Two Cheers for the New Calvinists

The Calvinist blogger Justin Taylor has graciously allowed Thomas McCall to post on his blog from a Wesleyan Arminian perspective. The resulting post, Two Cheers for the Resurgence of Calvinism in Evangelicalism: A Wesleyan-Arminian Perspective, was brought to my attention by McCall’s fellow Wesleyan Arminian Ben Witherington.

McCall describes similar phenomena that I have done in various posts on Calvinism on this blog. And I must say he has shown more gentle wisdom than I have done in some of those posts. He does what I have failed to do, but perhaps should have done, in first affirming the good things about this resurgence of Calvinism. It is indeed good that young Christians are passionate about theology and about holiness.

But McCall also makes some important criticisms of these New Calvinists, which I think are right on the ball concerning the ones I have had contact with, mainly but not only through my blogging.

First, he accuses them of misunderstanding Calvinism by taking it as implying determinism. As I am sure my commenter and fellow blogger Jeremy Pierce would be quick to point out, Calvinism properly formulated is by no means incompatible with human free will. But the teaching of the New Calvinists often seems to rule out any human free will in its insistence on the absolute sovereignty of God, a doctrine which is usually considered more Islamic than Christian.

Then McCall criticises

the unhealthy reliance of some of these New Calvinists on what might be called the “Neo-Reformed Magisterium” (the small group of theologians and conference speakers who are sometimes quoted as the final word on any theological topic at issue …)

– a group among whom he names John Piper. This ties up precisely with what I have observed among so many Calvinist bloggers and commenters on blogs.

McCall’s third charge is arrogance:

No theological tradition has cornered the market on arrogance. I have been accused of it (sometimes, I fear, with very good reason). Yet there seems to be – though I’m sure that what I say here is highly fallible – an amazing quantity of it among the New Calvinists.

Indeed. Like McCall, I am certainly not completely innocent of arrogance. But the amount of it so often seen and even boasted of among these New Calvinists is highly disturbing. They, and I, need to remember these verses:

All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,
“God opposes the proud
but shows favour to the humble and oppressed.”
6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

1 Peter 5:5-6 (TNIV)

0 thoughts on “Two Cheers for the New Calvinists

  1. “Insistence on the absolute sovereignty of God” doesn’t necessarily rule out human free will. There is still room for compatibilism, which I see in scripture, and which holds water even in non-Christian philosophy.

  2. Phil, I see room for compatibilism, and don’t rule out Calvinism within a compatibilist framework which allows for human free will in responding to God’s grace, in a way compatible with the Calvinist concept of divine election. But I’m not sure that the New Calvinists allow for compatibilism, in their zeal to disallow any suggestion that anyone has free will to decide whether or not to become a Christian.

  3. I’m not sure who you think the New Calvinists are. When I hear that term, I think first of Piper, who is most definitely a compatibilist who affirms human freedom. There are Calvinists today who don’t insist on what he insists on, but he seems to me to be a prime example of the kind of Calvinist that I think is faithful to Calvin (on these issues, anyway).

  4. Thanks, Jeremy. I was in part thinking of people like Piper, or at least people who worship Piper. Thanks for putting me right about Piper himself. But I suspect that many of his worshippers have never understood compatibilism. Certainly if the “Reformed” blogging I have seen over the last couple of years is at all typical there are many people out there who both worship Piper and misunderstand Calvinism as implying determinism.

  5. I bookmarked this and never got back to it, but I just noticed it and decided to check in.

    I’m a little puzzled by your comment. Determinism is the thesis that events are predetermined. Calvinists of course will accept that. Piper of course will accept that. I of course will accept that. My point is that compatibilism allows for determinism and free will to be compatible, and Piper is fully on board with that. He’s certainly a determinist, but he’s a determinist of the sort who believes in free will, i.e. a compatibilist. There are hyper-Calvinists who deny that, but they’re not mainstream Calvinists in my experience, and most of the Reformed blogging community that I’m aware of would not share that view.

  6. Jeremy, I should have ended my last comment “misunderstand Calvinism as implying determinism without free will, and ruling out compatibilism”. I agree that the Calvinists who have really thought this through are mostly compatibilists. But for each of them there are many who attack others as “Arminian”, “Pelagian” and “unbiblical” for suggesting that human free will has any part in deciding whether an individual is saved or not.

    I insist that each human freely decides whether to be a Christian or not. I consider that to be compatible with compatibilist Calvinism. I think you probably do. I also expect my statement to be strongly attacked by almost any “New Calvinist” who reads it – which will probably not be many on this old comment thread.

  7. I’ve been subscribed to your blog for a few weeks and there has been some good discussion. But one thing I’m realizing more and more is you beg for grace, understanding, complete context in other’s critique against positions you hold e.g. Lakeland/Todd Bentley. Which is a good thing. But you fail to extend the same grace, understanding and complete context for things which you have concerns, critiques about, e.g. Reformed, Grudem(that was brutal). I find that significantly undermines the efficacy of your arguments much of the time. Phrases like “worshippers of Piper” really expose the heart of the argument and it’s a shame really. I’m aware it’s a difficult line of balance to walk, but from this strangers perspective, it’s something you may want to look at honestly.

  8. Kyle, I’m not sure which posts of mine you are referring to. Clearly not this one, in which I acknowledged my own arrogance and that in some previous posts I had not been showing adequately gentle wisdom.

    Maybe I have been a little bit “brutal” with Grudem, and I am not entirely proud of my tone. But I have never suggested that he is an agent of the devil, nor I think in general terms a false teacher. I have carefully avoided ad hominem attacks. Nor have I focused on peripheral aspects of his teaching. Instead I have discussed what he makes a central part of his teaching, and shown how his arguments simply do not hold water. In these ways what I have said about him is fundamentally different from what so many have said about Todd Bentley.

    As for my phrase “worshippers of Piper”, I’m not sure what point you are trying to make. It is indeed the heart of the argument that certain people make idols of their favourite teachers and react irrationally to any attempt to make a critical analysis of their teaching. The phrase may be shocking, but it is accurate.

  9. No doubt there are probably many who’ve made a ministry idol of Piper. But that’s hardly a unique characteristic of “New Calvinists” or the reformed. As you’ve experienced different movements and the ebb and flows of different public ministries I’m sure you’ve seen idolatry is a common thread amongst them all. My point is your tone and criteria for critique seems to change when you’re on the offensive versus when you’re on the defensive. You critique pretty harshly some that I respect a great deal, but that’s fine, nobody is above critique. Just desire an even playing field.

    I appreciate your humility and great amount of wisdom available on your blog. Keep up the good work.

  10. Kyle, I recognise that in the past I have not always been entirely consistent. I am glad of people pointing this out so I can try to do better in future. Thank you.

    Of course it is not only the “New Calvinists” who have idols of this kind. This is just the example which I happened to come across a lot of recently. There are I am sure some people making an idol of Todd Bentley. I am trying not to do that, although I do find myself driven to defend him by intemperate and ignorant attacks. Indeed I am trying not to have any of my own idols, but it is sometimes hard.

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