Sunday, December 09, 2012

Neo-Calvinism in the Rear View Mirror

For a number of years, I referred to myself as a cross stream swimmer in the John MacArthur/ RC Sproul/ John Piper/ DA Carson/ Michael Horton/ Wayne Mack/ Jay Adams/ Tedd Tripp/ Paul Tripp/ Martha Peace/ Joshua Harris/ CJ Mahaney/ Mark Dever/ Alexander Strauch/ Tim Keller /insert your favorite here/ ecosystem.  Then, I realized that I was done with my cross-stream swimming and had reached the other side of the stream, as opposed to going with the flow and being swept out to sea.  I was still in the ecosystem, mind you, but was standing on the opposite shore watching the stream flow.

Now I'm no longer in the ecosystem, but am still keeping contact with those who are, and keep up with some of the trends by way of internet.  And, I'm no longer coming to conclusions about the ecosystem all by myself, but have connections with people who critique it both from within and without, including former ecosystem critters.

What I should say at this point, is that the names I listed above are by no means people who I am enemies with, or who I disagree with most of the time, etc.  What I do have against the above mentioned ecosystem is that the teachings of these people are placed front and center in the particular brand of Calvinism in which I was immersed (to use a baptism term), and are looked at as blueprints for Christian living.  Each expert has his/her body of work that comes to be viewed as "the" biblical way to live.  It is turned into a formula for godly, biblical living.  Deviation from the formula is the root of all problems in that particular area of life.

What we learned... uhm, I mean, what God providentially revealed to us in His divine sovereignty, was that these formulaic ways of living have serious limitations, and it's quite possible to have God-ordained circumstances that place individuals or families outside of the boxes that circles of people create with these teachings.  And if you're outside the box, it's probably your fault.  But that's okay, because if you believe in God's sovereignty (as opposed to other people's sovereignty) you know that you're the one who knows more about your own situation than anybody else does, and that God had more to do with that situation than other people did anyway.  And God will have more influence on you learning to deal with things the best way than other people would (if you pay more attention to God, that is).

Maybe one of these days if I have the guts, nerve and unction, I'll write about how some of these people's teachings fall short in dealing with real life.  Real life like the one I have to live.

[Correction: I accidentally wrote Johnathan Harris, when I should have written Joshua Harris.  D'oh!  Thanks, JA, for catching it!]

[Update 12/27/12: I may have a misnomer here.  I should probably refer to "New Calvinism" rather than "Neo-Calvinism."  Neo-Calvinism is a form of Dutch Calvinism influenced by Abraham Kuyper, where New Calvinism is the animal I'm talking about here.  In recent years it has become popular to use the term "Neo-Calvinism" to speak of the "New Calvinism" movement.]


  1. It is not the core doctrines of "Calvinism" that I have walked away from but the subculture that surrounds that entire movement, one that mixes man-made traditions and theological bigotry with a hefty dose of arrogance. It is often said that Calvinists should be the most humble people in the church and yet the opposite it true.

    1. Arthur,

      I couldn't have said it any better than you just did. Of course, I don't exempt myself from this, but when you realize over time that this is true of yourself and there's no way to remedy the environment around you, then you exit.

  2. Steve - I'm waiting for you to find that unction.

    There have been a number of times where I have read your words and thought: THAT'S IT!!! HE'S GOT IT!! And yes, I do scream out because sometimes these thoughts go swimming around my brain and I can't get them in some sort of order, but you are able to do that for me. Must be that Body of Christ thang going on - I'm the knee, you're the elbow :)

    1. Knee on elbow: classic pose for deep thought. lol

    2. Steve,

      I'm anxious to read more of your thoughts on this conservative segment of the reformed church. I have swam in these waters too. Tim Keller has been a favorite of mine. I like how he comes at things. I’d be curious to know why Keller’s considered a “neo-calvinist,” or what that term really means, how it’s distinguishably different from “calvinist.” That’s some research I’ll have to do at some point.

      In terms of unction, I'm gearing up, myself, to enter into a conversation on the scope and nature of spiritual authority within the church. There are many abuses in these camps.

      Also, why I’m here. Do you consider yourself a layman? I think this layman / clergy distinction is one of those things that skews the proper understanding and working out of the Body of Christ.

      Fwiw, I've been serving our Master and His church from outside the box nearly all of my life. Even as a child I understood myself as the Potter's sovereign workmanship saved by grace through faith for bearing good fruit for His glory. And he’s all about refining me and making sure I’m being conformed to His image, that I’m on track for living a righteous life. I'm thinking of what Keller once said in one of his sermons: "You can't muck up your life, you just can't."

      Again, your thoughts register with me. I’m anxious to read more.


    3. Monax,

      I'm glad you asked these things. I don't have time right now, but I'll be back soon to give an answer.

    4. cool, Steve, i'll keep my eyes open for it. you can always hunt me down if i don't catch your answer right away. thanks!

  3. A couple of things really leave me cold, as far as Calvinism is concerned.

    That "Christ may have died for you". That's just unbiblical, and wrong.

    And that (and partially because of that) one has no real assurance outside of looking inward. That just sets the stage for pride...or despair.



  4. I dabbled in Calvinism and still like RC Sproul and John Piper, but I eventually settled on Lutheranism who believes in single election. Luther is the one who coined the phrase "justification by grace alone through faith alone."

    God gets all the credit for saving me (or anyone else), but those who are perishing the blame rest fully on their own shoulders.

    On October 27, 1553 John Calvin, the founder of Calvinism, had Michael Servetus, the Spanish physician, burned at the stake just outside of Geneva for his doctrinal beliefs!(1) Hence, the originator of the popular doctrine of "once saved, always saved" (known in certain circles as "the perseverance of the saints") violated the cry of the Reformation -- "Sola Scriptura" -- by murdering a doctrinal heretic without Scriptural justification. This event was something John Calvin had considered long before Michael Servetus was even captured, for John Calvin wrote his friend, Farel, on February 13, 1546 (seven years prior to Michael Servetus' arrest) and went on record as saying: