4/28/2009

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Calvin College

Deciphering the Nuanced Differences between Neopuritanism and Neocalvinism

NEOPURITAN RESURGENCE: Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

One of the biggest shakeups in the past 15-20 years in evangelicalism has occurred in the Southern Baptist Convention. It is called various things (depending on who you’re listening to), including “The Controversy” and “The Conservative Resurgence.” It started when inerrantists in the SBC fought to make the convention very conservative on the authority of Scripture.

But that was just the start. Collin Hansen, in his book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists, interviewed Southern Seminary professor Tom Nettles, who wrote By His Grace and For His Glory: A Historical, Theological, and Practical Study of the Doctrines Of Grace in Baptist Life and explained that the SBC had solid Calvinist roots. This in spite of a long time in which the prevalent Southern Baptist motto was, “No creed but the Bible, no cause but Christ.” The Calvinists wanted to take their denomination back, and an early success was in electing Albert Mohler as president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky at the age of 33. As soon as he entered this office, Mohler drafted a policy that stated that the Seminary would only hire professors who agreed to sign an SBC’s Abstract of Principles. Those who refused to sign were dismissed or resigned. Much of the Abstract of Principles speaks about doctrines related to salvation. For instance, Principle IV is “Providence,” Principle V is “Election,” and Principle XI is “Justification.”

But as the Calvinists take more and more control, the SBC is losing more and more influence in the culture, though there may not be a one-to-one correlation. However, Mohler is not going to give up. Newsweek’s Jon Meacham says that “Al Mohler keeps vigil over the culture.” He refers to Mohler’s online column talking about new church planters where Mohler wrote, "This new generation of young pastors intends to push back against hell in bold and visionary ministry. Expect to see the sparks fly.”

Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has become the stalwart of conservative Baptist Calvinism in America. It is very popular with young men seeking to be Reformed Baptist preachers in order to proclaim the Doctrines of Grace (though they may not hold to all five points of TULIP). For Southern Baptist Calvinists, SBTS is the best model for change in the denomination and for the country as a whole. The thinking is, Make Calvinistic pastors, have them preach Calvinism in the pulpits, and watch the nation be transformed.

Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite happened that way. Ed Stetzer reports that “the SBC declined again this year in both membership and baptisms.”

NEOCALVINIST RESURGENCE: Calvin College

A very telling difference between neopuritanism and neocalvinism is this: The resurgence of neocalvinism is not most acutely felt at a seminary, but at a college. The goal of neocalvinism is to transform the world through everyday Christians living out their faith in their vocations. Calvin College is the epitome of this kind of education.

Neocalvinists take seriously the “Cultural Mandate” of Genesis 1:26-28 and 2:15. Human beings, created in the image of God, are commanded to “fill the earth, subdue it, and rule” and to “cultivate” the good creation for the glory of God. For neocalvinists, the “Cultural Mandate” informs the Gospel as to its intention.

Al Wolters clarifies what this means:
In theological shorthand that intuition can be formulated in the phrase: "grace restores nature." This means simply that the new life brought about by redemption in Jesus Christ does not (A) stand in opposition to created reality, nor does it merely (B) supplement or (C) parallel it, but rather (D) seeks to penetrate and restore the reality of creational life. Redemption is a comprehensive salvage operation, the goal of which is nothing short of recovering all of life as it was meant to be lived according to God's creational design from the very beginning. On the question of the relationship between grace and nature (and thus Christ and culture, church and world, theology and philosophy), historic Christian orthodoxy has chosen for options A, B, C, or D. In my opinion, neocalvinism is a particularly strong and consistent manifestation of the D option in a modern western cultural context. It is characterized by both its strong allegiance to Scripture and its critical relevance to modern culture.

In my opinion, Neopuritanism struggles with choices A, B, C, and D in that it does not have a solid creational foundation to its theology. Therefore it wavers between standing in opposition to cultural realities and trying to penetrate and restore culture.

Also, neocalvinism is less militant than neopuritanism. The reason lies in the embrace of the doctrine of Common Grace. Common Grace is the non-saving favor of God to all humans; an operation of the Holy Spirit within even unbelievers which, without regenerating them, restrains sin in them so that they have the ability, by virtue of this grace of God, to do good in culture.

So here I'm making another nuanced difference: The “New Calvinists” (which I’ve identified as being better called “Neo-Puritans") see the hope for society in the change of individuals through personal salvation. They rally around the motto, “Change the world one soul at a time.” Thus, we see the emphasis on seminary training for Calvinist pastors who will start new churches and preach Calvinist doctrine.

The other “New Calvinists” (the ones that have been called neocalvinists for over 100 years) see the hope for society in Christian work to change societal structures and the culture itself. They train followers of Christ to live out a Christian worldview in every aspect of life so that culture itself reflects the redemption of God. They rally around the motto, “Every Square Inch” from Kuyper’s famous quote). Thus, the emphasis is on college education that trains for all vocations (as exemplified by Calvin College and neocalvinist ministries like CCO), and churches are seen as training centers for engaging society (as Tim Keller’s Redeemer Presbyterian Church has so elegantly done with its Center for Faith and Work).


Other posts in this series:
also:

21 comments:

David said...

Bob, you might wish to look at Redeemer University College in addition to Calvin. The neocalvinist vision is alive and well at the institution where Wolters teaches.

Bob Robinson said...

David,
Yes, absolutely! I chose Calvin as a single example. There are plenty of other institutions in the neocalvinist tradition. See the list I've accumulated in the right-had column of Friend of Kuyper.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Bob,

As you are continuing to bring definition and show the distinctions between "Neocalvinism" and "Neopuritanism" I continue to find myself in the "Neocalvinism" camp (although I see where I would have been viewed as a "Neopuritan" not too very long ago). Having said that, I wonder about this distinction that you make:

"So here I'm making another nuanced difference: The “New Calvinists” (which I’ve identified as being better called “Neo-Puritans") see the hope for society in the change of individuals through personal salvation. They rally around the motto, 'Change the world one soul at a time.'"This statement and what follows is not all that clear to me. I can see the difference between the two camps with the "Neopuritan" focus in changing the world through political activism or teaching a strict ethical code (the "moral" law), but the idea of hoping for societal change through the "personal salvation" of individuals seems Biblical and "Neocalvinistic" in my opinion. It seems as if you are developing a false dichotomy in this regard: that "personal soul winning" as a (the?) means to societal change is opposed to some other method.

To be honest, I don't know of any other way to promote societal (cultural) change than through the transforming power of the Gospel in "one soul at a time". Since "salvation" is "personal" rather than "corporate" (Christ saves individuals not groups), I don't know how "Neocalvinsim" really differs from "Neopuritanism" in this regard.

How am I misunderstanding what you're trying to say? I would think that even the "Neocalvinist" would believe that "personal salvation" is the key to change...even that "personal salvation" is the most important goal for our lives as Christians as we seek to bring people to Christ. As much as I agree with the cosmic scope of Christ's redemption and the genuine need to understand the aspects of common grace that you mention, it seems that the Bible (especially the N.T.) is focused on the salvific needs of human beings first and foremost (but not to the exclusion of Christ's work in redeeming creation).

I'm not sure how clearly I've stated my thoughts; but do you know what I'm trying to get at? As you understand the differences between the two camps, how important is (or should be) "personal salvation" in "Neocalvinism"? And how is society changed without the emphasis of "personal salvation"?

You mention: "The other “New Calvinists” (the ones that have been called neocalvinists for over 100 years) see the hope for society in Christian work to change societal structures and the culture itself. They train followers of Christ to live out a Christian worldview in every aspect of life so that culture itself reflects the redemption of God."But even this must begin with "personal salvation". So I'm not really sure why there is a problem with the idea of "personal soul winning".

I know I'm missing something here.

GGM

Blake said...

Bob,
I hate to argue this point, but as a Southern Baptist who is more as you say, Neo-puritanical, our denomination is declining, not because of a resurgence in Calvinism, but because of many other reasons. Southern is the only SBC seminary that leans that direction and many in the SBC are trying as hard as they can to rid the convention of the "Calvinist problem". Google Calvinism and the SBC and you'll get loads of info. Using Hansen's book alone as your source for this doesn't give you enough info. Thanks.

Blake Hickman

Bob Robinson said...

GGM,
I agree with you that "the idea of hoping for societal change through the 'personal salvation' of individuals seems Biblical." And neocalvinists, at their best, affirm this. However, the distinction of neocalvinism has been to see the gospel as primarily about the restoration of Creation. A key passage for this understanding is
Colossians 1:15-18, where the first point Paul makes is that Jesus is the sovereign over all creation ("all things" is repeated several times) and has determined to "reconcile to himself all things." Only after Paul makes this point does he go into personal salvation.

Another passage of importance to neocalvinism is Romans 8. After making the important proclamation that "there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus" and why that is, Paul points to the ultimate hope of God's salvific work ("for in this hope we were saved"): "The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God" (vv. 19-21).

There was a time, not too long ago, when neocalvinists could have been rightly accused of not focusing enough on personal salvation (tilting things too heavily toward societal and cultural salvation). However, neocalvinists have rectified that and are now better affirming personal salvation.

As neocalvinist Ray Pennings wrote recently in Comment, he sees a much needed dialogue between neopuritans and neocalvinists, for both have a lot to offer the other in order to better understand the holistic gospel. And we see that dialogue bearing fruit: Tim Keller is certainly rubbing off on John Piper, as witnessed by Piper's recent blog post
Repentance and Christ-Exalting Civic Engagement.

Lance said...

Bob,

I appreciate the thought-provoking discussion! One question I would have though is in regard to your statement,

"Unfortunately, it hasn’t quite happened that way. Ed Stetzer reports that “the SBC declined again this year in both membership and baptisms."

To what degree should the God-glorifying effectiveness of a denomination be measured in terms of numerical growth and baptisms?It seems like there should be a better means of measurement for the effectiveness of "neo-puritanism" in the SBC or "neo-calvinism" in other denominations. Would it not be better to assess the quality/depth of Spiritual maturity within the membership of individual congregations under a "neo-puritan" pastor versus a contemporary free-will pastor in the SBC? Maybe take into account Biblical literacy, theological orthodoxy, involvement of the laity in the work of the ministry, and personal evangelism...just a thought.

Maybe you didn't intend to portray measuring church effectiveness this way, and if not then I apologize for leaving this comment. But if you did, then maybe it would be better to look at the effectiveness of denominational and theologically nuanced resurgences in other terms. After all, the path of following Jesus is narrow rather than wide. Thoughts?

Bob Robinson said...

Blake,
Rest assured that I'm not basing these blog posts solely on Collin Hansen's book. I think Hansen is not the best of "journalists" (contrary to what he calls himself in the title of his book) for he shows a severe lack of understanding of the subject matter he is writing about. I'm using Hansen's book as a foil.

I am very aware of the SBC and the changes and conflict going on. I studied under Baptist historian Tom Nettles at Trinity when he taught there before moving to Southern (as well as theologian Bruce Ware), and we talked a lot about the changes that were going on in the SBC. I have a lot of friends in the SBC, and we often discuss the tensions in the denomination.

And, yes, Southern is only one of the six seminaries in the SBC, but isn't it telling that one in four SBC seminarians attend Southern? It's huge!

Bob Robinson said...

Lance,
Absolutely! Church effectiveness must be measured in the ways that you are stating (though I'd add the all-important aspect of how church members are engaged in their vocations to transform these spheres into God's intended purposes for them, in addition to the "involvement of the laity in the work of the ministry" - my emphasis is neocalvinist, yours is neopuritan).

But for Southern Baptists, numerical growth in membership and baptisms is a big deal. In
that blog post by Ed Stetzer I cited, he wrote, "Today, LifeWay released the 2008 statistics from the Annual Church Profile. The ACP is our way of measuring how SBC churches are doing in a collective sense. We are a people who like to measure-- everything from baptisms to the collective value of congregational property. For good or bad, we have always been a people of numbers."

So, I'm with you. I'm just saying that by the SBC's own standards of success, they are "declining."

Blake said...

Bob,
I do agree with you Southern's influence. My point, and you did address this, is that to use Southern as an example of the SBC right now, may not be fair to its influence. Looking at Southern and the landscape years down the road would be a better gage. I realize that you can't do that for the posts you are writing now. Very good subject matter here. I have enjoyed these posts.

Bob Robinson said...

Blake,
Another aspect of the influence of Southern is the fact that Al Mohler is a media darling. For the main line media, he represents Calvinism and the politically conservative influence that it is seeking to have (as I've noted in my recent posts about Newsweek and Time's takes on Calvinism).

Which raises the question, what is the real influence of Mohler and his neopuritanism on the nation as a whole?

The Metzes said...

Don't know if you'd be interested, but I thought I would pass it along since it's in the area:

http://trinitycleveland.org/whatsnew/tippett.html

Blake said...

That is an interesting question and one that I have thought about a lot. I think that time will tell on that as well.
I think that anyone who takes a strong eveangelical stance will always be polarizing in the media. You will have some that absolutely agree, more that are absolutely opposed and some that don't agree but understand the argument.
I think for many outside of evangelicalism and many in it, they see Mohler as more of a political evangelical, than a reformed political evangelical.

Dan Walsh said...

Bob and GGM,

I had a reaction similar to that of GGM regarding this quote, "So here I'm making another nuanced difference: The “New Calvinists” (which I’ve identified as being better called “Neo-Puritans") see the hope for society in the change of individuals through personal salvation. They rally around the motto, 'Change the world one soul at a time.

You argue, Bob, that "neocalvinism has been to see the gospel as primarily about the restoration of Creation." While I can see the biblical arguments for the restoration of creation I have to side with GGM in the personal salvation side of restoring culture.

I think the goal of restoring culture is a fairy tale, for lack of a better term. Yes, Christians should work to reform culture in the circles they inhabit but dreaming of full restoration or even wide-scale restoration is unattainable because satan still controls the world. Until the final victory of Christ in the end times, reformation of culture is unattainable.

While I think that increasing the Christian population would do more to positively affect culture than simply interaction with culture, I think we need to do both. Yet I think we need to do both humbly accepting that our best laid plans and hardest work may not come to much if it is not within God's plan.

This comment is getting to be long and a bit incoherent, but I hope you've followed me this far. I'm still waiting to see, Bob, why you are making the distinction between the two camps. Do you identify a fundamental flaw in neopuritanism that rubs you the wrong way theologically?

Dan

Bob Robinson said...

Dan,
Thanks for sticking with me so far!

You asked why I am making the distinction between the two camps - "Do you identify a fundamental flaw in neopuritanism that rubs you the wrong way theologically?"

As I've said in another comment to Matt (in an earlier post), my personal journey (and its still a journey, I don't pretend to have "arrived" yet!) is the tale of my becoming a neopuritan in Seminary in the mid 1990s when I discovered Piper and studied under DA Carson and Wayne Grudem. But since then, I’ve been moving into neocalvinism for the last five years. Often, I have one foot in each camp!

The main thing that has moved me into neocalvinism is that it proclaims a cosmic gospel, one that restores all of creation from the Fall. It tells the full story of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration. It sees the gospel as not only saving souls but redeeming all of God's good creation.

Neopuritanism preaches what I've often called a "truncated gospel" - one that is merely about sin and salvation, about escaping to heaven, and with a little bit of cultural engagement thrown in because, as saved people, we know the "truth."

So when Time says that the "New Calvinists" represent one of the 10 Great Ideas that are Changing the World, I shake my head and think, "they are missing the real story of how Neocalvinism actually is seeking to just that!"

Ann said...

Bob- Thank you for this thoughtful post. I think it is important that we realize the distinction between the neo-calvinists and neo-puritans. I graduated from Calvin in 2000 and fell in love with Reformed theology. Since then I have joined the Episcopal church (a compromise with my Catholic husband) so I have been less in touch with my tradition as of late. This new calvinism movement (young, restless, reformed) caught my attention, and I was initially excited until I started reading about it and didn't recognize that which I knew of Reformed theology. What I took away from Calvin as the central thought in Reformed theology was the Creation-Fall-Redemption-Consummation framework..... not a staunch holding to the TULIP. I have always struggled with the U & L part of TULIP. Believe me, I've tried to believe those 2 points, but something about them just feels wrong to me. I can't explain it. But the CFRC I can embrace fully and I try to live my Christian faith out in all areas of my daily life. Everyday I am grateful that I can view the world through that lens. I am living out my Christian faith by loving my daughter and husband well, and by serving my clients well, and when I recycle. Saving souls is only a small part of God's plan of redemption. God is redeemed every square inch of his good creation. Many churches today focus too much on this individualistic faith. Can't we see that God works in community.... he is community... father, son, spirit.

Bob Robinson said...

Dan,
To address the rest of your comment:
You say,
"I think the goal of restoring culture is a fairy tale, for lack of a better term. Yes, Christians should work to reform culture in the circles they inhabit but dreaming of full restoration or even wide-scale restoration is unattainable because satan still controls the world. Until the final victory of Christ in the end times, reformation of culture is unattainable."As a neocalvinist, I humbly would like to agree and also disagree with you. I love dialogue about these kinds of things, so please understand that what I'm about to say is in a true spirit of irenic discourse.

Certainly Satan is still alive and a power in the world. But he is a defeated foe. God's Kingdom is overtaking the kingdom of darkness as Christians live out the gospel mandate to love God and love others for the good of the whole creation. As Christians live out the fullness of the gospel in every aspect of their lives, we participate with God in his restoration of the creation. Certainly, this restoration awaits its full consummation in the end time, but the redemption of the here and now is real and is progressing. We know that our work in cooperation with God "is not in vain" (1 Cor 15:58).

When we pray "Your kingdom come, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven," we are asking for God to continue the work of redemption in the world today.

Colossians 1:15-18 states that Jesus is sovereign over all creation, not Satan. When Jesus was raised from the dead, he won the victory over Satan. He does not say, "Wait until I return, and at that time, I will take authority." No, he says, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me."

This does not mean that we can hope for full restoration in the present state, for we do indeed look forward to Christ returning and consummating his kingdom. But it refuses to believe that real redemption and real reconciliation cannot be accomplished today. We are blessed to be a part of God's big plan to restore all things. It is his will that we participate in the process. And our good works in culture are assured to pass on into the next age, for they will withstand the purging that will cleanse the present world of its sinfulness.

Bob Robinson said...

Thanks, Ann, for your insightful perspective. Very helpful.

Dan Walsh said...

Bob,

Thanks for the ongoing interaction. I appreciate your thought out responses.

After your last comment I have a lingering question. You said, "But it refuses to believe that real redemption and real reconciliation cannot be accomplished today." How does that play out? If we are coworkers with God in the redemption of creation, what are we supposed to do? Are we talking politics, environmental groups, church planting?

Thanks in advance for your clarification.

Dan
http://theologypilgrim.wordpress.com

Bob Robinson said...

Dan,
All of that, and more. If Christ is Lord, then he is Lord of all. He is wants every aspect of the Creation reconciled back to him. And, as followers of Christ, we are mandated to be a part of that reconciliation process.

Read Al Wolters' The Centre and the Circumference, in which he says that there are two fundamental points about Scripture: "It is centered in the person of Jesus Christ, and it brings light and perspective for the entire world."

He explains this further:
"The same point can be made by saying that the Scriptures make manifest the coming of the Kingdom, and can be understood properly only if we realize throughout that Christ is its King and the entire creation its domain. Or again: the Word of God written is always and everywhere a message of salvation—salvation in Christ and for the whole cosmos... Salvation in Jesus Christ means re-creation, the restoration of God’s creation as it was originally meant to be."

Kyle Nolan said...

Does it not count that Calvin has a seminary? Wouldn't that be more Kuyperian?

Drew Taylor said...

The mission and funding of the Seminary forces it, I think, to make judgments of what is absolutely necessary to fulfill the mandate given it by the SBC: to train and equip pastors. Calvin has the ability to have a wider view due to its nature as a Liberal Arts college. Its apples and oranges. Wolters is greatly appreciated at Southern (as is Calvin's grander vision), but the Seminary is somewhat limited by its mandate.

Furthermore, pastors who hold to a reformed soteriology in the SBC are fighting battles on every side for that alone. Give us time to grab onto and live out Calvin's further vision.

Also, it is too early to make judgments about Southern's effectiveness. The SBC has bloated numbers due to hasty baptisms and lack of church discipline. The renewed emphasis on church discipline might cause the numbers to drop more in the future as we purge the rolls, but that is a judgment against the prevailing error in the convention over the past decades and not Southern's vision.