New Calvinism is not a new branch of theology or a denomination. Rather, it is a “revival” of sorts—a revival of traditional, “old” Calvinism. The movement is sweeping through American evangelical churches of all denominations, attracting young people from Free Church, Episcopal, Independent, Presbyterian, and Baptist churches alike. The Gospel Coalition, started in 2007, is the national network for the New Calvinist movement.
Calvinism promotes the authority of Scripture and the doctrines of God’s sovereignty, the total depravity of man, and predestination. These biblical doctrines are proving attractive to many in the younger generation today, and churches in the Reformed tradition are seeing a general increase in numbers. Thus, the influence of “New Calvinism.”
The resurgence of Calvinism might seem surprising, given the popularity of the feel-good, bubbly theology of health-and-wealth preachers and books such as Your Best Life Now. However, the New Calvinism could also be seen as a theological corrective to errant doctrine—the pendulum is swinging back to a more biblical approach. Young people who have grown up in an increasingly secular culture are looking for churches teaching the “meat” of the Word (Hebrews 5:14) instead of seeking to entertain them. In the process, they are rediscovering many biblical truths about God, salvation, and grace.
Contributing to the “newness” of New Calvinism are “seeker-friendly” styles of worship, an openness to dialogue with other Christian traditions, and an embrace of continuationism. Given the diversity of the various churches embracing New Calvinism, it comes as no surprise to discover the emphasis is less on the finer points of theology and more on engaging contemporary society. Mark Driscoll, a pastor identified with the movement, says, “New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.” Driscoll is somewhat vague on some theological issues. In a recent interview, he suggests that some issues need not be fought over “because bigger things are at stake, such as the evangelizing of lost people and the planting of missional churches.” Flexibility, he says, should be allowed in “spiritual gifts, baptism, communion, worship styles, Bible translations and sense of humor.”
Some see two factions emerging from within New Calvinism: the New Puritans and the New Calvinists. The New Puritans focus on the sovereignty of God in salvation and are identified with Driscoll and John Piper. The New Calvinists focus on the sovereignty of God over creation and are identified with Tim Keller and Gabe Lyons.
One criticism of New Calvinism—usually coming from traditional Calvinists—is that it’s not really Calvinism. There is more to being a Calvinist than accepting the five points of Calvinism. It is suggested that some New Calvinist teachings on infant baptism, covenant theology, and the continuation of the miraculous gifts of the Spirit are out of step with the Reformed tradition.
There are many good aspects of the New Calvinism, including its emphasis on the fundamentals of the faith and its ability to attract young people into the church. It remains to be seen whether this new movement will prosper and flourish and have a major impact on postmodern society.