New Calvinist Exceptionalism

After the recent controversies surrounding Darrin Patrick, C. J. Mahaney, and James MacDonald, I was surprised to see Jeff Jue be so positive about the New Calvinism. He even appeals to the spirit of J. Gresham Machen and Westminster Seminary:

It is committed to the Reformed tradition.

The theme of this year’s T4G was “We Are Protestant: The Reformation at 500,” and the theme of TGC’s 2017 National Conference will be “No Other Gospel: Reformation 500 and Beyond” (April 3 to 5 in Indianapolis; browse list of speakers and talks, and register here). Reformed theology is at the heart of WTS, and it’s what we’ve been teaching since J. Gresham Machen founded the seminary in 1929. So it’s a great encouragement to partner with others who share our commitment to the Reformed tradition.

In 2014 John Piper gave a series of lectures at WTS on the New Calvinism. At one point he stated, “There would be no New Calvinism without Westminster Seminary.” He was referring to the numerous influential books written by WTS faculty members. Perhaps it was an overstatement, but Piper’s comment reminded me of the historical connection between WTS and the New Calvinism.

To Serve the Local Church

Just as WTS is an independant organization with a confessional identity wanting to serve the church, the same is true of sister ministries like T4G and TGC.

And while we have some differences among us, the New Calvinist movement—as represented this week by T4G—is an opportunity to share the rich truths of the Reformation with yet another generation of pastors and churches.

I would have thought that Carl Trueman’s jab on the Gospel Coalition’s “Machismozing” was more typical of that Old Westminster spirit.

But what do I know? It is the season of spin.


17 thoughts on “New Calvinist Exceptionalism

  1. Did Westminster East provide a concierge to look after Piper’s encircling bright python or did he take it onto the dais with him? Just curious.


  2. DGH,

    Will you ever unite with your fellow anti-coalitionists Trueman, et al for an episode of MOS?


  3. Didn’t Spurgeon and Whitefield pre-date Westminster East? Pretty sure they invented New Calvinism.


  4. The New Calvinism, as defined by John Piper and backed by his influential peers, is a smart way of seeking to give an authorative seal to a movement like T4G and the GC which actually inverts the real meaning of aspects of what the Reformers stood for. For example, the creeds and confessions which are vital to Protestant theology and ecclesiology – where are they in the practise and statements of men like Piper and their influential friends? They are quite absent, along with the rule of elders as defined in the confessions as being the lynchpin of Reformed church government, not influential men in a para church set up. T4G and the GC actually dilute and compromise Protestant practise as given in say the Westminster Confession by accepting as equal church practise like that of CJ Maheney and worship practises like those advocated by Kevin DeYoung which includes a worship/rock band to beef up the singing.
    Open, honest rebuttal of such movements is not negative, it is a way of saying stop trying you folks in these carefully crafted para church set ups from trying to be the defining model of Reformed practise in the guise of New Calvinism when in fact your trajectory is more generically evangelical than anything else, with a heavy topping of Piperism on top.


  5. New Calvinism in the capital:

    To reverse the fortunes of a flagging downtown congregation required skill, pluck, and some sanctified grit. Dever had all of these, but he also put in place a strategy that most church growth gurus would have deplored. For example, he began to preach sermons that lasted upwards of one hour. Next, the church excised from its rolls hundreds of inactive members—some so inactive that they had long been dead! The practice of church discipline was begun. Members were also required to subscribe to a confession of faith and to say “an oath”—this is how a secular journalist described the church covenant—at the monthly communion. Entertainment-based worship was replaced by congregational singing, including many long-forgotten classic hymns from the past. Instead of driving people away, however, over time this approach to church life—to the surprise of many—attracted droves of new believers, many of them millennials and young professionals. Today, the average age of members at Capitol Hill Baptist Church (as Metropolitan is now known) is thirty-one, and the place is bursting at the seams, with standing room only on Sunday mornings.

    What explains the success of this counter-cultural congregation? Do we see here what Jonathan Edwards might have called “a surprising work of God,” a mysterious movement of grace that defies analysis? Perhaps. But could it also be that the rising generation has developed a hunger for a more substantial spirituality than that on offer in bland, postmodern construals of religion? Could it be that more and more young adults are finding too thin the “I love Jesus but don’t need the church” mentality? CHBC is marked by doctrinal and ecclesial intentionality. Unlike many evangelicals who stress a personal relationship with Jesus at the expense of churchly commitment, Dever stresses their coinherence. “It is impossible to answer the question what is a Christian? without ending up in a conversation about the church; at least in the Bible it is.”

    Dever is a good preacher but his sermons are not characterized by rhetorical or poetic finesse. Instead, he offers a steady diet of biblical exposition—the first of “nine marks” he has outlined for a healthy church. Dever does not often preach topical sermons but rather follows the lectio continua method of preaching through a given book after the model of Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin in the Reformation. Not long ago, as Dever prepared to preach to his congregation on Psalm 143, he said, “You will be bored if you don’t open your Bible and leave it open. All I’m gonna do is talk about what’s in the Bible.”

    CHBC has been described as the epicenter of the new Calvinism sweeping across many evangelical churches today, including the Southern Baptist Convention. (CHBC belongs to the SBC.) However, the church’s literature does not speak of the tenents of Calvinism. Its statement of faith is not the more Calvinistic Philadelphia Confession, a “baptized” version of Westminster, but rather the less precise New Hampshire Confession of Faith. Still, there is no doubt that the church does honor the Puritan heritage of the Reformation and embraces the theology set forth by such Baptist heroes of the past as John Bunyan, Roger Williams, Andrew Fuller, Adoniram Judson, and Charles Haddon Spurgeon himself.


  6. It’s no accident that the CHBC turn-around coincided with the Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, the growth of evangelical-friendly think tanks, and the gentrification of the neighborhood in which it sets. It’s a Sunday social club for Southern, white evangelicals who work in DC as staffers, analysts, etc. If you want to move up in that world, you go to CHBC. Besides, Dever’s authoritarianism fits well with the way many of these young staffers view the world.

    Also, it’s no accident that New Calvinist churches are so young. Once people mature intellectually, they need more than bravado and authoritarianism.

    That being said, weren’t there 300+ NAPARC (PCA/OPC) pastors who signed a letter extolling C.J. Mahaney for beating the rap on the sex-abuse cover-up? Never mind that it appears that he did so only because the statute of limitation had run. It’s time to call Machen’s experiment a failure.


  7. Source for this please?: “That being said, weren’t there 300+ NAPARC (PCA/OPC) pastors who signed a letter extolling C.J. Mahaney for beating the rap on the sex-abuse cover-up? Never mind that it appears that he did so only because the statute of limitation had run. It’s time to call Machen’s experiment a failure.”


  8. Noe,

    I heard someone say that that was the case. That’s why I phrased it as a question. If I were on a PCA/OPC session and one of the pastors even attended Mahaney-Fest in Louisville a few weeks ago, I’d have no qualms sacking the guy on the spot. That’s akin to attending a Klan rally, in my book.


  9. It’s not “federalism ” (it says nothing about God having already imputed the sins of the elect to Christ) but “the federal vision” is “new Calvinism” and it IS about ecclesiology. NT Wright asks the “Reformed” question—why talk about justification and soteriology when you could be talking about conditional membership in the covenant?


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