No Narrative, No Clue

One of the odder aspects of the New Calvinism is how little historical awareness its proponents have. Consider the following in response to Tim Challies’ chart (which gave historical legitimacy to the movement by including the publication of George Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards):

There is a difference between a movement and a reformation, and New Calvinism evidences the latter. A movement is often a response to a concern or opportunity, and benefits from cultural and promotional dynamics, not to mention hype. In time, the church’s attention span invariably moves on, the movement loses steam, and the movement’s effects are short-lived.

A reformation, be it the 16th century version or subsequent iterations, yearns for a healthier, purer church, and goes back to the source of truth itself, the Word of God. The fruits of reformation are much longer lasting, proving to impact the church for decades, if not centuries. Since it is a return to Holy Scripture, reformation often parallels revival.

While New Calvinism has benefited from movement-like dynamics, its emphasis on Scripture and Scripture’s implications leads one to classify it as a reformation in intent, temperament, and scope.

The author is only a Southern Baptist and shouldn’t be faulted for not being aware of Reformed Protestant communions like the OPC, PCA, RPCNA, and URC, for starters. But Calvinism does have a history before John Piper, Crossway Publishers, and the spike of interest in Jonathan Edwards after Marsden’s biography. And the lack of awareness of, make that lack of interest in, the history of Calvinism before The Gospel Coalition makes difficult taking these folks seriously. Not to mention that our fraternal brother Tim Keller isn’t doing much to educate the Calvinists.

It’s like fans of Stephen King thinking that his novels have resemblance to those of Edgar Allen Poe or Charles Brockden Brown. Maybe you want to do a little reading before claiming what you’re doing is new. Then again, if you want to call attention to yourself, why call it Calvinist? Has any New Calvinist read a biography of John Calvin? Was Tim Challies even aware that 2009 was the 500th anniversary of John Calvin’s and that the same publisher of Marsden’s biography (which came out on the 300th anniversary of Edwards’ birth) brought out a masterful biography of Calvin?

Where’s the love for Calvin?

64 thoughts on “No Narrative, No Clue

  1. I looked at that chart and it reminded me of a project we were required to do in seminary for Ancient Church History – create a timeline spanning 15 centuries of church history.

    I won’t be surprised if somehow this content becomes a stand alone course in some of our seminaries. Shoot, it might just become part of the examination process for ordination in some circles.


  2. Maybe I’m being dense, but why are the Gettys being listed as being part of the new Calvinism? Their hymns are very nice and I enjoy lots of them but you don’t need to look very far before finding endorsements of a universal atonement.

    If you go to you find 4 of their hymns listed under “Introducing … four of our best known hymns.” And in two of them we find the following:

    Till on that cross as Jesus died,
    The wrath of God was satisfied –
    For every sin on Him was laid;
    Here in the death of Christ I live. (2001)

    Oh, to see the pain
    Written on Your face,
    Bearing the awesome weight of sin.
    Ev’ry bitter thought,
    Ev’ry evil deed
    Crowning Your bloodstained brow. (2005)

    I’m not criticising them – Keith played piano at my sister’s wedding reception and he and Kristyn come from near to where I live – but I think it’s odd that their undoubted talent has been appropriated by a movement/reformation which doesn’t really own all of their convictions.


  3. And yes of course the family glamour shot is odd but surely so is the fact that the two authors of the timeline include their personal logos at the bottom of their page. Is everyone in America getting branded?

    Anyway I’m pretty sure that the new Calvinism has its roots in the founding of the Banner of Truth in 1958 or so, when “Reformed” theology was purposefully detached from ecclesiology and married to pietistic and revivalist impulses. Until that point the gatekeepers of Reformed theology in the UK were all committed to varying and competing church polities (with the exception of AW Pink).


  4. In light of recent events and scandals in the New Calvinist sphere I found this line from Allen to be a real laugh:

    “Within the local church, the renewed emphasis on a robust ecclesiology is especially needed. Regenerate church membership, church discipline, I Timothy 3 qualifications for pastors and elders, and recovering the church as a covenantal, communal body are all needed correctives to meaningless church membership.”

    Did he really just say that about New Calvinism?


  5. CG,

    I guess you never heard the joke about the three point Calvinist: It is a person who changes which three points of Calvinism he holds to depending on whose company he is in.


  6. Dave, why are there no 2 point Arminians? But if there are cafeteria Catholics, maybe the 3 pointers are cafeteria Calvinists?

    But, CG, I wonder why you wonder. The New Calvinists around here can’t get enough of the Gettys.


  7. Jesse, as a formerly confused devotee of the SBC Founders movement (which has really been swamped in the wake of the New Calvinist yacht — small thanks since they laid a lot of the groundwork) let me translate. They have a fantasy about a fully “regenerate membership.” One of the attractions of Calvinist soteriology for the smart guy babdists is that it will help rid them of the problem of all those unsaved aislewalkers on the membership rolls, put there by dumb guy Arminians. It’s unrealistic of course. And causes lots of problems when applied.


  8. Yeah, I think it’s definitely a reformation, I mean the American church has been totally re-formed from it’s crass consumerism and homogony with the culture at large. How else can a reformation be reckoned:

    – Several annual conferences with budgets numbering in in the millions each (which definitely doesn’t re-allocate funds away from local churches and foreign missions).

    – Multiple celebrity driven megachurches that are marked by their remarkable ability to land in the same sort of scandals that plagued less ‘reformed’ megachurches. Additionally, they definitely don’t shoot their wounded if the celebrity pastor or his cronies status is called into question (e.g. Driscoll, Mahaney).

    – Several authors, predominantly celebrity pastors, who never ghostwrite and always cite sources properly, raking in the bucks… err blessings from the same (chumps) crowd that buys each book they put out (at a breakneck pace of 3-4 a year at times). Of course Christian publishing houses, some of whom are owned by large conglomorates reap the lion’s share of the windfall.

    – A veritable army of bloggers (fanboys) employed by some of these parachurch organizations that serve as the cheerleaders (unquestioning lemmings) for the ‘reformation’ generating endless positive feedback loops while planting their already browning noses firmly in the rear-ends of the cadre of infallible movement leader/celebrities. None of them doing the hard work of forming their own opinions or commentary, or crowd-sourced journalism that makes the blogosphere so potent in other corners of the internet. All of them falling into the worst sort of narcissistic self-referentialism when it comes to the reformation (not movement – because they say so).

    – The only way to run afoul of this new reformation is to insist that the historic creeds and confessions of the church are vital to the life of the church, and that their perscriptions not only summarize the doctrines set forth in Scripture but inform genuine Christian piety. Basically one who insists on being Reformed or Presbyterian in any meaningful historical sense is a good way to earn the (not so) quiet disdain of the new reformation.

    – Of course the only other way to run afoul of the new reformation is to be Lutheran.

    So, pretty much this new reformation is here to stay, and definitely a boon to the church and her purity. One is left to wonder how she withstood the gates of hell without this new infusion of reform and purity. Semper Novo Reformanda!!!

    / rant


  9. “But Calvinism does have a history before John Piper, Crossway Publishers, and the spike of interest in Jonathan Edwards after Marsden’s biography. And the lack of awareness of, make that lack of interest in, the history of Calvinism before The Gospel Coalition makes difficult taking these folks seriously.”

    I’m sure as a historian who has been tilling this ground for 30 years this is especially frustrating.

    Until we stop baptizing babies and have drums in the sanctuary these cats will have no time for us, though.


  10. If we’re going to talk about “regenerate membership” we’re going to need to bring Richard Smith out of mothballs.

    How about just letting the wheat and the weeds grow up together in the church until the last day when Jesus sorts them out?


  11. Of course Challies is above being self (r/d)eferential in his own timeline, as the first entry in 2003 cites the pivotal role plays in the new reformation.

    *** As a brief aside, did I tell you all what a great guy Jed Paschall is, he is really really important in the most non-self-important way. But don’t just take it from me, take it from Jed too.


  12. Jed,

    A certain well-known TGC female speaker was in our town a few years ago speaking at a local church, strongly encouraging the women to attend the upcoming TGC women’s conference in Orlando where she assured us the Spirit would do mighty things. This she said to women from mostly blue collar lower-middle class families with no apology or sensitivity to the difficulties. So I guess if one wants to get in on where the Spirit is really moving one must come up with $400.00 air fare, $300.00 hotel stay and $75.00 conference fee. And here us poor schmucks were assuming the Spirit’s presence in the local church was sufficient.


  13. The timeline is hilarious….
    “Nine Marks of a Healthy Church” -> Mark Dever provides the ecclesiology of the movement: Ooh boy

    The Passion of the Christ by Mel Gibson -> ______ : People became reformed from Mel’s movie?

    John Piper’s endorsement of rap music causes it to explode in popularity. : Wha???? Yeah because the Beastie Boys toiled in obscurity until Piper came along.

    Richard Dawkins’ “The God Delusion” -> As reformed theology surges, so too does the New Atheism.: A coincidence? Or is one causing the other?

    “The Reason for God” by Tim Keller -> The book establishes him…as a modern equivalent of C.S. Lewis.: Perspective? I think not. A classically trained intellectual and Oxford don = Celebrity pastor? Really? I’m not much of a fan of Lewis, and I think the fashionable Keller hate is overwrought, but Keller = modern Lewis? Ugh…

    “Why We’re Not Emergent” -> marks the beginning of the end of the Emergent movement.: Really? Disaffected evangelicals who want something warmer and fuzzier than than the mainline (think RHE) call themselves something else now because of this book?

    Ryken to President of Wheaton -> shows that reformed theology has begun to enter the mainstream.: So a New Calvinist is now president of a small liberal arts college no one outside the CT subscription base has ever heard of and that means that reformed theology has “begun” to enter the mainstream? Really?

    “Love Wins” by Rob Bell -> Calvinist rejection of the book propels it to best seller status.; So they popularize rap, encourage atheism, and propel universalist ideas to best seller status. Maybe they shouldn’t have such a web presence?

    Byers and Challies need a better editor!


  14. I have to wonder if anybody in the coalition (or here) knows the history of baptist churches who had so much regard for the Lord’s Supper that they would not welcome to the table those whose “sacramental reverence” caused them to water persons with no profession of being effectual called.

    Oh wait, I forgot Rick’s narrative—all baptists now leaning Calvinistic are “former Arminians”.

    give up your “testimony” about how you
    believed the gospel
    when you did not know the gospel
    flush that narrative

    Philippians 3: 4 though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. 7 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. 8 Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ


  15. For anything happening in American Christianity to be considered “big” we probably need to establish criteria for recognition. #1 – The entity doing the recognition needs to not be a part of the movement itself. This is what differentiates propaganda, puffery, and self-promotion from news. When the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal reports on a big development within Christianity, I’ll take note. When some dude on a blog reports on it, I’ll keep snoring. Pope Francis is a big development within Christianity. Tim Keller, Marc Driscoll, John Piper, Mark Dever, Tim Challies, Greg Thornbury, at. al. are not. This doesn’t make them bad men, it just makes them ordinary men.


  16. If I may build up the host, this is what is so refreshing about him — he’s a regular guy. For a very reasonable fee (that he doesn’t even insist upon) he will drive in his own car to your church, give talks he has prepared, visit with ordinary people, eat dinner with you, and worship with you on Sunday. All with no fanfare or self-promotion. He’s a scholar and a churchman and has gone about his business in this ordinary, nose to the grindstone way for decades. Very encouraging, indeed.


  17. Newb Calivinism is a fad, it will go away just like several have over our lifetimes so far. At least this one isn’t guaranteeing nuclear holocaust (by 1984) or dates of return, so far…

    Just keep your corner of the stable clean and take in the boat people when they have to desert the latest fallen Utopia.


  18. ” Maybe you want to do a little reading before claiming what you’re doing is new.”

    Not a chance for those guys.


  19. Is the thread of comments after a blog essay a kind of “narrative”?

    For the narrative, let me go on record now that there is no pure visible church in which we know that everybody (or anybody) is a Christian. I do not disagree with any Reformed person about that. Nor do I talk about a “regenerate” membership, since my central categories (you will know) are legal.

    Since the atonement and justification have priority (for me, I do not speak for many baptists), I would only talk about a congregation of those who profess to be justified by means of hearing and believing the gospel of Christ’s just atonement. It’s not that much different from those who require a (subjective) profession from at least one parent.

    But it is not rational to think that us not knowing who is truly Christian in a visible congregation therefore proves that some non-elect are in the new covenant (and then out again). That way leads to the slippery slope of the federal vision (elect then nonelect) or Lutheranism (born again by water, but then losing the new birth).

    Concepts of covenant not governed by biblical ideas about election lead to many disasters, not only in politics but also for churches. And since this thread has been about the future slippery slope, let me that if you open up the new covenant to the non-elect, it certainly makes sense to open up the atonement to everybody.

    Many roads lead to the heresy of an atonement that does not atone, and the gospel coalition does not have a monopoly on all those roads.


  20. I wish someone would have engaged in a little promotion and fanfare for the Hart talk in Des Moines. I would have made the drive.


  21. Can’t get over the silliness of this one:

    “John MacArthur writes a series of blog posts to the Young, Restless, and Reformed where he tells them to ‘Grow Up. Settle Down. Keep Reforming.’ Some of the younger people in the movement begin to stop listening to his voice.”

    I see a consistent theme of a “reformation” that doesn’t take criticism very well.


  22. Another interesting thing to note about the chart is its cultural myopia. There are only a few people on there from a non-US background – and it’s not likely Stott knew much about the movement/reformation. The old Calvinism is global, but the new Calvinism is pretty much American.


  23. What’s starkly missing from Challie’s time is the church. For a movement that “embraces the essential place of the local church” (see point 5), it sure seems like the “local church” is embarrassingly lacking from the New Calvinsits’.

    Even more embarrassing is the only place the local church shows up you see division (2012 Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace) and a rapper performing in a church (2006, Voice at Piper’s church).


  24. I don’t normally comment here but, I think there are already a lot of people who have been burned by New Calvinism and are on their way out. It seems like a revolving door of new people coming in but the same amount are exiting through the back. I have yet to see a blog dedicated to those trying to recover because of an abusive situation in their confessional Reformed/Lutheran churches or heck even your run of the mill Arminian Southern Baptist. But throw out names like Mahaney and Driscoll and there are dozens of bloggers trying to reach the people devastated by their teachings.

    If you are part of the New Calvinists’ doesn’t that concern you that you are leaving people emotionally devastated at best and at worst being abused? What is wrong with these people?


  25. Robin, some of the abuse probably comes as the result of a jarring imposition of church discipline, albeit without confessional underpinnings and presbyterian accountability. In other words, they cherry pick the traditions. And elder rule without presbyterian accountability is a timebomb. And when (what passes for) your book of church order/discipline was written last Tuesday afternoon at Starbucks by 24-year-old Pastor Bryce of the leadership ministry team…awesome.


  26. CG,
    The Gettys are synomonous with the GC, but work hard at composing ‘sound’ lyrics. They are the darlings of the New Calvinists by design or default. The sad thing is that in any Christian Bookshop there is way more space devoted to such music like the Gettys, Townsend and Redman rather than decent books. Why don’t PCA and other supposedly Reformed denominations promote psalm singing as the given primary form of worship rather than all this emotion driven stuff written to supposedly authenticate a parachurch ‘ministry’? BTW, you are spot on about your take of the Banner of Truth.


  27. I’m not sure that I wouldn’t include the PCA in the YRR category. I spent a few years living in the South, and never found a PCA church that felt very Presbyterian. In the South, the PCA seems like an SBC church without the blue-collar folks.


  28. Yes, Bobby, but at least we insist that the earth is only 6,000 yrs old. Unless you’re a Redeemer franchise and then at least, though embarrassed by our confessional tradition, we will nevertheless immerse you in the spiritual richness of lent. So, see, there’s is a rose or two on the dung hill.


  29. I’m with Eric on that. Calling the PCA Reformed is like calling Lady Gaga a lady. And I’m saying that as a member of a PCA church.

    I think a lot of us in the northern churches are a bit tired of the evangelical finger-wagging by the ex-SBC folks who haven’t figured out that liking John Piper doesn’t make one Reformed. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a massive exodus of northern PCA churches to the ECO over the course of the next few years. I’ve lives in the South during two periods of my life. During both stints, I was a member of a PC(USA) church, both of which have now left to join the ECO. I don’t see a big difference between the ECO in the Carolinas and the PCA in the Midwest and Northeast.


  30. Jordan, just replyin

    2009 National Conference

    The theme of this Conference gets to the heart of the book of Second Timothy. As Paul is mentoring a young Timothy, he is communicating the great privilege of proclaiming the gospel to the world. In an age bereft of courageous leadership, declining biblical literacy, and rising cultural accommodation, a prophetic voice from the center is needed, a voice that faithfully speaks the ancient text to our contemporary context. This Conference seeks a renewal of faithful preaching that is rooted in the Scriptures and centered on the gospel.

    The best of gospel-faithful ministry is not only taught, it is also caught. This was the practice of the Apostle Paul — the great missionary of the early church — who not only had much to say regarding what constitutes gospel-faithful ministry, but also had much to show of what it looked like in an individual life and in the life of the church. We see these two foci coming together harmoniously in Paul’s letter to the church in Corinth:

    Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church (1 Corinthians 4:16-17; cf. 11:1; Philippians 3:17).

    On 21-23 April 2009, The Gospel Coalition will hold its second National Conference on the theme, “Entrusted with the Gospel: Living the Vision of Second Timothy.” During these meetings we will seek to imitate Paul’s dual practice of show and tell.

    The Plenary Sessions — led by John Piper, Phil Ryken, Mark Driscoll, K. Edward Copeland, Bryan Chapell, and Ligon Duncan — will expound the book of Second Timothy. It is through these expositions that we hope to model the sort of preaching through Scripture of which the church is in need, while teaching the glories of this gospel of the blessed God that has been entrusted to the care of the church. Tim Keller and Don Carson will each give addresses that seek to situate gospel-faithful ministry in the currents of the twenty-first century, and Ajith Fernando will discuss the global challenges and priorities of gospel-faithful mission for the next Christendom. There will also be several workshops devoted to the faithful appropriation of text (Scripture) to context (contemporary issues).

    While this Conference is aimed at pastors and students of pastoral ministry, all are welcome, and we encourage everyone to attend. Please join us on 21-23 April 2009 for “Entrusted with the Gospel.”


  31. Bobby, That may be true. However, I have been in URC churches that had nothing but legal preaching, so pick your poison. The PCA is still one of the denominations that still maintain a Gospel emphasis (at least some of their churches).


  32. The danger in not raising these questions is to think that Puritan theology has simply fallen out of heaven and has become the standard of theology and life . A danger in reading the Puritans is to approach them with a “halo hermeneutic” in which theology before and, to some extent after, is deficient—the Puritans had it right, everyone else has it wrong, to a greater or lesser degree….. Carl Trueman explains the danger of misreading past historical actions in this way:

    One of the greatest temptations for ….historians studying the history of ideas is to impose on the past, ideas, categories, or values that were simply nonexistent or that did not have the same function or significance during the times studied. The roots of the problem are obvious: we live in the present; the objects of historical study relate to the past; and as L. P. Hartley famously quipped at the beginning of The Go-Between, ‘The past is a foreign country; they do things differently there.’


  33. markmc: A danger in reading the Puritans is to approach them with a “halo hermeneutic”

    Any worship of man or location in history is a red flag to me. And one string banjos when there are 1,000 topics to think about in Reformed Theology is another one.

    Fortunately we weed them out quickly on OL.

    Your posts have been helpful lately, keep it going…


  34. I Corinthians 1: 7 Cleanse out the OLD leaven that you may be a NEW lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 8 Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the OLD leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.

    I notice that the command is not directed to an individual nor to the “universal church” which will gather when Christ returns to earth on resurrection day. The apostolic command is to a local congregation.

    Click to access 36-3-pp331-342_JETS.pdf


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.