Mark Driscoll and Gabe Lyons

Deciphering the Nuanced Differences Between Neopuritanism and Neocalvinism

The last of my comparisons between neopuritanism and neocalvinism looks at two young, cutting-edge guys that represent these two streams of Calvinism.


Mark Driscoll has been a representative of avant-garde Christianity since the mid 1990s when he planted Mars Hill Church in Seattle. He was also with Leadership Network then, which spawned Emergent Village. In 2001, Driscoll split with Emergent Village. He wrote,

“I eventually had to distance myself from the Emergent stream of the network because friends like Brian McLaren and Doug Pagitt began pushing a theological agenda that greatly troubled me. Examples include referring to God as a chick, questioning God's sovereignty over and knowledge of the future, denial of the substitutionary atonement at the cross, a low view of Scripture, and denial of hell which is one hell of a mistake.”

Driscoll is a hard-hitting, in-your-face kind of guy who revels in Mars Hill being “Seeker-Hostile and Seeker-Insensitive.” The hard-line Bible preaching and Calvinistic theology of Mars Hill stands in stark contrast to the liberalism of Seattle, but that is part of its appeal. Driscoll is abrasive and doesn’t care what people think of him. The goal is to proclaim truth in the Seattle culture, and to allow God, in his sovereignty, to save those he is going to save.

Even though Driscoll has distanced himself from “Emergent,” he is still what is often called “Missional.” Missional churches are communities that live into the culture in which they've been called. They hold fast and strong to their core doctrines, but they also speak the language of the culture in which they have been placed. Mars Hill is attempting to do this.

Driscoll’s philosophy of ministry is that the Sunday worship and sermon are meant to equip its members to be missionaries within their communities throughout the week.

“God’s mission is not to create a team of moral and decent people but rather to create a movement of holy and loving missionaries who are comfortable and truthful around lost sinners and who, in this way, look more like Jesus than most of his pastors do.” (Driscoll, The Radical Reformission, p. 35, as cited in Hansen, Young, Restless, Reformed)

Members are trained in the doctrine of Penal Substitutionary Atonement and understand TULIP so that they can better do the ongoing work of evangelism – in their homes, at their work, and when they are at their kids’ soccer games. The neopuritan heart of Driscoll beats to see conversions and to see new churches started up to see even more conversions. Driscoll’s gospel is summed up when he says, "people suck and God saves us from ourselves." Mars Hill has been successful – the church has grown to over 5,000, and has founded the Acts 29 Network, which starts and nurtures church plants with the goal of planting 1,000 churches in the next 20 years.


Gabe Lyons, the creative force behind the Fermi Project (now called "Q"), has been deeply troubled by what he’s seen in American Christianity. He writes in his article, “Influencing Culture: An Opportunity for the Church,”

“Christianity has gained more conversions in America over the last two hundred years than any other faith. Simultaneously, Christianity has steadily lost cultural influence despite its rapid conversion growth.”

Lyons believes that the gospel is no longer having a powerful influence in our culture.

“I believe God is calling the Church of America to grasp its calling to influence the greater culture... I can’t imagine anything more important or significant in our lifetime, than to be a part of the church recapturing its role in shaping culture. When we do this, the life-giving message of Jesus Christ will go forward in ways unprecedented throughout the 21st century.”

Lyons believes that the full Gospel message was compromised by two influences on American Christianity: In the wake of the Enlightenment, “the basis for human existence began to shift away from God and toward humanity. Human reason, scientific research and individual achievement had no need for divine intervention.”

In the wake of the large conversion movements of the early 1800’s, “The great orators of this time used emotional preaching and proclaimed boldly the most dramatic points of the Christian story; ‘You are a sinner, and Christ’s death and resurrection can give you new life. If you get saved, you will have eternal life in Heaven.’ They initiated special invitations to capture the most possible conversions from a given audience in a limited amount of time. They didn’t have the benefit of living among the people and modeling the life of a Christian over the course of years. Their demanding schedule of traveling by horseback from town to town gave them weeks, and sometimes just days, to convey the depth of the message of Jesus."

The result?
“In the process, Christianity was losing its profound and life-giving answers to central questions, no longer representing an entire life-system and worldview. It had become relegated to a personal, spiritual decision about where you would spend the afterlife.”

In true neocalvinist form, Lyons points to the full gospel story of Creation- Fall- Redemption- Restoration (click on the chart on the left). For Lyons and neocalvinists, the gospel is not just about sin and salvation, but about a whole life and world view, based on this four-chapter story. The gospel is about “grace restoring creation,” not just about the salvation of individual souls.

Not that neopuritans like Mark Driscoll would disagree with this, for it is clearly a biblical teaching. It’s just that in practice, Driscoll and neopuritans narrowly define the gospel as mainly being about salvation of individual people, saying that the heart of the gospel is Christ’s Substitutionary Atonement on the cross for the Justification of human beings who place their faith in Christ’s work on the cross. It's all about salvation.

And not that neocalvinists like Gabe Lyons are not interested in the salvation of individuals, either. Lyons was the one who commissioned the very important Barna study that resulted in the book unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters, which he co-authored with David Kinnaman. In this book, Lyons shows that the younger generation is fed up with the form of Christianity that is just out to get conversions. They want to see authentic faith lived out. Lyons' contention is that the best way to reach young Americans is to proclaim the fullness of the gospel through word and action, not just to try to make conversions.

The paradigm of neopuriatans and neocalvinists are different, though they both affirm doctrinally what the other teaches. Neocalvinists believe in Penal Substitution and the Doctrines of Grace that assure God's soverignty over individual salvation, but this is not the primary paradigm from which they operate.

Mark Driscoll does a wonderful job of applying the theology of atonement to the needs of hurting people. However, neopuritans like Driscoll often get so fixated in explicating precise doctrine that they don't always get to the missional heart of God and the implications of the God's Kingdom for whole-life discipleship in the world. They see “Missional” as merely the Christian’s role in evangelism outside the walls of the church.

Neocalvinists, in contrast, see “Missional” as including the local church, but also a whole lot more. It is Christian cooperation with God in making all things right – seeking justice and shalom in all aspects of life (in church, in our vocations, in politics, in caring for the environment, in making our schools better, in making business enterprise better, in helping families flourish, etc.)

The vision for Gabe Lyons’ Q Ideas is to call the church and all Christians of our time...

“...to rediscover the cultural mandate, embracing the opportunity to influence culture. In the church, we must teach about calling and cultural influence and provide vital support to cultural leaders. We must become an integral piece of the local culture, convening and encouraging creation of future culture that serves the common good. We must become connoisseurs of good culture, recognizing and celebrating the good, true and beautiful to the glory of God and begin to lead the conversations that will shape future culture."

This call can certainly be embraced by Neopuriatans and Neocalvinists alike. It is so biblical that it can be also embraced by Arminians and any other stream of evangelical Christianity too. It's hard to argue with!

As a wonderful example of how neopuritans and neocalvinists view the gospel differently, look at the conferences they sponsor and attend. Neopuritans sponsor pastor's conferences emphasizing church-centered methods of evangelism, the proclamation of the word through sermons, and how to make the church more effective to proclaim the gospel to the culture.

Lyons, on the other hand, has successfully launched the annual "Q Gathering",
"a place where church and cultural leaders come together to collaborate and explore ideas about how the Gospel can be expressed within our cultural context."

The Q Gathering hopes to encourage Christians to engage and shape the culture.

"By bringing together leaders from the channels of media, education, politics, arts and entertainment, business, the social sector and the church to learn from one another, it instigates lively interaction and learning that seldom takes place in other environments. We believe that inherent in Christian faithfulness is the responsibility to create a better world, one that reflects God’s original design and intention. Q is a place leaders can explore what that might look like and how God’s intention is showing up in the lives of their peers and the cultural projects they create."


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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.” 


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). 

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The Spirituality of Hummingbirds

My wife and I are ready. We understand that the hummingbirds are only a few hundred miles away and will be arriving any day. We have our feeders filled and our flowers are starting to bloom. We are on the watch.

Linda was reading to me from a book on hummingbirds, and among the fascinating facts about them was this little nugget:

"If an average man had a metabolism comparable to that of a hummingbird, he would have to eat 285 pounds of hamburger every day to maintain his weight."


I started Scot McKnight's 40 Days Living the Jesus Creed today. Ironically, in his introduction, Scot writes about this very thing,

"Recently my wife, Kris, and I attracted hummingbirds into our backyard to feed on our assortment of feeders and flowers. Throughout a weekend marked by perfect weather, Kris and I sat on our screened porch and read and talked and visited with family and ate our meal together. We learned something that weekend about those little marvels called hummingbirds: they eat constantly. My estimation is they visit our feeder and flowers forty or fifty times a day. Instead of gobbling up an entire bottle of nectar in one sitting, hummers poke their spindly, needle-nosed beaks and extendible tongues to extract nectar from plant and feeders all day long.

Herein lies a parable for us today: many of us live as if we were designed to eat like lions, as if one big meal (Sunday) is enough to sustain us for the week. Not so. Followers of Jesus are more like hummingbirds than lions. We need a steady diet of spiritual nectar if we are to live the kind of life Jesus asks us to live."

No wonder I often feel so anemic! I am wasting away, and I don't even know it. Even though I'd like to think I'm spiritually healthy and fit, I actually look like Christian Bale in The Machinist. I've fooled myself into thinking I'm ripped like Batman, but the reality is different from what I want to believe.

As followers of Jesus, our metabolisms are set to eat 285 pounds worth of loving God and loving others per day. But our diets are woefully short of what God has intended for healthy living and we are starving to death.

It might take some time to get used to eating so much, but I plan on reciting the Jesus Creed every day and to eat deeply from the banquet of wonderful nectar found in God's Word.

Glory to God. Thanks for your food.


Passion Conference and Jubilee Conference

Deciphering the Nuanced Differences Between Neopuritanism and Neocalvinism NEOPURITAN RESURGENCE: Passion Conference In his book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists Collin Hansen’s first chapter (“Born Again Again”) talks about his encounter with the Passion, a conference for college and university students. What amazes Hansen is that this conference is so Calvinistic in nature. What is “Calvinism” according to Hansen? “Many recognize Calvinism, described by some as Reformed theology, by the acronym TULIP.” "TULIP," remember, are those five theological points that focus on God’s sovereignty in salvation. These five points have been the central focus of neopuritanism for a long time, and the major debate that they have had with the rest of evangelicalism. As neopuritans interpret the Bible, they see that God is so completely sovereign that he predestines people to salvation. This Calvinism is what Hansen sees in preachers at Passion like John Piper. “Piper lends academic weight, moral authority, and theological precision to the conference. More than that, Piper shares Passion’s overarching vision. Worship songs from Charlie Hall and Chris Tomlin, preceding talks by Lou Giglio, pound home two themes beloved by Calvinists—God’s sovereignty and glory. From there, Giglio encourages students to devote themselves to evangelism and global missions by pointing to the transcendent God in heaven.” Notice that this conference is what I’ve been calling “neopuritan.” It focuses on God’s sovereignty and glory as it relates to evangelism and global missions. Musical artists and Lou Giglio (the intense spark behind the conference) do a wonderful job of pointing students to the sovereign and glorious God, but for what purpose? The neopuritan emphasis is that the main thing that God wants us to do is evangelism. NEOCALVINIST RESURGENCE: Jubilee Conference

The neocalvinist college student conference is Jubilee, held each February in Pittsburgh. At this conference, main speakers talk about how God wants students to live faithfully in the vocations for which they are studying, so that the world can be transformed by redeeming the institutions of our society. During each plenary session, Michael Goheen walks the students through the biblical story of Creation-Fall-Redemption-Restoration, explaining the gospel of Christ’s redemption of God’s good world and challenging students to embrace this gospel and to see themselves as part of God’s redemptive plan for the world. Andy Crouch pleaded with the students to move away from just being consumers of culture but rather creators of culture themselves. Students go to breakout sessions based on vocationbusiness majors hear from business leaders how to work for justice and shalom in the marketplace, medical students talk with practitioners about how to change the medical field so it reflects God’s good intentions, art students discuss with artists what it looks like to create good culture, education majors learn from Christian educators how to renovate the educational system, political science majors learn about models for Christian engagement in politics, and students explore what it looks like to advocate for justice for the oppressed of the world. What highlights Jubilee are the many, many voices that students hear from Christians who are making a difference right now in the world. Jessica Flannery was a perfect example – her Christian faith led her to begin Kiva, the world's first micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to third-world entrepreneurs in order to alleviate poverty. The students that attend Jubilee understand that a Christian faith makes a difference outside the walls of the church. It does more than evangelism, it seeks to participate with God in his making the world right. This is a neocalvinist student conference: the focus is not just on God’s sovereignty in salvation, but on God’s sovereignty over creation. Neocalvinism takes seriously the Cultural Mandate given to humanity in Genesis 1:26 (also 2:15). The gospel message is about God’s ongoing work to redeem his good creation, and the gospel call to move from being a part of the problem to becoming a part of the solution. 


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Jonathan Edwards and Abraham Kuyper

Deciphering the Nuanced Differences between Neopuritanism and Neocalvinism NEOPURITAN RESURGENCE: Jonathan Edwards Thanks in large part to the ministry of John Piper, there is a new generation of Christians turned on by Jonathan Edwards. Of course, Piper isn’t alone in his affections for the man who wants to stir up our affections for God. J.I. Packer and R.C. Sproul has been banging the drum for Puritanism for a long, long time. It is encouraging that, in a generation that could be overcome by the worst of hyper-modernism and/or postmodernism, young Christians are reading Jonathan Edwards (or at least reading about him. Few actually get beyond Religious Affections, but they certainly read John Piper’s A God Entranced Vision of All Things: The Legacy of John Edwards and God's Passion for His Glory: Living the Vision of Jonathan Edwards. Collin Hansen, in Young, Restless, Reformed, says that Trinity Evangelical Divinity School professor of Church History Doug Sweeney attributes the attraction of young seminarians to Edwards in part to “the pastor-theologian model.” Hansen writes, “Schools like Trinity have renewed the evangelical commitment to learned clergy by equipping them with theological tools for teaching. Those students have one contemporary model in Piper…With Trinity promoting the pastor-theologian model, it’s no coincidence that the number of Calvinists at Trinity has increased in the last twenty years, according to Sweeney.” NEOCALVINIST RESURGENCE: Abraham Kuyper Not since the time when Abraham Kuyper gave his famous Stone Lectures at Princeton in 1898 has his influence been so felt across North America. Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) was the founder of a school of thought known as neocalvinism or Kuyperianism. Kuyper worked as a pastor, theologian, newspaper editor, and politician in the Netherlands, where he ran two newspapers, organized the Netherlands' first political party, started the Free University of Amsterdam, and served as Prime Minister. His action had a tremendous impact on the political and social landscape of the Netherlands, and his writings have shaped a school of thought that has influenced many in not only the Netherlands, but in Europe and North America. In America, Kuyper’s influence is most felt where the Dutch settled in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Toronto, Canada. The leading Kuyperian school in North America is not a Seminary, but a college: Calvin College. This reflects a key distinctive of Kuyper's worldview theology: that the key to changing the world is not so much found in the "pastor-theologian model" (as important as that may be), but in a "Christians-in-every-calling model," where believers infiltrate every sphere of society, living out their faith to change the very institutions in which they are called. The resurgence of Abraham Kuyper is felt in the books being published that reinforce his ideas about worldview, including:  

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John Piper and Tim Keller

Deciphering the Nuanced Differences Between Neopuritanism and Neocalvinism

It is my contention that Time, Newsweek, and even many in evangelical Christianity are not well informed on two parallel resurgences of Calvinism going on in North America. Collin Hansen’s new book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists, is symptomatic of this ignorance. In it, he writes chapters on people, places, and events that show that a new movement of Calvinism is sweeping the nation. However, he seems oblivious to the fact that the real "neocalvinism" is also gaining momentum. Instead, he offers simply the evidence for "neopuritanism." In the next few posts I will look at the topics in Hansen's chapters about the neopuritan resurgence, and then offer my analogue to the neocalvinist resurgence that is also occurring. NEOPURITAN RESURGENCE: Bethlehem Baptist Church and John Piper Piper is the epitome of the resurgence in neopuritanism, offering a huge and wonderful vision of the sovereignty of God. His writings and sermons are laced with references to Jonathan Edwards, who is the subject of my next post. Piper wants to create a generation of “Christian Hedonists,” which means that “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” The Gospel, according to Piper, “is the news that Jesus Christ, the Righteous One, died for our sins and rose again, eternally triumphant over all his enemies, so that there is now no condemnation for those who believe, but only everlasting joy.” Piper is a staunch and unapologetic advocate for the five points of Calvinism. He states that the five points are essential, for they assure that God alone gets the glory“We want for others the experience of knowing and trusting the sovereign grace of God in such a way that He and He alone gets the glory.” So, for a neopuritan like John Piper, the slant is toward highlighting the sovereignty of God in salvation – echoed in the five Calvinist “solas” - salvation is by God’s grace alone, by faith alone, through Christ alone, by Scripture alone and for God’s glory alone. NEOCALVINIST RESURGENCE: Redeemer Presbyterian Church and Tim Keller Tim Keller is the leading advocate for a neocalvinist understanding of the gospel. When he speaks of “the Gospel,” he refuses to speak of it in only individualistic terms but rather with the emphasis on the restoration of Creation. In a May 2008 article for Christianity Today entitled “The Gospel in All its Forms,” Keller talked about how there are very many ways to preach the gospel. To put the gospel in a nutshell, he wrote, Through the person and work of Jesus Christ, God fully accomplishes salvation for us, rescuing us from judgment for sin into fellowship with him, and then restores the creation in which we can enjoy our new life together with him forever. One of these elements was at the heart of the older gospel messages, namely, salvation is by grace not works. It was the last element that was usually missing, namely that grace restores nature, as the Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck put it. When the third, "eschatological" element is left out, Christians get the impression that nothing much about this world matters.” This is the heart of the neocalvinist slant – that what’s really important in the gospel is God’s intention to restore the Creation, both in the here and now, and ultimately in the final day. While neopuritans speak of the gospel in terms of sin and salvation, neocalvinists speak of the gospel in terms of the overarching story of the Bible. Keller writes, “Instead of going into, say, one of the epistles and speaking of the gospel in terms of God, sin, Christ, and faith, I point out the story-arc of the Bible and speak of the gospel in terms of creation, fall, redemption, and restoration. So, for a neocalvinist like Tim Keller, the slant is toward highlighting the sovereignty of God over Creation – echoed in the Reformational Worldview found in the story of Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration which emphasizes that the main intention of the gospel is for God to actively restore his good creation, with humanity being the center of the restoration. The ultimate goal is not so much salvation for humans to go to heaven, but redemption for humans and for all of creation for the new earth.

Posts in this series on Neo-Puritanism and Neo-Calvinism


Deciphering the Nuanced Differences Between Neopuritanism and Neocalvinism

Collin Hansen, in his book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists, says that as a new (and the youngest) editor at Christianity Today, it was assumed that he knew a lot about the emerging church. However, “I didn’t know anyone who was emerging.” Instead, what he did notice was something else: “After one staff discussion about the emerging church, I talked…with my boss at CT. I expressed concern that when Christianity today reports about the emerging church, we might give the impression that this group will become the next wave in evangelicalism. If anything, in my limited sphere I saw a return to traditional Reformed theology. My friends read John Piper’s book Desiring God and learned from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. They wanted to study at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.” While in college at Northwestern, Hansen was in Campus Crusade, and recently he has been taking graduate courses at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. This all sounds very familiar to me. I came to faith in a Campus Crusade modeled ministry and then entered and finished the M.Div. program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. While at TEDS (and this was 15 years ago!), Piper was all the rage. Everyone read Desiring God and Piper gave the addresses for our preaching lecture series. The Calvinist New Testament scholar D.A. Carson was the seminary’s resident celebrity (since we was so widely respected), and Wayne Grudem was just publishing his Calvinistic theology text. This is when I became a neopuritan (in spite of Scot McKnight’s protestations!). I could have worn the t-shirt that’s on Hansen’s book cover, proclaiming, “Jonathan Edwards is My Homeboy.” But since then, I have discovered another kind of Calvinism: a Calvinism that has been called “Neocalvinism” long before John Piper became famous and the conservatives in the Southern Baptist Convention proclaimed that Calvinism is that which reflects biblical truth more accurately. It is a Calvinism rooted in Dutch Reformed movements, rather than rooted in the Puritans. As I’ve been writing about this the last few days, I felt that it might be helpful to compare the “New Calvinists” that Hansen writes about in his book (which I’ve been calling “Neopuritans,” based on the classification by Ray Pennings) with the “Neocalvinists.” There are neocalvinist analogues to the people, events, and places that Hansen has in his book. This week, I will provide you with these analogues.

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Neocalvinism: What is it? Is it different from the Calvinism of Albert Mohler?

Yes it is.

Mohler represents neopuritanism (see my last post for some of the distinctions): Neopuritanism has plenty to offer, and (as Ray Pennings says) we need to keep the dialogue open with them. While neopuritanism and neocalvinism are “two streams flowing from a single source,” they flow “in very different directions.”

Here are four particular insights of neocalvinism (courtesy, again of Ray Pennings in his article in COMMENT, but found in excellent books like Creation Regained by Albert Wolters):

1. Creation Order
Because the Creation was created “very good,” there is an inherent potential in the created order that is good as well. The “Cultural Mandate” of Genesis 1:28 and 2:15 tells us that humanity has the task of harnessing this potentiality to develop culture as God intended. Technology, popular culture, progress, and yes, even politics, are to be understood as part of God’s original created order.

2. Antithesis
Sin not only runs through the hearts of every individual human being, but also through the entire cosmos. Romans 8 tells us that all creation is “groaning”—it suffers as well. Pennings writes, “Sin is personal, but it also manifests itself in the various organizations of society.”

3. Common Grace
But God’s creation is still good, though tarnished by sin. If God’s creation is stewarded according to his good will, it still provides good benefits for human beings. By his grace, God not only allows believers to contribute to the common good, but also unbelievers. Pennings writes, “Because all men are made in the image of God, unbelievers can have true insights and perform beneficial works.” This has vast ramifications on our understanding of cultural activity, by both believers and unbelievers, and how we interact together for the common good in societal renewal, technology, politics, etc.

4. Sphere Sovereignty
Neocalvinism states that God has designed a differentiation within society between different spheres of authority. Sphere Sovereignty offers a different matrix for understanding society from the American two-sided paradigm. Pennings writes that our American political discourse is extremely limited by its "two-sided coin" approach to culture. “On the one side, we have individual rights and free markets, on the other side , we have the power of the state as a social engineer.” Contrary to this limited view, Sphere Sovereignty offers intermediary social structures such as families, churches, businesses, and schools that need to be seen as contributing to the social fabric as much as individuals and state.

For more on neocalvinism, check out my online resource: Friend of Kuyper.

Related Posts:


Which is the new Calvinism? “Neo-Puritanism” or “Neo-Calvinism?”

Time and Newsweek are not familiar with the important distinction

UPDATE: for a revised and updated version of "Neo-Calvinism and Neo-Puriatanism" please go to my new website, www.re-integrate.org, and my most recent post on this subject:

So What’s Wrong with Neo-Calvinism?


Time and Newsweek recently ran cover stories featuring two slants on Calvinism in America. Newsweek’s Jon Meacham wrote, “While we remain a nation decisively shaped by religious faith, our politics and our culture are, in the main, less influenced by movements and arguments of an explicitly Christian character than they were even five years ago… Many conservative Christians believe they have lost the battles over issues such as abortion, school prayer and even same-sex marriage, and that the country has now entered a post-Christian phase.”

On the other had, Time’s David Van Biema wrote, “Calvinism is back… John Calvin's 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism's buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism's latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination's logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time's dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision.”

In other words, while Calvinism is losing influence in the general public, it is actually growing among the faithful. This frightens me. It has all the signs of an escalated cultural clash.
Is there a better way?

The answer is found in the fact that Time and Newsweek are not familiar with an important distinction. Time’s Biema called John Piper, Mark Driscoll, and Albert Mohler “Neo-Calvinist ministers” (no doubt thinking he had invented this term to describe these “New Calvinists”).

But Piper, Discoll, and Mohler are not “Neo-Calvinists,” they are actually “Neo-Puritans.” Ray Pennings, in the December, 2008 issue of Comment, wrote an article titled, “Can we hope for a neocalvinist-neopuritan dialogue?” In it, he explained, “We have two streams flowing from a single source, but in very different directions.”

While both neopuritanism and neocalvinism are concerned about personal piety as well as cultural influence, they come at these things from different angles. Neopuritanism focuses on “the sovereignty of God in salvation.” Neocalvinism focuses on “the sovereignty of God over creation.” Pennings writes, “Neopuritanism is slanted more towards individual piety and churchly revival, and neocalvinism is slanted more towards corporate activism and cultural renewal.”

Neopuritanism harkens back to John Owen, Richard Baxter, and of course Jonathan Edwards (John Piper’s favorite, and now the favorite of many who enjoy Piper’s enthusiastic writings). Neopuritanism appropriately enlarges our view of God’s authority and thus our view of evangelism, worship, and the church’s role in society. It is what drives much of the religious cultural clashes in American society, including issues of prior generations like prohibition, and today’s issues like gay marriage. It starts with personal piety and moves out toward society, seeking all in the society to live by these pious standards.

Neocalvinism harkens back to Abraham Kuyper, the 19th Century Dutch cultural leader who famously said, “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!’” Neocalvinists, while embracing the Church as God’s people on earth, focus not on church itself, but on “life beyond the church.” Pennings writes, “Their Calvinism has a ‘changing the world’ comprehensiveness. It focuses on all spheres of society and puts the restoration of the creation in clear view.” It starts with the desire to bring all things in society under the good intentions of Jesus Christ, but not for the purpose of protecting us Christians from the "heathens" in society. And not for the purpose of coercing everybody in the society to bow to the rules of our puritanical God. No, it starts with a deep desire to see good done to all people, to bring hope and justice into the world as Jesus would have it, to bring heaven onto earth so that people can experience the goodness of God.

Neocalvinists legitimately seek to transform the world, and through our gospel work of bringing Christ's good Lordship over the brokenness of the world, people will see the gospel lived out. As we live our lives seeking the progress of society, we explain to people that Jesus came to make all things right, and that he desires all people to follow him as their Lord and Savior. As people experience the reality of our seeking the good of our society, then they see that Christianity has more to offer than a set of doctrines that you must affirm and a code of personal ethics that you must painfully follow. It is much broader, much more all-encompassing. It affects all of life.

Attention Time Magazine! This is the kind of "Idea" that can "Change the World Right Now" - a truly new kind of Calvinism. Neocalvinism.

Posts in this series on Neo-Puritanism and Neo-Calvinism

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Jon Meacham and Tim Keller discuss "The End of Christian America"

From MSNBC's "Morning Joe" on Good Friday

Hat tip: Gideon Strauss

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Which is it? “The End of Christian America” or the rise of “The New Calvinism?”

Newsweek and Time give contrary versions of Calvinist influence in America

The cover story of the April 13, 2009 issue of Newsweek (The End of Christian America by the magazine’s editor, Jon Meacham), talks about the ramifications of a study that showed that the percentage of self-identified Christians has fallen ten points in the last two decades. Meacham spotlighted Albert Mohler, the president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and an outspoken proponent of American Calvinism. Meacham quotes Mohler’s online column, where he wrote, “A remarkable culture-shift has taken place around us. The most basic contours of American culture have been radically altered. The so-called Judeo-Christian consensus of the last millennium has given way to a post-modern, post-Christian, post-Western cultural crisis which threatens the very heart of our culture.”

However, the cover story of the March 23, 2009 issue of Time Magazine was about 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” The Number 3 idea: “The New Calvinism.” David Van Biema writes about “the pioneering new-Calvinist John Piper of Minneapolis, Seattle's pugnacious Mark Driscoll and Albert Mohler, head of the Southern Seminary of the huge Southern Baptist Convention. The Calvinist-flavored ESV Study Bible sold out its first printing, and Reformed blogs like Between Two Worlds are among cyber-Christendom's hottest links.” Collin Hansen’s book Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist's Journey with the New Calvinists (following his cover story in Christianity Today) offers enough evidence to Time Magazine that Calvinism is making a comeback. And, of course, Albert Mohler is quoted in the Time article, boasting about the superiority of Calvinist Theology.

So, here we have a strange juxtaposition!

In the Newsweek article, Mohler (in his classic inflammatory fearful rhetoric) is rallying the Calvinist troops against the demise of Christian influence in American culture and the insidious godlessness that will destroy what many believe this to be: a “Christian Nation.” He told Meacham, “The post-Christian narrative is radically different; it offers spirituality, however defined, without binding authority. It is based on an understanding of history that presumes a less tolerant past and a more tolerant future, with the present as an important transitional step.”

In the Time article, Mohler is triumphantly touting his movement as one of the 10 great ideas that are changing the world. The reason? Mohler says, “The moment someone begins to define God's [being or actions] biblically, that person is drawn to conclusions that are traditionally classified as Calvinist.”

Here’s what’s happening as I see it.

As the nation is becoming more turned off by the Religious Right and by Christians who have narrowly defined Christianity as a set of beliefs that one must affirm in order to be “saved,” those that have been in this camp are rallying their troops against the enemies, and tightening the screws on their theology. This creates zealousness among its adherents, and actually grows the numbers. It looks like the next big thing.

But is it?

Perhaps it is the last dying gasp of a movement that has seen its time come and go. Or perhaps it is a signal that a mediating position is about to come to fruition, one that embraces the best that Calvinism has to offer but with humility, gentleness, and respect. Perhaps it is a signpost to a better way, one that comes as the swinging pendulum slows down and level heads and hearts begin to prevail.

We’ll explore these possibilities next.

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