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What’s the Difference? — Neo-Calvinist vs. Neocalvinist

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What is a neo-Calvinist?

In 2009, Time magazine included “The New Calvinist” in their list of “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” The author of the feature, David Van Biema, used the phrase “Neo-Calvinist ministers and authors” to refer to such figures as John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Al Mohler, and Justin Taylor. Although the “new Calvinist” movement wasn’t exactly new (TGC’s Collin Hansen had written the book on the movement—-Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists—-the year before), the term neo-Calvinist was pushed into the popular lexicon.

Some folks who refer to themselves as neocalvinists (the other kind, which we’ll get to next) believe the New Calvinists movement is better represented by the term “Neo-Puritanism.” (Puritan in the positive Jonathan Edwards sense, not in denigratory H.L. Menken meaning.) As Ray Pennings wrote in the Canadian neocalvinist journal Comment:

. . . while both movements affirm similar truths and appeal to the same sources regarding the application of the entire range of biblical data in the contemporary context, neopuritanism is slanted more towards individual piety and churchly revival, and neocalvinism is slanted more towards corporate activism and cultural renewal.

What is a Neocalvinist?

Although the Greek prefix neo, means “new, young, recent”, the original use of the label “neocalvinist” dates back to the nineteenth century (which, for Calvinism, is still relatively new). The term refers to a Dutch Calvinist movement associated with the theologian and former Dutch prime minister Abraham Kuyper. The defining credo of neocalvinism is often summarized by Kuyper’s claim that, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

Although neo-Calvinists (aka New Calvinists) and neocalvinists (aka Kuyperians) tend to share a broad range of theological positions, the differences often arise in their emphases and language. While New Calvinists tend to focus on renewal of the local church and use terms associated with traditional Calvinism, the Kuyperians generally aim at cultural renewal and use jargon whose connotations are specific to the movement (e.g., sphere sovereignty).

[Note: Both terms are often spelled the same way, which adds to the terminological confusion.]


Related: DeYoung, Duncan, and Mohler: What’s New About the New Calvinism

Thabiti Anyabwile, Why the Time Magazine Trumpeting of New Calvinism Is a Bad Thing

Jake Belder, Understanding The Neocalvinist Tradition

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