What to Call the So-Called New Calvinists?

It seems high-time to make clear the difference between Neo-Calvinism and Neo-Puritanism again.

For the past five years, there has been a lot of discussion about the rise of a new group of Calvinists. Groups like The Gospel Coalition are encouraging and celebrating how a new generation of believers seem to be embracing Reformed theology. In a recent lecture at the bastion of “Old Calvinism,” Westminster Seminary, John Piper defined the New Calvinism.

 

My friend, Bob Robinson, has made a good case for seeing the New Calvinists as Neo-Puritans. I don’t think we can know this for sure, but it is indeed possible that on this blog that group was first called the Neo-Reformed, but a commenter said they are not really Reformed since they are mostly Baptists and not officially connected with the Reformed denominations. Then another friend said you can’t call them Neo-Calvinists since that’s Kuyper.

Neo-Puritan is a good moniker, but that might work even better for the likes of J.I. Packer. So maybe “neo-reformed” with a lower case R? Anyway, Bob Robinson makes the case for Neo-Puritan and I have reposted this with his permission.

What do you think? Perhaps you are tempted to say “no labels,” but that is not the reality in which we live. Ordered existence is the instinct for all of us, and this is about making sense not “othering.” Here’s Bob Robinson’s case:

So What’s Wrong with Neo-Calvinism?

by Bob Robinson

In response to the rise of the new Calvinists, we need to make sure we know who we are talking about.

For the past five years, there has been a lot of discussion about the rise of a new group of Calvinists. Groups like The Gospel Coalition are encouraging and celebrating how a new generation of believers seem to be embracing Reformed theology. In a recent lecture at the bastion of “Old Calvinism,” Westminster Seminary, John Piper defined the New Calvinism.

As this new Calvinism has become more prominent, there have also arisen critics. For some in the Old Calvinism camp, the predominance of Baptists (John Piper, D.A. Carson, Albert Mohler) in the New Calvinism has raised questions about the concept of Covenant: the Baptists don’t practice paedobaptism. Also, the New Calvinism holds what they call the “Complimentarian” view of women, while Old Calvinism has moved toward egalitarianism.

The Missional movement, which is largely Arminian, has also criticized the New Calvinism.

Scot McKnight is a former professor of mine at TEDS while I was also studying under one of the key leaders of the New Calvinism, Don Carson. Scot has written some scathing critiques of the New Calvinism’s insistence that the Gospel must be defined primarily by the salvation of individuals.

Jonathan Merritt just wrote a piece at Religion News Service (“The troubling trends in Americaís Calvinist revival”) saying,

“Theyíve been called the young, restless, and reformed or neo-Calvinists, and they are highly mobilized and increasingly influential. Their books perform well in the marketplace (see John Piper or Paul David Tripp), their leaders pepper the lists of the most popular Christian bloggers (see The Gospel Coalition and Resurgence), and theyíve created vibrant training grounds for raising new recruits (see Reformed Theological SeminaryWestminster Theological Seminary, and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).

This brand of Calvinists are a force with which to reckon. But as with any movement, America’s Calvinist revival is a mixed bag from where I sit, there are several troubling trends that must be addressed if this faithful faction hopes to move from a niche Christian cadre to a sustainable and more mainstream movement.

Notice that Merritt called them the young, restless, and reformed orneo-Calvinists.

The young, restless, and reformed refers to the best-selling book written by Collin Hansen, Editorial Director for The Gospel Coalition and is a good identifying tag for this group.

But what are we to make of this identification of them as neo-Calvinists?

Well, that is a misnomer. What Merritt and others are addressing is not Neo-Calvinism, but Neo-Puritanism.

I Know Neo-Calvinism, and that’s not Neo-Calvinism

I think these New Calvinists should not be called “Neo-Calvinists,” but rather “Neo-Puritans.”

Back in 2009, I wrote a series of posts at my blog Vanguard Church on the nuanced differences between Neo-Puritanism and Neo-Calvinism.

Scot McKnight picked up on this terminology as he has interacted with people over the years. In a comment on a blog post by David Fitch in which Fitch was critiquing New Calvinist Mark Driscoll, Scot wrote,

“A former student of mine, Bob Robinson, told me a few years back that he had read a careful church historian who thought NeoPuritanism was more accurate. Jamie Smith also pushed back against using the term Reformed for this group; Vince Bacote thinks NeoCalvinist is not fair to Kuyper; Ken Stewart’s book proved to me again the Reformed movement is too big for this new development of mostly Baptist Calvinists.So there is some protection of terms here and I have now myself landed on NeoPuritan as the heart of this movement. Puritanism is, of course, personal zeal before the Lord for holiness and, also, zeal for reforming church and society according to biblical (and not ecclesiastical) teachings. So I agree, we should probably start using NeoPuritan.”

It seems high-time to make clear the difference between Neo-Calvinism and Neo-Puritanism again.

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