by Rick Philips
I earlier wrote a couple of posts on the attitude that Old Calvinist types like me should take towards the New Calvinism movement.
The first post argued that Old Calvinists should be generally grateful for the New Calvinism, while the second post argued that Old Calvinists should resist jumping on the New Calvinist bandwagon.
Today I want to point out that while Old School observers will have a number of reservations about the newer movement, we should be willing to learn from it as well, receiving all the benefit that God seems to intend for the faithful Old Calvinists dogs who still need to learn a few new tricks. I would suggest at least three ways in which Old Calvinists should be willing to benefit positively from the interests, examples, and criticisms of the New.
First, the New Calvinism can show Old Calvinists some topics to which we have given too little attention and emphasis.
An example can be seen in the John Piper address given at Westminster Seminary. In my view, his most valuable remarks came toward the end when Piper noted the ecclesiological implications of Reformed soteriology. Piper rightly stated that “racial and ethnic diversity is not overly addressed in our churches and is central to the aim of the blood work of Christ in ransoming a people for God and a bride for himself.” He pointed out that the Reformed doctrine of total depravity ought to eradicate all racist thinking, since we see ourselves humbly united in the condemnation of sin and our great need of grace. Likewise, he points out that unconditional election severs the very root of racism, since it is free grace and not any human distinction that grounds our salvation. I give this as a potent example of how New Calvinists are saying things that are good, true, and important, and which Old Calvinism has relatively neglected.
Second, Old Calvinists should carefully note the aggressive use of new media forms in order to spread their message of God’s saving grace.
To be sure, we should be discerning about these media to ensure that they are used in a manner that is biblically wise. I have already mentioned the video church phenomenon as one that should be avoided. But Old School folks would do well to imitate the wide use of video for the purpose of general communications, including video round table discussions, video recordings of sermons (not to replace the live version), and video podcasts. The principle New Calvinist medium has been the blog, which Old Calvinists are almost universally imitating. We should note as well the ascetic quality and production values common to New Calvinism, whereas Old Calvinist ventures tend to look like an AARP newsletter. New Calvinists are also pioneering web publishing, which enables writers to disseminate more dense materials in a rapid and inexpensive manner. When it comes to the use of new media, the general approach of Old Calvinists should be grateful and admiring imitation seasoned with a biblically critical eye.
Third, Old Calvinists can benefit from New Calvinist critiques of us, even when we disagree with them.
I would point to Tim Keller’s criticism, in his book Center Church, of the Old School emphasis on faithfulness in ministry. Keller argues that we must not settle for mere faithfulness, but must see fruitfulness as the measure of our ministry. Let me say that I strongly disagree with Dr. Keller. Our theology tells us that ministers and churches are not able to generate success apart from the sovereign working of God’s supernatural grace, whether God is working with, through, or across our endeavors. To insist that we can and must guarantee success with the right methods is, in my view, to cross over from New Calvinism into New School revivalism, something which is very different and is historically the precursor to liberalism. So there is a critique with which I strongly diagree. Yet I still benefit from it, because Keller is right about one thing. Too often, Old Calvinists pat themselves on the back for being doctrinally faithful when we are not being missionally faithful. The problem is not that we must jetison faithfulness as our standard but that we must define it correctly. Unless we are exhibiting the passion for the lost that is demanded by the Great Commission, we are not in fact being faithful. New Calvinists sense this and they rightly critique us for it. Here is an instance where Old Calvinists should not merely point out the errors in a New Calvinist critique, but where we should humble ourselves enough to note the significant challenge that it nonetheless represents towards our weaknesses and failures.
These are just some ways in which Old Calvinists should be wise enough to consider with an open mind some of the emphases and insights coming from New Calvinist sources, and for which we should be humbly grateful to God.
This blog appeared on REFORMATION 21, the blogsite for THE ALLIANCE OF CONFESSING EVANGELICALS; April 26, 2014.