New Calvinism – Part II
(Volume 21, Issue 2 March/April 2015)
In the first paper 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. This is a clear improvement over many in the recent past who were content with superficial teaching as long as their “needs” were being met and going to church was light and fun. Many of these young 20 and 30-somethings are reading Spurgeon, Calvin, Jonathan Edwards, J. C. Ryle and the Puritans, as well as contemporary authors such as D. A. Carson, John Piper, Michael Horton, John MacArthur and Albert Mohler. Even if we disagree with some of the teachings of such men, this is an important upgrade over those who haven’t read anything deeper than Joel Osteen in their entire lives. If this generation can be guided in the right theological direction and challenged with hermeneutically sound preaching and writings then the future of evangelicalism is looking brighter.
Under this heading, a major emphasis on the gospel is the norm. Preaching the gospel, to others and to ourselves, permeates the New Calvinist’s writings and teachings. If anything negative can be stated about this it would be that the term “gospel” is so widely used that it is difficult at times to determine what is meant. In its broadest form some, like John Piper, have gone so far as to entitle one of his books, God Is the Gospel. But what most are meaning when they encourage focusing on the gospel is that we are to live our lives on the basis of God’s grace. Sinners who have been redeemed by a holy God cannot point to themselves as the means of salvation since there is nothing they can do to win the favor of God. The Lord’s grace is essential to salvation. But many Christians stop at conversion, which is a mistake. Grace is indispensable at every stage of our Christian life. We are not only saved by grace, we also live by grace. We never mature to the point that grace becomes unnecessary. When we sin, we should confess that sin and repent, but our repentance does not win new favor with God, who has flooded us with grace all along. In addition, when we sin we become cognizant afresh that we stand in grace alone. Moreover, our Lord is not stingy with dispensing grace at our time of need. The neo-Calvinists have immersed themselves in grace, and rightly so. Unfortunately, as Paul warned in Romans 6:1, some have taken grace too far. There are those so enamored with grace as to see any emphasis on good works, or even obedience as symptoms of legalism. Some are teaching that the Christian ought not be concerned with growth and maturity, which they say leads to despair, but rather should focus on grace and glory in their weakness and failure. This emphasis has actually led, of late, to some division within the ranks and I will be writing on this issue soon.
The New Calvinists have been active in church planting and other means of spreading the gospel and making disciples. The Acts 29 Network, which is the primary organization devoted to planting like-minded churches, has over 500 churches in 30 countries. It was founded by Mark Driscoll in 1998 who turned over the leadership to Matt Chandler in 2012. According to its website, the stated mission of Acts 29 is to band together churches, which, for the sake of Jesus and the gospel, plant new churches and revitalize dead and dying churches around the world. The network publishes the following core values, which demonstrates not only solid theology but the centrality of the local church.
- Gospel centrality in all of life.
- The sovereignty of God in saving sinners.
- The empowering presence of the Holy Spirit for all of life and ministry.
- The fundamental moral and spiritual equality of male and female and to men as responsible servant-leaders in the home and church.
- The local church as the primary means by which God chooses to establish his kingdom on earth. 
Happily, but surprisingly, the New Calvinists reject equalitarianism and embrace complementarianism, as point four above demonstrates. This is in clear contrast to the seeker-sensitive movement which often sees no difference between the leadership roles of men and women in the home and in the church. Perhaps this is due to leading theologians in the movement such as Wayne Grudem and John Piper who have written extensively defending the traditional biblical understanding of the role of men and women. Nevertheless this is a welcomed emphasis demonstrating both the desire to be scripturally sound and a willingness to resist the political correctness of the culture when convinced of the truthfulness of their position.
I agree with Jeremy Walker who writes in his book, The New Calvinism Considered, “At its best, the new Calvinism is a God-centered movement. Insofar as this is so, we should both recognize it and rejoice because of it.”  Unfortunately, as we will see below, we cannot rejoice unreservably on all fronts.
On the positive side, the New Calvinists are willing to use every means possible to spread the good news and their understanding of theology and the church. Many of their leaders are profound and prolific writers, not just of books and magazine articles but of blogs and websites. The Gospel Coalition is one of the primary means of propagating and discussing their views, even though the blog includes more traditional Reformed theologians and pastors as well. Still many could be identified as New Calvinists if we are using the essential two characteristics of Reformed theology combined with charismatic practices (or at least openness to the continuation of the sign gifts). The founders of The Gospel Coalition, D.A. Carson and Timothy Keller, would both fit this description. Neither man could be described as a traditional charismatic, nor do the charismatic gifts play a major role in their theology or writings. Nevertheless both embrace continuationism, which teaches that all the sign gifts (prophecy, miracles, healings, tongues, etc.) are still active in the body of Christ today. The New Calvinists also spread their views via conferences, especially Together for the Gospel, founded in part by C.J. Mahaney and influenced heavily by Sovereign Grace Ministries, which in turn is perhaps the best known of the New Calvinists organizations.
Yet, like many others in evangelicalism there is a definite undercurrent within the movement that implies that bigger is better. If a church is successful numerically then it must be doing something right. If a man is well-known, popular with the masses, a great communicator and has built a megachurch, he apparently should be followed, even if his doctrines or conduct are questionable. The unspoken (and sometimes spoken, as in the case of Driscoll) idea is that what works trumps what is right. This is certainly not an exclusive problem with the New Calvinists but examples within this circle abound:
Take the conduct of Mark Driscoll. From his earliest days of prominence his bullying, anger, abuse of those under his leadership, and his coarse, offensive language, not to mention his explicit, virtually pornographic discussion of sex, has been evident. James 3:13-18 makes it clear that such a man is exhibiting a worldly wisdom which is the opposite of godly wisdom described as “first pure then peaceable…” (v. 17). Nevertheless, until recently he has been all but idolized by tens of thousands of admirers and officially endorsed by the likes of John Piper and Paul Tripp. Why? It would appear that the reason is his success. He has built an empire of sorts: he had a church with numerous campuses spread out over several states; he founded a church planting ministry (Acts 29) which has started over 500 churches, and he is an engaging speaker. In other words he has been successful. When he imploded recently, was booted from Acts 29, resigned his pastorate, and watched as his empire unraveled and collapsed, those who had been his allies pointed to the fact that he had been a loose cannon since the beginning of his ministry. Driscoll did not hide who he was, but those who should be guarding the sheep looked the other way because his methods, as ungodly as some of them were, seemed to work.
When James MacDonald decided to legitimize Oneness Pentecostal preacher T. D. Jakes and his non-Trinitarian theology, at the now infamous Elephant Room 2 interview, he and Mark Driscoll in effect lobbed easy questions to Jakes so that he would appear to be in agreement with Trinitarian doctrine while maintaining his Oneness views. Those with doctrinal knowledge concerning this debate saw through Jakes, but MacDonald in effect gave him a pass, virtually declaring Jakes “one of us.” In addition, not one word was mentioned concerning Jakes’s prosperity gospel heresy which has led perhaps millions around the globe toward an unbiblical lifestyle. Why was Jakes afforded such charity? It would appear that he is “too big to fail.” His ministry is among the biggest in the world; could he possibly be wrong?
We could move on to John Piper’s endorsement of Rick Warren; Steve Furtick’s mass baptism antics; James MacDonald’s public discipline of elders who dared challenge his leadership style, followed by a public apology some years later for his slanderous actions; and the Sovereign Grace’s and C. J. Mahaney’s cover up of a child abuse scandal. The common denominator seems to be that despite shameful behavior and bad theology, these men and organizations are still being touted as examples to follow because they are successful – what they do seems to work and that is enough for many.
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.
There is much positive to say about living relevant, missional lives. Many serious Christians have developed a bunker mentality in which they hide from unbelievers as much as possible, hoping to protect themselves from bad influences. If they witness at all it is through unnatural methods such as cold-turkey evangelism in which they engage total strangers with the gospel and then retreat to their bunker. While this methodology has been in vogue for years it is artificial and does not allow the unregenerate to see Christ at work in the believer’s life. The missional approach places Christians in the lives of those who need Christ. As we live authentically the idea is that the unsaved will see the transformation that Christ has brought about in our lives and will be drawn to it. Missional is a reversal of isolationism with an occasional foray into “enemy territory.” It is a full engagement in the world in which the unbeliever lives in order to be light and salt to them. This engagement is not purely for evangelism, which is usually viewed as manipulation (this is how the young, restless, and Reformed see so-called “friendship evangelism”). Rather, missional living is involvement with others in order to bless them, whether they come to Christ for salvation or not.
Again, there is much that could be learned from this emphasis on missional and authentic living but before we sign-off on all of this some cautions are in order. Missional living, in which believers are seeking the good of others, has a history of becoming an end in itself. This will be discussed further below when we look closer at social concerns and the gospel. Just as we can go too far by viewing the unsaved as mere targets or prospects for evangelism, we can go too far and see our temporary blessing of their lives as enough. Certainly showing love to our neighbor is an appropriate end in itself. We should not show such love just to maneuver people into position so that we can fire our gospel missiles at them. But on the other hand loving our neighbor could not be more perfectly expressed than by introducing them to the Savior. Blessing the lives of people, bringing happiness, comfort, and meeting their physical or emotional needs are wonderful things, but they are not a fulfillment of the Great Commission which calls for us to make disciples, not just bless people (Matt 28:19-20).
And I find it interesting that even when evangelism is still the focus, in their effort to be relevant some of the New Calvinists turn Arminian, at least in their methodology. As will be demonstrated in the next section, many are on the hunt for new approaches that they believe will connect with the unsaved and will therefore win their hearts for Christ. Even as they would claim to believe that the unregenerate do not seek for God (Rom 3:10-18), and that they consider the gospel foolishness until the Lord opens their eyes and draws them to Himself (1 Cor 1:18), at the same time they have become dependent on new, relevant means by which to help God win sinners. This can lead to compromise of the truth in order to make the gospel appear attractive to the lost. This is the topic we will take up next.
The idea of being culturally engaged has been around evangelicalism for decades. It was perhaps the defining issue that ultimately separated the fundamentalists and the (called at the time) neo-evangelicals (now evangelicals) in the 1950s. The question on the table was how much accommodation to the culture was necessary to engage it? Since the secular culture in general sees the gospel and biblical Christianity as foolishness, what will we have to do as Christians to get its approval? Fundamentalists eventually chose not to worry about engaging culture and to focus their attention on rescuing people from a Christ-rejecting world. Their churches became an oasis populated by like-minded believers who wanted to worship God, devote themselves to prayer and the Word and be a beacon of spiritual light to what they called “the lost and dying world.” The danger for the fundamentalist was becoming ingrown and losing a passion for the lost, except during specialized evangelistic campaigns and efforts. The danger for the neo-evangelical was losing the biblical purpose of the church and becoming compromised by the very world that they were trying to reach.
Evidence of compromise (not unlike earlier evangelicals experienced) with the young, restless and Reformed movement is readily available, although that evidence can be interpreted a number of ways. What the neo-Calvinists call engaging culture is often termed worldliness by its critics. Here we must define worldliness as the Bible does, not as many conservative Christians do today. Worldliness is not primarily a matter of dos and don’ts, of entertainment preferences or convictions, but a mindset of one who James would say desires to be a friend of the world and its corrupt system of life. In James 4:4 we read, “You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” While James is addressing a different context we see that coziness with the world system is spiritual adultery. In the context of engaging the culture just how close can we get before we begin to mimic the world rather than engage it for Christ? Said another way, in order for ourselves and our message not to appear foolish to the unregenerate, what are we willing to compromise in doctrine and in practice? Here are a few concerns that are troubling:
Openness to evolution: Many believe it is hard to be accepted seriously in our modern era and yet subscribe to some form of a young-earth creation account. If we are to engage culture it seems paramount that we accept evolution, but how do we do so and stay faithful to Scripture? Timothy Keller believes he has found the formula. He is representative of many who acknowledge some form of theistic evolution (in his case it is progressive evolution). In his highly-regarded apologetic volume, The Reason for God, he writes,
I think Genesis 1 has the earmarks of poetry and is therefore a “song” about the wonder and meaning of God’s creation. Genesis 2 is an account of how it happened…For the record I think God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-encompassing Theory…[quoting David Atkinson], “if ‘evolution’ remains at the level of scientific biological hypothesis, it would seem that there is little reason for conflict between the implications of Christian belief in the Creator and the scientific explorations of the way which–at the level of biology—God has gone about his creating process.” 
Keller is unofficially linked with Bio-Logos, an organization dedicated to the promotion of theistic evolution.
Music: When Mark Driscoll started his church, Mars Hill in Seattle, Washington he wanted to be relevant and he wanted his church to grow numerically. In order to do both he realized the power of music to draw the masses. He said, “I envisioned a large church that hosted concerts for non-Christian bands and fans on a phat sound system, embracing the arts…”  Virtually any form of music, performed by excellent musicians, regardless of whether they knew Christ, was used to grow the church. At one point the church began to host concerts at an auditorium which, “rarely hosted Christian bands since our main goal was getting non-Christian kids to come to the concerts.” Driscoll is not alone in advocating the use of secular and often ungodly music and musicians in order to draw a crowd. Keller has the same philosophy concerning using unbelievers to minister at church services because of their expertise. He writes,
First, we use only professional and/or trained musicians for our corporate worship services, and we pay them all…Second, we often include non-Christian musicians in our services who have wonderful gifts and talents…When we invite non-Christians to use their talents in corporate worship, we are simply calling them, along with every creature, to bring their “peculiar honors” and gifts to praise their Creator. 
Many, including myself, would challenge this use of either secular music or unsaved musicians as ministers within the body of Christ. First Corinthians 12 speaks of the Lord giving to the child of God spiritual gifts to minister within the local church, and the Spirit placing each of us within the body of Christ just as He desires (1 Cor 12:7, 11, 18, 24, 28) for the edification of the church. There is no biblical warrant for using unbelievers, or their godless worldview, via music, simply because it professionalizes the presentation or draws a crowd. The ends don’t justify the means.
Crudeness and drinking: To the extent that Mark Driscoll has influenced the New Calvinism movement it would appear crudeness and profanity are acceptable to many, apparently as a means of relating to unbelievers and being authentic. In his Confessions of a Reformission Rev, we find Driscoll comfortable with barnyard words (pp. 67, 94, 128, 129, 134), gross descriptions of the effects of the stomach flu (p. 177), sexual innuendos (pp. 59-60, 94-96, 128), and even crude depictions of God such as repeatedly referring to “God the Ghost” (pp. 7, 26, 34, 47, 74). Driscoll’s language is often shocking and he has influenced a horde of followers. It would seem the idea is that cleaner language apparently puts unbelievers off and they feel more comfortable with those who talk like them. Driscoll is an admitted curser (pp. 47, 50, 71, 97, 99, 128, 130). He is even known as “Mark the cussing pastor” in Donald Miller’s Blue Like Jazz (pp. 96-97) and there is no indication in either this book or later in his ministry that Driscoll has reformed his foul language.
And separation from worldly activities does not fit Driscoll’s missional strategy either. He speaks often of drinking and frequenting bars (e.g. pp. 51, 131, 146), buying lottery tickets (p. 58), admiring and learning from foul-mouthed entertainers such as Chris Rock (pp. 43, 70), stealing a sound system (p. 62) and setting himself up for sexual temptation (which he claims to have resisted) (p. 128).
It would be wrong to say that all New Calvinists buy into Driscoll’s speech and actions, but Driscoll (until his recent exposure led to being removed from Acts 29’s board and resigning from Mars Hill) has been highly regarded within these circles and has been reported to be the world’s most downloaded and quoted pastor. Yet we should take Peter Master’s critique seriously (Masters is the long-time pastor of Metropolitan Tabernacle in London where Charles Spurgeon ministered), “You cannot have Puritan soteriology without Puritan sanctification. You should not entice people to Calvinistic (or any) preaching by using worldly bait. We hope that young people in this movement will grasp the implications of the doctrines better than their teachers, and come away from the compromises. But there is a looming disaster in promoting this new form of Calvinism.” 
Theological compromise: Many of the New Calvinistic guides follow the fads of the moment and quote Christian leaders that are popular in the culture, despite errant teachings from these fads and leaders. Tim Keller likes to quote Flannery O’Connor, Malcolm Muggeridge and G. K. Chesterton, all Roman Catholics with heretical understanding concerning many doctrines including the gospel.  When someone espouses that salvation is obtained by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (the teaching of Reformed theology), then turns around and quotes favorably from those who deny these very teachings, what are we to make of such things? And when Keller develops his doctrine of hell from the writings of C. S. Lewis, who denied many orthodox teachings of the church  instead of the Bible, what are we to think? That these individuals resonate with the masses is undeniable. But when truth is muddled for the sake of relevancy it is a bad trade.
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.
Timothy Keller perhaps is the most influential representative of the social agenda approach to ministry within New Calvinists ranks. The official vision statement for the church he pastors, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, in New York City, reads:
As a church of Jesus Christ, Redeemer exists to help build a great city for all people through a movement of the gospel that brings personal conversion, community formation, social justice, and cultural renewal to New York City and, through it, to the world. 
Keller and Redeemer clearly see the mission of the church as having a social dimension in which the church helps to bring about cultural renewal, social justice, elimination of poverty, and more. And while this has the appearance of benevolence and love, it is lacking any New Testament mandate or warrant for the church. Historically when the church has added solving the world’s social problems to its mandate it has eventually lost its way and the social agenda became its primary ministry. The theologically liberal denominations and institutions stemming from the late 1800s in America are “Exhibit A” proving this thesis. They exchanged their gospel mandate for mercy ministries and ultimately forfeited their uniqueness as the church.
And there is a further concern – confusing the gospel. Drawing from N.T. Wright and the “missional” understanding of Christianity, Keller infuses a social dimension into his gospel definition. Keller’s gospel is more than the good news that Christ has come to reconcile us to God; it is also the call to solve the world’s problems of injustice, poverty and ecological concerns. He quotes N. T. Wright, not Scripture, to support his view:
The message of the resurrection is that this world matters! That the injustices and pains of this present world must now be addressed with the news that healing, justice, and love have won… If Easter means Jesus Christ is only raised in a spiritual sense—[then] it is only about me, and finding a new dimension in my personal life. But if Jesus Christ is truly risen from the dead, Christianity becomes good news for the whole world—news which warms our hearts precisely because it isn’t just about warming hearts. Easter means that in a world where injustice, violence and degradation are endemic, God is not prepared to tolerate such things—and that we will work and plan, with all the energy of God, to implement victory of Jesus over them all. 
Later in The Reason for God, Keller makes clear what he means:
The purpose of Jesus’ coming is to put the whole world right, to renew and restore the creation, not to escape it. It is not just to bring personal forgiveness and peace, but also justice and shalom to the world…The work of the Spirit of God is not only to save souls but also to care and cultivate the face of the earth, the material world. 
Scripture knows nothing of this type of gospel message. Nowhere in the New Testament will you find such a commission given to the people of God. And as E. S. Williams points out, “Of the many works of the Holy Spirit revealed in Scripture, caring for and cultivating the material world for its restoration and purity is not one.” You will, however, find a similar message in the emergent church, N.T. Wright’s “New Perspective on Paul,” and those reviving the old “Social Gospel” agenda.
Williams documents that Keller’s book Generous Justice speaks of and leans on the teachings of Gustavo Gutierrez and his book, A Theology of Liberation. “But he does not tell his readers that Gutierrez was [is] a Dominican priest, widely accepted as the founder of liberation theology”.  This should be considered carefully before one follows Keller and others too far down the social justice road as the mission of the church.
As one author writes, “At root,… is a question of how to engage the culture without losing one’s soul. Fundamentalism feared losing its soul and did not engage the culture; evangelicalism feared being different from the culture and is in danger of losing its soul.” 
In 2009 Time Magazine published its list of ten ideas changing the world today. Number three on that list was New Calvinism,
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.” Calvinism is back, and not just musically. 
The article goes on to point out it is not traditional Calvinism that is changing the world, but the New Calvinism variety that is being described in this paper. Some of the things I have detailed in this article and the last concerning New Calvinism have been positive. But much is challenging the very definitions of the church, as well as having powerful theological ramifications. We dare not ignore New Calvinism, but as always it is to be examined in the light of Scripture.
 Jeremy Walker, The New Calvinism Considered, a Personal and Pastoral Assessment, (Darlington, England, Evangelical Press 2013), p. 57 (emphasis his).
 Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, (New York: Dutton, 2008), pp. 94-95.
 Mark Driscoll, Confessions of a Reformission Rev., Hard Lessons from an Emerging Missional Church, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006), p. 40.
 Ibid., p. 126, (cf. pp. 68, 93, 100, 158).
 Timothy Keller, “Reformed Worship in the Global City,” in Worship By the Book by D.A. Carson, ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), pp. 238-239.
 As quoted in E. S. Williams, The New Calvinists, Changing the Gospel (London: The Wakeman Trust, 2014), p. 11.
 See Keller pp, 38, 177, 186, 197, 227, 230-31, 237-39, 240.
 William M. Schweitzer, “A Brimstone-Free Hell” in Engaging With Keller: Thinking Through the Theology of an Influential Evangelical by Iain D. Campbell and William M. Schweitzer, ed. (Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2013), pp. 65-96.
 Timothy Keller, p. 212.
 Ibid., p. 223.
 E. S. Williams, p.20.
 Ibid., p. 21.
 John H. Armstrong, General Editor, The Compromised Church, (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1998), p.27.