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5 Reasons Why I Am Not a New Calvinist

John Piper’s recent Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Lecture at Westminster Theological Seminary was vintage Piper: passionate, learned, articulate, and just right. The connection between Calvinism, sovereign grace, justification by faith alone and the rejection of racism was a joy to see developed by a man who is as much a great preacher as he is a scholar.

However, I do not find myself as sanguine about the new Calvinism. Piper was humble and levelheaded about the new Calvinism, acknowledging its short comings and how in some ways it falls short of the older Calvinism. But there was something in his comparison of the new and old that he missed: ecclesiology. And so, in light of that I would like to offer five reasons why I am not a new Calvinist:

  1. Continuing Revelation. David Wells in God in the Wasteland notes a remarkable statistic (albeit one that is now outdated): “Those who were most inclined toward the inerrancy position were in the Baptist tradition; those least likely to endorse it were in the Holiness-Pentecostal tradition.” (p. 193). All sorts of qualifiers can and should be made here (including the one made by Wells himself that the difference was not drastic). However, I think this points up at least one basic principle: with new continuing revelation who needs that old dusty book? I do love my continuationist brethren, but I do not think that it is something to be celebrated that the new Calvinism is wide enough to embrace both sides of the debate. I do, however, rejoice that continuationists are coming to embrace Calvinistic soteriology. But to embrace unconditional election and have new revelations in worship is hardly a reformation in today’s church. Even Aquinas embraced unconditional election and sovereign Predestination. The Reformation, however, championed more than a move away from semi-Pelagianism.
  2. Confessions. With some exception the new Calvinism tends toward being a Bible-onlyism movement. It is noteworthy that in #1 above my concern is too low a doctrine of Scripture, and here it may seem I am saying that the same movement is too focused on Scripture. But Bible-onlyism does not flow from a high doctrine of Scripture. The new Calvinism seems to come at the Bible abstracted from the creeds, confessions, and history of the church. But being confessional was part and parcel of the Reformation. The Reformers did not want to leave the tradition behind. They reaffirmed the great creeds of the faith. They learned from them and built upon them. They taught from the creeds, preached from them, and used them in their liturgy. Using and holding up creeds, far from denigrating the Bible, exalts the Scriptures as the source from which the creeds and confessions flow. On this point, I would be remiss if I failed to mention Carl Trueman’s important book, The Creedal Imperative. Get it, read it, and love it!
  3. Polity. The new Calvinism is built by Calvinistic soteriological bricks with no housing frame or foundation underneath. This was present even in to so-called old Calvinism as well. A classic example of this is the celebration of generic old-style Calvinism in the Banner of Truth. I love Banner books (what bibliophile doesn’t?!), but heroes of Banner like Spurgeon and Lloyd-Jones were great expositors of Calvinistic soteriology (praise God!), but their churches lacked the kind of robust Reformational bones of the past. The Reformation was self-consciously a renewal of the church and her polity, bringing the structure of the church into greater conformity with the Scriptures. A non-accountable, non-denominational disconnectionalism fits at odds with a Calvinistic theology. There were differences immediately among the Reformed in terms of polity, but there was also a general agreement on some basic polity issues which are all but ignored in the current climate.
  4. Sacraments. The question continues to arise as to whether one can be Reformed and still practice believers-only baptism. I think the expression “Reformed Baptist” is somewhat anachronistic. The Calvinistic baptists of an earlier generation did not use that term, and rightly so. “Reformed,” as a moniker, carried with it more weight than that of a basic soteriological framework. Reformed was a church, not five points of doctrine. But what is more is how the sacraments are regarded among the new Calvinists. Rather than being means of grace, they are merely signs and seals. In other words, the nominalism eschewed by the early Reformers when the rejected the anabaptist/radical reformation has not been surrendered fully by the modern day new Calvinists.
  5. Eschatology. Eschatology is not an insignificant aspect of church identity which was can simply be brushed off with a pious “well, I’m a panmillennialist because I believe it will all pan out in the end.” Eschatology is the church’s identity. That is not to say that there is not room for disagreement among confessional Calvinists. There is room within the confessional standards. But there is also no room for some forms of eschatology. For instance, Paul condemns hyper-preterism (2 Timothy 2:18). Dispensational premillennialism does not fit at all within any of the Reformed confessions, far as I can tell. But if the church is an end-times people, then her identity is found as pilgrims, strangers, and sojourners on the earth. In which case, I fail to see how the transformationalism and triumphalism that we see so prevalent in much of the new Calvinism squares with a Calvinistic doctrine of the church.

To sum, I am not persuaded that we can have Calvinistic soteriology (or even a Calvinistic “big God”) without a Calvinistic church. To abstract theology from ecclesiology is a foreign concept in the minds of the Reformers. Therefore, as Geerhardus Vos said in another context, “To our taste the old wine is better.” (The Self-Disclosure of Jesus, 65.) Or, what may surprise some, I agree completely with Karl Barth’s sentiments at this point: “For us, therefore, Church dogmatics is necessarily Reformed Dogmatics. By this we mean the dogmatics of the particular Church which was purified and reconstituted by the work of Calvin and the confession which sealed his testimony” (CD I/2, 831). Whether or not Barth succeeded in producing a Reformed dogmatics along these lines is another question, but I agree at least with the form of his statement. I can fully sign on to Barth’s idea as summarized tersely by von Balthasar: “Theology is church theology or it is nothing at all” (The Theology of Karl Barth, p. 7).

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Michael Head

6 years ago

Great thoughts of clarification on Piper’s lecture. Thank you! The weak ecclesiology and sacramentology of the new movement weakens it with a spiritual anemia that will not serve it well – I fear it will be a momentary spike in adherence to the truth because of its incompleteness.

By the way, some of us Particular Baptists, especially those of us who are confessional, do regard the sacraments as means of grace (1689 Baptist Confession of Faith, 14.1,17.3,18.3).

I appreciate you (and all the other Reformed Forum cohorts) as always, brother!

Jim Cassidy

6 years ago

Thanks Michael, I appreciate you clarification on the means of grace. I was going to reference Barcellos’ book, but had to trim at places.

Michael Head

6 years ago

CM

6 years ago

Amen, brother.

bob

6 years ago

New Calvinism isn’t new, MLJ is a major reason for there being a large contingent of “reformed charismatics” in the UK pointing to your first point. Points 2, 3, 4, and 5 ultimately comes down to a rejection of Covenant Theology.

Neo

6 years ago

“Reformed Baptist” is less an anacronism and rather a title denoting faithfulness to the spirit of the reformation and throwing off the yoke of Rome, namely papist practices such as sprinkling water on unrepentant babies. The reformers of the 16th century, sadly, didn’t go far enough in scrubbing the church of non-scriptural practices like this, and sadly frequently followed the same practices of rome in persecuting those obedient to the Scriptural practice of believer’s baptism.

JP

6 years ago

:O

Well. Classic baptist signature.

Ian Clary

6 years ago

I find it ironic that you quote Barth who, as you know, did not practice infant baptism. Your post prompted me to ask a question that I posted on my blog: What about someone like John Tombes, who was an Anglican yet rejected infant baptism?

http://www.cityofgodblog.com/2014/03/question-what-about-john-tombes/

bob

6 years ago

People are inconsistent all the time. One man’s inconsistency doesn’t invalidate a consistent position.

Ian Clary

6 years ago

My question isn’t about whether Tombes was consistent or not.

bob

6 years ago

If we compare LBCF 28 to WCF 27 it is clear that Baptists do not have Covenant Theology in view on this subject.

Ian Clary

6 years ago

That wasn’t my question either.

JD Warren

6 years ago

I’m sorry Bob, but of course the Baptists had Covenant Theology in view. They believed that only professing believers can belong to the covenant of grace, which substance and administration didn’t occur until the time of Reformation(Christ’s first advent).The Particular Baptists were quite Covenantal in their framework of the 2nd London Confession. Please review Pascal Denault’s book on 17th century Baptist covenant theology as well as 17th century Particular Baptist Nehemiah Coxe’s “From Adam to Christ” for an understanding of Baptist Covenant Theology. Comparing chapters in confessions isn’t quite enough since we know that all of the confession builds upon what went before it. Also, the Baptist Catechism of 1693 explicitly says that the means of grace are:God’s Word(read, but especially preached), baptism, the Lord’s Supper, and prayer.

Erik Charter

6 years ago

Nice piece. Been thinking some of those same thoughts this week.

David Keys

6 years ago

I may be reading it wrong but it seems under point 5 (eschatology) you are basically saying that to be an old Calvinist you have to be Amill? But surely John Owen and Jonathan Edwards who held to forms of postmillenialism should be considered old Calvinists? No?

Jim Cassidy

6 years ago

Nothing in my post should lead one to think that I am saying any one particular eschatological position is exclusively the possession of the old (paleo?) Calvinism.

Sean McDonald

6 years ago

Other than historicism, of course. 🙂

See Belgic Confession, Article 36 (original); Irish Articles of Religion, Article 80; Canons of Dordt, Introduction (in Thomas Scott’s “Articles of the Synod of Dort); Westminster Confession of Faith, 25.6 (original); Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order, 26.4; Second London Baptist Confession, 26.4.

Michael Stell

6 years ago

Complete agree. I think that the deficient evangelical ecclesiology is hugely problematic, and it is not made better by a soteriology which is devoid of the sacraments and the Church. Calvin could say that the Church is our mother (John Nevin could as well) because his soteriology is placed in the life of the church. In so many of the responses I have seen on the evangelicals who are abandoning Sunday worship, the focus is on anthropology, not ecclesiology. IMO – that argument is what landed us in that position in the first place. What is the church is the question which evangelicals have failed to answer. If there is no difference between what I do on Sunday and a Bible study which I go to on Thursday, there is no church anymore, other than a Hobbsean/Lockean construction. But not the body of Christ.

Joseph E. Torres

6 years ago

Some thoughts about your last point. Though you don’t explicitly say it, you strongly suggest that the postmil view is out of bounds for a robust Reformed theology. This seems to rule out too much: As David Keys notes above, that would rule out Jonathan Edwards. But it would likewise rule out many of the puritans, Lorraine Boettner, and Charles Hodge.

And for the record, I’m Amil. 😉

tim sutherland

6 years ago

this is one of the best articles I’ve seen on the forum well said Jim

ctrace

6 years ago

I don’t know about old and new Calvinism, but if you have a downgraded doctrine of regeneration (default baptismal regeneration no matter what the lip service on the matter is), and a downgraded doctrine of Scripture (mere constructed document, no supernatural preservation, authority of man – priesthood of scholars, rather than authority of God in it, etc.), and a warped view of mediation (cleric as mediator going against the Scriptural and God-decreed reality that Jesus Christ is the only Mediator between God and man), among other shortcomings, no amount of high church ecclesiology will cover up or make up for that.

ctrace

6 years ago

Covenant – Federal – Theology is not the servant of infant baptism. Repeat: Covenant – Federal – Theology is not the servant of infant baptism.

Inserting infant baptism into Covenant – Federal – Theology requires distorting and inelegant ad hoc doctrine. Entrance into the Covenant of Grace is by regeneration by the word and the Spirit, not by cleric and ritual. God is sovereign in creation, providence, *and grace.* Exalting cleric and ritual above the word of God and the Holy Spirit shows a Cain-like anger towards God’s sovereignty in regeneration.

One *cannot* be IN the Covenant of Grace and *NOT IN* the Covenant of Grace at the same time, no matter how many words you use to stitch together a defense of such bad – though necessary from a paedo-baptist’s point-of-view – doctrine.

The simplicity and power of Covenant – Federal – Theology has not been taught because paedo-baptists have held a false proprietary relationship to it with the motive of keeping Romanish dogmas in the realm of sacerdotalism and priestcraft alive. That Reformed churches have devolved to hierarchical structures is another give away of the Romanist demands in the leaders of those communions. Use of the unbiblical language of ‘lay people’ a dead giveaway.

David R.

6 years ago

But neither is the doctrine of regeneration the servant of Lone Ranger Christianity. One cannot be IN the church and NOT IN the church at the same time, no matter how many words you use to argue otherwise.

Scott Diesing

6 years ago

Great article Jim. Two thoughts.

Are they coming or going? Someone with a low view of the church who preaches TULIP is better than someone with a low view who preaches human autonomy and divine impotence as long as what has changed recently is their view of salvation.

Whether your article *should* lead me to believe that you think Old Calvinism = Amil or not, it did.

Jim Cassidy

6 years ago

Thanks for point about coming or going. I agree with you. In fact, here is a section of the piece I cut:

“To be sure, I rejoice any time a believer moves from an Arminian soteriology or open theism doctrine of God to a Calvinistic one. And it may be that that is a necessary initial move on the way to something more Reformed. In which case I wonder if the new Calvinism isn’t so much new as it is just underage. If so, then I for one am not content with it. Rather, I would urge my fellow pilgrims to press on to full theological – and with that ecclesiological – adulthood. I too have a long way to go and need to grow, but if I am a member of the old Calvinism and if that old Reformed faith is a better way, then I am thankful to the grace of God alone. I certainly couldn’t get there on my own fleshly, fallen abilities. Soli Deo Gloria!”

Also, fair point about the amillennialism. There was nothing I said there could not be heartily affirmed also by a historic pre-mill and an older version of post-millism. That said, you are correct I struck some cords which are distinctive to a modern Reformed amillism.

theearstohear

6 years ago

Some good observations are made in this article. While I do not agree with all of this brother’s points, I do appreciate his focus on defining particular doctrinal issues with which he disagrees. The terms “Calvinism” and “Reformed” are employed with such frequency and latitude in meaning in the Christian marketplace that I submit they have lost any capacity they may have once had in providing clarity on what one actually believes. Adding Neo, New, High, Hyper, or other modifiers only makes matters worse by adding a relative measure to a term that is already highly relative in common parlance.

ctrace

6 years ago

“One cannot be IN the church and NOT IN the church at the same time, no matter how many words you use to argue otherwise.”

If you define ‘church’ as a Roman Catholic and not as a Protestant you are right. If you understand that with regeneration by the word and the Spirit you are in the invisible Church of which Christ is King, and that communion with other Christians in that Church happens naturally and in ways not defined by cleric guilds with worldly self-interests then you are wrong.

David R.

6 years ago

But it was a Protestant who said things like,

“But as it is now our purpose to discourse of the visible Church, let us learn, from her single title of Mother, how useful, nay, how necessary the knowledge of her is, since there is no other means of entering into life unless she conceive us in the womb and give us birth, unless she nourish us at her breasts, and, in short, keep us under her charge and government, until, divested of mortal flesh, we become like the angels, (Matth. 22: 30.) For our weakness does not permit us to leave the school until we have spent our whole lives as scholars. Moreover, beyond the pale of the Church no forgiveness of sins, no salvation, can be hoped for, as Isaiah and Joel testify, (Isa. 37: 32; Joel 2: 32.)”

Rich Barcellos

6 years ago

Cassidy, I’ve read the Barcellos book. It’s OK.

Jim Cassidy

6 years ago

Its more than OK, its excellent! Thou dost almost persuade me you are a paleo-Calvinist!

ctrace

6 years ago

I could give you even more Romanist sounding quotes by Protestants than that. And Calvin left his church in France to start another one in Geneva. By the way, I once asked a Romanist apologist who was speaking of the church as ‘Mother’ where he saw that in the Bible. He couldn’t tell me.

Jim Cassidy

6 years ago

That’s a shame, ctrace, that Romanist apparently was not acquainted with Paul and Revelation.

ctrace

6 years ago

When a Christian is uneasy about a verse, i.e. knows they are reading too much into it, they are reluctant to cite the verse but will just allude to it. This is what you’ve done regarding Gal. 4:26.

What you are really going on is quotes from early church fathers, the word of man, not the word of God.

Mark G

6 years ago

Jim, I’m listening to the show and something occurred to me. Wouldn’t another concern with New Calvinism include covenantalism? I recognize that Calvin did not present covenant theology in his Institutes, but I think we would understand covenant in Reformed and Presbyterian theology to be a natural development of Calvin’s theology. Covenant Theology is an important distinctive of Calvinism in the generations immediately following John Calvin such as in the WCF and Turretin down to the present.

Jim Cassidy

6 years ago

Mark, I agree. Though do believe Calvin DID present covenant theology in his institutes. His ideas are inchoate at the time, and later generations flesh them out, but they are definitely present in the institutes. Of course, Calvin is not the first time we see those ideas, they are already resident in the early church in theologians like Ireneaus. And so covenant theology as a method of hermeneutics is behind all 5 of my concerns. In other words, the reason I have those concerns is because so many in the NC do not have a self-conscience covenantal hermeneutic.

David R.

6 years ago

So Calvin sounds like a Romanist. How inconvenient for you that Protestantism is an actual historical phenomenon which you don’t get to define according to your own Platonic ideal. Here’s some more “Romanism”:

“We believe that since this holy assembly and congregation is the gathering of those who are saved and there is no salvation apart from it, no one ought to withdraw from it, content to be by himself, regardless of his status or condition. But all people are obliged to join and unite with it, keeping the unity of the church by submitting to its instruction and discipline, by bending their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ, and by serving to build up one another, according to the gifts God has given them as members of each other in the same body. And to preserve this unity more effectively, it is the duty of all believers, according to God’s Word, to separate themselves from those who do not belong to the church, in order to join this assembly wherever God has established it, even if civil authorities and royal decrees forbid and death and physical punishment result. And so, all who withdraw from the church or do not join it act contrary to God’s ordinance.”

–Belgic Confession, article 28

ctrace

6 years ago

“Protestantism is an actual historical phenomenon”

Calvin believed in the perpetual virginity of Mary.

Old Calvinists became Universalists/Unitarians. A little less a-historical pride in your ‘old’ Calvinism.

The first and second generation Reformers left a lot of the grease and fat of Romanist dogma on their plates either because they used to be Romanists or for practical decisions of war (Zwingli). They had entire populations of cities that use to be Romanist and that only knew sacraments and prayer beads, thus a too radical disconnect was not in order with Romanist armies surrounding those very cities. This is called history.

David R.

6 years ago

Okay. That is certainly an interpretation of history. So just out of curiosity, would you say that by the third generation, the Protestants finally got their ecclesiology right? And to which creed or confession should one go to find this correct understanding conveyed?

ctrace

6 years ago

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.

Donald Philip Veitch

6 years ago

I’m an old Prayer Book man. The “enthusiasm” of Mr. Piper is a total repulse and has been for years. The non-confessionalism, sacraments and lack of rootedness, plus a good deal of sectarianism, sorry.

ctrace

6 years ago

“So just out of curiosity, would you say that by the third generation, the Protestants finally got their ecclesiology right? And to which creed or confession should one go to find this correct understanding conveyed?”

The positions of three of the most biblical theologians who ever lived – John Calvin, John Bunyan, John Owen – on church polity and sacraments being different shows that the Bible is not clear on issues of ecclesiology and sacramentology, and when the Bible is not clear on something it is *intentionally* not clear on something. It’s because different things are called for in different eras of God’s plan of redemption. Regarding sacraments when Zwingli said the sacraments are for stupid people (those that need them, or need the visual, he probably meant) he meant it. He changed later for other reasons, but he said it and meant it. There is a depth of meaning to sacraments that will be seen and practiced by different Christians in different ways. At different levels. That’s the way it is. The Bible speaks of level of being regarding people in heaven itself. This is not a subject seminary educated, church leading Christians want to speak of because frankly they don’t understand it, and when confronted with it they instinctively are angered at it. This is the problem with confessions in the area of ecclesiology and sacramentology.

Geoff Willour

6 years ago

Yep, sacraments are for “stupid” people. No matter that Jesus commanded His church to “Go…make disciples…baptizing them…” and “Do this in remembrance of Me.” Super-spiritual, elitist mystics like “ctrace” – who alone are privileged to have special insight by the Spirit – understand that Jesus didn’t “really” mean that, and should you disagree with him you are either devoid of the Spirit or just plain “stupid.” Them “seminary educated,” angry clerics are too unspiritual to really “understand” the deep theology and papal-like pronouncements of “ctrace.” (By the way, readers should understand that “ctrace” has admitted that he has never felt “led” to join a visible church. He decries “sola ecclesia,” but it appears he stands for “no ecclesia.”)

How do we know ctrace’s historical interpretations and pronouncements are true? Because he/she says so. Thus saith “ctrace.”

Ron Lockman

6 years ago

You can be a post-mil adherent and a “transformationalist” and not be a “neo-calvinist” or a “new-calvinist”…I hate the monikers..broad brush…naw..wagner power sprayer

ctrace

6 years ago

That’s the unspoken thing in this subject. Some guy writes a book called Young, Restless, and Reformed and numerous people wake up the next morning getting called ‘young, restless, and reformed.’ Oh, really? I.e. the label is used because it is self-serving by the people who decide to repeat it and use it. How better to belittle people you disagree with than to call them young and restless. How about if I call Calvinists I disagree with Old, Romanist Reformed? “I believe James Cassidy, you know, the guy at Reformed Forum that’s part of the Old Romanist Reformed movement, is off-the-mark when he says…” blah, blah, blah… Or, “Old Romanist Reformed movement leader R. Scott Clark has written a new article touting…”

People are either on-the-mark or off-the-mark with biblical doctrine. They’re either watering it down and negotiating it down to the demands of their fallen nature or they’re not. And they’ve either got partial understanding which really isn’t understanding at all, or they’ve got whole understanding (a good definition of understanding of anything is seeing the parts in relation to the whole). Some want to focus on church and sacraments, but does someone have understanding of the Plan of Redemption from before the foundation of the world to the consummation and beyond? That is Covenant – Federal – Theology and it is not the servant of infant baptism or Presbyterian or Reformed church polity.

Morne Marais

5 years ago

Jim, thanks for a helpful article. I was just wondering what your thoughts of Abraham Kuyper are, briefly?

Brian

5 years ago

The thing that is missing from this critique is an honest recognition that on the whole the new Calvinism has, in fact, elevated ecclesiology along with soteriology. 20 years ago there were very few men like Piper, Mohler, or Dever getting recognition among the Baptists. These are men who take the doctrine of the Church very seriously, and not without some serious reflection on the past. It seems that most who flock to the conferences, books, and websites of the new Calvinism find there a higher ecclesiology than what was taught in the churches in which they grew up. Yes, you can find a truly “low ecclesiology” among some leaders of the new Calvinism, but it is not indicative of the movement as a whole. Every critique I’ve read so far seems to devolve into a lament that anyone would dare to bear the title Calvinist without embracing every aspect of Presbyterianism. Fair enough. But at least respect these folks enough to assume the best. Maybe they’re not mindlessly wandering into the wilderness of low ecclesiology. Maybe on the grounds of studied and sincere biblical conviction they have come to some different conclusions, while still seeking to strengthen their doctrine of the church. Most of the leaders of this movement would share your concern over a non-accountable, non-denominational, non-sacramental, Bible-only approach to church.

Bobbie Pratt

1 year ago

Calvinism with it’s sovereign election is an assault on the character of God who wishes ALL to come to repentance. If He does not allow some to be saved, who would be to blame for that?? God’s character as described all through Scripture would find this conclusion repulsive as he made all men in His image.

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