Saturday, March 22, 2014

The devolution of the New Calvinism

When the YRR movement started, I was excited. Finally, people would turn to biblical Christianity. It wasn't too long before I grew disheartened over the trends within the movement. Is God using it to grow his church? Likely. But that is not the issue. God always can use and has used crooked sticks to draw a straight line, but that doesn't mean that being crooked is a virtue!

For those of us who are conversant with recent church history, the evolution and devolution of the New Calvinism looks remarkably like that of the New Evangelicalism of the 1950s-60s. Reading George Marsden's book Reforming Fundamentalism: Fuller Seminary and the New Evangelicalism, Iain Murray's book Evangelicalism Divided and Ronald Nash's book The New Evangelicalism, and then comparing the trends there with the trends in the New Calvinism gives one the feeling of déjà vu. The governing impetus is the same: reaching the world. The tactics are similar: more publicizing, more seminars, more sounds and hype. The attitude is the same: be winsome and focus on the Gospel as the center (what do people think "evangelicalism" is supposed to mean other than being "Gospel-centered"?). The ecclesiastical slant is the same, i.e. none. The manner of dealing with doctrinal controversies is the same: Back-door private conversations and quietly asking the offender to leave the organization. The manner of dealing with critics on the right remains the same: Ignore (and perhaps sometimes demonize). The manner of dealing with critics on the left however remains the same: Polite disagreement while trying to show appreciation for their "insights."

Back in 2009, I wrote against the idealized positivity of the New Calvinism, and the beginning doctrinal compromise especially seen in John Piper's endorsement of the "orthodoxy" of Federal Vision heretic Douglas Wilson. Of course, since then, things have only gotten downhill. But just focus on this one issue: When was the last time anyone heard John Piper repenting of his endorsement of Douglas Wilson? Or how about endorsement of Rick Warren in the DG2010 conference? The silence is deafening. It's not like nobody has told Piper that these guys are not orthodox, but Piper just plain refuses to listen. In other words, it's the same New Evangelical modus operandi again: Ignore one's critics, even if the one critiquing your actions is a seminary professor and a minister in a Reformed denomination. The New Calvinists as a whole refuses to interact with critics; they are close-minded and only listens to the voices they wish to listen to. How does one even begin to deal with such people when all of them, while professing openness, are in fact just the opposite when those who were initially excited about the movement critique them with a view towards their correction?

I was once excited about the New Calvinism. The continual downgrade of New Calvinist leaders, and the movement as a whole, has disheartened me. My excitement has long since left. What I have left is a lament of how things could be different. Instead, we have a movement, which looked so promising, with its witness in tatters, a big tent with high sounding rhetoric and little substance. I grieve for what the New Calvinism could have been, for the still-birth of something that could have actually brought about change.

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