Series - New Calvinism

Understanding the New Calvinism: Social Justice

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The New Calvinists are quite concerned about social justice, and rightly so. As citizens of this planet we have an obligation to care for the world and the people in it, not only spiritually but physically as well. But many make the mistake of not distinguishing between the mission of individual Christians, as dual citizens of both heaven and earth, and the mandate given to the church as the corporate people of God, which is outlined in the Great Commission. As a result not only can the church lose its unique place in the world as the one institution ordained by God to preach the Word, function as Christ’s body and make disciples, but the gospel itself can be mutated.

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Understanding the New Calvinism: More Identifying Marks

Relevance and Missional Living

One of the key buzzwords used by a large number of young evangelicals, including the restless and Reformed, is “relevant.” By this is meant that our Christian lives and our churches need to reveal an “authentic” (another buzzword) faith. We need to scratch where people itch. We need to show people that Christ and the gospel are germane to real life. More than that, we need to demonstrate that Christians are real people, with real hurts, pains and problems just like the unsaved. A Christian is not someone who is so different that he cannot relate to unbelievers. The difference Christ has made in our lives is not that we have become perfect or so “holy” that we are weird and unapproachable by the unsaved. In fact, we are like them except that Christ has forgiven us our sins and has become the central focus of our lives.

Much of this philosophy is good, and should be considered seriously. The next step is to learn to relate to unbelievers rather than isolating ourselves from them. The neo-Calvinist believes that we live out this kind of relevancy primarily by being “missional” (yet another buzzword). This word has been so over used and abused that even those who love it sometimes are not sure what it means. Missional usually implies living out a life of love and care for others, serving and ministering in such a way that Christ is glorified in us and people are therefore drawn to Him and His saving grace.

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Understanding the New Calvinism: Identifying Marks

In the first three posts on the subject of New Calvinism we explored some definitions and examined the essential ingredient of the movement which is the co-mingling of Calvinistic theology with at least openness to charismatic practices. I believe this to be the unique and defining characteristic of New Calvinism. It is the one feature that all involved have in common. However, there are other traits that are shared by many of those immersed in the system. To these we will now turn.

It should be remembered that those promoting neo-Calvinism are not monolithic in every aspect, and some of the features mentioned below would be true of any number of evangelicals who are neither Calvinistic nor charismatic. Nevertheless, it is not uncommon to find these identifying marks embraced by adherents of the movement.

Serious about theology and Christian living

This is the most commendable aspect of the majority of the “young, restless, and Reformed” crowd. All of the leadership, and most of the enthusiasts, are serious students of Scripture and substantial theological works that are concerned with truth. They seek preachers and teachers that deliver solid and thoughtful exegesis. They have little tolerance for sloppy thinking, weak answers and careless preaching. They want to be challenged and they want to be part of the debate, not merely passive consumers.

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Understanding the New Calvinism: Charismatic Gifts

Read the series so far.

If there is one distinguishing mark that separates the New Calvinist from traditional Calvinists it would be the openness of the newer variety toward the charismatic gifts. While many, if not most, would not see themselves as charismatics in the conventional sense, they believe that all the gifts of the Holy Spirit are operational today, including the sign gifts such as miracles, tongues, interpretation of tongues, healings, and prophecy.

While most draw the line at apostleship, seeing it as an office reserved for a handful of appointed New Testament leaders who founded the church (Eph 2:20), strangely they see the gift of prophecy as still viable. Following the leadership of Wayne Grudem, in his landmark book, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament Today, as well as his Systematic Theology, many have been convinced that New Testament era prophecy is not held to the same standards as Old Testament prophecies and prophets. Whereas Old Testament prophecy was to be without error, with the consequence of the execution of the prophet if one prophesied falsely (Deut 18:20-22), church age prophecies can often be a mixture of truth and error.

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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.

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Understanding the New Calvinism: Core Doctrines

There is a great deal of interest and confusion about a movement within conservative evangelicalism sometimes called “New Calvinism” or Neo-Calvinism. As with many movements it is not monolithic and therefore describing its teachings is not always easy. Some have labeled virtually everyone who is a member of the Gospel Coalition or speaks at Together for the Gospel conferences as a New-Calvinist but that is surely painting with too broad a brush. Some hail Neo-Calvinism as a breath of fresh air that has united the passionate ministry of the Holy Spirit with the solid doctrines of the Reformation. Others see it as a dangerous departure from the faith which opens the door to aberrant teachings of extreme Pentecostalism. While some fear the movement, others cheer it. Therefore it is important to take a careful look at what New Calvinism is and what it is not.

If there is a New Calvinism then by necessity there must be an “old” Calvinism. We need to start then with the teachings of classical Calvinism and see in what ways the new variety is similar and how it is different. Proponents of historical Calvinism would certainly trace its roots to Scripture. But the theological system known today as Calvinism finds its beginnings in the works of a number of theologians, the first of which was Augustine. Nevertheless, it was the famous Reformer John Calvin who mapped out the essential doctrines of the theological structure that bears his name.

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