Thursday, June 18, 2009

Worldly new Calvinists?

You might have thought that the resurgence of Calvinism in the States, associated with the ministry of men like John Piper, John MacArthur and Al Mohler would be the cause of joy and gladness in the Old Country. Apparently not, at least for Peter Masters, pastor of the Metropolitan Tabernacle, who accuses the "new Calvinists" of "worldliness". His first missive on the subject can be found here. News of this magisterial rant has crossed the Pond. Needless to say, some of our American friends are none too impressed with the article. Dan Phillips, recently interviewed here puts up a good fight. His post includes links to some more helpful blogs on the subject. I won't be weighing in on this one just yet, as I'm only a couple of chapters into the book that provoke Masters' ire, Young, Restless, Reformed by Colin Hansen. Suffice to say that not all UK Calvinists are so dismissive of the renewed interest in Reformed doctrine in the USA. Some of us are quite pleased about it, grateful to God, even.
Reading Masters' rather judgemental polemic put me in mind of a "more excellent way" shown by the Puritan, Thomas Goodwin,
“As for my part, this I say, and I say it with much integrity, I never yet
took up party religion in the lump. For I have found by a long trial of
such matters that there is some truth on all sides. I have found Gospel
holiness where you would little think it to be, and so likewise truth. And
I have learned this principle, which I hope I shall never lay down till I
am swallowed up of immortality, and that is, to acknowledge every truth
and every goodness wherever I find it.”
(Cited in Evangelical Spirituality, James M. Gordon, SPCK, p. 8)
Iain D. Campbell on Calvinism and Worldliness at Ref 21.


Anonymous said...

I'm coming out of blog-retirement just to make an observation - that elephant looks pinker than I remember it!

Unknown said...

Excellent post, and very nice observation from Thomas Goodwin.

In the light (and spirit) of Goodwin's observation, would you please reconsider your statement in the ESV Study Bible post ( - "I don't like reading the Bible in stupidised Americeen 'English'"?

Of course anyone would prefer their own language and spellings. But that comment seems a bit extreme and has stuck with me for quite some time.

Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoy your blog!

Gary Benfold said...

Ah, but mr Elwood - English IS our language... Mind you, if he really did say 'stupidised'... I can only plead that he's Welsh.

Jonathan Hunt said...

The elephant has been repainted. Part of the regeneration of the area.

That is all I have to say. In public.

(Weird word verification: tabur-(nacle?) )

Guy Davies said...


Sorry if the "stupidised" comments grieved you. It was meant in jest. One of the limitations of cyberspace it that it doesn't always convey that kind of thing too well.

Jon said...

Thanks for this post Guy - it really winds my chain the way that Calvin is used within evangelical circles. I know that I have often been critical of evangelicalism in the past (often without good reason I admit!) but now my question is 'Why this desire to label ourselves Calvinist (new or whatever)?'

It's a serious question (at least one that I mean to be taken seriously!) - I've glanced through the comments and some of the posts - there seems to be some odd lines of argumentation.

In the Peter Masters' piece (which, for the record, is quite simply ridiculous - I just cannot take someone seriously who can say "If this kind of Calvinism prospers, then genuine biblical piety will be under attack as never before") there seems to be a confusion between what theology attempts to do (that is, explore the word of God) and that towards which it is directed (that is, the word of God itself). Now it may well be that someone might want to describe their theology as Calvinist (I have no problems with this) - it is the confusion between the message itself and the source of this message (the word of God) - Christian theology can never pretend to be more than it is - a human attempt to discourse about the word that God has given to us. Whenever the distinction blurs you end up with some diminished view of scripture, of God, of Trinitarian relations and procession, of Christology, etc., whereby the biblical narrative is distilled down to a set of loci and disputationes (which Richard Muller uses to term the Institutes methodologically) and this is precisely contra Calvin's own purpose for theology. Calvin is dedicated to biblical commentary development, the Institutes are simply a handbook to make sense of certain sections of the biblical commentaries (whereas someone like Melancthon or Bucer might include theological discourse within the commentary, Calvin placed his discourse in a separate volume - the Institutes). In this sense, my long-winded argument is this: by equating Calvin's theology with the biblical 'truth', however it is understood, is simply to miss the fantastic innovation of Calvin's work - he wants to distance his own theological opinions from the biblical narrative. Thus, the main problem with the New Calvinists is their understanding of worship style (for PM) - I cannot understand this type of ad hominem attack on the New Calvinists - the problem here is not with the Calvinism of the New Calvinists but with the biblical interpretation of the charismatics (from what I can see) - therefore, the whole exercise is fruitless, why whinge about New Calvinists - just write the same old polemics against charismaticism. The only way around such an argument is to then equate Calvinism with scripture i.e. divine truth, something that would cause Calvin to turn in his grave. Effectively, PM is saying "Just because these guys label themselves as Calvinists, does not mean they are biblical." It's a pointless line of attack because it doesn't engage theologically or scripturally with the New Calvinists.

I've rambled and ranted - the point is, using Calvin as a shibboleth for 'truth' is not theologically useful - in this way, Calvin is adopted by various people (whose interpretation of Calvin starts to look suspiciously like the interpreter - and this occurs on both sides of the divide - just read Piper's book on Calvin, where Calvin begins to look like a mirror-image of Piper!) and simply bandied around as some sort of theological trump card which wins any argument.

Calvin should not be read into our present day petty arguments but should be listened to so as to learn from him.

Sorry for sounding pompous as usual - I seriously think that evangelicalism has to think carefully how exactly it is related to Calvin rather than simply taking him out of context as a theological given - only then will Calvin be properly appreciated and then Calvin may seem more surprising than we remember!

Guy Davies said...

Wow! That was some comment Jon.

How many latter-day "Calvinists" worship exactly as Calvin did in Geneva? Not many I would think.

You are right to say that Calvinism cannot simply be equated with biblical truth. The tradition is at best a faithful expression of biblical Christianity.

I second your point on Piper. I haven't read him on Calvin. But he managed to turn Wilberforce into a proto-Christian hedonist.

Jon said...

Ha! Thanks for trimming down my waffle into a succinct portion - very well done. Sorry - it's late and I'm suffering from some form of man (or as I like to think, swine) flu! I waffled and my grammar was appalling (and even my argument falls down a bit in places) - there but for the grace of God go I.

I agree - would I describe myself as Calvinist? Probably not - but I love Calvin and probably agree with him more than many other theologians - I suppose the commitment is to the word of God and, as Calvin supports that, he is therefore beneficial!

David Reimer said...

EP wrote: "How many latter-day 'Calvinists' worship exactly as Calvin did in Geneva? Not many I would think."

I expect you're right! Commenting on the harmonized Psalter by the Genevan music teacher Louis Bourgeois (which included the "Old Hundredth"), T.H.L. Parker writes: "Later came friction between the composer and Calvin who disliked harmony in congregational singing, no doubt as detracting from simplicity: 'All that is needed in the praise of God is a pure and simple modulation of the voice.' Bourgeois' harmonized Psalter had therefore to be printed in Lyon instead of Geneva." (John Calvin: A Biography [Lion reprint, 2006], p. 115)

From my limited reading on this, it seems Masters has captured something of Calvin's spirit. Whether that is in fact a good thing is a different question!

deekdubberly said...

Interview with Peter Masters - Article on New Calvinism

Augustinian Successor said...

Amusing as it is ... the point Dr. Masters was making concerns the perceived 'antinomianism' in the new Calvinistic circles.

But that's precisely the problem ... the successors of the Puritans have now swung to the other end of the pendulum, from legalism that is. How ironic that Goodwin was quoted. The Puritans would have been appalled at the *worldliness* of the new Calvinists.

From a confessional Reformation, particularly Lutheranes-que, it's not all surprising given that antinomianism is just the reverse of legalism.

Augustinian Successor said...

Put it this way, the modern-day successors of the Puritans are inconsistent in their Puritanism. The tracing of the lineage is there via ecclesiology, piety and theology, but alas the *worldview* leaves much to be desired ...

Of course I am speaking from personal experience, having spent a good many years in the UK in (a)conservative evangelical church(es).

In the end, Dr. Masters is just being consistent and faithful to his heritage and calling as a Puritan minister.

Now to go for the jugular ... the problem with Puritanism is its view of the sanctification. Sanctification is seen as process. And therefore it is the 'real deal' or 'seal' if I may put it. Justification is just the first step in life-time's pursuit of personal holiness. Now with that kind of thinking, (non-mediated)*experience* is what matters, something Prof. Clark has already discussed in the interview conducted on Christian bloggers. Coupled this with say, the neo-Calvinistic conception of the sovereignty of God in all things.

Augustinian Successor said...

This is how, for example, the new Calvinists can 'whitewash' Hollywood (though unitentionally at times) so that out of say, Terminator Salvation, one can write a discourse about the destructive ends of technology and show its relevance for the church. Hollywood is anti-Christian (as in biblical Christianity) to its core ... it's NOT neutral ... but that it doesn't matter ... the new Calvinist does not 'feel' that way ... if he feels even sanctified by Hollywood in some ways, it's OK. Besides, the intention is good, it's to bring Hollywood under the sovereignty of God too.

RELEVANCE ... that's what new Calvinism is all about ... about being Calvinist *and* cool at the same time.

For the Gospel, it is the world which is irrelevant. The Gospel is the antithesis of this world, here and now. It is ALIEN.

Augustinian Successor said...

Now for some dose of down to earth reality ... watching movies is something which the Old Adam enjoys. Leave at that ... entertainment. Watching movies only serves to express our pre-existing solidarity with the rest of the human race. But Hollywood does not in anyway help the Christian serve his neighbour. Movies do not crucify the flesh, nor do they raised up the New Adam. Movies have nothing to do with the Gospel, but everything to do with the Law limited to this world.

So, yes, the Christian watch movies, occasionally hopefully that is in reference to the cinemas but he should not pretend he is out to 'sanctify' them!

Funny too, that the descendants of the Puritans would rant against say, the Book of Sport and Laudianism but in the same breath watch F1 and rugby on a Sunday. Theological schizophrenia? Bizarre, truly bizarre.

The holier-than-thou attitude of the parents have been replaced by the COOLER-than-thou attitude of the present-day generation ...

Well, the pendulum have swung to the other side ...

Augustinian Successor said...

Surreal, actually ...

There is THE requirement to profess and evince faith before one can be baptised in today's new Calvinistic circle, consistent with their heavily Baptistic ecclesiology. As such the standards are higher than in paedo-baptistic circle, at least But it's OK in the Lutheran and Anglican tradition. But it's OK for the teens to be involved in salacious plays at schools, be enthralled by worldy *romantic* themes in the 'Titanic.'

I most cases, the holier-than-thou attitude of the parents co-exist with the COOLER-than-thou attitude of the present-day generation - parent and children ...

I have this strong suspicion that despite disagreements on a lot of things, Dr. Master's attitude towards the new Calvinists would inevitably reflect that of the Reformers and CONFESSIONAL Protestantism .......

Augustinian Successor said...

There is also the misunderstanding of the Christian concept of 'freedom.' It's what I believe Dr. Masters would also had in mind - the abuse of Christian freedom no different than the Charismatics. Funny though, many of the new Calvinists are also Charismatics - Reformed Charismaticism.

Charismatic worship, Charismatic lifestyle. Charismatic piety ... talking about sanctification, about personal holiness, about this or that is regarded as sanctification itself, part of the process ... so the new Calvinist by his own account has succeeded in sanctifying Hollywood simply by talking about the relevance and application of themes.

Sanctification is a process ... he knows that, but he is after all saved by grace ... and as such he can always *fall back* to justification. No big deal. So, worldliness??? that doesn't register at all ...

And then here in the UK, especially, the new Calvinist can always set his eyes towards ... REVIVAL ... the cure all and end all ... when that comes, he'll feel even more super-spiritual. But as yet, things are still somewhat sluggish ...