Lately you have been talking a lot about “New Calvinism,” Pastor John. The phrase appears to have been coined back in 2007 or 2008 by the Crossway Books titling committee, as they were thinking about subtitles for Collin Hansen’s book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists.
The phrase was born, and it’s a phrase that has become part of our vocabulary over the years since. 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 Old 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.
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 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 Calvinism is almost certainly going to run into historical contradictions since the Old Calvinism goes back so far, through so many centuries.
It has found expression in hundreds of different forms and cultures and emphases and strategies and personalities, so 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.
Seven Aspects of New Calvinism
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 I jotted down seven things that I think we can say give good warrant to the term New Calvinism.
1. The New Calvinism 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, Christlike servant leadership.
“The truth is not new, and the truth is the root and the ground of all the applications, new and old.”
Now, that has been true for 99 percent of Reformed people and Reformed history. The only reason it stands out as new is because in the last fifty 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 Old Calvinism that have become egalitarian.
2. The New Calvinism feels new because so much of it embraces contemporary forms of music 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.
3. 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 seventeenth century on, but they have seemed like stepchildren historically. Today, they don’t, and that feels new.
4. The New Calvinism includes significant numbers of charismatics, in addition to non-charismatics. Historically, that is new.
5. In the New Calvinism, Jonathan Edwards seems to play an unusually large role over against, say, John Calvin on the historical spectrum. That is a newer development.
6. The New Calvinism is vibrantly engaged in the world of the 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 Old Calvinism, because there was no opportunity to use it.
7. There is a strong emphasis in the New Calvinism on the multiethnicity of the church and a passion for racial harmony and diversity. Even more amazing are the convictions of God’s sovereignty — this big-God theology that’s breaking out in ethnically indigenous ways that have not been managed by anyone on the earth. I think, historically speaking, the scope of that diversity is probably new.
Those are my seven marks of newness, but I will end, again, by saying, again, that 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.