Wednesday, October 28, 2015

The Threat of the New Calvinism

Austin Fischer's book, Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed, introduced me to the "new Calvinism." Fischer recounts his early acceptance of Calvinism and traces his growing understanding of the movement's false teaching. For him it got to the point where he could no longer accept the concept of a loving God who created billions of human beings only to condemn them to hell in order to add to his glory.

New Calvinism first gained notice through Collin Hansen's article in Christianity Today concerning a resurgence of Reformed doctrine in evangelical circles. New Calvinism, for the most part, emphasizes John Calvin's five major points of doctrine which the Synod of Dordt created to counter Jacob Arminius's teaching. Most theologians and historians express these doctrines in the famous TULIP acrostic:

T - Total Hereditary Depravity (THD)
U - Unconditional Election to Salvation
L - Limited Atonement (Christ died only for the elect)
I - Irresistible Grace (The elect cannot resist the "effectual" call to salvation")
P - Perseverance or Preservation of the Saints

Several well-known authors currently contribute to revitalized Reformation theology. Dr. John Piper leads the way as Calvinism's chief spokesman. Written in a contemporary popular style his book, Desiring God, has influenced thousands of new readers. Presbyterian preacher Dr. Tim Keller adds another dimension to the new Calvinism. Keller quietly adds to Calvinism a Marxist bent in an effort to make Christianity's Reformed version socially relevant. Rounding out popular authors is Mark Driscoll, pastor of Seattle's Mars Hill Church. R.C. Sproul, Paul Heim along with Thomas Schreiner and Bruce Ware present the new Calvinism from a more academic perspective. A number of well done videos on You Tube present the thinking of these men as they wrestle with the meaning and implications of their positions.

The new Calvinism impacts a number of current evangelical denominations including the Southern Baptists. Schreiner and Ware are popular professors at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Reformed doctrine divides Southern Baptist Churches to the point the issue rose to the floor at SBC conventions. Other denominations experience similar results as these teachings begin to infiltrate evangelical churches. Although the evidence is anecdotal, I've read that Reformed teaching is even making its way into churches traditionally Wesleyan or Arminian. Younger Baptist associate ministers often find themselves at odds with their churches as their Calvinism challenges the older senior ministers or the church's traditional doctrinal positions. 

On occasion the new Calvinism creeps into a church in the guise of a "missional" philosophy of ministry. New Calvinist writers, particularly Keller and Driscoll, contrast the "missional" approach to an older supposedly "isolationist" or "attractional" approach. Less observant, historically illiterate, and younger ministers do not recognize the social gospel aspects of the "missional" approach. The "missional" approach to ministry calls for greater interaction with the world, a call for social justice, and the use of contemporary forms to communicate their brand of the gospel. While some of this is valuable and good, the relationship of the "missional" approach to Marxism is missed.

Many students of the Restoration Movement have long been concerned with the encroachment of evangelicalism. I trace some of this in my book, A History of the American Restoration Movement. John Greenlee, the minister of West Side Christian Church in Wichita, Kansas, drew attention to a growing acceptance of evangelicalism's salvation before baptism doctrine in the early 1980s. David Filbeck wrote a Christian Standard article on a coming controversy over baptism in 1981. The typical evangelical denial of baptism for the remission of sins became increasingly popular as increasingly Christian Churches and Churches of Christ became more evangelical. Some leaders praised it as the fulfillment of the concept of "sinking into union with the church at large" found in the Last Will and Testament of the Springfield Presbytery.

Evangelicalism is one concern to be sure, but I never dreamed Calvinism would become acceptable in the Restoration Movement. Granted, many well meaning Christians used Calvinistic language as a result of reading popular Christian books, listening to radio and television evangelists, or absorbing it from the popular media but they generally rejected predestination, election, the "effectual" call, and eternal security.

It is, however, a short step from evangelicalism to Calvinism. I discovered, to my surprise, how the new Reformed thinking insinuated itself into more conservative churches and schools in the Restoration Movement. Dr. David Lawrence, a semi-retired professor at David Lipscomb University, all but bragged that he and the leaders of a non-instrumental congregation in the Nashville area adopted Reformed theology. While their doctrinal position created tension within the non-instrumental churches in the area, the Reformed Church of Christ was not disfellowshiped. Lawrence, an advocate of Reformed thinking, continues teaching at Lipscomb. I have to add, however, that the tensions came to a head when the Reformed church got a new preacher and rejected Reformed thinking. A number of members left or were asked to leave the church. The Lawrence family currently attends a Presbyterian Church in the Nashville area. 

Community Christian Church in Apache Junction, Arizona, announced its intended shift to a Reformed theology in the latter quarter of 2014. In January 2015, Community Christian Church became Reformation Bible Church. All ties with the Restoration Movement were broken and the church is lost to New Testament Christianity. 

While these two incidents seem isolated, I predict more congregations and leaders will adopt Reformation thinking in the future. As Reformed thinking becomes more widespread in the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ division and tension will arise and create more tension than the typical controversy over evangelical soteriology. 

Do not make the mistake of confusing New Calvinism with evangelicalism. The New Calvinist's do not identify with  the "old evangelicals." The fact is, new Calvinism is not just evangelicalism on steroids. New Calvinists see themselves as quite distinct and far superior to old Reformation thinking. 

It is advisable for preachers, teachers, and leaders in the Christian Churches and Churches of Christ to familiarize themselves with Calvinistic false doctrine. Visit Dr. Jack Cottrell's blog and check out his 13 articles on grace. Locate and read Why I Am Not a Calvinist by Dr. Jerry Walls. Check out Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed by Austin Fischer. Make sure you know where you stand because the old adage is still true, "If you won't stand for something, you'll fall for anything!"

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