In yesterday’s video, “Where Did All these Calvinists Come From?,” I provided a brief introduction to the New Calvinism—the recent resurgence of Reformed theology. I described how, in my assessment, it came about at least in part as a response to the excesses of the church growth movement (and an alternative to the emerging church movement). Today, in a video for the watchers and a transcript for the readers, I want to point out some of the evidences of God’s grace we see in and through it.
(Note: Much of this material is drawn from a chapter I wrote for a forthcoming book titled New Calvinism: New Reformation or Theological Fad?. It is set to release in January.)
Whatever else we can say about New Calvinism—and there’s lots to say—we can’t deny this: It displays many evidences of God’s grace. It is beyond dispute that God has been blessing his people and glorifying his name through this movement. In this video I want to point out 6 evidences of God’s grace in this Reformed resurgence.
1. Enthusiasm for Sound Doctrine
If there is an unofficial textbook for New Calvinism it has to be Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. If there is an unofficial study Bible the honour has to go to the enormous ESV Study Bible. The elder statesmen of the movement are pastor-theologians and its rising generation of male leaders are primarily preachers and female leaders are Bible teachers. Its conferences for men and women are based on teaching how the Bible applies to all of life. Its books are committed to displaying the centrality of the gospel and to promoting the glory of God in all things. Even its music is deliberately theological, helping generate a revival of hymnody and other forms of theologically-robust music. From beginning to end, New Calvinism is a movement founded upon and defined by the doctrine laid out in Scripture.
2. Local-Church Centrality
It would be easy to define New Calvinism by its many conferences. From Shepherds’ Conference, Bethlehem Conference for Pastors, The Basics, The Gospel Coalition, Together for the Gospel and on and on, New Calvinism is a movement made up of many conferences.
It would also be easy to define New Calvinism by its many ministries and organizations: Grace To You, Desiring God, Ligonier, and again, The Gospel Coalition and Together for the Gospel. Yet to define the movement by any of those ministries would be to miss the point because New Calvinism is first a movement of Christians within their local churches. One of the most important marks of New Calvinism is its focus on the centrality of the local church and its emphasis on healthy local churches. Each of these conferences and each of these organizations is committed to strengthening and equipping rather than displacing the local church. This is a right emphasis because God’s plan for the world is not conferences or parachurch ministries but strong, Bible-based, local churches led by qualified leaders.
3. Biblical Ecumenism
It is a sad reality of life in a fallen world that we find it far easier to splinter than to unite. Really, so much of church history can be told by the divisions that have kept Christian from Christian. At times these divisions have been necessary to protect the purity of Christ’s church, but far too often they have been petty disputes over the finest theological nuances. From the very beginning, New Calvinism has been a movement that has emphasized a biblical ecumenism. It has united on the gospel and on a few key implications of the gospel, then has deliberately brought Christians into shared relationship, ministry, and mission. Many of its conferences and ministries are diverse by their design, so they can draw together denominations, churches, and individuals that might otherwise prefer to remain independent and unaffiliated. New Calvinism is committed to keeping the main thing the main thing.
4. International Impact
New Calvinism began primarily in America, was given its names by American publications, is led primarily by Americans, and is dominated by American Christians. Despite all of this, it is and always has been an international movement that is making its mark all around the globe. Its books are shipped around the world and its blogs accessed from every country on earth. Its major conferences may draw people from all over. Wherever there are Christians and wherever those Christians are eager to be taught and trained, there are people who associate themselves with this movement. It is increasingly a truly international movement.
It’s also growing in its mission reach. John Piper, David Platt, Paul Washer and others like them have emphasized the responsibility of all Christians to serve and support global missions. Churches, denominations and sending agencies associated with New Calvinism have been faithful to send missionaries across the world and also to create excellent resources to serve them there.
5. Deploying New Technologies
Even a brief survey of church history shows that worldwide Christian movements have often followed close on the heels of new technologies. The spread of the gospel in the early church was made possible largely through the recent technology of the Roman roads. Fifteen hundred years later the new technology of the printing press provided a way to distribute the writings of the Reformers and, even more so, for the new translations of the Bible. Today we are witnessing the dawn of the digital revolution. In just a short time we gained access to all kinds new tools and all the capabilities they bring. Most of these tools exist for going and communicating—the very tasks God calls us to in the Great Commission—the tasks of evangelism and discipleship. Never before have we been able to have people and words go so far so fast. New Calvinism has been on the front lines of creating, adapting, and using these new tools. Web sites, blogs, conference live-streaming, podcasts, YouTube, digital books and Bibles—though none of these existed even a few short years ago. Yet each of them has been understood and harnessed for God’s purposes.
6. Grounding in Church History
Every generation grapples with the temptation to neglect history, to assume they have little to learn from Christians who have gone before. New Calvinism, though, has been shaped by previous generations of Christians and by pastors and teachers who lived in centuries past. New Calvinism has a good desire to orient itself within the long history of the Christian faith. As much as it has emphasized correct doctrine, it has also emphasized church history. It focuses a lot of attention on the lives and legacies of great Christian men and women of days past. People are going back to the Reformers and Puritans to read their works. Here in 2017 nearly every major conference has focused on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. In this way New Calvinism is looking back even as it looks forward. It’s drawing from ancient sources of wisdom and applying it to modern realities.
In these ways and so many more New Calvinism is displaying evidences that God’s hand of blessing is upon it. Souls are being saved, lives are being transformed, churches are being strengthened, missionaries are being sent, the work the Lord has given us is being carried on. Stay tuned for my next video where I’ll offer some potential areas of weakness in the movement.