As a family we made the long migration into the Reformed faith in the mid 1990′s. Our theological trip took us almost the complete breadth of the protestant landscape from charismatic, to mainstream evangelical, to baptist, to reformed baptist, to confessional/experiential Reformed. This migration allowed my family to soak in almost everything the Protestant Church had to offer before we were led to our current home. What a blessing it was to discover the deep and abiding waters of the old paths.
As a father, my desire is to see my children remain in, and love, the historic reformed faith as their mother and I do. Not for any parochial or traditional reason, but because it is the best expression of the Word of God, and the very place where they might find a Saviour from sin and live a life of consecration. But there is a problem. New Calvinism (NC) has been born, and it strangely reminds my wife and I of the very thing we came from as charismatics. Same story, different characters. The only difference between this strain of the Emergent movement and the Charismatic movement we came from is this; New Calvinism embraces reformed soteriology. Besides this, I find NC teaching the very same pragmatic principles I was taught as a young charismatic.
Old vs. New
Mark Driscoll, the Teaching Pastor of the 9000 member Mars Hill Church in Seattle WA, is the leading proponent of New Calvinism. There is no central organization for this movement, so its most visible figure will need to suffice as an example. Here is what Driscoll has to say regarding the movement:
1.Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal and separated from or syncretized with culture. New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture [Syncretism is a blending or marrying of two incompatible systems into one new organic method.].
2.Old Calvinism fled from the cities. New Calvinism is flooding into cities.
3.Old Calvinism was cessationistic and fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. New Calvinism is continuationist and joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
4.Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges. New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them. 
It would take a whole other article to point out the errors in the above list. Suffice to say, New Calvinism is advancing its agenda on the back of a straw-man caricature of Old Calvinism. Is it wise to begin a religious movement by criticizing the giants of the Reformation upon whose shoulders you stand? So much for being loving.
What is New Calvinism?
New Calvinism is the kissing of postmodernism and one aspect of the Reformed Faith, the T.U.L.I.P. New Calvinism is not reformed in any other way. In fact it is minimalistic in doctrine. This means, that while it embraces the major tenants of Protestantism, it stops far short of confessional Christianity with a creed small enough to be placed on the back of a bulletin.. Yes, NC likes the Puritans, but believes they went too far when it came to the particulars of the faith. NC roots are admittedly and unabashedly Emergent  The Emergent Church is a new movement in North American that has correctly identified the paradigm shift from a Christian culture, to a modern culture, to a postmodern culture. The Emergent Church did not create postmoderism, but attempts to make Christianity relevant the postmodern mind. In other words, “If you can’t beat them, join them” is very much the prevailing attitude in New Calvinism.
Government and Law
NC has no single form of Church government but are mostly independent congregationalists. So much so that Mars Hill requires the new member to take a covenant. The movement is antinomian, believing that portions of the law of God are abrogated as part of the Old Testament, and liberty of conscience has take its place. Recently, while listening to a Driscoll sermon, I noticed that his teeshirt had an image of Jesus on it, wearing headphones, spinning albums on a turntable as a DJ. This is a clear violation of the 2nd commandment.
NC is Luther[an] in worship, believing that whatever the Lord has not forbidden in worship is permitted. Recently, Mars Hill Church launched a website called Re:Sound. Their first project is a sort of indie-rock  version of many Trinity Hymnal songs such as, “Softly and Tenderly”, “What Wondrous Love Is This”, “Doxology”, “Amazing Love”, “I’ll Fly Away”, etc. New Calvinism rejects the historic Reformed understanding of worship holding to an eclectic style they call “free”.
Baptism and the Gifts
New Calvinism is Anabaptist and charismatic. Because they are not confessional, they cannot be regarded as Reformed Baptists. They practice adult baptism alone and do require it. Most, if not all of New Calvinism believes in the continuation of special revelation by way of tongues, prophesy, laying on of hands, and all the other gifts of the Spirit mentioned in 1 Corinthians 12. New Calvinism is pragmatic and syncratistic, that is to say, what works is right, because it works. In New Calvinism, the Emergent Church has met Calvinism, but not Calvin, Puritanism, but not the Puritans, moralism, but not holiness.
Why this Matters to Our Children
New Calvinism is exciting, at least on the surface. It combines what appears to be the “best” of two worlds by marring contemporary culture with the basic tenants of Calvinism. Of the 9000 members of Mars Hill Church, virtually all of those in attendance are between the ages of 20-35. The music style is not much different than what you would expect the average worldly young person to be listening to on their iPod. The sermons are racy, humorous, and easily captivate the attention of the audience.
There are bright spots to this movement however. NC is seeking to bring to the attention of the average American, some of the forgotten truths of the historic faith. Most leaders of NC come from mainline evangelicalism, and it is good to see that they are beginning to realize that the “stuff and fluff” of their parent system has no solid anchor in the Word, especially when it comes to the sovereignty of God . New Calvinism is introducing this truth to tens of thousands who are, at least in some way, seeking. So then, we are thankful that NC is orthodox on the cross, the blood, on the need for personal repentance, and faith. NC has also demonstrated that what we need more than ever in our day is a return to passionate pulpit preaching. Mark Driscoll is a wonderful and engaging communicator. Perhaps in the Reformed Church, in an overreaction to the flamboyant methods of modernism and the Charismatic moment, we have left off the pursuit of passion, deep conviction, and believability in the old paths. Do we positively reinforce in our children, what we believe and why we believe it? Do we go beyond the basics, important as they are, and passionately communicate the other important truths of holiness, Psalm singing, sabbath keeping, etc. NC is teaching, loud and clear, that these doctrines are unimportant, and can be left to the personal tastes of the Christian. A generation of young Christians is listening to their message.
NC is very transparent. This is attractive to many who are disillusi
oned with a perceived formalism of Old Calvinism, a kind of standoffish presence in the pulpit. New Calvinism leaders, open themselves up and let the people into their lives. NC is beneficial to many who would otherwise spend their days in mainline evangelicalism, are now reading their Bibles, Spurgeon, Owen, and other great authors because believable men are encouraging them to look deeper. It is our hope that these young people will go further into Calvinism, and see the full-orbed historic faith in confessional, experiential, Reformed orthodoxy. Then the tributary of NC has done us a service.
Lastly, NC is evangelistic. They take the Great Commission very seriously by attempting to bring the gospel to their own city or town. They see the need to confront society with the gospel in their schools, places of work, and neighborhoods. So did Old Calvinism at one time. Perhaps we need to recapture this often neglected portion of our own tradition. The Lord has seen fit to bring the heathen to our doors. Mission work is no longer “over there”, but is right in front of us. New Calvinism is reminding Old Calvinists to do what our Lord commanded, and not hide out light under a bushel. For this we are thankful.
When my wife and I began our reformed trek, we needed to take baby steps. Those whom the Lord used in the reformed way did not give us the works of John Owen and tell us to get back to them. We began with the popular authors such as, Sproul, Macarthur, Jerry Bridges, and John Piper. These authors helped to explain to us where we were, and where we needed to go. Thankfully it did not stop there. As our ability to assimilate material grew, we began to read people like A.W. Pink, Lloyd-Jones, Iain Murray, Neil Pronk, and Joel Beeke. From there we began to read people like Octavius Winslow and William Jay, and before long, we were reading the Puritans and the Reformers themselves. My point is, the first authors were, to my wife and I, a bridge into the Reformed Faith. However this bridge has the potential of going two directions.
It could become a problem for some in Old Calvinism, recognizing our present deficiency in being salt and light as a Church, to turn to those that, for the most part, posses what we have lost. NC is interacting with culture, arguing for Christ, and seeing many brought to faith from every walk of life in their own communities. It is all over the Internet. Many Christian young people will find it almost impossible not to notice, and desire the same things. So should we all. The potential problem, as we see it is this…those in NC are bridges into the Reformed faith for many, but are also a bridges out. Far to many are becoming enamoured with the personality, style, and apparent freedom inherent in NC, and are starting to question the importance of doctrinal precision. Minimalism is slowly creeping into our minds, and because we are the product (yes product) of a postmodern society, we are willing to entertain winds of change because they appear to work better than our current way.
For many, the way we process reformed information has changed, due, in part to the sound-bite age in which we live, and the vanishing art of thinking deeply. Many have taken the old fathers, and replaced them with the much easier to read and understand, modern authors and Internet bloggers. Men who may or may not hold to all the important truths of the Confessions. Over time the pallet for truth slowly changes, expectations lower for the sake of results, and before you know it, the “bridge into” Old Calvinism becomes the “bridge out.”into New Calvinism. Part of the attractiveness of NC is that you can have your cake and eat it too. That is you can claim to be reformed, hold to the five points of Calvinism, hear a funny yet challenging sermon on being a better father, wife, friend etc, and live the rest of the week in relative freedom. Go to the movies, listen to Pop music, imbibe in many worldly activities, and still feel you are connected to the reformation because the Church says these things are OK. In NC there is no emphasis on being strangers and pilgrims in the earth, and little promotion holy living. A new standard is fast approaching the next generation of Old Calvinists if we are not willing to do 2 things:
- Defend what we believe to be true in its entirety, with sincerity, holiness, and love.
- Advance the gospel light without compromise, inside and outside the Church walls.
My wife and I have “been there, done that”. We’ve been on the March for Jesus with 35,000 believers rallying on the streets of Vancouver in so called unity. I’ve been to the King Dome in Seattle Washington with 55,000 wired Promise Keepers raising the roof. I’ve experienced first hand the mega church in all her supposed glory, majesty, and splendor. I have been a part of the syncretism between the Church and the world. Let me tell you as one who has been there- it is empty. New Calvinism has strange echoes in my heart. It’s Déjà vu.
New Calvinism is a zealous movement, which makes it believable to many. I was reminded of Thomas Watson’s definition of zeal when he said, “Zeal is a mixed affection, a compound of love and anger…Zeal is the flame of the affections; a godly man has a double baptism—of water and fire. He is baptized with a spirit of zeal; he is zealous for God’s honour, truth, worship: “My zeal has consumed me” (Psalm 119:139) . We need to get reacquainted with zeal that is according to knowledge.
If New Calvinism has taught me anything, it has reminded me of the many things I am not doing well, or at all. I am compelled to look at myself in a critical light and ask, “am I ministering to my own generation effectively?” We own a rich heritage in Old Calvinism. It once changed the world during the Golden Age of Puritanism, it can change the world again. It is changing the world in places like South Korea and Brazil. We need to bring the message of the gospel, not only across the sea, but across the street. Something which is far hard to do than we think.
Food for thought.
“Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23).
1.Time Magazine Names New Calvinism 3rd Most Powerful Idea | TheResurgence .
3.YouTube – Mark Driscoll on the Emerging Church.
4.Much like the Cambridge Platform of the New England settlements of early America.
5.YouTube – Mark Driscoll on the Emerging Church.
6.Indie rock is a genre of alternative rock that primarily exists in the independent underground music scene.
7.See Heidelberg Catechism Lord’s Day 35, Article 64, Church Order.
9.I would highly recommend Dr. Peter Masters article, The Merger of Calvinism With Worldliness. Metropolitan Tabernacle. http://www.metropolitantabernacle.org/?page=articles&id=13
10.The Godly Man’s Picture. Banner of Truth, 1999.
Let me tell you, in order to the further clearing of this method or manner of their becoming actually the children of promise, the ministry of the gospel is a kind of fishery; ministers are called Fishers of men, and so men and women are the fish. Now, God hath hung a bundle of promises together- as so many hooks upon a line, for taking all sorts of fishes, to take them ashore to himself; here are large hooks for taking large fishes, were they as large as a leviathan: here are little hooks for taking little fishes, were they as little as a mennon. “Oh!” says one, “I am a great sinner, and my sins are mountainous”; well there is a hook for you; ” Who art thou, O great mountain, before our Zerubbabel? Thou shalt become a plain; and he shall bring forth the headstone thereof with shouting, crying, Grace, grace unto it,” Zech. iv. 7.
“Oh!” says another, “I am a poor insignificant worm, a worthless, mean, impotent creature: well, there is a hook for you; “Fear not, worm Jacob, 1 will help thee,” Isa. xiv. 14. Are you poor and needy? There is a hook for you; ” When the poor and needy seek water, and there is none, and their tongues fail for thirst, I the Lord will hear them, I the God of Jacob will not forsake them,” Isa. xli. 17,18.—. Are you a poor blind creature, that knows not what way to go ? There is a hook;for you. Isa. xlii. 16. ” I will bring the blind by a way they- know not, I will lead them in paths that they have not known.”—Are you a piece of parched ground, like a parched wilderness? There is a hook for you, Isa. xliv. 3. ” I will pour water en him that is thirsty, arid floods upon the dry ground.”
Are you troubled that you cannot get a heart to pray? Well, there is a hook for taking you, Zech. xii. 1O- “I will pour out upon the house of David, the Spirit of Grace and supplication.” Are you unable to believe and repent? There is a hook for catching you, in the following words, “They shall look on him whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him” where both faith and repentance are promised. Are you a lost and undone creature? There is hook for you; “Jesus Christ came to seek and save that which was lost,” Luke xix; 10. Are you a plagued wretch, oppressed with the plague of atheism and unbelief, with the plague of blasphemy and enmity, saying, O! there are devilish plagues, and hellish diseases in my heart ? Well, there is a hook for you, Rev. xxii. 2. ” The leaves of the tree of life are for the healing of all nations ; and Mai. iv. 2. ” To you that fear my name, shall the sun of righteousness arise with healing under his wings.” “Oh!” but say you, “there is a conditional promise, it is to them that fear his name”. I will tell you, man, there is no conditional form put upon any promise in the Bible, to keep back a soul from applying and taking hold of the promise, but to draw it in to embrace the condition, either by taking Christ for the condition, or running to an absolute promise, where that condition is promised: for instance, are you apprehensive that you are destitute of that fear, of God ? Then there is a hook for you to swallow down, that you may be taken by it, Jer. xxxii. 40. .” I will put my fear in your hearts, that you shall not depart from me.” And thus you are to do with all the promises that seem to run in a conditional form. Let not the condition fright you from opening your mouth wide, to catch the hook of the promise; or, if still you dare not meddle with it, then run to the absolute promise, where the condition itself is promised; if you cannot find out that, then run to Christ himself in whom all fullness is, and in whom all the promises are yea and amen: having him, you will have the condition of all the promises. If you stand aback from the promise, and will not open your mouth to receive it, or if you reject it for want of this condition or qualification, you mistake the nature of the gospel, and are ignorant of the free covenant of promise. There is no evil you would have removed, no want you would have supplied, but you may get a promise for it; and if one cannot make for you (as none of them but will, if rightly understood) go to another: if one hook be too large for you to swallow down, you may get another, more meet for you: therefore, go about, and seek thy meat, and take fast hold of the promise that makes best for thee. And, O happy soul, if you be taken! For the hook will not hurt you, but only hale you to the same happy shore with all the children of promise.
Works of Ralph Erskine. The Pregnant Promise
Week after week, month after month, and year after year these who called themselves fishermen met in meetings and talked about their call to fish, the abundance of fish, and how they might go about fishing. Year after year they carefully defined what fishing means, defended fishing as an occupation, and declared that fishing is always to be a primary task of fishermen.
Continually they searched for new and better methods of fishing and for new and better definitions of fishing.
These fishermen built large, beautiful buildings called “Fishing Headquarters.” The plea was that everyone should be a fisherman and every fisherman should fish. One thing they didn’t do, however; they didn’t fish.
In addition to meeting regularly, they organized a school to send out fishermen to other places where there were many fish. All the fishermen seemed to agree that what is needed is a place which could challenge fishermen to be faithful in fishing. The school was formed by those who had the great vision and courage to speak about fishing, to define fishing, and to promote the idea of fishing in faraway streams and lakes where many other fish of different colors lived.
Some spent much study and travel to learn the history of fishing and to see faraway places where the founding fathers did great fishing in the centuries past. They lauded the faithful fishermen of years before who handed down the idea of fishing.
Further the fishermen built large printing houses to publish fishing guides. Presses were kept busy day and night to produce materials solely devoted to fishing methods, equipment, and programs to arrange and to encourage meetings or talk about fishing. A speakers’ bureau was also provided to schedule special speakers on the subject of fishing.
Imagine how hurt some were when one day a person suggested that those who didn’t catch fish were really not fishermen, no matter how much they claimed to be. Yet it did sound correct. Is a person a fisherman if year after year he never catches a fish? Is one to be considered a fisherman if he isn’t fishing?
Mar 1:17 “And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”
The Fishing Guide
Every good fisherman has, at one point or another, been the student of a better fisherman. Many today pay top dollar to be taken out by a guide, to show them the best technique and places to fish. Our Lord was the best Guide for man catching. He was saying, in essence, “Follow me, and I will teach you how to catch men for the kingdom.”
What does it meant to follow Christ in this way? Many books have been written on evangelism. The question is often asked, “How can we become better soul winners?” Some have answered, “Become a good debater”. Others have said, “Go to seminary”. Christ says, “Follow me. Come after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men.”
But reader, if we are followers, true followers of Christ, we will become what He is. He was the the greatest man catcher there was. He still is. Has His desire to catch men rubbed off on you? Spurgeon once said on this passage, “If you are saved yourself, the work is but half done until you are employed to bring others to Christ. You are as yet but half formed in the image of your Lord. You have not attained to the full development of the Christ-life in you unless you have commenced in some feeble way to tell to others of the grace of God: and I trust that you will find no rest to the sole of your foot till you have been the means of leading many to that blessed Savior who is your confidence and your hope. “
What does it meant to follow Christ here?
First, it means to be separated unto Christ.
What were Peter and Andrew, James & John to do with these words “Come after me”? They were to leave their former attachments to the world and be sanctified, set apart to the Lord. To follow Christ, first and foremost, means to “quit the world”. The disciples did this.
Mat 4:18-22 says, “And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him. And going on from thence, he saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and he called them. And they immediately left the ship and their father, and followed him.”
Our passage says the same thing,
Mar 1:16-20 Now as he walked by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. And straightway they forsook their nets, and followed him. And when he had gone a little further thence, he saw James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, who also were in the ship mending their nets. And straightway he called them: and they left their father Zebedee in the ship with the hired servants, and went after him.
If we are to follow Christ, we must be those that forsake the world. Not everyone is called to the public ministry like a pastor or missionary, but this truth is no less true for everyone who calls himself or herself a believer. This is true for us all. That if we are caught by the gospel, we will catch with the same.
The truth is, we cannot be fishers of men if we remain in the water. To fish, you must be, above the water, separate from it, though connected to it. Fish will never be fishers. The sinner will not convert the sinner. The ungodly man will not convert the ungodly man; and, what’s more to the point, the worldly Christian will not convert the world. If you are of the world, no doubt, you love the world. It means much to your heart. You see no real need to win souls, because your own soul has not been won. You see not great danger for others, because you see no great danger yourself. One reason why the church of Christ today has so small an impact in this world is because the world has so greatly impacted the church. All to often, we swim with the fishes.
But the Lord calls his people, to “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you”2 Cor 6:17.
Another meaning of these words, “come after me” is obviously to abide with Christ.
I have seen it so often. So have you. A son becomes an engineer because his father loves his craft. Some love farming, because they have been born within a house, which loves farming. Some are tradesman because their father was also a tradesman, and there was a love for it. Some of you love to fish because your father instilled in you the love for it. We often love things that people we love, love! When we abide with Christ, truly abide, we will love the things He loves. He loves, to save sinners. That was his reason for coming to this earth. To seek and to save that which was lost.
The disciples whom Christ called, came to live with Christ. They w
ere with him every day. They did not say, “O.K, Lord, see you on the Sabbath. Be well.” No, they lived with him, ate with him, walked with him, hung on his every word. To learn how to fish, they watched him fish (for men). I know of one youngster in my congregation who has watched so many men fly fish, that when he picked up the rod for the first time, he had almost perfect technique (and it is not one of my sons). It came, by observation. They fulfilled Ruth’s words to Naomi, “for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God“. They were with him in his afflictions and persecutions. In his healings and preaching, in his mighty miracles. They witnessed his secret pain; saw his many tears; marked His passion and the compassion of his soul, and so they learned Christ. If I can say it like this, they caught his love for souls, and so they learned to to love fishing for men.
And so must we. At Christ’s feet, we must learn his love for soul-winning; the art and mystery of catching souls. As Christ the Guide, the disciples learned His technique. No wonder they did so much for the kingdom of God after he departed to the Father. Yet even Peter, who spent so much time by the Lord’s side says in 2Pe 1:19 “We have also a more sure word of prophecy; whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place, until the day dawn, and the day star arise in your hearts:” That more sure word of prophesy that Peter is speaking about, is the Bible itself. And we have this more sure word with us today. And will we not win souls with this word? What will it take to be less theoretical fisherman and more fishers of men?
A third meaning can be understood by the words, “Come after me” and it is this: “Obey me, and then you shall know how be a fisher of men.”
We must not talk about our fellowship with Christ, or our being separated from the world unto him, until we make him our Master and Guide. “Come after me; Follow me”, means, “obey me”. And how short do we all fall in this way? Our Churchs become more worldly each year, we give away much of our heritage that belongs to our children and exchange it for the things of this world. “What do we give?” you ask? You know the very things. We, leave, as it were, the road with Christ, who asks us for full obediance, and say, “I part with you here good master. I will not give up all for thee. I will meet you again up the road.” And we forget the words of the great fisherman, Luk 9:23 “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.”
The Lord said to his disciples, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature: he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved;” and he promised them that great signs would follow them, and they did. If we wnat this kind of sucess in evangelism, we must get back to the old paths and the old ways: we must lay aside the commandments of men and the flighty novelties of our own hearts. Stop trying to invent new techniques, and copy Christ. We must do what Christ tells us, as Christ tells us, because Christ tells us.
To be a Church of fishermen, let us do the works of the Great Fishermen. Not the crowd inspiring features of the megachurches who broaden their tents by removing obediance and doctrine, faith and repentance. Today the cry goes up, “I am not going to preach that old gospel, that musty Puritan doctrine.” And men forget, or have never been taught of the Master Fisher, Jesus Christ.
But if we go our own way, with our own pole and bate, we will make nothing of real fishing (even if a Church id filled to the rafters). The Lord’s directions make himself our leader and example. It is, “Come after me. Preach my gospel. Preach what I preached. Teach what I taught, and keep to that.” Let us not be original, let us copy Him. Copy Christ even in the little things, as well as the big. Do this, and he will make us fishers of men; but if we do not do this, we will fish in vain, or never fish at all.
Let me close by saying this; we will never be fishers of men unless we follow Christ in one other way and that is to imitate his holiness. Purists are always the most inspiring of all fisherman. Likewise, holiness is the most real power that can be possessed by pure fishers. We may preach orthodoxy, but we must also live orthodoxy. God forbid that we should preach anything else; but it will be all in vain, unless there is a life of holiness to back it up.
Real power lies in these words, “Come after me.” Be Jesus-like. In all things endeavour to think, and speak, and act as Jesus did, and he will make you and I fishers of men. This will require self-denial. We must daily take up the cross. This may require willingness to give up our reputation, friends, even family; a readiness to be thought fools, as men always call those who are keeping close to their Master. Fanatics! Oh, may we be so blessed by the world calling us such as we cast our lines.
To be continued…
 Adapted from John M. Drescher’s article.
The Merger of Calvinism with Worldliness
from Sword & Trowel 2009, No. 1 by Dr Peter Masters
When I was a youngster and newly saved, it seemed as if the chief goal of all zealous Christians, whether Calvinistic or Arminian, was consecration. Sermons, books and conferences stressed this in the spirit of Romans 12.1-2, where the beseeching apostle calls believers to present their bodies a living sacrifice, and not to be conformed to this world. The heart was challenged and stirred. Christ was to be Lord of one’s life, and self must be surrendered on the altar of service for him.
But now, it appears, there is a new Calvinism, with new Calvinists, which has swept the old objectives aside. A recent book, Young, Restless, Reformed, by Collin Hansen tells the story of how a so-called Calvinistic resurgence has captured the imaginations of thousands of young people in the USA, and this book has been reviewed with great enthusiasm in well-known magazines in the UK, such as Banner of Truth, Evangelical Times, and Reformation Today.
This writer, however, was very deeply saddened to read it, because it describes a seriously distorted Calvinism falling far, far short of an authentic life of obedience to a sovereign God. If this kind of Calvinism prospers, then genuine biblical piety will be under attack as never before.
The author of the book is a young man (around 26 when he wrote it) who grew up in a Christian family and trained in secular journalism. We are indebted to him for the readable and wide-reaching survey he gives of this new phenomenon, but the scene is certainly not a happy one.
The author begins by describing the Passion, conference at Atlanta in 2007, where 21,000 young people revelled in contemporary music, and listened to speakers such as John Piper proclaiming Calvinistic sentiments. And this picture is repeated many times through the book – large conferences being described at which the syncretism of worldly, sensation-stirring, high-decibel, rhythmic music, is mixed with Calvinistic doctrine.
We are told of thunderous music, thousands of raised hands, ‘Christian’ hip-hop and rap lyrics (the examples seeming inept and awkward in construction) uniting the doctrines of grace with the immoral drug-induced musical forms of worldly culture.
Collin Hansen contends that American Calvinism collapsed at the end of the nineteenth century and was maintained by only a handful of people until this great youth revival, but his historical scenario is, frankly, preposterous. As one who regularly visited American seminaries to speak from the early 1970s, I constantly met many preachers and students who loved the doctrines of grace, preaching also in churches of solid Calvinistic persuasion. But firmer evidence of the extensive presence of Calvinism is seen from the fact that very large firms of publishers sent out a stream of reformed literature post-war and through the 1980s. The mighty Eerdmans was solidly reformed in times past, not to mention Baker Book House, and Kregel and others. Where did all these books go – thousands upon thousands of them, including frequently reprinted sets of Calvin’s commentaries and a host of other classic works?
In the 1970s and 80s there were also smaller Calvinistic publishers in the USA, and at that time the phenomenon of Calvinistic discount Christian bookshops began, with bulging catalogue lists and a considerable following. The claim that Calvinism virtually disappeared is hopelessly mistaken.
Indeed, a far better quality Calvinism still flourishes in very many churches, where souls are won and lives sanctified, and where Truth and practice are both under the rule of Scripture. Such churches have no sympathy at all with reporter Collin Hansen’s worldly-worship variety, who seek to build churches using exactly the same entertainment methods as most charismatics and the Arminian Calvary Chapel movement.
The new Calvinists constantly extol the Puritans, but they do not want to worship or live as they did. One of the vaunted new conferences is called Resolved, after Jonathan Edwards’ famous youthful Resolutions (seventy searching undertakings). But the culture of this conference would unquestionably have met with the outright condemnation of that great theologian.
Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthur’s pastoral staff, gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere. At the same time they reflect on predestination and election. Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, showbusiness atmosphere created by the organisers.)
In times of disobedience the Jews of old syncretised by going to the Temple or the synagogue on the sabbath, and to idol temples on weekdays, but the new Calvinism has found a way of uniting spiritually incompatible things at the same time, in the same meeting.
C J Mahaney is a preacher highly applauded in this book. Charismatic in belief and practice, he appears to be wholly accepted by the other big names who feature at the ‘new Calvinist’ conferences, such as John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler. Evidently an extremely personable, friendly man, C J Mahaney is the founder of a group of churches blending Calvinism with charismatic ideas, and is reputed to have influenced many Calvinists to throw aside cessationist views.
It was a protégé of this preacher named Joshua Harris who started the New Attitude conference for young people. We learn that when a secular rapper named Curtis Allen was converted, his new-born Christian instinct led him to give up his past life and his singing style. But Pastor Joshua Harris evidently persuaded him not to, so that he could sing for the Lord. New Calvinists do not hesitate to override the instinctual Christian conscience, counselling people to become friends of the world.
One of the mega-churches admired in the book is the six-thousand strong Mars Hill Church at Seattle, founded and pastored by Mark Driscoll, who blends emerging church ideas (that Christians should utilise worldly culture) with Calvinistic theology [see endnote 1].
This preacher is also much admired by some reformed men in the UK, but his church has been described (by a sympathiser) as having the most ear-splitting music of any, and he has been rebuked by other preachers for the use of very ‘edgy’ language and gravely improper humour (even on television). He is to be seen in videos preaching in a Jesus teeshirt, symbolising the new compromise with culture, while at the same time propounding Calvinistic teaching. So much for the embracing of Puritan doctrine divested of Puritan lifestyle and worship.
Most of the well-known preachers who promote and encourage this ‘revival’ of Calvinism have in common the following positions that contradict a genuine Calvinistic (or Puritan) outlook:
1. They have no problem with contemporary charismatic-ethos worship, including extreme, heavy-metal forms.
2. They are soft on separation from worldliness [see endnote 2].
3. They reject the concern for the personal guidance of God in the major decisions of Christians (tru
e sovereignty), thereby striking a death-blow to wholehearted consecration.
4. They hold anti-fourth-commandment views, taking a low view of the Lord’s Day, and so inflicting another blow at a consecrated lifestyle.
Whatever their strengths and achievements (and some of them are brilliant men by any human standard), or whatever their theoretical Calvinism, the poor stand of these preachers on these crucial issues will only encourage a fatally flawed version of Calvinism that will lead people to be increasingly wedded to the world, and to a self-seeking lifestyle.
Truly proclaimed, the sovereignty of God must include consecration, reverence, sincere obedience to his will, and separation from the world.
You cannot have Puritan soteriology without Puritan sanctification. You should not entice people to Calvinistic (or any) preaching by using worldly bait. We hope that young people in this movement will grasp the implications of the doctrines better than their teachers, and come away from the compromises. But there is a looming disaster in promoting this new form of Calvinism.
Why do some British Christians who hold the doctrines of grace give enthusiastic reviews to a book like this? There have been times in the past when large numbers of young people have suddenly become intellectually enthusiastic about solid Christian doctrine, only to abandon it almost as quickly. One thinks of the tremendous response the unique oratory of Francis Schaeffer secured on university campuses in the 1960s, and no doubt some young people were truly saved and established, but very many more turned aside. Gripped by the superiority of a biblical worldview, they momentarily despised the illogical, flaccid ideas of this world, but the impression in numerous cases was natural rather than spiritual. The present new, heady Calvinism, shorn of practical obedience will certainly prove to be ephemeral, leaving the cause compromised and scarred.
Has this form of Calvinism come to Britain yet? Alas, yes; one only has to look at the ‘blogs’ of some younger reformed pastors who put themselves forward as mentors and advisers of others. When you look at their ‘favourite films’, and ‘favourite music’ you find them unashamedly naming the leading groups, tracks and entertainment of debased culture, and it is clear that the world is still in their hearts. Years ago, such brethren would not have been baptised until they were clear of the world, but now you can go to seminary, no questions asked, and take up a pastorate, with unfought and unsurrendered idols in the throne room of your life. What hope is there for churches that have under-shepherds whose loyalties are so divided and distorted?
Aside from pastors, we know some ‘new’ young Calvinists who will never settle in a dedicated, working church, because their views live only in their heads and not their hearts. We know of some whose lives are not clean. We know of others who go clubbing. The greater their doctrinal prowess, the greater their hypocrisy.
These are harsh words, but they lead me to say that where biblical, evangelical Calvinism shapes conduct, and especially worship, it is a very humbling, beautiful system of Truth, but where it is confined to the head, it inflates pride and self-determination.
The new Calvinism is not a resurgence but an entirely novel formula which strips the doctrine of its historic practice, and unites it with the world.
Why have the leading preachers servicing this movement compromised so readily? They have not been threatened by a Soviet regime. No one has held a gun to their heads. This is a shameful capitulation, and we must earnestly pray that what they have encouraged will not take over Calvinism and ruin a generation of reachable Christian young people.
A final sad spectacle reported with enthusiasm in the book is the Together for the Gospel conference, running from 2006. A more adult affair convened by respected Calvinists, this nevertheless brings together cessationists and non-cessationists, traditional and contemporary worship exponents, and while maintaining sound preaching, it conditions all who attend to relax on these controversial matters, and learn to accept every point of view. In other words, the ministry of warning is killed off, so that every -error of the new scene may race ahead unchecked. These are tragic days for authentic spiritual faithfulness, worship and piety.
True Calvinism and worldliness are opposites. Preparation of heart is needed if we would search the wonders and plumb the depths of sovereign grace. We find it in the challenging, convicting call of Joshua:
‘Now therefore fear the Lord, and serve him in sincerity and in truth: and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the flood, and in Egypt; and serve ye the Lord. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom ye will serve; whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the flood, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land ye dwell: but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.’
1 His resolution of the question of divine sovereignty versus human free will, however, is much nearer to the Arminian view.
2 A recent book entitled Worldliness: Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World by C J Mahaney and others, hopelessly under-equips young believers for separation from the world, especially in the area of music, where, apparently, the Lord loves every genre, and acceptability is reduced to two misleading and subjective questions.