Reformed Resurgence 4: New Calvinists

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A Journalist's Journey with the New CalvinistsCollin Hansen has done an admirable job documenting the rise of Reformed theology among the younger generations. Those who see themselves as part of this movement will read Young, Restless, Reformed with delight. Those who are close to the movement (like myself) will discover reasons to celebrate and reasons to be concerned. Those who stand against the new Calvinism will find plenty of ammunition against the young and restless evangelicals.

I thoroughly enjoyed the chapters that recounted the Calvinism of C.J. Mahaney and Josh Harris. I am not a charismatic in any sense, but I have benefited from the worship music coming from the Sovereign Grace crowd. I read two of C.J.’s books (The Cross-Centered Life and Humility) and thought both of them were good. Then, I met C.J. personally and thought his books were great!

I appreciate as well the cautiousness of Mahaney’s charismatic worship. Whereas Piper has learned from Jonathan Edwards about the glory of God, Mahaney has leaned on Edwards for advice in navigating between the unbiblical excesses of many charismatic practices and the charismatic expressions of those gripped by the gospel of grace.

As I closed Young, Restless, Reformed, I found myself celebrating certain aspects of the Reformed Resurgence. I also found myself with a new concerns about the perils that this movement will face. Below are some of my main concerns.

1. Is Together for the Gospel a conference expressing our unity in the gospel of Christ? Or should it rather be called “Together for Calvinism?” After all, every speaker is a five-point Calvinist. Are we “together” and united for Calvinist soteriology or for the gospel of Jesus Christ? Many Calvinists seem to confuse the two. Calvinism is the gospel (or at least the highest expression of the gospel) for many of my Reformed friends. I beg to differ.

2. The Reformed Resurgence, by its very nature, waters down (no pun intended) the importance of baptism, and along with that, other important ecclesiological matters. Michael Horton (professor at Westminster Seminary in California) is quoted at length about the rise of Reformed theology. He is delighted at the rise of Calvinism, but he sees a problem with the lack of ecclesiological unity. Many Baptists would agree with him. Piper’s desire to open church membership to the unbaptized is a case in point. The very fact that some would express an intention to create a “Together for the Gospel” denomination or association underscores the lack of ecclesial accountability to this movement. For the most part, our denominations are with us on the gospel, even if our church people are not 5-point Calvinists.

3. I can see the blogosphere continuing to become a significant shaper of both the good and bad aspects of this movement. Like any medium, blogs can be used in good or bad ways. The danger of blogging is that blogs are, by nature, self-promoting to some extent (and I speak as one who maintains a blog… I am not pointing fingers). Bloggers can also spread divisive rhetoric, underhanded attacks on other believers and foster an atmosphere of rivalry and dissension – often without being held accountable.

4. Several times in Collin’s book, the people being interviewed talk about the fruit that is coming out of the new Calvinism. We’re seeing young people get saved. We’re watching the new Calvinists help serve the poor, work out in the inner cities. Collin seems to argue for the validity of Calvinism on the basis of how it is affecting outreach. Ironically, the Emerging Church does the same thing. Our theology must be right if it’s pushing us into greater discipleship and service! Not necessarily. I believe our actions do back up our theology, but we cannot assume that our fruit necessarily proves the validity of our theological positions. Taken to an extreme, this tendency of Calvinists to point to their fruit as the greatest evidence of the truthfulness of their theology is simply the flip-side of some Church Growth leaders who advocated change based on what seems to be working.

I mentioned yesterday the condescending, dismissive attitude that many of the new Calvinists seem to harbor against their local churches. We should learn from some of the humble Calvinists. C.J. and Joshua model the humility that should be true of all who truly believe in the doctrines of grace. Listen to Josh:

If you really understand Reformed theology, we should all just sit around shaking our heads going, ‘It’s unbelievable. Why would God choose any of us?’ Harris said. ‘You are so amazed by grace, you’re not picking a fight with anyone – you’re just crying tears of amazement that should lead to a heart for lost people, that God does indeed save, when he doesn’t have to save anybody.’

May this attitude of humility and grace characterize Christians everywhere, whether or not they consider themselves young, restless, or Reformed.

written by Trevin Wax  © 2008 Kingdom People blog

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