Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why I'm Opposed to "New Calvinism"

This morning "A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" hit the internet. The discussion that stems from this should be really interesting--to say the least. In the Preamble the motivation behind this document is set forth. It begins:
Every generation of Southern Baptists has the duty to articulate the truths of its faith with particular attention to the issues that are impacting contemporary mission and ministry. The precipitating issue for this statement is the rise of a movement called “New Calvinism” among Southern Baptists. This movement is committed to advancing in the churches an exclusively Calvinistic understanding of salvation, characterized by an aggressive insistence on the “Doctrines of Grace” (“TULIP”), and to the goal of making Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God’s plan of salvation.
I, yes even as a Calvinist, firmly stand with these men in opposing this "New Calvinism".  Though I adhere to what could be described as Calvinist soteriology, I firmly reject a commitment to make churches exclusively Calvinistic in their understanding of salvation.  Of course I would be quite happy if we all embraced what I believe the Bible teaches on how we become Christians.  Yet, I also understand that in the Lord's goodness and sovereignty He seems content with allowing some mystery here and room for disagreement.  Perhaps it is to show a watching world that believers are able to have deep and lasting fellowship around Christ and His gospel even when disagreeing on very significant (though not ultimate) issues.  So, though I'm a young Calvinist (30 is still young right?) I firmly reject those in the new Calvinism camp that are committed to only advancing a Calvinistic understanding of salvation.  This would include those that "seem to be pushing for a radical alteration of the long-standing arrangement" of cooperation around the Baptist Faith and Message.

I am especially opposed to those that "are characterized by an aggressive insistence on the 'Doctrines of Grace' (TULIP).  I'm opposed to that because aggressive insistence goes against "teaching with gentleness and respect".  Furthermore, I do not support an aggressive insistence that others be Calvinists because it denies the very sovereignty and power of God that it claims to uphold.  So again count me with these brothers opposing this "New Calvinism".

I even oppose those that are "making Calvinism the central Southern Baptist position on God's plan of salvation".  Of course I believe that a Calvinistic understanding of how we are saved is biblical.  I firmly believe that because of the fall, man is unable to choose that which is good.  A heart change must first take place.  When that happens then people respond to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that I am not 100% sure of what God's plan of salvation is referring to.  If it is referring to God's plan to work in the world to root out of his kingdom all sin and unbelief and replace it with passionate worshipers then I must confess I'm not sure what that has to do with Calvinism.  Though I think that being a Calvinist influences the way I share and present the gospel I am not sure what bearing it has on the content of the gospel itself.  So, if there are these "new Calvinists" making predestination and such part of their content of the gospel message then count me out.

So, count me in, fellas.  I have to confess right out front, though, that I do not affirm many of your articles.  I'm not sure that you'll really count me as part of your team.  I do affirm the Baptist Faith and Message.  And I do stand with you opposing these aggressive new Calvinists.  I just have one more question...

What's Our Next Step?

If I'm pressed really hard I may be able to think of a handful of these "new" Calvinists.  I've often called them hyper-Calvinists (sometimes hyper because of too much sugar and sometimes too much systematic theology) and sometimes just not very good Calvinists.  So, what do we do to find these angry and divisive Calvinists? And what do we do once we find them?

Do we love them and try to steer them to the gospel and address the heart issues that is leading to their anger?  Do we try to change their theology?  Do we encourage them to become Presbyterians?

I'll be on the look out for these new Calvinists--you guys just let me know what I'm supposed to do when I find one.  I'm sure they're out there (and that part sadly, isn't tongue in cheek).   Until I hear from you this will be my strategy: How to Help an Angry and Divisive Calvinist.


  1. Mike,

    It looks like you've figured out that the New Calvinists described by the "Traditional Baptists" just don't actually exist - at least OUTSIDE of the mind of those "Traditionalists". Seems like some great Southern Baptist blogger said something about this lately - I think he called these so-called "New Calvinists" "Boogiemen" - yeah, I think he did. After these statements, I'm thinking he was spot on.

  2. Mike, I agree with D.R. here. I think this statement is opposing a movement that doesn't exist. I've met many young Calvinists in the SBC, but not one of them fit the description in the quote from this document.

  3. I would imagine that there may be a handful of those described in this document as "new Calvinists". I've met a few that make me a little uncomfortable in their Calvinism--but I don't really chalk that up to doctrine as much as only having "notions in the head" but not necessarily transforming their heart. I've been there for sure. But even still I don't think most of the caged-Calvinists I know, when pressed, would affirm what they are said to affirm here.

    I'm interested to see the ramifications of this for the local churches. It's been my experience that most people don't know the in's and out's of the SBC world. And statements like this can sure sound like, "This is the SBC position" and it can give guys like myself a huge headache having to deal with all of these issues instead of doing much more important work.

  4. I for one dislike any view of Christianity beyond Biblical theology...too often we as the church continue to argue these commentary notes as our true faith. What is our belief? Are we Calvinists? Baptists? Methodists? Why do we keep calling ourselves by any other name thn that which we shall be saved?

    1. Matt,

      I agree that we are Christians first and that our identity is solely found in Christ. And in a perfect world (a redeemed Eden, perhaps) we'd all be known by the new name given to us by the Lord. But we don't live there yet. And sometimes it is simply easier to explain our understanding by using a common word.

      Now I will grant that many have their fundamental identity as Baptist before Christian. (Or Methodist, or Presbyterian, or even non-denominational). That, of course, is wrong.

      For instance if you work at a big company in the accounting department. And someone asked your job you could tell them that you work for Super Giant Awesome Company X. That'd suffice. But if you kept talking and they were wondering more specifics it would be helpful to say, I work in the A division of the accounting department.

      Same way with speaking to people about theology. Obviously, we'd all love to simply be able to say, "I'm a Christian. I follow the Bible." But there are different interpretations of the Bible. We can just say, "I have biblical theology" because the guy on the other side of the aisle also has "biblical theology". At the end of the day in order to communicate about certain theological issues labels can be very helpful (and can unfortunately also be confusing, LOL).

      Thanks for the comment and for reading! I hope you are well.

    2. Definitions of faith, repentance and grace change with the understanding of the sovereignty of God and the replacement of objective truth with subjective truth. To understand the foundational debate of Old Light Calvinist versus New Light Calvinist, it is important to understand Preparationism versus Enthusiasm. But it will take a lot of reading of original source material. Read something written in 1876 before "saving faith" came to mean de facto regeneration.

    3. Patrick,
      Thanks for the link, but this article isn't really dealing with the difference between Old Light and New Light Calvinism. It's more about a label of "New Calvinism" that is being stuck on people in our day.

  5. good post bro

  6. Mike, I can't believe you are a Calvinist and yet fail to see that the document ("A Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation") is clearly Pelagian in its anthrophological position.

    If you really love God's truth, why support the heresies of these Pelagians? I'm not an "angry Calvinist", but if Paul were alive today, he would be such, as he was concerning the Galatian heresy.

    1. Jeph,

      I can say with certainty that you misread my post. In this piece I am not interacting with their anthropological position, for starters. You'll notice that I clearly stated in the article that I can't sign off on their document. Secondly, this is somewhat tongue in cheek. My point here is that these "New Calvinists" rarely are to be found. I'm not doubting that they are out there. And if they are, I too oppose their position. But what this TSBUGPS does is make trouble for guys like myself.



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