There have been many write ups on the so-called “New Calvinism” sweeping through the evangelical landscape, and much attention has been paid to highly organized leadership behind it. It seems that what Emergent Village was trying to accomplish through networking and organizing with other like-minded leaders and ministries through blogs, books, and websites, the New Calvinists did with much more success. The reasons Emergent failed to gain the kind of traction and influence within Christian thought comparable to that of the New Calvinism include their strong antipathy towards hierarchy, a lack of funding, and few unifying qualities between its leaders. The New Calvinism, on the other hand, utilized a number of influential ministries whose infrastructure was already in place and whose leaders were more than willing to work with one another. Their agreement on certain truths has produced a unity much envied by others who seek to challenge and shape the arid landscape of evangelical Christianity.
Who are the leaders and the ministries of the New Calvinism? If you asked a group of New Calvinists you might get slightly different lists, but here is one that most might agree see as representing a broad appeal:
John Piper of Desiring God Ministries
Albert Mohler of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary
Mark Dever of 9Marks Ministries
John MacAurthur of Grace Community Church
RC Sproul of Ligonier Ministries
CJ Mahaney of Sovereign Grace Ministries
Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church and Acts 29 Ministries
Ligon Duncan of First Presbyterian Church—Jackson, MI
Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian
Phillip Ryken of Wheaton College and Tenth Presbyterian of Philadelphia
Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary, CA and the White Horse Inn
DA Carson of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School
Other names could be added and perhaps one or two subtracted, but these are names that almost every New Calvinist is familiar with to one degree or another. And what an impressive list it is! The years of ministry experience are legion and the effectiveness of their ministry has been felt by many. Despite the differences they might have with one another the overriding concern is for a high view of Scripture that contains the message of the gospel they faithfully try to preach. It is no wonder such a strong and influential movement has arisen on their shoulders.
But this can present some problems too. While the followers of these leaders and ministries can and do experience unity from the broad agreement they share with one another, they can also experience a dreadful kind of disunity when one of the leaders does something that seems questionable on some less weighty matter. There have been ongoing discussions about the place of mercy ministries that come alongside the poor or disabled and where they fit in with the priorities of teaching and evangelizing. There have been many discussions about the limits of “contextualizing” one’s message to one’s audience and what degree of propriety should be used when speaking from the pulpit. And now it seems there is quite a serious problem when you might invite someone to speak at a conference that doesn’t have bona fide New Calvinist credentials.
John Piper’s decision to invite Rick Warren to speak at this years Desiring God conference is truly remarkable. The divergence between the two pastors is significant in style and substance, but according to Piper’s explanation there seems to be a similar heartbeat for the glory of God underlying both of their approaches to ministry. It seems Piper’s intention is to explore this divergence at his conference and see how such a similar starting point could lead to such different directions. It should be all very interesting… unless of course you think Warren is a heretic.
The outrage at Piper for inviting Warren by some New Calvinists is astonishing considering the fact that part of the Reformed resurgence is built on the fact that it is the plain preaching of Scripture that creates disciples, not fancy eloquence that rest on the personality or even the wisdom of the speaker. No matter how inadequate a preacher may be, the Spirit is what makes the message hearable to the hearers. Yet, looking over some of the comments on New Calvinist blogs there is much appeal to their leaders to publicly rebuke Piper or expose Warren or to call for some sort purification through separation. Each personality becomes a rallying point for their hopes of some kind of censure against Warren or Piper. The jealousy for these men’s reputations cannot be missed.
All this serves as evidence to show that the New Calvinism is infected with the some of the same problems that beleaguered the church of Corinth where reverence for human leaders lead to a factious spirit that utterly missed the person and work of Christ and his intentions for his body. Paul plainly rebukes this mentality as idolatrous. The growth we experience comes from God and the instruments he uses to accomplish this are “nothing.” One whose faith rests on the wisdom of a human teacher is as pathetic as the one who builds his house on the sand. Worldly and immature are those who are jealous for the reputation of their teachers and see their spiritual identities formed by their ministry, says Paul. It is of course not wrong to hold certain teachers in high regard. It is a good thing. But as one of the New Calvinist pastors has said, “When a good thing becomes a God thing, it’s a bad thing.”
There is a lesson to be learned here for the larger body of Christ. When we build the church on personalities and leaders we are not building on Christ. Just like how Emergent Village taught us (among many other things) not to despise and reject hierarchy within our ecclesiology the New Calvinists can teach us that it is Christ and his gospel that truly builds the church—not the fancies and prowess of talented leaders. However, unlike Emergent, the New Calvinism has the self-correcting resources to right the ship and we should all pray that it does.