The past five to ten years have seen a resurgence in what is often called “New Calvinism”. This movement has often been criticized especially among more established Reformed ministers as immature, lacking doctrinal depth and discernment. While some of those criticisms may be true a new book The New Calvinism Considered A Personal And Pastoral Assessment by Jeremy Walker has come out that seeks to provide a balanced evaluation of the New Calvinism.
In this book, Jeremy majors on pointing out the strengths of New Calvinism and then points out his cautions and concerns in chapter four. Chapter one and two help the reader comprehend new Calvinism and the characteristics of the New Calvinism. Chapter three is where the author provides areas of strength that he sees throughout the book. The book concludes with counsel to those in the New Calvinist movement.
The strength of any critique is in its ability to be balanced, to give the benefit of the doubt and yet to point out legitimate concerns. Often times in my experience growing up in the Church when criticism comes there are no words of encouragement or mention at all of areas where one could be commended or affirmed. Of course this can also go the opposite direction—one can only commend and affirm but never offer any substantial critique to help the person. Since I’ve experienced both of those ditches in the course of my Christian life I’m thankful that The New Calvinism avoids both of them.
Jeremy commends New Calvinists in chapter three for being Christ-oriented, God- honoring, grace-soaked, missional, complementarian, inventive, and committed to expository preaching. His concerns are that many “New Calvinists have a tendency to pragmatism and commercialism” (59), an unbalanced view of culture (67), a troubling approach to holiness (74), potentially dangerous ecumenism (83), spiritual gifts (92) and triumphalism (98).
The first critique centers mostly on Driscoll and his emphasis on quoting statistics. Here he calls Driscoll “a purveyor par excellence of this approach to quoting statistics” (62) with the point being that in quoting states “we need to adapt and respond to what this latest survey says about the state of the church and the state of the world” (63). Here his point is to call us to be faithful to the Word of God and the Gospel (67). His second critique centers on the approach of New Calvinists to worship, specifically the idea that they think “that all of life is worship” (70). His concern with this view in practice is that it can lead “toward a tendency to make evangelism drift toward becoming more like the world in order to win the world” (72).
While I appreciate his concern and I think in some cases it may be warranted I have to disagree with Jeremy on this his second critique. There has been very careful work done on the issue of contextualization by Dr. Ed Stetzer and even more recently in Reformed Means Missional which explores this issue from none other than the World Reformed Fellowship. In the case of the latter book Reformed Means Missional it must be noted there was no way that Jeremy could be aware of that book while he was writing The New Calvinism. Even so, I think the point Jeremy makes that New Calvinists are “becoming more like the world in order to win the world” (72) is unfair and requires more proof in order to substantiate the critique.
While the author cites Dr. Keller and his involvement in BioLogos I don’t think that is the best example. While his point is strong even valid, I think he could have used a stronger example that would have helped his case. For example my question as I’m reading this critique is, “Who else does he think is guilty of “becoming more like the world in order to win the world?” (72) That is a very strong statement to make and then only provide one example that states that New Calvinists are only interested in becoming more like the world in order to win the world. In my own experience with friends all across the New Calvinist movement in the United States I see the opposite. I see young men who are first and foremost committed to the Word of God and proclaiming the Gospel to people and because of the Gospel engaging the culture not to be in or of the world but to be salt and light to their lost friends and make disciples. While I agree in principle with his comments in the second critique I must disagree with the author because while he makes a strong argument; he only provides one example of how he sees New Calvinists are “becoming more like the world in order to win the world” (73).
While many people within New Calvinism will disagree with some of Jeremy’s criticisms I think they are written in such a way as to help those engaged in the movement to think through what they think about those issues and engage in a discussion about these things. When Killing Calvinism by Pastor Greg Dutcher came out Dr. John Piper noted that “When this kind of critique and warning come from within a movement, it is a sign of health.” It is in this same spirit that I believe Jeremy has written The New Calvinism A Personal and Pastoral Assessment.
While many of the assessments of New Calvinism have gone overboard and at times are awkward in their analysis, this book by Jeremy Walker strikes a tough balance by speaking the truth in love and yet firmly points out areas he sees as concerns. Some people will disagree with his concerns at various points or find his argument to be lacking. Yet, Jeremy seeks in this book to speak fairly to New Calvinism by tracing the history of the movement, by commending what he sees as strengths and lays down his cards on what he sees as areas of concern.
As Christians we need to hear not just from those who are outside of our particular theological tradition but also within our theological tribe. As Jeremy speaks to us it is my sense in reading this book that he cares about us—he speaks as one engaged in the care of souls sharing what he sees as areas of growth while also emphasizing areas of strength. It is for this reason I think this book is important and worth reading.
This book will challenge New Calvinists to think about the authors areas of concern but does so not with an overbearing approach but rather aims to commend what is commendable and to state what his concerns are. This short book doesn’t address everything in depth but what for what it does discuss; will challenge readers to think biblically. No matter what you think of New Calvinism or where you land theologically on Calvinism books like The New Calvinism should gain a wide hearing because of its tone and its ability to critically engage the issues without resorting to personal attack.
I encourage those engaged in the New Calvinism to read this book; yes you may disagree but you should deal with Jeremy in the way he has spoken to you in love for the purpose of helping you understand your strengths and address areas of concern. Read The New Calvinism to not only understand what New Calvinism is, but also its strength and weaknesses. Doing so will help you to understand something about this movement while leaving you wanting to explore more of what New Calvinists are saying on the issues discussed in the book.
Author: Jeremy Walker
Publisher: EP Books (2013)
I received this for free from EP Books book review program for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”