TIMEA recent TIME (March 21, 2009) magazine cover story caught a lot of attention, especially among evangelical Christians. Right alongside of ideas like "Ecological Intelligence," "Africa: Open for Business" and "Reinventing the Highway" was "The New Calvinism." This short article, written by David Van Biema, the senior religion editor for TIME, is both insightful and simplistic. It is insightful because he tracks a movement that is gaining a measure of momentum. It is simplistic because the brevity of the piece doesn't allow for any serious interaction with the "ideas" that are explored. Biema writes:

If you really want to follow the development of conservative Christianity, track its musical hits. In the early 1900s you might have heard "The Old Rugged Cross," a celebration of the atonement. By the 1980s you could have shared the Jesus-is-my-buddy intimacy of "Shine, Jesus, Shine." And today, more and more top songs feature a God who is very big, while we are . . . well, hark the David Crowder Band: "I am full of earth/ You are heaven's worth/ I am stained with dirt/ Prone to depravity."

As popular as the David Crowder Band is, at least with some young Christians, I seriously doubt that we should equate the popularity of a little known band with "an idea that is changing the world right now." Van Biema then writes:

Calvinism is back, and not just musically. John Calvin's 16th-century reply to medieval Catholicism's buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism's latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination's logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time's dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision.

This stereotypical representation of Calvinism is, at the very best, a "half-truth." With a name like Van Biema I would have thought the senior religion editor at TIME could have done better. (I wonder if he has a background in one of the Reformed denominations?) But this paragraph really sells the article, and thus makes it all the more interesting for many readers. The truth of American (and Dutch) Calvinism is, however, far more nuanced than this short paragraph expresses. The last line is most definitely not faithful to the confessional realities of historical Calvinism but rather to the common and popular misunderstandings of the doctrinal system this label represents.
This paragraph plainly equates Calvinism with fatalism, not with wholistic and healthy Reformed confessionalism. If I was required to believe what Van Biema calls Calvinism I would drop the label in a heartbeat. (This article seriously raises the problem with all these labels in general, thus it is one reason why I do not generally use them. Regular readers know why I do not like the pop-religious labels commonly employed in our culture; "evangelicalism," "Calvinism," "emergent," etc.)

Van Biema recovers some balance in this short piece when he concludes:

Calvinism, cousin to the Reformation's other pillar, Lutheranism, is a bit less dour than its critics claim: it offers a rock-steady deity who orchestrates absolutely everything, including illness (or home foreclosure!), by a logic we may not understand but don't have to second-guess. Our satisfaction — and our purpose — is fulfilled simply by "glorifying" him. In the 1700s, Puritan preacher Jonathan Edwards invested Calvinism with a rapturous near mysticism.

The best part of this story occurs in the actual reporting that Van Biema does. His short analysis of the movement of "neo-Calvinism" is, well, quite brilliant. Here is what he writes:

Neo-Calvinist ministers and authors don't operate quite on a Rick Warren scale. But, notes Ted Olsen, a managing editor at Christianity Today, "everyone knows where the energy and the passion are in the Evangelical world" — with the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle's pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom's hottest links.

The article quotes Southern Baptist Seminary president Albert Mohler, an older leader among the younger neo-Calvinists: "The moment someone begins to define God's

[being or actions] biblically, that person is drawn to conclusions that are traditionally classified as Calvinist." (Really? If this were so why then do so many with a genuinely classical and high view of God, such as Roman Catholics and the Orthodox, not embrace what we call Calvinism?) Van Biema then gets to the heart of this neo-Calvinist resurgence when he adds:

Of course, that presumption of inevitability has drawn accusations of arrogance and divisiveness since Calvin's time. Indeed, some of today's enthusiasts imply that non-Calvinists may actually not be Christians. Skirmishes among the Southern Baptists (who have a competing non-Calvinist camp) and online "flame wars" bode badly.

The irony here is that John Calvin was not arrogant or divisive, at least in the way so many neo-Calvinists are. John Calvin was a rather shy, retiring and generally reticent man. The real John Calvin is a lot more interesting, warts and all, than the popular neo-Calvinist stereotypes.
And those who call themselves Calvinists have always been of several types (Dutch, Swiss, French, Anglican, Scottish and American Presbyterian, American and English Puritan, Edwardsian, etc.) some fitting the portrait of these modern neo-Calvinists and some, like me, mortified by this description. (Again, the labels just don't help much when the truth is much more interesting!)

Take a much-maligned modern biblical scholar like N. T. Wright and consider my point. Wright is not a neo-Calvinist by anyone's account. Yet his exegetical and biblical work is as indebted to John Calvin (in a broad and positive sense) as any major academic New Testament scholar today. My friend Scot McKnight, who is not a Calvinist, writes of N.T. Wright's new book, Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision (SPCK): NTW
"Tom Wright has out-Reformed America's newest religious zealots—the neo-Reformed—by taking them back to Scripture and to its meaning in its historical context. Wright reveals that the neo-Reformed are more committed to Tradition than to the Sacred Text. This irony is palpable on every page of this judicious, hard-hitting, respectful study."

You ask, "What is Wright saying and doing in this new book that Scot McKnight, a non-Calvinist, would praise so warmly?" Answer: He is correcting the neo-Reformed movement regarding its reading of a major biblical doctrine. He is particularly correcting John Piper's treatment of justification, which is one of weaker efforts to prop up ideas that are not a part of Paul's first-century context or the full biblical narrative, which has to include Genesis 15 and Deuteronomy 27-30 in the background to understand what Paul is saying in Romans and Galatians. (Piper began this rhetorical battle by writing The Future of Justification: A Response to N. T. Wright (Crossway, 2007). Piper's book, widely praised by a who's who list of the very neo-Calvinists that Van Biema's research mentions (and assumes), is so severely flawed that it staggers me to think credible people are actually excited about it. (I will write more about this issue in future blogs but my reason for citing Scot McKnight's endorsement is to show that there is a wide berth between these neo-Calvinists and those of us who are often attacked by these neo-Calvinists as non-Calvinists. The neo-Calvinists think we, many of us Reformed ministers and theologians, are not "Reformed enough." Some even think that we are dangerous because we do not say exactly what they say about justification, predestination and the church.

Young Restless
The bottom line here is that Van Biema has captured the rise of what I prefer to call "neo-Puritanism," not "neo-Calvinism." The movement that is represented by names mentioned in articles like this one, and popular books like that of Collin Hansen, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists (Crossway, 2008), represents a very small slice of what is dubbed neo-Calvinism by religion writers and proponents alike.

Because this movement is driven by neo-Puritanism it has all the marks of previous Puritan movements without a great deal of the maturity and the historical context of the times in which these movements evolved spiritually. I am not, as some will know, an anti-Puritan. But I spent more than twenty-five years of my life within this neo-Calvinist American movement. At times I feel like these years of my life (between about age 25 and 50) so profoundly colored my thinking and living that they robbed me of spiritual fruitfulness and deep joy. I now enjoy such peace, assurance and joy that I wonder how I ever got into this kind of Calvinism.

Please read my words very carefully. I am not accusing specific people in this movement, many of whom remain my friends, of malignity or bad motives. I am not suggesting that I am, because of my own journey over the last decade, superior to them in any personal sense. My critics sometimes charge, on this blog and elsewhere, that my disagreements with neo-Calvinism sound this way. If so, please forgive me. I am simply attempting to be honest with myself while I am also trying to be critical in the most honest and helpful way that I know. Criticism of movements and leaders, done respectfully and carefully, is always right. Ad hominem and malicious character attacks are always sinful and wrong! If you want to see how this works I plead with you to read N. T. Wright's response to John Piper. He devastates Piper's arguments without turning against the man, which would have been so easy to do given how Piper wrote about him. (This book will be available in an American edition, from Inter Varsity Press, in May and can be pre-ordered on Amazon.) The simple fact is this: the majority of those who side with John Piper, and those who endorse his book, will very likely never read Wright's book. This is tragic since they will never rightly get the sense of this important pastoral and practical debate.

In discovering the catholicity of the Christian Church I was personally delivered from this strange mix of modernity and Puritanism that fostered deep personal doubt. (I was led to believe that it was a good thing to "doubt" God's grace in my life on a rather regular basis.) This mix of modernity and Puritanism gave me a deep angst toward much of evangelical Christianity. I developed a latent hostility toward all things mainline Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox. I would never say it, but the truth is this: I felt like I was among the elect (when I wasn't led to doubt this sweet truth of comfort and assurance), the elite and the truly faithful. I was a Marine for the kingdom and everyone else, at their best, was not quite as sold-out, faithful and radical as me. I have come to believe that this type of arrogance is actually rooted in the theology and preaching of neo-Calvinism, or a mixture of modernity and Puritanism.

Van Biema ended his little article in TIME by writing:

Calvin's 500th birthday will be this July. It will be interesting to see whether Calvin's latest legacy will be classic Protestant backbiting or whether, during these hard times, more Christians searching for security will submit their wills to the austerely demanding God of their country's infancy.

That is a brilliant conclusion. "Classic Protestant backbiting" is precisely what neo-Calvinism is creating. Look at the divisions in the Southern Baptist Convention and you will see my point. (I have watched this movement for neo-Calvinism from its infancy. I personally attended the first meeting (and several more the years following) of the group that started this effort back in the 1980s. I personally knew the founder who dreamed up the idea of recovering Calvinism in the SBC and then spread the "doctrines of grace" very widely. He is now with the Lord.) Look at the quarrels between these neo-Calvinists and the various strands of emergent (and emerging) Christianity. I was also involved in the various "gospel" recovery groups which were begun, now creating large gatherings of folk who believe they are the people who are preaching and recovering the "biblical gospel." When I was involved back in the mid-1990s it was decided early on that Arminians (Wesleyans, Methodists, Pentecostals, etc.) were not welcome, along with all other Christians who were not Calvinists or Lutherans. It fascinates me now, looking back with hindsight, how these movements sought to unite conservative Lutherans and conservative Calvinists  in a growing alliance. This has not worked so well thus neo-Calvinism has no appeal to real Lutherans, rightly so. Historically these two groups were, and in some ways still are, fiercely divided! I guess if your target group is "popular" evangelicalism then you can try to unite in a common fight. It does sell books and create alliances for a new brand of evangelicalism marketed as the "old" brand.

What I personally hope and pray for is the recovery of the richer, fuller and more mature thought of John Calvin, without the neo-Puritan edges that are commonly used to present "an austerely demanding God," the God who was preached by most of the early American Puritans. Neo-Calvinism goes wrong precisely because in trying to find a God who is not too small, a truly worthy goal, it creates a church that is too small. More about this later, especially when my book, Your Church Is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ's Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church, is published in early 2010 by Zondervan. If you want to read a few snippets of the material that will appear in this book check out my ACT 3 Weekly articles from the last few months of 2008. They are now archived as articles and podcasts at ACT 3 online.




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  1. Nick Mackison March 31, 2009 at 2:59 pm

    John, I too have been left dis-satisfied with neo-Calvinism. It tends to be pietistic, biblicist, sacrament degrading and para-church.
    For me, I’ve found real peace in coming to a confessionaly Reformed viewpoint, particularly through the writings of Horton and R. Scott Clark.
    I worry about NTW’s insistence upon works in final justification. It seems to undermine the very cause Calvin, et al fought for. I never found real peace until I embraced justification as, as the WCF states, “receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness through faith.”
    Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. David Neff March 31, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    David Van Biema (despite his name) is not a Calvinist, but a Jew. He’s also one of the best religion journalists out there simply because he actually listens–carefully–to the people he writes about.

  3. Don Garlington March 31, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    Very well done indeed. This was like hearing myself speak. Your analysis is spot-on, and I thank you for your courage. When I started down the road of being a Christian teacher, the fear was that as a Calvinist I would not be able to find work. But precisely the opposite has turned out to be the case – talk about role reversal!

  4. R. Martin Snyder March 31, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    I am greatly saddened by the smearing of what some call Neo Calvinism or Neo Puritanism. I have been reading the Puritans and Divines for many years now. I have read some of N. T. Wright and walked away shaking my head as well as other good men have who have studied the Historical backgrounds and original writings also.

  5. John H. Armstrong March 31, 2009 at 7:57 pm

    Thank you David for identifying David Van Biema for the readers.
    Nick, I agree with your first paragraph and not your second. While Horton and Clark are not neo-Puritans, thus in this point I agree with them, they are “strict subscriptionists” and this generally means they do not welcome the biblical narrative as the guiding principle in exegesis but rather use human confessions. They employ a method that I reject for reasons of biblical theology. I concur with your quotation from the WCF but one also needs to deal with what the WCF says about “repentance” as an evangelical grace.
    In addition, the WCF is light on addressing the subject of “union with Christ” while for Calvin this was the DEFINING category, or so it seems to me and countless others who have read him.
    If you want to “understand” N. T. Wright, and not simply embrace what some Reformed people tell you he says, you really do need to read him and the book I referenced, not caricatures of his position. He clearly teaches that we are not saved by anything we do or contribute to grace.
    The real debate is over imputation. Wright rejects the categories employed by Horton, Clark, Piper, etc. Only reading him will explain to you why and then show you what he does believe and what this means.
    My deepest frustration, at least regarding Wright’s contribution, is that he is not understood or carefully read by most of his critics. This is not to say that he and his opponents are saying the exact same thing, which of course they are not.
    My encouragement: Please read N. T. Wright for yourself and do not allow someone who “interprets” him to tell you what he is saying. He is not obtuse or difficult. His teaching has transformed many of us who owe him a great deal!

  6. Al Shaw March 31, 2009 at 8:05 pm

    Interesting piece, thank you.
    Here in the UK (and less overtly, I think, in the US), what is being called neo-Calvinism is also largely charismatic in its theology and practice.
    In this regard, it was influenced in its formative years by the writing and preaching of Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones who articulated a doctrine of Spirit baptism that has similarities (as well as significant differences) to a Pentecostal understanding of the phenomenon.

  7. John H. Armstrong March 31, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Mr Snyder, I do not think I “smeared” the Puritans by disagreeing with them. They were mere mortals who read the Bible in their time and context. They articulated the doctrine of “Scripture” as their starting point, not their own writings. They have a great deal of good to contribute for their commitment to Scripture but they are still nothing more than “human interpreters” of the Holy Scripture. They did not even agree with one another on many salient points. And their ecclesiology was deeply sectarian to a fault.
    As for your comments about Tom Wright you say that you have “read some of him.” The question is what have you actually read and how carefully? I have read scores of Puritan works myself (over thirty-five years as a reader of this material) and most of the important work of N. T. Wright. It seems only fair that one should read both to make broad comparisons.
    By the way, Wright began his undergraduate studies as a neo-Puritan, as some readers will no doubt know. It was the study of the Bible that moved him in the direction he went, especially the influence of Genesis 15 and Deuteronomy 27-29 on Paul’s theology. He is, if nothing else, a profoundly biblical thinker even if one disagrees with some of his conclusions, which I do.
    I am glad the Puritans helped you. They helped me too but they also nearly ruined all assurance of faith I had before I read many of them. Having said this one must note that “There are Puritans (Sibbes, Flavel, etc.) and then there are Puritans (Hooker, Cotton Mather, etc.)” These writers are not all the same by any stretch of the imagination.

  8. R. Scott Clark March 31, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    Dear John,
    I’ve been reading and preaching from the Hebrew and Greek texts of Scripture since the mid-1980s and thus I am surprised to read that philosophical and confessional prior commitments control my reading of Scripture. I wish someone had told me earlier!
    Can you point out specific places in my writing where this is the case? That would be helpful.
    I should also like to know how it is that you’ve managed to escape time, place, and history so as to be able to read the Bible without a social, epistemic, and ecclesiastical context.

  9. R. Martin Snyder March 31, 2009 at 8:38 pm

    While Horton and Clark are not neo-Puritans, and in this I agree with them, they are “strict subscriptionists” and thus do not welcome the biblical narrative as the guiding principle in exegesis but rather use human confessions and employ a method I reject for reasons of biblical theology.
    I believe this is a smear and incorrect. You are doing precisely what you are trying to avoid in your criticism in the blog. They are not strict subscriptionists nor do they necessarily interpret the scriptures by the confession. The confession expresses what they believe the scriptures teach. Both historically and biblically.

  10. R. Martin Snyder March 31, 2009 at 8:41 pm

    Let me qualify what I mean by strict subscriptionist. If they were strict they would also be Exclusive Psalmodists also and they are not. Many Pastors hold exceptions when they take their vows and I think you know that. Some are not sabbatical in the strict sense of the doctrine.

  11. R. Martin Snyder March 31, 2009 at 8:52 pm

    Mr Snyder, I do not think I “smeared” the Puritans by disagreeing with them.
    John, This is what I said….
    I am greatly saddened by the smearing of what some call Neo Calvinism or Neo Puritanism.
    I didn’t say you smeared the Puritans as you said above. It seems you are using the prefix to categorize people who hold to reformational teaching as though it is something that is new and not historical nor biblically based in its historical context. It seems to be like Neo Orthodoxy is an oxymoron. Calvinism and Puritanism truly isn’t new. It is historical. I am sorry you didn’t find peace in the scriptural understanding found in the doctrines of grace. I know many who have. I also know many who have found inner peace and emotional joy outside of biblical Christianity. I am not saying that you are truly basing everything upon your joy and peace assessment but it does sound a bit like that.

  12. Emil March 31, 2009 at 9:00 pm

    “…complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time’s dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision.”
    Seems that this is what I hear from my Presbyterian friends. However, I can get by OK, by benefitting from all that is wonderful in my church. I tell people that I am a Nicene Creed Christian who tolerates a lot of mystery. In the past Sunday service folder we had both a reading from II Peter urging readers to “confirm your call” (NRSV) so that they do not stumble AND a selection from the Westminister Confession about election and the impossibility of falling. I have decided to accept them both assuming that somehow they fit together even if I do not know how.

  13. John H. Armstrong March 31, 2009 at 9:10 pm

    We are now debating “words” in ways that are not going to resolve our substantial differences. And most of this has little or nothing to do with the blog I wrote.
    Scott, I respect you for being straightforward and for not using a “cover” name. You have always stated your position openly and you have done so in a manner that is rigorous.
    I will cite one point where I believe your theology has prescribed your conclusion (my opinion). You have, and I assume you still do, insisted rather consistently that the faith that justifies is somehow “passive” faith. This concept is completely foreign to all biblical categories I understand. You are obviously entitled to this view but I simply disagree rather strongly. You already know this.
    I did not write this blog about you and only responded to your name because of the comments of the first post above. My disagreement with you re: subscription and the use of Reformed theology in exegesis is widely known (in print) so I will not re-visit this here. I believe we have both stated our respective concerns about how theology is to be used to interpret the Scripture.
    Readers can visit this entire discussion in the book I contributed to, with several other Reformed writers, titled: A Faith That Is Never Alone: A Response to Westminster Seminary California, P. Andrew Sandlin, editor. Here you will see how several of us responded to Dr. Clark, and others, on the WTS faculty. We were responding to a WTS book on this subject since they are strongly opposed to the theology of N.T. Wright on Romans. I essentially agree with Wright so there is no surprise that we differ on this point.
    Were I to take up your question I would simply write what I have already written in a number of other contexts. You would do the same so the reader is best served to follow this disagreement somewhere else. I still stand by what I wrote about the view of the WTS (CA) faculty on these matters and I must assume you would still do the same. Readers can see Scott’s views, as well as others from WTS, in the book, Covenant, Justification and Pastoral Ministry (Presbyterian & Reformed). I am quoted and critiqued in this volume thus my response in the volume edited by P. Andrew Sandlin.

  14. R. Scott Clark March 31, 2009 at 9:54 pm

    It’s true that I did at one time use the adjective “passive” to describe faith. I didn’t do this out of some a priori philosophical commitment. I was searching for a way to communicate Luther’s breakthrough, as he described it in 1545, that the righteousness by which we are justified is not ‘formal’ and ‘active’ (fides formata caritate) but “passive.”
    If you read Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry however, you would have noticed that I did not use the adjective passive.
    The confessional language to describe faith in the act of justification is “resting, “receiving,” “leaning,” “trusting” and the like. The point that those 16th- and 17th-century Bible readers were making is that the power of faith in justification is not intrinsic to faith but to the object of faith: Christ.
    My struggle to find the best language to describe this truth was brought about not by rationalism but by my own ignorance of the confessions! Had I paid closer attention to them I would not have stumbled as I did.
    I was reacting, however, to the move by Tom Wright and his evangelical adherents (in the Federal Vision) movement to change the definition of faith in the act of justification. I don’t repent of that reaction and my criticisms of the exegetical and theological mistake that Tom and his followers have made.
    As to biblical exegesis, my own commitment to the Reformation doctrine of justification came about through a close study of the Greek text of Galatians in the late 1980s. It was Paul, in Gal 2, who taught me the instrumentality of faith resting in Christ in justification.

  15. Jerry Stutzman March 31, 2009 at 10:04 pm

    Good point on the differences between the Puritan’s. Along that line, one of the things that has bothered me in the debate over Wright has been the claim of a monolithic reformed theology, particularly “the reformed doctrine of justification” when their were many different reformed theologians who expressed the doctrine of justification in different ways and had disagreements over particular issues regarding justification.

  16. John H. Armstrong March 31, 2009 at 10:51 pm

    Thanks Scott Clark for a fine response clearly given in the right spirit. I am always pleased to post disagreements when they are made in this manner. Scott makes his point and he makes it charitably. I appreciate Scott defending his view honestly and respect him for it.
    What Jerry Stutzman writes in the comment following Scott Clark above sums up a point that I agree with totally. There is no monolithic Reformed voice on justification (especially re: imputation) and I would be very happy if we allowed a serious discussion without the accusations that are often made about “denying” the gospel when a particular category of this subject (imputation of Christ’s active obedience) is made central to the whole discussion. This is too often the case in this more narrowly defined Reformed/Lutheran debate. If this point is central then only a few Christians, even among Protestants, saw it and today almost no one understands the gospel if this point is essential. I simply do not believe this to be the case. Scott and others may disagree but I think most Christians (including most theologians and biblical scholars) find this form of the debate very unconvincing. A perusal of the written work on Paul and Jesus, done by most scholars today, will bear this point out.

  17. Nick Mackison April 1, 2009 at 3:08 am

    John, as always you have exemplified rhobust while gracious debate. I read NTW’s “What St. Paul Really Said” and I have his latest work on justification.
    He is an outstanding writer. I just think his thoughts on justification are muddled (i.e. now by faith, in the future by the whole life lived).
    I also have a problem with his exile paradigm controlling the text, despite the fact that exile is nowhere explicitly mentioned in Paul.

  18. John H. Armstrong April 1, 2009 at 7:53 am

    Wright’s What St. Paul Really Said is only a primer. Please do read Justification: God’s Plan and Paul’s Vision (SPCK, 2009), which comes out in the U.S. in May.
    I do not find his thoughts muddled by richly faithful to the whole of Scripture. His already/not yet approach is not really new, thus we are justified now (totally) while we will be justified in the future. This is eschatology of a rich and biblical sort.
    His exile paradigm is rooted in Genesis and especially Exodus. What I find so amazing is how much he roots his exegesis of Romans in Genesis and Abraham, both the concept of the court and of the covenant. Readers will soon discover that he is so attentive to the text and this is what makes him such an exciting contributor to the current study of Paul.
    His major commentary on Romans (Interpreter’s Bible) and his small works on Romans are also helpful and clear, the latter being the one for lay readers.

  19. Craig April 1, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Mr Armstrong,
    Let me start by saying I’m a layman; and one whose followed you, both your writing and your journey. (And followed *in* your journey as well.) I spent the first 14 years of my Xian life within this neo-calvinist movement and “got out” so to speak, slowly, in the early part of this decade, after reading in a wider context. Much of the theology has left an underlying impression on me and I still struggle to keep the good and toss the bad. Is there an accessible source that presents what you referred to above as a more “wholistic and healthy Reformed confessionalism”? I’d be interested in any direction towards a more healthy (for me anyway) Calvinism.
    Thank you,

  20. Paul Whiting April 3, 2009 at 1:24 am

    You may want to try John Haddon Leith’s “Basic Christian Doctrine: A Summary of Christian Faith – Catholic, Protestant and Reformed.” It is an example of a very healthy Calvinism, in my opinion.

  21. Craig R. Higgins April 3, 2009 at 8:03 am

    I’m coming late to this blog, but I wanted to say thanks to John for pointing out some of the problems in what Time is calling the neo-Reformed movement. I am Reformed (in Neil Plantinga’s phrase, “I am a Christian, but I speak Christian with a Reformed accent”); in fact, I’m an ordained Presbyterian minister (in the PCA even!). So I’m happy to be seen and known as Reformed.
    I think what Time accurately picks up on, however–and I think this is at the heart of John’s critique (I hope I’m not putting words into your mouth, John)–is a certain ethos reflected in the neo-Reformed movement. There is a certain attitude that is often conveyed (and I think often unintentionally conveyed) that doesn’t look very much like the fruit of the Holy Spirit. There is a streak of sectarianism in our tradition, and this often comes across as arrogant and elitist. Those of us who are Reformed (like both me and John)–and especially those of us in the more “conservative” Reformed denominations (like my own PCA) need to take this seriously. And we need, frankly, to repent.
    Doing so will bring us closer to the heart of the Reformed tradition. John describes Calvin well–and let us remember that Calvin said he would “sail ten seas” for the sake of church unity. He was truly an ecumenical theologian! We should not compromise our distinctive views, but we do need to hold them firmly yet humbly, and state them both clearly and charitably.
    At the rest of wandering in where angels fear to tread, I do think Bp Wright does this well. And a recent meeting with him, he spoke, however, of how much he appreciated Piper’s critique, and how one of his regrets with his new book is that, due to publishing deadlines, he was unable to send Piper an advance copy, as Piper had sent him an advance copy of his book. I am one who deeply appreciates Wright (though without agreeing with him fully) and who thought some (but not all) of Piper’s critique missed the mark. But this type of respectful disagreement among Reformed believers (yes, Wright considers himself to fall in the Reformed tradition–he’s a huge fan of Ridderbos) is what we need more of. And less triumphalism.
    Were many in the neo-Reformed movement and some of us who are simply “plain vanilla Reformed” to compare theologies and confessions—well, there’s not all that much difference. The difference comes in our emphases and our ethos. As an introduction to the Reformed tradition, I often give people Rich Mouw’s Calvinism in the Las Vegas Airport (Zondervan, 2004).
    Enough pontificating from this pastor. Thanks, John, for your blog, and to all for this discussion.

  22. Anthony July 16, 2009 at 12:31 pm

    I have been a Christian for 37 years–coming out of Roman Catholicism, and embraciong the living Christ by faith and a wholehearted repentance. My journey to this day has included readings from, J. Edwards, B.B. Warfiled, Calvin, Luther, Augustine, and other Fathers of the early church. After reading Calvin I simpply cannot accept his postulates; they make me a mere machine being moved upon by the alleged absolute sovereignty of God. What a travesty of language to assert that I am free and in the same breath assert that every single thing, act, choice is already foreknown, preordained from all eternity. The nuts and bolts of the Plurality of the Godhead, aka Trinity, is a mistery; this Calvinian notion of grace and sovereignty is nothing short of non-sense.
    I do accept mysteries, but I cannot accept self-contradictions. The overall framework I have accepted for my understanding of Chritian doctrine is formulated by men such as Nathaniel W. Taylor, C. G. Finney, John Miley, Caleb Burge, Albert Barns, Lorenzo B. McAbe, and a number of other contemporary authors. To postulate that inconditional predestination and free will–(the power of self-detremination; contrary choice, etc)–are a “mystery” is absolutely ludicrous. There is no mystery there, but a blatant contradiction. My mind can accept mysteries when I don’t have enough data to come to a conclusion about a matter; but a plain, simple self-contradiction my mind recognizes it as easy as saying A is not equal to B.
    I am created in the moral image and likeness of God; God is free, that is, he has the power of self-determination, from what I see en the Bible, to choose freely, without constraint, nor of necesity; and so do I, on a much smaller scale of being. That is precisely what makes me accountable. A mere machine is not accountable, a free moral agent is accountable for his/her actions, because he/she is the sobereign author of the moral action in question. I suppose you can see by now that I am not Calvinian in my frame of mind. As a matter of fact I reject totally the Five Points of Calvinism, and instead adhere to what I read in the Bible concerning my responsibility to respond to God’s overtures of grace and love towards me. Down with monergism. The Bible teaches, through and through, synergism when it comes to moral responsibility. Anyone who says otherwise denies his own consciouosness, and the witness of the Spirit of God in his inner being, attested by the Word of God; there cannot be contradiction between the Word and the Spirit, for He is the One who inspired it.

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