New Calvinism is a broad movement, with a wide range of beliefs, doctrines, and practices. The Gospel Coalition (TGC), which started in 2007 with a conference headlined by Don Carson, Tim Keller and John Piper, was a significant event, for the Coalition has become a national network for the New Calvinist movement. Theologian Don Carson wrote the original draft of the confessional statement, while Pastor Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York, wrote the theological call to ministry. The Gospel Coalition Council boasts familiar names like Tim Keller, John Piper, Matt Chandler, Mark Driscoll, Mark Dever, Al Mohler, and Joshua Harris. Coalition leaders explain that they are not a "boundary set," for that would mean nailing down the outer limits of who is "in" and who is "out," and that they do not want. As a consequence, just about everyone is welcome to join the TGC Network—whatever their doctrinal beliefs.
While there are certain characteristics around which New Calvinists are united, it is a broad movement, and not all practice their faith in the same way. While most claim to be faithful to Scripture and to follow the essential tenets of Calvin's theology, many are marked by a love for the ways and things of the world, which manifests itself in unbecoming conduct that is far removed from the ways and beliefs of traditional Calvinists and Puritans. Here are some of the key characteristics of New Calvinism:
1. Doctrinal Error
New Calvinism has a reputation for teaching the biblical doctrines of Calvin (TULIP). Charles Haddon Spurgeon and Jonathan Edwards are held up as heroes of the movement. But the reality is that while paying lip service to Calvin, Spurgeon, and Edwards, New Calvinism, in fact, is weak in matters of doctrine.
New Calvinists seek to contextualize the gospel of truth to make it relevant to the postmodern world. Tim Keller is a major protagonist of this view. He teaches that for an inner city church to be successful, it must contextualize the gospel to make it relevant to the needs of a multi-ethnic population. The message must be crafted to make it sensitive to the cultural trends of the day. So shaky is Tim Keller's theology that when he was interviewed by NBC journalist Martin Bashir at the August 2011 Veritas Forum, he said that he was unsure whether God has provided a "trapdoor" for unbelieving Muslims and Hindus.1
In that interview, Keller's aim was to present an intellectually credible defense of the gospel and give reasons why believing in God makes sense. In the course of the interview, he was asked whether Jesus Christ is the only way to God. His response to the question was to prevaricate, for he said he can only answer a question about eternal salvation "if Jesus is who He says He is." Keller could have quoted Scripture to make clear that Jesus Christ is the only way to God, but he did not do so. Keller says to be a Christian means that your soul has to "get Jesus." What does this mean? Asked about the eternal destiny of people in other religions Keller responds:
"People in other religions, unless they find Christ, I don't know any other way (to heaven), but I also get information on a need-to-know basis. If there's some, if there's some trapdoor, or something like that, I haven't been told about it. But I also don't know." — Tim Keller2
Before a large audience, he makes the remarkable statement, that God may have a "trapdoor" for unbelievers that he hasn't been told about. He is surmising that God may actually have a secret way to heaven for people who do not believe in Christ. But Keller's "trapdoor" possibility is unbiblical and deeply heretical, for it implies that Christ died in vain. Christ said, "I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved," and "He who does not enter by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber" (John 10:1, 9). There is only one door to heaven—Jesus Christ.
Keller asserts that unbelievers are "miserable" now, and in a billion years from now will still be miserable. Why? Because according to Keller, unbelievers "will eternally shrivel." And the final shock—Keller admits that he does not know what happens to unbelievers who die without Christ. He says: "If they die and they don't have Jesus Christ, I don't know" what happens to them. But how can he say he does not know when Scripture is clear? Is he ashamed of the gospel? This interview tells us much about Tim Keller. Note that he did not once refer to Scripture. And the reason is obvious—Keller's gospel is not based on Scripture.
At the Veritas Forum we saw a picture of the real Tim Keller. His attempt to use human reasoning to explain the gospel of Christ was a miserable failure. "Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?" (1 Corinthians 1:20). The Rev. Tim Keller later admitted that he had made mistakes during the interview.
John Piper's concept of the Christian hedonist is doctrinally flawed. Even the phrase "Christian hedonism" is self-contradictory: Christians are those who follow Christ and deny themselves, whereas hedonists are those who follow pleasure and indulge themselves.
While Mark Driscoll claims to be a Calvinist, he separates doctrine from conduct. He hates rules and much of his ministry is antinomian in approach.
The New Calvinism movement is characterized by a careless attitude towards God's moral law. A common assertion is that Christians are no longer under God's law, but under God's grace. It follows that the Christian life is not to be governed by a set of rules, or a set of commands, or a list of dos and don'ts, for Christ's grace has set us free. Obedience is not a popular concept. The subject index of Piper's blueprint for Christian Hedonism, Desiring God (1987), contains over twenty references to happiness, but only one to obedience.
An interview recorded in 2010 as part of the "Ask Pastor John" series of podcasts, Piper is asked the straightforward question, "Are Christians under the Ten Commandments?" His response is unequivocal: "No. The Bible says we're not under the law. I love Romans 7:4-6. By way of analogy, it says that you are married to the law…"3
New Calvinism wants us to believe that God's grace means that New Testament Christians are free from bondage to God's moral law. Mark Driscoll uses this interpretation of Scripture to justify what he refers to as New Covenant tattoos. He declares in a sermon:
"You are free in Christ to be weird… How about this one, tattoos? How many of you grew up in that fundamentalist church where they told you about the one verse on tattoos? Where is it? What book? Leviticus… It's right here in Leviticus, don't get a tattoo. Okay. But the thing is if you read the whole context it actually doesn't apply—its Old Covenant, not New Covenant, so Jesus has fulfilled the law." — Mark Driscoll4
The idea that believers should strive to live in obedience to God's moral law is dismissed as legalism. No, says the New Calvinist, we are free in Christ. Driscoll says that he hates religious people who have rules to obey and lists of dos and don'ts. He teaches that grace and works are antithetical. He says, "Works is me boasting, grace is me boasting about Jesus. Works is me looking at what I've done; grace is looking at what Jesus has done." And while Scripture teaches that we are saved by grace alone, it goes on to say that the person who is saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus is saved "unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:10).
A.W. Tozer defined antinomianism this way:
"The creed of the Antinomian is easily stated: We are saved by faith alone; works have no place in salvation; conduct is works, and is therefore of no importance. What we do cannot matter, as long as we believe rightly. The divorce between creed and conduct is absolute and final. The question of sin is settled by the Cross; conduct is outside the circle of faith and cannot come between the believer and God. Such in brief, is the teaching of the Antinomian… It takes the teaching of justification by faith and twists it into deformity." — A.W. Tozer5
The Reformed faith teaches that the moral law of God has three uses:
- The first is to convict of sin and drive the repentant sinner to the Lord Jesus Christ.
- The second use of the law is to restrain lawlessness in society.
- The third use is to function as the rule of life for the believer.
One of the most famous statements of this truth comes from the Puritan Samuel Bolton: "The law sends us to the gospel for our justification; the gospel sends us to the law to frame our way of life."6 The Puritan way of thinking and conduct is diametrically opposed to the ways of New Calvinism.
The fruit of New Calvinism's antinomian tendency is a mindset that finds pleasure in the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes and the pride of life (1 John 2:15). Worldliness is a state of mind that conforms to the pattern and pleasures of the world; it does not seek to separate from the things of the world, or the entertainments of the world. This pattern of thinking allows great leeway in Christian conduct and is common among New Calvinists. Many New Calvinists teach that Christians are free in Christ to do anything that is not specifically forbidden in the Bible. So smoking and tattoos, reading worldly magazines, watching adult rated movies and salacious TV programs, immodest dress, crude language, coarse joking are regarded by some as acceptable behavior, for in the eyes of New Calvinists these forms of conduct are not specifically forbidden in the Bible. All forms of contemporary music, even punk rock, and hip-hop are accepted as permissible for Christians to enjoy. Those who say that these forms of conduct are not right for Christians are labeled as legalists and Pharisees.
4. Contemporary Worship
What flows from the New Calvinist's worldly mindset is a love for the music scene of the world. And so it is entirely predictable that contemporary worship is the most universal characteristic of New Calvinism. Mars Hill Church, Seattle, leads the way by claiming that God loves punk rock. Holy hip-hop is embraced by many New Calvinists and rap artists are regarded as the missionaries of the 21st century, according to Mark Driscoll. Contemporary worldly music is an essential ingredient of the Passion Conference7 (Louie Gigilio and John Piper), The Resolved Conference (John MacArthur) and the Legacy Conference. The Gospel Coalition National Conference 2011 ended with a concert to celebrate the contemporary music scene. Delegates were invited to join Lecrae and the rest of the Reach Records rap artists as they "exalted Christ" through the medium of hip-hop. The effect was to profane the name of Christ—the name which is above every name, and the name to which every knee shall bow—on the altar of holy hip-hop.
5. Emerging church
New Calvinists tend to be ambivalent about the emerging church movement. Mark Driscoll was involved with the emerging church, and claims to be on the Reformed end of the emerging spectrum. His book Confessions of a Reformission Rev. (2006) is described as "hard lessons from an Emerging Missional Church." Many are sympathetic to the emerging church movement and contemplative prayer is encouraged by some, such as Keller's Redeemers Presbyterian Church in New York, which promotes the Monk's prayer.
Taken and edited from http://www.newcalvinist.com. To learn more about Tim Keller, Mark Driscoll, and John Piper, please consider E.S. William's book, The New Calvinists (2014), published by The Wakeman Trust and Belmont House Publishing, available here or on Amazon. The book Christian Hedonism: A biblical examination of John Piper's teaching (2017) exposes Piper's false doctrine. See http://www.therealjohnpiper.com/.
- ^Mark Driscoll, sermon "The Weaker Christian: Part 19," preached May 28, 2006.
- ^A.W. Tozer, Paths to Power (Wingspread, 1911).
- ^Samuel Bolton, The True Bounds of Christian Freedom.
- ^Passion Conference, https://youtu.be/EDwsI-thgeM.