The New Calvinism has become a worldwide movement of Christians who are looking to the past to recover and live out the precious truths of Reformed theology. Having introduced the movement and having identified some ways in which we see evidences of God’s grace in and through it, I am now suggesting some weaknesses it may do well to address. Here’s that video in Facebook and YouTube formats, followed by a transcript for those who prefer to read.
It is a joy, a privilege, and a responsibility to look carefully to see where God is at work, to acknowledge it, and to thank him for these evidences of his grace. Of course it’s also a responsibility to look carefully to see where we may be neglecting or interfering with the work God means to do. In my last video I pointed out 6 evidences of God’s grace in and through New Calvinism. Today I want to turn to some of the movement‘s weaknesses to suggest areas we may do well to consider and address.
1. The Danger of Trendiness
There was a time, and it really wasn’t long ago, when very few people held to Reformed theology, when very few significant churches or ministries held to it. But then we come to today and find a whole host of big ministries and megachurches that are distinctly Reformed. Reformed conferences are at full capacity. Reformed seminaries are bursting at the seams. This is a very different era! Now, this mainstreaming of New Calvinism could point to a permanent shift within wider Evangelicalism. But, it could point to the existence of a trend or a fad. We won’t know until the next thing comes along. At some point Reformed theology will no longer be celebrated. Eventually books and conferences will insist that there is something newer, something better, something purer, and something with greater promise. At that time we will learn how many of us are trend-followers and how many really are committed to Reformed truth. That means today is the time for individuals, churches, and ministries to ensure they truly are committed to biblical truth as it is defined by Reformed theology and not just riding a wave.
2. The Danger of Celebrityism
Any movement is led by leaders—it is obvious and unavoidable. Eventually, though, a movement needs to question the place of its leaders and consider what the movement would be without them. Just as New Calvinists need to consider whether they are simply following the latest, coolest trend, they also need to consider whether they are simply following today’s trend-setters and today’s exciting leaders. New Calvinism has already committed a few big gaffes in relation to celebrity, handing position and influence to church and ministry leaders who quickly proved themselves unworthy of it. Each of us needs to ask whether we are merely following along behind exciting and dynamic leaders, or if we really understand and believe and hold to these theological convictions.
3. The Danger of Pride
There are few dangers in the world greater than the dangers that come with recognition. For many years Calvinism had little to fear from this danger, but the growth of New Calvinism has brought recognition that this movement is growing and is exerting some influence on church and culture. With influence and recognition comes the temptation to pride. Maybe that’s seen through snide comparisons to other believers who hold to different theological convictions. Maybe it’s seen in looking down at anyone who attempts to lovingly critique the movement. Maybe it’s seen in a failure to seriously self-assess the movement, its ministries, its emphases, and its leaders. Whatever the temptation, it will begin first within the hearts of people and then manifest itself in their thoughts, words, and actions. New Calvinism will inevitably fade and fail if it allows itself to become self-congratulatory and unwilling to keep reforming.
4. The Danger of Boundaries
As this movement grows it is facing challenges in defining and maintaining boundaries about who is part of the movement. Because there is no central government over New Calvinism, these boundaries being negotiated by the movement as a whole. From its earliest days, New Calvinism gladly drew together Presbyterians and Baptists. Then, as time went on, it expanded to all kinds of other traditions and denominations. Well and good. It then agreed it would welcome both charismatics and cessationists as long as they align on the centrality of the gospel and the validity of Reformed theology. But it also agreed it would largely reject egalitarians. It has its boundaries. Any movement needs boundaries, but those boundaries must be drawn with wisdom and charity. A danger the New Calvinism faces is the danger of drawing boundaries too loosely, or drawing boundaries too rigidly, without either wisdom or charity.
5. The Danger of Homogeneity
As human beings we tend to be most comfortable around those who are most similar to ourselves. It is for this reason that our church communities tend to drift toward uniformity rather than diversity. Without deliberate application of the gospel, churches will inevitably become less, not more, diverse until churches are made up almost entirely of people of one socio-economic background, one ethnicity, or even one view of disputable matters such as education. Movements are prone to the same temptation. New Calvinism has largely been led, shaped, and defined by Caucasian, American, upper middle class men. For that reason it inevitably has the flavor and the biases of Caucasian, American, upper middle-class men. But at the same time the movement has diversified and is drawing in Christians of many nations, many ethnicities, many levels of richness and poverty. Diversity brings with it the responsibility and privilege of listening to diverse voices, hearing them, and being willing and eager to become more like them.
6. The Danger of Cold Theology
Because New Calvinism is a movement defined by its theology and very fond of its theology, there is a temptation to emphasize the theology instead of the God the theology describes. Really, there is a danger in confusing Calvinism with Christianity, the doctrines of grace with the gospel of grace. We always need to acknowledge that the Christian world is wider than mere Calvinism. Even if Calvinism is the purest expression of biblical truth (which we do believe or we would change our convictions), it is not the only one. God does not call us to save people to Calvinism. We should not want or need to be known first for our Calvinism, but for our love, for our desire to do good to others and draw attention to the God who has saved us.
It is still too early to predict with any accuracy how history will regard New Calvinism or even if it will. But it is not too early for us to consider and determine how that history may be written. If New Calvinism is simply a trend, a movement, or a marketing machine then by all means, let’s let it die. But if New Calvinism really does represent doctrine that the Bible makes plain, if it really does represent a movement of people who are committed to glorifying God by living for the good of others, then let’s be sure we are rejoicing at what God has done, that we are thanking him for every evidence of his grace, and that we are looking for and addressing every potential weakness. Let’s be relentless in our pursuit of God so he can be glorified in and by all the nations.