To sum, I am not persuaded that we can have Calvinistic soteriology (or even a Calvinistic “big God”) without a Calvinistic church. To abstract theology from ecclesiology is a foreign concept in the minds of the Reformers. Therefore, as Geerhardus Vos said in another context, “To our taste the old wine is better.”
John Piper’s recent Richard B. Gaffin, Jr. Lecture at Westminster Theological Seminary was vintage Piper: passionate, learned, articulate, and just right. The connection between Calvinism, sovereign grace, justification by faith alone and the rejection of racism was a joy to see developed by a man who is as much a great preacher as he is a scholar.
However, I do not find myself as sanguine about the new Calvinism. Piper was humble and levelheaded about the new Calvinism, acknowledging its short comings and how in some ways it falls short of the older Calvinism. But there was something in his comparison of the new and old that he missed: ecclesiology. And so, in light of that I would like to offer five reasons why I am not a new Calvinist:
- Continuing Revelation. David Wells in God in the Wastelandnotes a remarkable statistic (albeit one that is now outdated): “Those who were most inclined toward the inerrancy position were in the Baptist tradition; those least likely to endorse it were in the Holiness-Pentecostal tradition.” (p. 193). All sorts of qualifiers can and should be made here (including the one made by Wells himself that the difference was not drastic). However, I think this points up at least one basic principle: with new continuing revelation who needs that old dusty book? I do love my continuationist brethren, but I do not think that it is something to be celebrated that the new Calvinism is wide enough to embrace both sides of the debate. I do, however, rejoice that continuationists are coming to embrace Calvinistic soteriology. But to embrace unconditional election and have new revelations in worship is hardly a reformation in today’s church. Even Aquinas embraced unconditional election and sovereign Predestination. The Reformation, however, championed more than a move away from semi-Pelagianism.
- Confessions. With some exception the new Calvinism tends toward being a Bible-onlyism movement. It is noteworthy that in #1 above my concern is too low a doctrine of Scripture, and here it may seem I am saying that the same movement is too focused on Scripture. But Bible-onlyism does not flow from a high doctrine of Scripture. The new Calvinism seems to come at the Bible abstracted from the creeds, confessions, and history of the church. But being confessional was part and parcel of the Reformation. The Reformers did not want to leave the tradition behind. They reaffirmed the great creeds of the faith. They learned from them and built upon them. They taught from the creeds, preached from them, and used them in their liturgy. Using and holding up creeds, far from denigrating the Bible, exalts the Scriptures as the source from which the creeds and confessions flow. On this point, I would be remiss if I failed to mention Carl Trueman’s important book, The Creedal Imperative. Get it, read it, and love it!