Reformed Young Christians and the Emerging Church

The current issue of Christianity Today features the cover story, “Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism is making a comeback—and shaking up the church” about how, in particular, the Calvinism of John Piper (and others, including Joshua Harris, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler) has taken young Christians by storm.

"Its exuberant young advocates reject generic evangelicalism and tout the benefits of in-depth biblical doctrine. They have once again brought the perennial debate about God's sovereignty and humans’ free will to the forefront. The evidence for the resurgence is partly institutional and partly anecdotal. But it's something that a variety of church leaders observe. While the Emergent 'conversation' gets a lot of press for its appeal to the young, the new Reformed movement may be a larger and more pervasive phenomenon. It certainly has a much stronger institutional base."

On his blog, Emergent Village’s National Coordinator, Tony Jones, wrote,

"I've spent a lot of time considering why the conservative Reformed crowd is so concerned about Emergent thinking and theology…

But it's clear that other Reformed folks are friendly toward Emergent. There's the Calvin College crowd (like Jamie Smith), the Kuyperians (like Vince Bacote), and even the Barthian-Hauerwasians (like the Ecclesia Project (Geoff Holsclaws is an example). I'm cautioned a lot by these folks not to allow the most conservative forces to define Reformed thought. (But it's interesting to note that in this month's Christianity Today cover article on young people who are joining the Reformed movement(s), there was nary a word about Karl Barth or Calvin College or the PC(USA). The entire article was about the right wing of the Reformed movement.)

My challenge to the other Reformed folks out there is to start speaking out. For instance, why doesn't Jamie or Geoff or someone else write a blog post laying out the entire landscape of Reformed thought as it's currently playing out in the American church?"

Well, Tony, at least I can serve to make the case about what you called the “Kuyperians.”

While Calvinists in the United States were fighting mainly for the doctrine of Predestination, the Calvinists in the Netherlands were developing the concept of “Worldview”—an overarching metanarrative that can explain all of life and allow Christians to eliminate a dualistic understanding of how to live. If Christ is King of all things, then it follows that nothing in our lives, in our institutions and structures, should be outside that kingly rule. All things are to be redeemed by Christ’s Kingdom.

While John Piper offers a wider-than-usual understanding of discipleship than some of the older school Calvinists who fixated only on TULIP, his Reformed Theology is still not quite a fully-orbed Calvinistic worldview, with God's Sovereignty spelled out for the various social spheres ordered into the creation by the Creator.

As Peter Heslam notes in his book, Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism (Eerdmans, 1998),

"[Kuyper] considered the doctrine of God's sovereignty to be the fundamental principle of the Calvinistic worldview, and it was one he often expounded in his discussions of both political and cultural matters, and of theological matters. In doing so he was concerned to counter the idea that Calvinism was primarily a dogmatic position concerning the doctrine of redemption and of significance only to the church. The dominating theme of Calvinism, he explained, "was not, soteriologically, justification by faith, but, in the widest sense cosmologically, the sovereignty of the triune God over the whole cosmos."

This Dutch neo-Calvinist tradition has influenced many since Abraham Kuyper gave his influential lectures at Princeton 100 years ago, and its influence has not just been the philosophy movement that follows Herman Dooyweerd, but more broadly in the work of the progressive evangelicals from John Stott and Francis Schaeffer, the renewal of Christians in the arts (groups like CIVA, and most of the many recent books on the arts cite neo-Calvinist Calvin Seerveld), leaders in Christian scholarship (like Richard Mouw), some of the best thinking about vocation (like Os Guinness and Steve Garber), some of the most cutting-edge engagement with postmodernity (see Jamie Smith and Brian Walsh), and the cutting-edge work of the Fermi Project to engage culture, led by Gabe Lyons and Danielle Kirkland with the input of Andy Crouch. George Marsden, world renowned Christian historian, has said that Kuyperianism has triumphed in the world of Christian higher education because this stream of Christianity seeks to "integrate faith and learning" in order to help students discover the meaning of vocation. This is the goal of the ministry I help to lead, the CCO.

Christianity Today had an article (“Compassionate Evangelicalism”) that explained how thirty years ago The Chicago Declaration launched Ron Sider’s Evangelicals for Social Action (ESA). Who were there, willing to say that evangelicals must be engaged in social action? “Black evangelicals, peace-church Mennonites and Brethren, and Dutch-American Calvinists led the way in reasserting a whole-gospel witness. Representatives of these three groups were prominent in the Chicago Declaration meeting, in the early ESA, and in the ensuing movement.”

The point: Neo-Calvinists have been saying for the last century (yes! that long! “Emerging” ideas are not all that new!) that Christianity needs to be holistic, that our faith should impact every aspect of our lives, that we must be in conversation with philosophy, that we must truly live out hospitality, that we must celebrate the arts, and that political engagement must seek Justice and Shalom for all (contrary to the agenda of the Religious Right). This is the reason why the "Kuyperians" are more open to the Emerging Church conversation. What we see "Emerging" are many of the things that neo-calvinism has been advocating for 100 years.

Now that I have those two “friend of” icons in my side bar (“Friend of Emergent” and “Friend of Missional”), I thought I’d create my own. (Hey, it’s the latest fad, isn’t it?)

Check out the new web resource: “Friend of Kuyper.”

You’ll find all sorts of resources there, including the convergence between Kuyper and the Emerging Church.



Byron K. Borger said...


Thanks for doing this--it was just great talking to you about it, and I think you did a better job than I would have. Great stuff. I trust that both the neo-Cals, the emergents, the emerging neo-Cal and the neo-Cal emergents all raise up their mutual voices to bring on-going reformation to church and society. Your work is valued by many of us, and this is good stuff. May it be widely read. And that logo. Coolness.

Peace to you. I'll email soon, personally, wishing you well for the surgury. Many are praying!


DLW said...

I'm a little confused. When exactly did Neo-Calvinism begin?

I'd like to read a non-reformed analysis of Kuyper and his antecedents and innovations...


Bob Robinson said...


I'm making the case that neo-Calvinism's influence in the United States began when Kuyper spoke at the Stone Lectures, Princeton University, 1898.

Here's a bit from Wikipedia:

Theologically Kuyper has also been very influential...He developed so-called Neo-Calvinism, which differs from conventional Calvinism over issues such as divine grace and the role of the state. Furthermore, Kuyper was the first to formulate the principle of common grace in the context of a Reformed world-view.

Most important has been Kuyper's view on the role of God in everyday life. He believed that God continually influenced the life of believers, and daily events could show his workings. Kuyper famously said, "No single piece of our mental world is to be hermetically sealed off from the rest, and there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'"

Bob Robinson said...


If you head over to Friend of Kuyper, there's some articles on neocalvinism: "Yes, No, Maybe."

One article is called, "Neocalvinism... 'No': Why I am not a neocalvinist" by Daniel Knauss

tony said...

Great stuff, Bob. Thanks for taking the challenge. Long live the progressive Calvinists!

Sivin Kit said...

fantastic stuff ... now I regret not getting the bargain priced Kuyper book on MV doulos when it was in Malaysia :-)

marc said...


When you are doing better, we need to get together. Everything you are thinking and doing flanges with what I am about and I would like to pick your mind at some point.


RonMcK said...

If Christ is King of all things, then it follows that nothing in our lives, in our institutions and structures, should be outside that kingly rule. All things are to be redeemed by Christ’s Kingdom.

Right On.