Sunday, April 19, 2009


The New Calvinism

One thing about taking up blogging is that you discover that there are "new" things, one of which is something apparently called "The New Calvinism." It seems that Time Magazine ran a story in it's "What's Next 2009" segment pointing out that Reformed theology appears to be enjoying something of a resurgence. These are things we don't know unless Time Magazine tells us, I suppose.

I'm going to mostly leave aside Time's predictably snarky treatment of a serious and important biblical debate, except to say that real Calvinists I know don't describe God as an "austerly demanding" micromanager or humanity as "puny". These are mere caricatures and straw men set up by people who don't really want to have a discussion. An evenhanded treatment of the question is probably too much to ask for from Time.

Anyway, when I was growing up, the only "new" Calvinism I knew about was something truly revolutionary:

Click the image for the complete cartoon, courtesy of The Blog from the Core.


  1. Bravo, Jailer! Thanks for the humor.

  2. Agreed. It is like Time "discovered" it and wants recognition for something that has existed since before the foundation of the Earth...

  3. The TIME Magazine article was written for the 500th birthday of Calvin.

    All I have to say is what is the fruit of Calvin's ministry for the last 500 years?

    Compare that to other great men of God like the late Apostle Paul's ministry over the past 1900 years?

    Or say late Watchmen Nee's ministry over the past 100 years?

    or etc. - pick a man.

    The significance of the fruit will clear up how much weight we should place on it.

    Calvinsim has not produced a significant impact in areas of evangelism -reaching the lost for Christ,

    nor in the great commision -missions to go to all the world and make disciples of Jesus,

    nor in discipleship - raise up believers to know God well and be like Jesus in character and to minister building up in Christ love to others,

    yet his teaching has caused many to get sidetracked and distracted from those Biblically significant goals.

    Therefore, in my view, Calvnism is a net loss rather than a great gain for the Church over the past 500 years and continues to be so since so many still debate a 500 year old question that Jesus and the Apostles and the New Testament never once debated.

    Its as if someone decided to debate wether or not Adam had a belly button and then WOW!!!! the next 500 years is consumed with that debate - how useful would such a thing be to Jesus as HE builds the Church? My answer - totally useless and waste of time and a weed planted instead of a good seed

    Matthew 13:25 "But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away.

    Calvinsim (not CALVIN himself) is a weed planted and doesn't help anyone grow and mature as a Christian whom pleases God. So what good is it?

    Well it gives those who like to debate something to debate which of course distracts them from the goal of maturing in Christ and helping other Christians mature in Christ.

  4. Stacey -- I'm completely confused. First you say Calvin himself produced nothing of value, then you say it's Calvinism (and "not Calvin") which is a weed. Which is it?

    Leaving Calvin aside, have you considered going backwards? Would you say the same about St. Augustine, who espoused a "Calvinist" soteriology before it was so named? Coming forwards, do you feel also that Jonathan Edwards had no value? Eric Liddell? George Whitefield? CH Spurgeon? JI Packer? Francis Schaeffer? RC Sproul?

    Your objections to Reformed theology seem to take on an unfortunate ad hominem character. Why so hostile?

  5. I LOVE Calvin and Hobbes. The combination of sly humor mixed with childhood imagination has always made me laugh and look at things differently...less intense. Thank you for the giggles tonight that ring with a huge tablespoon of truth at the same time.

  6. Not everything Calvin taught was good.

    1 Thessalonians 5:21 "Test everything. Hold on to the good."

    What is good keep it, what is not - throw it away.

    What of Calvinism is good? Keep it.

    What of Calvinism is not so good? Throw it away.

    Regarding every name you mentioned I would recommend the same treatment.

    To the extent a person follows Jesus then follow them, when they get off track - then what? Then stop following them in the area they are off track.

    What area is Calvinism most famous for and is it on track?

  7. I have a problem with his TULIP theory.

    I do not believe that a child is born with sin. I do not believe that you cannot fall from Grace. I believe that God's plan is for those who obey his (the Father) will is who is predestined to be saved, and he wants us all to do so.

  8. But that's the whole point. None of us obey God's will by ourselves... it takes the undeserved grace and mercy of God to save us and make us obey. Therefore, God has to enable those who will be saved.

  9. Stacey, if debate is a distraction, isn't your post (and many of your posts - by their headings) doing just that?

  10. Debate is fine and encouraged and practiced in Scripture (Acts 15; 1 Cor 11:19; 1 Tim 6:19; etc)

    It is a good thing for different views to be presented and as they are the TRUTH and the INTENT of God is better known and understood.

    However, the Calvinism bebate has gone on for 500 years and is still not settled and WILL NEVER BE.

    So I question how much good it has done compared to how much distraction or even harm and division it has caused.

    Once again, for me if a teaching is helping me grow in Knowing God or in being more like Jesus in my Character or helping me grow in Ministry to others then I love it but if it does none of those things then I question its usefullness - its the difference between building a disciple of Jesus or building an intellecutual Christian in my view.

  11. But who decides when a debate is settled? For example, i.It can be argued that the early church believed in transubstantiation, yet the debate among groups within the universal church continues. Likewise there is an ongoing discussion (muted as it might be, ignored as it might be in some circles) about St.Peter and the Keys of the Kingdom. Or what about the question of baptism and sins, or the gifts of the Holy Spirit today, or a Saturday vs. Sunday Sabbath, or any number of important and debatable positions? Who makes the decision that some subjects retain value in their debate and others don't? And on what basis is that decision made? What criteria will we use?

    You see how easy it is for us to go around and around and around with this? Meanwhile, the Church (at least in America) has swallowed enough of the devil's swill to make us essentially ineffective in evangelizing our country. The words of the Lord ring sadly shrill in our day: The cares of the world, and the deceitfulness of riches and the desire for other things enter in a choke the word and it becomes unfruitful.

    I opt for UNITY among the various body parts of the Body of Christ, agreeing to disagree on -- shall we say -- non-salvific doctrines, and stick to what we all agree on. And then go forth again united into our world.

  12. Rich -- not Nan -- wrote the last post. Someday i am going to learn to look before I send.

  13. I'd rather focus on the next move or revelation from God than keep going back to a revelation from the 16th century and revising it. Our past is important, whether we agree with some of the beliefs or not, but let's strive to move forward instead of getting "stuck" on old revelation - let's build on it and grow as Christians.

    The bottom line for me is this: Whether Calvinism is correct or not, I'm going to live my life seeking what God has for me so I can present Him to others the best I am able. If I'm not chosen then I've done all I can which is much better than to find out everyone had an invitation to salvation and I blew it because I was too lazy to try and too stupid to accept what was offered freely - if Calvinism is incorrect.

    Stacey is right, there is no way to settle it. Everyone has arguments for and against, including myself, but with that said, what's the harm in acting as if everyone is chosen and some miss it?

    We can get caught in the snare of argument - trying to prove our point - when in the end the argument doesn't really matter that much. This draws us away from doing Kingdom work and wasting our resources on petty arguments about semantics... especially with things that are unclear in the Word. I'm not saying belief in or against Calvinism is petty, but the arguments over it that I've seen always become petty. We get focused on "winning" the argument and forget that there is a King to serve, a Lord to worship, a co-laborer to work with and a Savior to love. This causes us to forget there are hurting people in the world we need to introduce Him to.

  14. Enjoyed the comments. Some commenters in condemning Calvin essentially denied the Gospel.

  15. I hesitate to address this issue knowing that some of what I write will be misunderstood by some and disregarded by others.
    I applaud you Stacey, Jim, and Nan for your heart for people and to get the big job done - reaching people for Christ and preaching the gospel. You are right - we do get caught up in less-essential matters, letting our prisoner escape while we have been busy here and there (I Kings 20:40). And certainly, busyness is the curse of this age and the bane of my own life.
    Now, I know you're getting ready for a however, so I don't want to disappoint you:) But in this conversation I sense something very American in its mode of thinking and biblically unbalanced.
    Originally, I was thinking about offering a historical background of Calvinism. But I think the issue that I am seeing here goes much deeper than a mere history lesson.
    Let me begin by saying something that many Christian historians and scholars have written volumes about over the past nineteen years. The replies I have just read all exhibit the same American tendency to sacrifice loving God with your mind as somehow less spiritual than loving him with our heart, soul and strength. It has been a problem which has developed ever since the early 19th century. During the Second Great Awakening many Christian leaders traded an emphasis on Christian thought for Christian activism. The positive impact of this transformation was that Christianity began to permeate all American institutions and shake up our country as never before in the name of Jesus. Missions prospered, churches were built, anti-slavery societies were founded, and temperance leagues challenged the hard-drinking frontier.
    But can we talk?
    In our pursuit of Christian activism, we began to retreat from other aspects of our culture that required biblical answers to hard questions. In fact, we became proud of the fact that Americans didn't need training to be effective in ministry. Gone was the Puritan vision of the educated ministry that brought New England to birth. The result, as we entered the 20th century, was a retreat from the mind. We came to believe that what mattered was the heart and salvation of the soul and that if the mind got in the way, just ignore it. Very few theologians had the ability to stand in the gap in the face of liberal theology arriving from German universities over the pond.
    We decided that our minds did not matter as long as we kept busy evangelizing. The historical evidence is overwhelming and I won't bore you with all the details.
    But I must correct some misconceptions, Stacey.
    first, you ask what Calvinism has done for missions:
    Answer: The first great awakening was a work of God wrought under the leadership of some great Reformed leaders such as Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and the frontier missionaries who followed. There were others who went to Asia as well. I am certainly not saying that the first great awakening excelled in missions, but to make the claim that Calvinists did little or nothing is to ignore the evidence. As a matter of fact, the approach to revival as a work of God under Whitefield and Edwards was, I believe, a more biblical approach than that of C.G. Finney during the second great awakening. Finney believed that revival was a scientific application of means (music, preaching, atmosphere) and not a miracle at all- thus, it depended on us rather than God's sovereignty. Which is more biblical to you?
    Second, you claim that Calvinism has not enabled people to know God well or to be his disciples. I'm not sure what books you've read or evidence you've consulted in reaching your conclusion. Again, if you suspect that one cannot love God with heart AND mind, I must ask how you came to these conclusions.
    For the rest: If it is unbiblical to use logic, reason, and the scriptures in winning the lost, confronting error, and in making disciples(all which are hallmarks of Reformed Calvinism), then we also have problems with Jesus methods of doing all three. A quick reading of any of the gospels will produce a tremendous number of examples of how Jesus was able to argue effectively with and without the scriptures in a way that shows us how to love God with our minds.
    All the evidence I need is in the minds of my students and their parents. I am amazed how few of them can articulate what the Bible teaches about a number of issues that are very much a part of our discipleship yet woefully neglected in our teaching.
    What is a biblical economic system?
    What does a biblically based political system look like?
    If we are to believe what many conservatives preach, unless you are a Republican and a free-market capitalist with no holds barred, you shall not enter the kingdom of God. Yet what does the Bible really teach? Do we even care? Or does it matter?
    Well it did to the prophets and it certainly did to Calvinist thinkers who believed that it honored God to speak to every area of life because "there is no area of life in which Jesus Christ does not say 'This is mine' (Abraham Kuyper, early 20th c. Dutch prime minister)
    Paul argued vehemently in the propagation of the gospel - Acts 17 is a great place to start but it is not the only place. An argument is simply a well-defended position on an issue. It isn't something evil.
    Jim - you remind me of Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. What kind of revelation are you waiting for and how will it change or clarify the revelation of the scriptures?
    But if you are speaking of revelation as in a "clarifying" word from God, then I encourage you to look to the ones who spent a longer time in the word of God and on their knees than you or I ever will. We Americans have such an aversion to learning from anyone outside our own generation. I see it everywhere - we read books that have been published only in our lifetime and sing worship songs written in the past ten years. Now I ask you - how sensible is it to embrace the wisdom of my short 53 years and ignore the "revelation" of the past 1900 plus since Jesus ascended to heaven? Are we so arrogant to believe that wisdom and knowledge begins and ends with us?
    Jim - Which arguments matter? Which don't? Do any arguments matter? Well, if arguing about issues aren't important, then you will have to apologize to the church fathers who kept the early church from abandoning the Trinity. And, you'll have to explain to Luther why he shouldn't have argued about the gospel, the efficacy of indulgences, and the 93 other questions for debate that he posted on the "blog" in Wittenberg in 1517. Perhaps you'll have to explain to Dietrich Bonhoeffer why he argued with the established Church in Germany in Hitler's Germany and broke with it instead of just evangelizing Germans and doing church. (after all, the Jews weren't his problem and they weren't coming to Christ anyway - why waste his time - he should have been evangelizing!)
    And if you read carefully, Stacey, none of the Reformed writers were ever preoccupied with something so peripheral as Adam's missing belly button. Clearly, you are suffering from a typical American disease - I call it hyperCalvinismmisperceptionitis. And it's rampant. All people know about Calvinism is predestination and election. Who has even read Calvin, Luther, or the Puritans? Very few, I think, judging from the content of most of the textbooks I've reviewed over the years.
    We may believe that "all we preach is the word of God and the gospel - we don't hold to any specific doctrine."
    But we are fooling ourselves. All of us (including Jailer, Jailbreaker) know full well if we are honest that our interpretations are tainted through and through with our cultural biases. That's neither good nor bad - it just is.
    Perhaps it is time to ask ourselves whether the problem is with our attitudes and not with the issues themselves. Our attitudes and responses in whatever we debate do not determine the relevance or value of the arguments themselves. They just reveal how we feel about them.
    If what each of you are saying is that we shouldn't come to grips with issues that occupied great godly minds because they are irrelevant, then we must appear before the bar of history and testify which of our own ideas matter more.
    And if we must close our mouths in the presence of great men and women and listen in humility that we may gain wisdom, than yes, discussing controversial issues that impact our souls and our churches is worth the time and pain in thinking about them.
    The alternative is to continue suffering what Notre Dame historian Mark Noll described as the disease of the modern evangelical mind: that there is no evangelical mind.
    It's time to love God with our minds and dispense with fuzzy thinking that neither honors God, nor serves the cause for which we are sent.

  16. Thanks, Chief.

    A word of warning though, on our minds: It's my impression that there is a tendency in young men coming out of reformed seminaries to have a real hunger to be be current where the mind is concerned, and, unhappily, some of it is not at all edifying. Sometimes, on some issues, one is left wondering if the aspirations involved point not so much to the "care of souls" as to the possibility of being invited one day to join the faculty at one of those seminaries.

    So I think that loving God with our minds should include a healthy dose of humility, and a real reluctance to take up most ideas that don't have a pedigree at least a few centuries long, and, instead, "to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3).

    With that said, we can remember that most of the reformers thought of themselves as rediscovering Augustine (after over a millennium), and, more fundamentally than that, Paul. In a word, they were rediscovering the "gospel of grace". If that's been "a weed in the garden of the church" for the last 500 years, then, with the writer to the Hebrews, "let us go to Him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured" (Heb. 13:13). Weeds don't count for much in this age, but "here we have no continuing city" (Heb. 13:14).

  17. Really quickly...

    I just want to debunk the idea that Stacey presented in that Calvin's theology didn't lead to evangelism. Go to the source, not the bad fruit of the source.

    Calvin's underground church movement was absolutely astonishing and from the movement came men like John Knox, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards, John Bunyan, etc.

    Say what you want about some of his theology, if you must, but to say that the fruit of his ministry isn't evangelism is to be very very ignorant of the historical roots of Christianity from the Reformation forward.

    Luther himself said that he wondered why God's sovereign will was for him to lead the cause against Rome and not Calvin himself. He said he would gladly hand it over to such a man.

    Please don't make your assumptions of Calvinism from stupid people who don't allow the teachings to bear their fruit...because could we not say the same thing about Jesus' followers? Haven't we Christians done some pretty horrific things? Does this negate Jesus or show the utter depravity of man?

    I don't hold Calvin above any other man, or even close to Jesus or the sacred writings, but to say that his teachings and understandings of Scriptures don't lead to evangelism is just silly.

  18. Well said, Presbyter. The more time I spend with these ancient godly men, the smaller I become, which is a good thing. Even Newton recognized that he was what he was because he stood on the shoulders of great men. And I'm no Newton (imagine inventing Calculus in your 20s. The biggest thing I could claim about calculus is the kind the dentist finds on my teeth)

  19. I like the old saying: "pray like a Calvinist (everything depends on GOD" and work like an Armenian (everything depends on me)!


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