The Old and New Calvinisms

Reformed Forum founders Camden Bucey, Jim Cassidy, and Jeff Waddington speak about the Old and New Calvinisms. As the speaker for the annual Gaffin lecture, John Piper recently spoke at Westminster Theological Seminary (PA) on the topic, “The New Calvinism and the New Community.” The New Calvinism, a cross-denominational movement, recaptures many elements of the Old, but the two differ in some respects. Today’s panel reflects on the similarities and differences between the two, following up on several recent Reformed Forum blog posts.



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26 Responses

  1. Mark

    Thanks for this episode. Enjoyed it a lot! I find Calvinist and Calvinistic are not that helpful as monickers. I’ve even grow wary of using the word Reformed when I am among folks who are uncertain what it means or may even be opposed to it because of bad experiences or mischaracterization by teachers they trust. I have been using the phrase “reformed according to Scripture” which I picked up from the subtitle of Hughes Oliphant Old’s book. Saying it that way seems to help my broad evangelical friends understand that to be Reformed is to (in our understanding) draw your beliefs from Scripture. This usually puts them at ease and enables them to actually listen to my perspective without turning off as quickly.

    I’ve also taken to describing myself at a classical Protestant or a paleo-Protestant rather than Reformed. I got this from the title of David Wells really good book. This is another way that seems to keep my evangelical and calvinistic Baptist friends from shutting down before I even explain my position. The reality is that the first Protestants were Reformed but so many of today’s current Protestants don’t even know the story. The classical Protestant distinctions (sacraments, ecclesiology, confessions, etc.), as Tolkein said of the one ring, have “passed out of all knowledge” among our evangelical siblings.

  2. Steve in Toronto

    While I agree with you and Piper that properly understood Calvinism is antithetical to racism but it’s is hard to argue this point in the face of the uncomfortable fact that so many leading Calvinist both in the United States and in South Africa have been prominent racists. Why is it that men like R.L. Dabney, James Thornwell, Benjamin Palmer and even (arguably) Machen held views that modern Christion find shocking (Don’t get me started on Doug Wilson who probably isn’t a racist but does a fairly convince job of acting like one with frightful regularity). This is not only a question of judging historical figures by modern standard there were many Christians contemporary of these men who argued for abolition and/or integration)., Granted few of these were reformed but that further undermines that argument that the reformed faith is intrinsically racially inclusive. It might be worthwhile to get Peter Slade (author of Open Friendship in a Closed Society) to discuss this unfortunate part of our reformed heritage. Anthony Bradley has a few choice words to say about this subject as well.

  3. Mark G

    Good show. It seems to me that one could also say that the New Calvinist movement is also missing the covenant theology of the Reformed and Presbyterian Churches, especially a covenant theology based on the covenant headships of the first and second Adams, i.e., a Covenant of Works and a Covenant of Grace.

    1. Ben Hunter

      This is a crucial point you make Mark G. Without a covenant theology there is not a proper doctrine of God. WCF 7.1 places covenant as the sole means by which we can have any positive benefit from knowing God. Also, our confessions are clear about the necessity of sola scriptura as the basis upon which we can establish a proper Covenant Theology. I think the absence of a proper covenant theological framework is the consequence of a low view of Scripture (i.e the continuationist position).

  4. Tyrese

    While I agree that many who call themselves “Calvinist” would not be accepted into fellowship in John Calvin’s assemblies, you have to be honest to the fact that many Presbyterians are off the beaten path, and would not be accepted into his assemblies either. Many Presbyterians have bizarre belief’s that are contrary to the Westminster Standards. And if these belief’s are contrary to the WCF, you know there’s many views that are contrary to Calvin’s perspective. In fact most (not all) Reformed Baptist are more committed to Reformed Theology (or “Old Calvinism”) than a lot of Presbyterians.

    1. Mark G

      Calvin had beliefs that were contrary to Westminster; e.g., views on Sabbath and he did not present a formal statement of covenant theology in the Institutes.

      1. Tyrese

        Great point Mark! You would think Calvin himself would have been added to their list of those who were not Reformed. This must be the exception.

      2. Mark G

        That being said, the discussion was not trying to pigeon hole so much as trying to distinguish between two schools of thought (New Calvinism and Old [school] Calvinism) and argue that certain distinguishing features are historically characteristic and important. I we’re going to have any discussion at all we have to have some defined categories to talk about. For example, it may be pointless to argue that “Reformed Baptist” is not reformed, but it’s helpful to compare and contrast positions commonly held in Reformed Baptist & Reformed Presbyterian traditions respectively. Only the simplest of topics can be discussed without categorizing.

  5. Tyrese


    You said, “the discussion was not trying to pigeon hole so much as trying to distinguish between two schools of thought (New Calvinism and Old [school] Calvinism) and argue that certain distinguishing features are historically characteristic and important.”

    Actually that’s exactly what happened in the discussion. Even so much as they failed to make proper distinctions between confessional Reformed Baptist and New Covenant Calvinistic Baptist like Dr.Piper. Saying there’s New Calvinist who are confessional is missing the mark by far.

    You said, ” I we’re going to have any discussion at all we have to have some defined categories to talk about.”

    Now here’s where the inconsistencies come in. It seem like you guys are picking and choosing which categories are important and the ones that are not. For example, many Reformed Presbyterians and RB’s practice exclusive Psalmody (I believe Calvin did as well) and perhaps rightly say their Presbyterian brethren who do not practice EP are less Reformed. Imagine an entire podcast being created around that idea. Again that’s just an example. There’s many more examples you can give, but who wants to sit around naming them? There needs to be more consistency here.

  6. Tyrese

    I think the problem here is that they’re talking about five different things at once as if they are all the same thing. You got New Covenant theology, Charismatics, Reformed Baptist, Dr.Loyde-Jones (who was also a paedobaptist) and independent church government, etc, as if these are all the same thing under the umbrella of “New Calvinism.” That’s like me having a beef with Catholics and including Presbyterians in same article because they have something in common. I’m sure you all would agree that that would be unfruitful. I anticipate disagreement but that’s what happened in the article (especially the article) and the podcast. Putting New Covenant guys into the same bucket as confessional Reformed Baptist is folly at best.

    1. ctrace

      “Dr.Loyde-Jones (who was also a paedobaptist)”

      One of the reasons Martyn Lloyd-Jones is not so much in really anybody’s conversation today is because he was neither straight paedo-baptist or credo-baptist. He didn’t think it was a point of doctrine worth separating communions on.

  7. ctrace

    To answer one of the points Camden was making, how can we call anybody Calvinist who wouldn’t be allowed in Calvin’s church…the answer is because you now have to say John Owen was not a Calvinist.

  8. ctrace

    Saying all doctrine is church doctrine is like saying all doctrine is sacramentology doctrine.

    On a perhaps more charitable reading of it, saying all doctrine is church doctrine is like saying all doctrine is eschatology doctrine. I.e. we can see something in that, but it would apply to any of the basic loci of systematic theology.

  9. ctrace

    For instance, how many Reformed paedo-baptists even think in these terms:

    “This is the Calvinism with the life of the Spirit in it. This is the Calvinism of the spiritual battlefield. This is the Calvinism that builds understanding and builds being.”

    It’s foreign to them. Their churches and their doctrine actually enforce shallowness.

    When I say, “Priesthood of scholars constructed bibles” they scoff and mock. They can’t see that it is the attitude of a Christian who adopts such bibles that has the effect in them of keeping them shallow and keeping them in the chains of their own fallen nature. When you demand to look down on the Bible rather than look up to it you are adopting an attitude. An attitude you are usually not even aware of. Try to like what your fallen nature dislikes. Your fallen nature dislikes a Bible you have to look up to. One that hasn’t been constructed by man. One that has the authority of God in it. One that doesn’t need you more than you need it. This is foundational. You want to shout and mock “King James Only!!! Ha, ha!!!” but that is your shallowness and fear of the world speaking. You don’t want anything to do with *any* Bible based on the supernaturally preserved text.

    And this causes you to be angry like Cain towards God’s sovereignty in regeneration. God is sovereign in creation, providence, and grace. And *grace.* This has not been left to the actions of clerics and ritual. It is involved with the Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

    Back to the Word of God. The one thing the Devil hates most is the fact of regeneration. What did the Roman Catholic church, run by the Devil, keep away from people when it had the power to keep things away from people? Sacraments? No. They called people in to be baptized and to their mass all night and all day. Come one, come all. What was it? That’s right, it was the *Word of God* they kept away from people. And they did it upon penalty of torture and death. I.e. they *really* didn’t want people to come into contact with the Word of God. The Devil knows what regenerates, and it isn’t sacraments or priestcraft, or church buildings, or what have you. It is the living, quickening Word of God and the Holy Spirit.

    Final note: what did Zwingli, Luther, and Calvin all three say was the most important thing they did? All three made similar statements that the most important thing they did was to proclaim the *actual* Word of God – the Holy Bible – to entire populations, cover-to-cover. Why was this so important in their view? Because they knew regeneration was the main thing, and it was the Word of God that effected regeneration in God’s elect.

    Downgrade your doctrine of the Word of God; downgrade the doctrine and reality of regeneration by the Word and the Spirit; and you have communions dead in Spirit and shallow. Centuries back it was the Enlightenment that downgraded Scripture, today it is the Counter-Reformation ongoing attack on the Word of God resulting in constructed Bibles based on Romanist corrupted manuscripts. The resulting attitude is the same. Victory for the Devil.

    1. ctrace

      Sometimes to get something across that is difficult for people to see or accept you have to hammer a little harder. I guess the metaphor would be, if the wood you are dealing with is harder you have to hammer the nail harder.

      And what I’m talking about is loosely hanging around – unspoken – all this subject matter of old and new Calvinists and what not. The new know something is wrong, or missing. The old are retreating to a supposed confessionalist stance (after they erase parts of the old confessions they don’t agree with, mind you).

      The very existence of a John Piper vs. the “we’re with the old guys, keeping it simple with sacraments and Sunday worship” shows there is a lot in the air to be reconciled, yet both sides refuse to see what is missing. You simply cannot give up supernatural preservation and destroy faith in an inerrant Bible and have a living, strengthening faith. And you simply cannot exalt man and ritual over the Word and the Spirit and at the same time value a biblical doctrine and reality of monergistic regeneration.

      Who are the models? John Bunyan. It’s not well-known that he had a sophisticated understanding of Covenant – Federal – Theology. (And that would be the Covenant – Federal – Theology found in Berkhof and Vos and aBrakel, and not any version of New Covenant Theology nonsense or the 17th century Baptist equivalent, but straight, on-the-mark Federal, Covenant Theology sans infant baptism twisting and distorting what without that is a simple, elegant, and powerful Plan of Redemption from one pole of eternity to another. A. W. Pink could even, once he cast off his Dispensationalism, get a complete understanding of Covenant – Federal – Theology. Think about that. Unconnected to any seminary (or church) he gets to the core of doctrine that even today Reformed theologians are still mangling.

  10. Let me begin by saying how much I respect the panel for the Reformed Forum, and have enjoyed this podcast now almost since the beginning. (2)My comments are from a Reformed Baptist, but don’t rule me out, I know more Presbyterian history by far than Baptist. I agree with Jim’s five points. It may surprise you to see me write that many suppose that the one thing we have in common with the new calvinists is soteriology. But I think that this isn’t true. I look at the multitudes of those who say that they were converted at events like T 4 G and wonder if they didn’t get converted as easily as a multitude at a Billy Graham crusade. I would say that there was a significant change in the pulpits sometime around the middle of the 19th century. So Calvin and the Puritans and their successors are the Old Calvinists, the newer Calvinists are old school Presbyterians in doctrine, but really have lost the experimental element in their preaching that marked the Puritans, and the New School Calvinists, as they are labeled for this discussion are really sub-calvinists. Many of their converts really DON’T believe in total inability, don’t know what Bunyan meant in his Pilgrim’s Progress by the Slough of Despond. There is a revisionist history often with the pastors after 1850 when considering the Great Awakening. As much as I respect Daryl Hart, and I read him with great interest, he is the type of New Calvinist Presbyterian I am talking about. In so many things I agree with him. He obviously is very concerned about the regulative principle of worship, but if you pressed him he probably is not a big fan of Presbyterian Puritan literature. He also supposes that the Great Awakening really was not that great. Where did this change begin? In my studies I put it between the 1st and 2nd generation of professors at Princeton. WHY? The fathers of the seminary in 1812-13 A. Alexander, Ashbel Greene, and Samuel Miller were all previously pastors. By the second generation the professors were just theologians but had never pastored. I live in Grand Rapids, MI. This city is full of Reformed Theology. But the ones that concern me are the students of Scottish Presbyterian Covenanter history who have no affection for the puritans and hardly believe there was a real awakening in this country. They don’t like anything like a crisis experience conversion. The don’t like the idea of “awakening” prior to conversion because they believe the safest conversion is a profession through the covenant family. So the NORM is that persons don’t know the day of their conversion because they don’t know a time, since they were “covenant children” that they did not believe. So THEY are the new calvinists. The SUB calvinists believe in a real conversion, but believe it is not a hard thing for a person dead in trespasses and sins to embrace the gospel message and be converted. This is the multitude, for example, that comprise Mark Driscoll’s church. I realize this is simplistic, but that is why I am listening to any discussion like this I can. I am just beginning to express my concerns about this and to properly detail it in writing will be a process as I am more and more reflecting.

    1. ctrace

      Let’s keep it simple. You hear the actual Word of God, you read the actual Word of God, it takes hold in you, it begins to quicken you, you are no longer hostile to it (I don’t care if you grew up in a church going family or a non-church-going family, you know if you were hostile to the Word of God prior or not), marks of regeneration appear, you value the Bible from an inward motivation, you read it solely on your own volition, you have a love for other Christians where before you mocked them (this doesn’t mean you love off-the-mark doctrine), you begin to gravitate towards the learning of biblical doctrine, you desire it, you have questions that you actively seek to answer through study.

      The difference in the above is how educated a person is. NOT how much college or university time they’ve put in, but what were their interests prior to hearing the effectual call of the Word of God. If, like me, you had been through the classical historians, epic poetry, a good dose of some of the more worthwhile philosophy, your emotional life has been softened a bit by contact with music, higher forms of music, (theory, composition, performance, to any degree helps), you are somewhat familiar with other religions, you know history in general (all of these things at least to some basic degree), you were able to navigate your way through a difficult, classic novel and actually know what was going on in it, etc., then the Bible and biblical doctrine, though it will be strange because there is nothing truly like it (Atonement? Adoption? the wrath of God?, etc.) in other worldly influences (other than as deep themes) becomes a bit easier to navigate, but I believe though the bar is set high for Christianity the Holy Spirit enables people to meet and exceed that bar.

  11. Mark N.

    It seems problematic to make this a matter of polity, especially in light of postreformation history. You guys should have included Owen and Burroughs with spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones

  12. Don Speedy

    It seems that historic particular baptists (i. e. 1689 Baptists) really do not fit into the New Calvinism, but I felt, based upon the discussion, that you want to identify them with it. Am I interpreting you correctly? If not, where would you place them in the continuum of what you believe to be reformed ortodoxy? As a confessional particular baptist, I feel that my theological convictions were unintentionally misrepresented during your discussion. Even though I have concerns with what I believe to be a misrepresentation, I really appreciate your theological dialogue.

    1. Jeffrey C. Waddington


      As Presbyterian ministers we understand the Bible to teach Presbyterianism. However we recognize that someone such as yourself is very close to us, except for the issue of baptism and the variant of covenant theology that lies behind that. So you probably should not be classified as New Calvinist at all. Using my concentric circle with Presbyterianism in the center, perhaps particular Baptists (and Reformed Baptists) should be the next ring and so on and somewhere further out would be the New Calvinists.

      Any thoughts?

      1. Don Speedy


        I appreciate your clarification on your position. The concern, which prompted me to post a comment, was the idea, which was implied during the program, that Charles Spurgeon, a particular baptist minister believing in congregational polity, didn’t affirm the regulative principle. You may disagree with the conclusion of particular baptist polity, but you must at least admit that it is a belief in the regular principle, which is the driving force behind such an understanding. Particular baptist historically believed that that the Scripture reveals a specific polity structure to be followed. In addition, to assume that particular baptist churches from the very beginning (i. e. Philadelphia Baptist Association) didnt believe in the interependency as well as independency is to ignore history. Historic particular baptist polity is far more nuanced than what was assumed on the program. I appreciate your program. May the Lord continue to bless your efforts.

  13. Dennis

    If I may chime in with two points of consideration:
    1. Linguistics. Language and vocabulary changes with time and its meaning is determined by conventional and contemporary usage. For example, nowadays no one uses the term “gay” in its original meaning of happy or joyful. So while we can admit that Reformed or Calvinist has its strictly defined historical roots, it is not history but contemporary usage that has the higher ground in making meaning.

    2. Alternatives. If “Calvinist” is not permitted to be used to refer to those who hold to 5-point soteriology, then what label is offered as an alternative? That there is a strong bond of fellowship between calvinists across denominational lines cannot be denied. This bond runs stronger, I would argue, than the bond of belief in paedobaptism that units all paedobaptists. To not allow the likes of Spurgeon, Whitefield, Lloyd-Jones and Piper to be identified as Calvinists, I ask what label can be given to bring them into a fold by which we so appreciate their ministries?

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