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"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Review: The New Calvinism Considered by Jeremy Walker

A Personal and Pastoral Assessment
Jeremy Walker
EP Books
Pbk, 128pp, £6.99
ISBN 978-0852349687

Jeremy Walker, pastor of Maidenbower Baptist Church, Crawley, provides a good introduction and analysis of the New Calvinists and its proponents such as John Piper, Mark Driscoll, C. J. Mahaney and Matt Chandler. Being a Brit Walker presents a helpful outsider’s view of New Calvinism.

New Calvinists are rarely out of the Christian-social-media news; and, often, not for the best of reasons: we have had the Elephant Room with T. D. Jakes and Steven Furtick, the abuse allegations at Sovereign Grace Ministries, plagiarism, and the blatant use self-promotion techniques in order to appear to be big and successful. Tim Challies has recently produced an excellent infographic on New Calvinism - it presents a skewed one-sided view of it (inevitably!); he appropriates John Stott to the cause and makes the success of Rap and Hip Hop down to the endorsement of John Piper (HT @wyclif)! 

New Calvinism came to the attention of the wider public when it was named as one of the 10 ideas changing the world by Time magazine - although Challies places its origin to the 1986 publication of Piper’s Desiring God. Unfortunately, Time used the term neo-Calvinism to describe it. Not realising that it had already been taken! New is definitely not neo when it comes to Calvinism. Sadly, many have made that mistake. Fortunately Walker is not one of them.

Walker as the subtitle implies presents a personal and pastoral assessment and so, helpfully, avoids a polemical approach - I didn’t spot any straw men. As he puts it: “I’d rather use hard arguments than hard words” and “I would rather deal with the issues, but the issues are so intertwined with the personalities”. Walker is aware that New Calvinism is not “monolithic” it is more an amorphous conglomeration of networks and conferences, rather then a clearly defined entity.

Walker starts in good sh*t sandwich fashion by outlining some of the good things that he sees in New Calvinism these include being:
  • Christ-oriented;  
  • grace-soaked; 
  • avowedly a missional movement; 
  • a complementarian movement; 
  • immersed and inventive (“If you own a PC you are almost by definition not a New Calvinist”)
  • commitment in principle to expositional preaching.

Personally I wouldn't place complementarian in this category. Too often it leads to an unbiblical view of authority:

Walker then takes a look at some of his cautions and concerns. These include:

  • The tendency towards pragmatism and commercialism
  • An unbalanced view of culture. Here Walker suggests that “a neo-Kuyperian perspective dominates the movement” (if only that were true!). There has been a misappropriation of Kuyper to justify using “worldly” methods - Walker suggests that for the New Calvinist culture is neutral and so can be appropriated by Christianising it - this is certainly not what Kuyper taught or thought! 
  • A troubling approach to holiness - manifested in incipient antinomianism (we are not under law, so we can do what we like) and unbiblical views of sanctification. Walker makes an excellent point here: “principled obedience is not legalism”. 
  • A potentially dangerous ecumenism - an emphasising of unity over truth
  • A genuine tension with regard to spiritual gifts
  • A degree of arrogance and triumphalism

It should be emphasised that Walker doesn’t see all these in all of the New Calvinists. He is careful not to overgeneralise.

For Walker New Calvinism is at best Christ-centred and at worst human-centred. He focuses primarily on the theology of the movement. His critique could have been helped by sociological and historical perspectives. He mentions that it is centre-bounded rather than boundary-bounded, but doesn’t develop this helpful insight and it implications. Nevertheless, this is a good place to start to understand the strengths and weakness of a movement that is probably past its heyday. 

Let’s forget New Calvinism, we want a Newer Calvinism, and then the Newest Calvinism. This faddishness evidenced in some New Calvinists can be remedied, Walker suggest, by being mere Calvinists - or has it: “be Calvinists. Don’t be new Calvinists or any other particular brand or stripe of Calvinists, whatever those distinctions may presently mean, or may come to mean.

1 comment:

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