Friday, March 13, 2009

Calvinism: New or Old?

Mark Driscoll's blog (or is it Mars Hill's blog?...) posted these distinctions between the old 'stereotypical' Calvinist, and what is being styled by many as New Calvinism. All this out of TIME Magazine's proclamation that this "New Calvinism" is 3rd among ideas currently changing the world.

Well - here are the distinctions:
  1. Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal and separated from or syncretized with culture. New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.
  2. Old Calvinism fled from the cities. New Calvinism is flooding into cities.
  3. Old Calvinism was cessationistic and fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. New Calvinism is continuationist and joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges. New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them.
Now, I don't know if my head has been in a fog or something... but I had heard of neo-Calvinism, but not in these terms. (Don't ask me to remember what terms...these kind of things would have kept me up at night in seminary, now not so much...) But I am out of the 'controversy' loop, and I try to stay away from internet theological flame wars these days... so who knows.

But if the above is an accurate juxtaposition, then I have a couple comments:

First of all, 1 and 4 are stereotypical nonsense. But of course, stereotypes are based in experiential and anecdotal truths, so take them for what they are. I have known incredibly culturally "relevant" (to use a post-modern buzzword), as well as incredibly gracious Calvinists in my time - and like I said, I didn't even know they were Old Calvinists... Having great doctrine can very easily lead into pride, undoubtedly, but the heart of Calvinism, correctly understood, will bring about such a profound humility that it should be impossible not to be gracious and loving towards other believers... of course, Calvinists are still sinners (just ask them!) so they fall down a lot in this area...

Now, on 2 and 3... 2 is just great. I love seeing it and am so happy about it. And it is 100% truthful. Not sure if it was purely an American phenomenon that saw the reformed church retreating into the suburbs, but it has been a real blessing to see the church slowly seeing that this is where they are most called because this is where there is most need.

3... 3 is gonna be a problem for me... but maybe simply because I need some clarification. I have always styled myself as a cessationist. But I realize there are some difficult texts in the Bible dealing with these things. I have always said that I am 95% cessationist, because I bleieve we must leave room for the Holy Spirit to do whatever He wants, and we must leave room for new revelation (or at the very least, new understanding) at the coming of Christ. That being said, I would need to know what is meant by the "presence and power of the Holy Spirit"... The Holy Spirit (HS) has always been central to Calvinism - He is the monergistic mover in salvation. It is the Spirit's work and power that not only draws a person to Christ, but sustains him in Christ, and changes him to be more like Christ. This is powerful stuff, and demands His presence... I believe it is the HS that draws us into worship before the Father on the Lord's Day. It is the HS that filters our prayers, our singing and all vertical aspects of our worship to make them pleasing to the Father, He is the medium through which the horizontal aspects of the worship edify and grow hungry believers... This is powerful stuff, and requires His presence...
So if we are talking about emphasis on the HS, I'm cool with that. The HS should get His props (though he prefers to be in the background, like a deacon, reflecting all glory to Christ). But if they mean welcoming back into the corporate worship things like Speaking in tongues and prophesy, I think I have to fold my hand. Though I wouldn't leave the table...

To use Driscoll's terms, this is a state border, not a national one. I would have no problem fellowshipping and loving up a believer who held to these things. They are so far in the periphery that they do not even enter my mind - though I suppose it might make corporate worship together kinda awkward... But it would take some serious scriptural convincing for me to embrace it fully.

So am I a New Calvinist? Maybe 3 for 4? 75% New?

Actually it's kind of silly... There is nothing new here. We've just put a nice dress on an old friend and softened up some of the rough spots. In any case - for the world to notice this movement is great, and I thank the Lord for what He is doing in His Church.


Joel said...

Thanks for distilling this down, Greg, I was wondering how I was going to do it, myself. A couple quick thoughts off the cuff:

1) I really, really, really dislike the term "missional" and all the hubub around it (not the people affiliated with it). Being "missional" shouldn't be a new thing - true "Calvinists" have been "missional" since...well, Calvin. To me, a lot of times it seems like a term for hipsters who are smitten with the Emergent movement but don't have the stones to emerge themselves.

2) Every definition of "New Calvinist" I've seen is pretty narrow. To me, it seems to be pretty much just people who "follow" John Piper. I'm not really comfortable being lumped into "New Calvinist" if that's the case. Give me Jesus, Paul, and Calvin any day of the week.

Word verification: "hodom"...Pat Robertson thought that Hurricane Katrine was a reenactment of Hodom & Gomorrah.

Joel said...

decent response to Driscoll's 4 points of new calvinism here, much of which you touch on here. just thought i'd pass it on.