What’s New About ‘New Calvinism’?

The following is a transcript of the audio.

Lately you have been talking a lot about “New Calvinism,” Pastor John, a phrase which appears to have been coined back in 2007–8 by Crossway Book’s titling committee as they were thinking about subtitles for Collin Hansen’s book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists. And the phrase was born, and it’s a phrase that has become part of our vocabulary over the years since. And obviously, this new Calvinism is built on a long legacy of old Calvinism — so explain this further, Pastor John: In your mind, what’s new about New Calvinism?

Well, the first thing I would say is that what the new Calvinism has in common with the older Calvinism is a thousand times more important than what makes it different. That is the most important thing to say. Probably the truth is not new. And the truth is the root and the ground of all the applications, new and old. But the doctrines of grace summed up in the five points, the five solas of the Reformation, the sovereignty of God over all of our suffering, the supremacy of an infallible Scriptures over all tradition, all these are common and supremely precious, old and new. That is the first thing that I would say. The commonalities that define the truth dimension of Calvinism, old and new, are vastly more important than the distinctions.

Here is the second thing I would say. Any attempt to describe the new Calvinism as distinct from the old is almost certainly going to run into historical contradictions, because the old Calvinism goes back so far, so many centuries and has found expression in hundreds of different forms and cultures and emphases and strategies and personalities, as soon as you say such and such is new, someone with a good historical nose is going to find an example in history that shows it is not new. And so I am not eager to claim newness.

And the third thing to say is, well, you are using the term, Piper, so come on. Why are you using it, then? What is new about the new Calvinism if you are going to keep using the term? And so here is... I jotted down seven things that I think we can say give good warrant to the term new Calvinism.

Number one, the new Calvinist has a strong complementarian flavor with an emphasis on the flourishing of men and women in relationships where men embrace the call to robust, humble, Christ like servant leadership. Now that has been true for 99 percent of reformed people and reformed history. And the only reason it stands out as new is because in the last 50 years many reformed people have turned away from that part of the history. And so ironically in being a conserving element at this point, the new Calvinism looks new over against a lot of the trajectories of the older Calvinism that have become egalitarian.

Number two, the new Calvinism feels new, because so much of it embraces contemporary forms of mu-sic and worship. In principle that is not new. Isaac Watts in the 1700s was quite avant garde in his hymnology, but it feels new, because there are strong traditions of Calvinism who resist this trend.

Number three, there is a strong baptistic element in the new Calvinism. Historically, Baptists have been mainly Calvinistic over the entire history of their life from the 17th century, but they have seemed like step children historically, and today they don’t. And that feels new.

Fourth, the new Calvinism includes significant numbers of charismatics and non-charismatics. Historically that is new.

Number five, in the new Calvinism, Jonathan Edwards seems to play a historically unusually large role over against, say, John Calvin on the historical spectrum. That is a newer development.

Number six, the new Calvinism is vibrantly engaged in the world of internet with hundreds of energetic bloggers and social media activists and twitter users. Now that is totally new. I mean, that just didn’t exist and it is no fault of the older Calvinism, because there was no opportunity to use it.

Number seven, there is a strong emphasis in the new Calvinism on multi ethnicity of the Church and a passion for racial harmony and diversity. And even more amazing the convictions of God’s sovereignty, this big-God theology are breaking out in ethnically indigenous ways that have not been managed by anyone on the earth. And I think historically speaking the scope of that perversity is probably new.

So those are my seven. I think that was seven marks of newness. But I will end, again, I will end by saying, again, what the new has in common with the old is all-important. Truth is always the root that can break out again and again in new ways from generation to generation and holding fast to that, spreading that is what I care most about.

Yes, amen, thank you Pastor John. Speaking of New Calvinism, “Where Did All These Calvinists Come From?” That was the topic of our discussion in episode #237 in the Ask Pastor John podcast series. Find episode #237 along with over 300 other episodes in the Ask Pastor John app, a free download for the iPhone and Android. We’ve recently added a search bar at the top of the screen, making it the best and most convenient way to navigate the entire podcast archive. Tomorrow we return to talk about the Prosperity Gospel, specifically how to discern a subtler version of the prosperity gospel message that can creep into the messages we hear today. I’m your host Tony Reinke, well see you tomorrow.

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