Saturday, March 21, 2009

A Response to Driscoll on "New Calvinism" *UPDATE*

With a recent Times article mentioning "New Calvinism" as the third most influential idea changing the world right now, Driscoll just have to draw up a list contrasting "Old Calvinism" with "New Calvinism". This is his list as posted on his website:

Four Ways 'New Calvinism' is So Powerful

1) Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal and separated from or syncretized with culture. New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.

2) Old Calvinism fled from the cities. New Calvinism is flooding into cities.

3) Old Calvinism was cessationistic and fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. New Calvinism is continuationist and joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.

4) Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges. New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them

Let us examine them one by one:

1) Does Driscoll even know what Calvinism is historically? He does not even understand the original Fundamentalist/Liberal controversy as it is! (Read at least J. Gresham Machen's book Christianity and Liberalism, and also the book consisting of articles from Charles Spurgeon The Downgrade Controversy for some background). Furthermore, the entire culturalist stance is grating on my nerves. Where in Scripture are we commanded to redeem culture? Answer: NOWHERE!

2) First of all, the Reformation started in ... cities! Cities like Wittenberg, Zurich, Geneva etc. Sure, what was called cities back then would be equivalent to the size of our towns now, but it still started off in cities.

Secondly, Calvinism "did not fled from cities", as if all Calvinists have an epiphany and decided to leave the cities in droves for the countryside. The fact of the matter is that Calvinism sharply declined after the Second Great Awakening due to the influence by the Pelagian heretic and revivalist Charles Grandison Finney (See Iain Murray's book Revival and Revivalism for starters). It wasn't even found much in the countryside for that matter.

3) There is plain nonsense. Is Driscoll now calling all Reformed folks who are not continuationists "Old Calvinists"? And Cessationism is not "fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit". That is mere strawman bashing unbecoming of someone of Driscoll's influence. Even though I am not a classical cessationist, I think a little more respect for godly pastors who have held on to the Cessationist position in an informed manner is in order.

4) In other words, Driscoll is admitting that "New Calvinism" rejects the doctrine of separation and follows the lead of New Evangelicalism in her willingness to compromise the faith? No thanks! I would much rather follow the Reformers who "burned bridges" between them and the apostate Roman Catholic Church. Compromise is never an option for the Christian who truly loves Christ (cf Jude 1:4, 2 Cor. 6:14-18, 2 Jn. 1:10-11)!

In closing, let me share what I wrote in my article on the Reformed Resurgence which indirectly addresses Driscoll's fascination with novelty and disdain of the past:

As stated, truth is transcendent and timeless, and the Church as the pillar of the truth partakes in part of that quality insomuch as she holds the truth in righteousness. Such would therefore mean that the modernist focus on novelty and its equation of novelty with improvement and progress must be jettisoned. Progress in Scripture is to be measured in terms of growth in the knowledge of God based upon truths established by godly men in the past and present (Eph. 4:11-16) as exposited from the Scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16-17), not a complete overhaul and revolution of all doctrines for every generation. It is therefore imperative upon any movement that aspires to be in line with God’s Word to function in this light.

Practically speaking therefore, doctrines and practices from the past are to be treated with a certain amount of respect. Although old does not necessarily mean good, yet if something is universally held by the Church in previous times, we should examine it carefully according to the Scriptures and not dismiss it flippantly. (Bold added)

Addenum: Dr. R. Scott Clark has weighed in on this matter on his blog here. I agree with Clark in one of his more irate comments:

...The problem is that Pr Driscoll and the YRR folks are calling themselves “Reformed” and “Calvinist.” Who wrote a post contrasting the old Calvinists with the new? ...



Zac said...

I completely agree with your position that rejecting traditions for the sake of doing the "new" thing is ridiculous. However, I wonder whether Driscoll does too, and perhaps it is his style (which can admittedly be difficult to handle, but which he has made strides to bring in line with scripture) that is the issue here. Looking at his discussions on doctrine (on Youtube and in his book, "Vintage Jesus") and his general disdain for the "I'm OK, you're OK" liberal church, it would appear that he clings staunchly to the founding doctrines of Christianity.

What he does not cling to is the medium by which that doctrine is transmitted. This is, I think, what Paul was talking about when he "became all things to all men," not that he became like them, but that he learned to communicate in a way that would effectively reach them. Viewed in this light, Driscoll's idea that we should find ways to reach and influence the culture seems perfectly in line with the Gospel call to make disciples of all men.

Furthermore, with regard to his last point, I would argue that, given his clear disdain for overly liberal churches, Driscoll is making the point that there are some matters (certainly not all, given his discussion of "national" and "state" theological boundaries) that should not serve as dividing lines between Christians, but rather should be viewed as matters of preference on which the Bible is silent. Obviously, we need to be careful in how we define these boundaries and use scripture as our guide in doing so, but I think Driscoll would agree with that point (again, relying on his Youtube clips and writings).

Great talking points though! God bless you in your writing!

PuritanReformed said...


from what I have seen and read about Driscoll, Driscoll professes and defends essential Christian doctrine. What I think this piece by Driscoll reveals is his shock-jock style and mentality. If Driscoll really meant what he says, he is behaving like the New Evangelicals and causing division to the Body of Christ. If Driscoll does not actually mean what he says, then he is guilty of stirring up controversy to serve his own cause and interest. Either way, he is not doing right.

Joel Tay said...

A razor sharp critique on Driscoll that hits the nail on its head. The idea that we must be like the culture (redeem culture) to be relevant is perhaps my biggest disagreement with the emerging Calvinists. The gospel is relevant because it is counter-cultural and offensive. Foolishness to the Greeks and a stumbling block to the Jews. A rock of offense. A Scandal.

Secondly, if one understands that a person can only come to God when the Holy Spirit regenerates whoever he wills, then all the culture-embracing does nothing to say a person at all and is a contradiction of 1 Cor 1 and 2 where Paul did not come with eloquence of speech or the wisdom of man, but Christ crucified. In that sense, all a preacher must do is preach the biblical gospel and people will be saved when the holy Spirit moves. A good example would be Jonathan Edwards, who in just reading from a pre-written scripts and rarely even looking up, was an instrument of God to break about an awakening in his time. Often in his reading of the text, people would fall down weeping in repentance and conviction as the Spirit convicts them of their sins. it's the work of the Spirit, not the eloquences of creativeness of man.

Thirdly, the emerging calvinists do not seem to understand that the word of God when preached forth will always accomplished whatever it was sent to do: either to convict and save sinners, or to harden the hearts of the reprobates. Either way, the Word does its job. When we do not understand this, we will attempt to do all we can using creative techniques in order to "bring more success" in preaching.

Would you agree?

Joel Tay said...

Would your main disagreement with New Calvinism have anything to do with a difference in understanding of the regulative principle?

PuritanReformed said...


I think the fundamental difference in a nutshell is that the New Calvinists talk a lot about being Gospel-centered but not about Word-centered. (Sola Fide without Sola Scriptura) Not so much an abadonment of the regulative principles but a refusal to circumscribe ALL of life and ministry under the precepts of Scripture.