In many circles, it’s cool to rip on the movement referred to as the New Calvinism, but that is not my intent today. Technically, I would fall under the umbrella of the New Calvinism. I am young, I am a Calvinist, and I use an ESV Bible. Yet in a lot of ways, I have always been an outsider in this movement. I did not become a Calvinist because I heard a famous Reformed preachers like Piper, Keller, Chandler, or Sproul. Instead, I become a Calvinist in an entirely ordinary way; I was sitting in my Christian Theology class. That day my professor was teaching on predestination. He laid out the Arminian and Calvinist positions as well as the relevant Bible passages. Up to that point, I had been an outspoken Arminian, but I was also dedicated to the authority of Scripture. That day I was faced with arguments from Scripture that I had not considered, and I reluctantly became a Calvinist. In hindsight, other professors had prepared me for this conversion, but it was on that day that I took the plunge.
I became a Calvinist because of the work of godly men I personally knew. It was men whose character I witnessed firsthand, not because of some talking heads on my computer screen. I believe this is a healthier, more biblical approach to theological growth than watching a preacher online and aligning yourself with him. Because of how I entered this movement, I have always been a bit of an outsider. For example, despite being at a Christian school in St. Paul, MN I had little knowledge of who John Piper was (despite knowing many students on campus had what seemed like an unhealthy obsession with him). To this day, I strive to avoid falling into the celebrity culture of this movement.
I never set out to join a movement, but once I was a Calvinist, I found great encouragement in the New Calvinism. It was great to see so many young Christians and teachers eager to return the American church to a theological seriousness. So I write today out of concern for a group which has shown much promise, but who is flirting with a disaster far greater than Arminianism ever was. The social justice movement is being advanced in Reformed circles, despite its clear ties to Marxist thought. To embrace this worldview undermines the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is shocking to me that those who thrive on theological and exegetical precision when it comes to the difficult doctrines of grace cannot see the blatant reality of social justice. How does something like this happen?
For some time I have noticed warning signs in this movement, and I believe it is these problems which paved the way for social justice to infiltrate it. Here are two of the biggest problems in the New Calvinism:
An obsession with celebrity pastors. I am not against there being pastors with national recognition, but I am against the celebrity culture found in the New Calvinism. This culture is displayed in both hero worship and blind allegiance to certain pastors or theologians. As the movement has grown, the desire for fame and power has also exploded. An unfortunate reality is that many in the New Calvinism ironically seem to care more about what their favorite pastor says about the Bible than what the Bible says for itself. As more and more of the young, restless, and reformed turned to celebrity pastors, the more they turned from listening to their local pastors. They follow men they do not personally know and ignore those closest to them. Is it any surprise that these celebrity pastors have been at the forefront for calling for social justice? Many of these leaders seem to embrace social justice precisely because it is hip and will give them a wider hearing. A movement which has rightly criticized celebrity pastors like Osteen because of his false teaching is following their own celebrities into different aberrant teachings.
An undercurrent of rebellion. It appears much of the trends in the New Calvinism are at least partially motivated by a rebellion against the practice of our parents and grandparents. Our parents are Arminians, so we’ll be Calvinists. Our parents are dispensational pre-millennialists, so we’ll embrace post-millennialism and amillennialism. Our parents won’t drink beer, so we’ll make our own craft beer and flaunt our drinking online. Our parents dressed conservatively, so we’ll wear odd clothes, and all grow ridiculous-looking beards. Now some of these correctives to the prior generations were long overdue, but it cannot be denied a lot of these actions are being motivated by a rebellious heart instead of a desire for reform. This is especially true within the social justice movement in Reformed circles. Our parents voted for Trump, so we’ll embrace Marx! Forget the hundreds of years of scholarly work on justice and politics in the Reformed tradition, when we can anger our parents by embracing identity politics. The New Calvinism needs to repent of its desire for rebellion and instead embrace biblical reformation. This starts by examining our heart attitudes before the Word of God
I still hold out hope that many within the New Calvinism will repent from the problems evident in this movement as they get older and hopefully wiser. Calvinism is ultimately about the supremacy of God, and not how twitter followers someone has. It is about total submission to God’s Word, not rebellion against prior generations. If this movement wishes to be a force of good in the American church, then it needs to return to the truths of sola scriptura (scripture alone) and sempre reformanda (always reforming).
Levi J. Secord