The New Calvinists



Scott McKnight, over on Beliefnet has an interesting perspective on the current popularity of Calvinism,  as found in the Reformed Church. It is presented in two parts.  Here are a few excerpts:

The evangelical tent is big enough to welcome to the table Calvinists and Arminians, anabaptists and charismatics, and I love it when Catholics and the Orthodox join us. This is not a personal battle for me with Calvinists; it’s a particular kind of divisive Calvinist that I have in view.

The NeoReformed movement of which I speak is an attempt to capture evangelicalism, redefine it by some clearly-defined doctrines that are Reformed, and kick the rest of us — and there are lots more “of us” than the NeoReformed — off the village green

…The NeoReformed, for a variety of reasons, some of them good, don’t recognize that evangelicalism as a village green. Instead, they want to build a gate at the gate-less village green and require Reformed confessions and credentials to enter onto the village green. Put differently, they think the only legitimate and the only faithful evangelicals are Reformed. Really Reformed. In other words, they are “confessing” evangelicals. The only true evangelical is a Reformed evangelical. They are more than happy to call into question the legitimacy and fidelity of any evangelical who doesn’t believe in classic Reformed doctrines, like double predestination. The palpable observation here is that many of us think the NeoReformed are as attached to Tradition (read Westminster etc) as they are to sola scriptura.

In effect, the NeoReformed are a new form of Fundamentalism, so one might describe them accurately as the NeoFundamentalists. Which means they seem to need a trend or an opponent upon whom they can vent their frustrations (see Rene Girard). This results in two clear traits: the exaltation of some peripheral doctrine to central status and the demonization of a person. The goal in such cases seems to be to win at all costs.

…Furthermore, the NeoReformed have come to equate the meaning of “gospel” with Calvin’s “Reformed theology.” And those who aren’t Reformed are somehow or in some ways denying the gospel itself. When gospel is equated with double predestination, often said in harsh terms, we are seeing a good example of the spirit of a NeoReformed approach. This leads, inevitably,  to seeing what they call the “doctrines of grace” as defining both “gospel” and “evangelical.”

….And here’s another issue: the NeoReformed are deeply concerned with complementarianism and see it as a test case of fidelity. Fine, argue your points, but complementarianism is hardly the center of orthodoxy. You wouldn’t know that by the way they write or talk. Some see it as the litmus test of evangelical orthodoxy these days. This grieves me. Don’t we have more significant battles to wage?

….If I had to sum it up I’d put it this way: the NeoReformed are those who are obsessed with God’s holiness and grace and have not learned that grace makes people gracious. These folks are America’s newest religious zealots and they are wounding, perhaps for a generation or two, evangelicalism.

My brothers and sisters, because God in his mercy has made room for all of us at the cross, there’s room enough for all of us on the village green. Grace would make it so. We might not be able to agree on theology or in some of the finer points of our confessions, but the village green — evangelicalism — is covered by a big tent, and there’s room for all of us who call ourselves evangelicals.

What are options? I keep asking myself. Welcome one another in a common mission or send those we don’t agree with to another location?

Make your decision. Our decision, friends, will shape the future of American evangelicalism. I pray to God we will find a way to focus on the mission of God. – Scott McKnight


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  1. #1 by darla on February 21, 2009 - 10:16 pm

    oooo oooo do you think i could watch? just asking…

  2. #2 by Amanda on February 24, 2009 - 10:43 pm

    Any room for Universalists under that tent? 8D

  3. #3 by Christian Beyer on February 27, 2009 - 1:06 pm

    Hm. That’s a good question, Amanda. If not, I think there should be.

  4. #4 by b4dguy on March 6, 2009 - 5:50 pm

    This is a very helpful discussion about “those” people. I’m glad others are noticing the same issues with them that we have experienced.

    I suppose Universalists, strictly speaking, would reject the notion of a tent altogether – we’re all under one big happy tent. They would think it’s silly to go under a tent in the first place.

  5. #5 by Christian Beyer on March 7, 2009 - 1:35 am

    There is some merit to that, methinks.

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