern day Fundamentalists on other issues, but everyone who embraces the five points of Calvinism is a Calvinist, and there are Calvinists who are also Baptists and Dispensationalists.  Among modern Fundamentalists, even four pointers are usually considered Calvinists, at least according to their own self-identification, as well as the designation given to them by those who lean more to the Arminian side of things.

Someone recently cited Kenneth Goode's book, "Are Baptists Calvinists?"  His answer was, "Yes, most American Baptists come from the tradition of English Baptists who were Calvinists.  He wrote another book entitled, "Are Baptists Reformed?"  His answer?  "No.  Baptists, though Calvinists are not Reformed."  By this he meant that many American, Calvinist Baptists do not embrace Covenant Theology, do not subscribe to Presbyterian baptism or church government, etc.  Hermeneutics is really a Covenant Theology vs. Dispensationalism issue, more than an issue of Soteriology.

The doctrine of Election is really the pivotal doctrine, and primary dividing line.  Those who subscribe to Unconditional Election, as defined in Article IX of The New Hampshire Confession, are considered Calvinists by most students of the Word.  Those who espouse Conditional Election are not Calvinists.

G. N. Barkman

David R. Brumbelow's picture

The New Hampshire Confession and the Baptist Faith & Message are generic enough that both strict Calvinists and Moderate Calvinists (aka non-Calvinists, Traditionalists, Biblicists…) can affirm them.

And that was probably what they intended.

David R. Brumbelow

TylerR's picture

Editor

The only way a non-Calvinist can affirm the NHCF is if they don't read it. It affirms (1) unconditional, single election [Art. 9] and (2) regeneration preceding faith [Art. 7-8]. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

David R. Brumbelow's picture

It seems one can make the New Hampshire Confession as Calvinist or non-Calvinist as he desires. Again, probably as intended.

“When it was first published, the New Hampshire Confession provided a common standard for a wide range of Baptists, strict Calvinists and moderate Arminians, revivalistic Separates and orthodox Regulars, Landmarkers and others who did not believe in a universal church along with those who did. Today many modern Baptists, though still unwilling to treat the statement as a binding rule of faith, still find the New Hampshire Confession a sound standard of Christian belief.”

-M A Noll
(Elwell Evangelical Dictionary)

Bibliography
W. L. Lumpkin, ed., Baptist Confessions of Faith; R. G. Torbet, A History of the Baptists.

David R. Brumbelow

G. N. Barkman's picture

Brumbelow's claim is an oft repeated one, namely that the NHCF is not a Calvinist confession.  I agree with Brumbelow that   how one  characterizes it is to some extent in the eye of the beholder.  However, that is possible only if one fails to read and understand what it says.  When it is honestly examined and comprehended, the distinct Calvinism is clear enough.  It's the old "exegesiis" or "eisegesis" problem all over.  Just read it slowly, thoughtfully, and thoroughly, and I don't see how you can miss the obvious Calvinism.

G. N. Barkman

J. Baillet's picture

Regardless of how "watered down" the NHCF was or was not, the salient point is that its origin was in the English Calvinistic Baptist tradition and is a "descendant" of the London Confessions.  Therefore, Baptist churches in America are descendants of the Calvinist tradition and not of the Anabaptist tradition.  This does not mean that they all conformed to that tradition or that they were obligated to do so.  

In similar fashion, the GARBC arose out of the Northern (now American) Baptists.  This does not mean that GARBC churches are required to conform to that tradition, but that is their heritage.

JSB

AndrewSuttles's picture

Why isn't John MacArthur on this list?  He's probably influenced more new-Calvinists than any of the others...

G. N. Barkman's picture

I can't speak for the author, but the most obvious reason MacArthur was not included is that he is not a "new Calvinist."  He's more of an "old" Calvinist.  He doesn't fit very easily into the New Calvinism as represented by the likes of Piper, Driscoll, etc.

G. N. Barkman

AndrewSuttles's picture

G. N. Barkman wrote:

I can't speak for the author, but the most obvious reason MacArthur was not included is that he is not a "new Calvinist."  He's more of an "old" Calvinist.  He doesn't fit very easily into the New Calvinism as represented by the likes of Piper, Driscoll, etc.

Pastor Barkman - OK.  I think I get what you are saying.  I just think MacArthur and Piper have more in common than, say, MacArthur and the the ARBCA folks. 

My concern with this series is that it is just the old fundamentalist thing of making a list of "people we don't like" and putting a label on it.  Maybe I'm wrong.  I'm not sure anyone really even uses the term "New Calvinist" anymore. 

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