The New Calvinism
by Josh Buice
“Will the New Calvinism last?” A focus on sola Scriptura, ecclesiology and commitment to the local church, pursuit of holiness, the work of the Holy Spirit in ministry and living, and a call to biblical discernment: without these things New Calvinism is just a fad.
Who should read this?
This book is written not only for the members of the Reformed/New Calvinism movement but for anyone who is wondering what this movement is about. How is the caricature of the bearded pastor with a cigar and tattoos, not just some fleeting church fad? Is there any depth and truth to the movement? What are the goals and standards of New Calvinism? What are the dangers this movement faces?
The book opens with a clear cut introduction chapter that shouldn’t be missed. It frames the setup for the book, noting that this resurgence of Calvinism includes the following: 1) inerrancy of Scripture, 2) authority of Scripture, 3) high view of God, and 4) global missions. This modern resurgence mirrors so much of the Reformation – people are being driven to a pursuit of holiness with a bold and unwavering resolve to support the sole authority and inerrancy of the Scriptures.
“When Christ rules a person’s heart, holiness is a byproduct. The public behavior that demonstrates a loose tongue along with other immature behavioral characteristics does not display a heart that is under submission.”
The echoing question amongst the New Calvinists is – will this movement last? This book discusses the problems facing New Calvinism and what the movement's focus should stay at if it is to last. Dr. Josh Buice does an excellent job of editing the material. He wrote the introduction and the first chapter. Other authors each contributed a chapter. The authors include Paul Washer, Dr. Steven J. Lawson, Dr. Conrad Mbewe, and Tim Challies. Sola Scriptura is the heart and soul of the Reformation.
“If the scriptures are not trustworthy, how can we know the truth of our human depravity, the glory of Jesus’ substitutionary death, and the amazing grace of God granted to depraved sinners?”
Today, you can witness hundreds of enthusiastic believers attending conferences all over the US – hungry for Scripture and for sound doctrine. And praise the Lord for it! But even amidst this, lurk pastors who have fallen prey to the slippery slope of pragmatism, the charming allure of mysticism, cultural trendiness as a means of evangelism, and other fallacies.
“The world will never think the gospel is cool. If the New Calvinism movement is indeed a new reformation, the people who make up this movement must stop accommodating their culture and boldly preach the Scriptures. The Gospel will never be palatable to depraved sinners apart from a spiritual resurrection performed by God. As we study the world of God in conversion, we must admit that the church’s cultural trends are not what brought a person to a saving knowledge of the gospel.”
If our battle cry of Sola Scriptura is indeed the heart and soul of New Calvinism – then we must remember that doctrine matters!! – if we let this slip, the church suffers greatly.
“The health of the church is always connected to the health of the pulpit. If men who stand in the pulpit are ashamed to preach the Word, their disciples will likewise learn to be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The danger in conferences is that many of the immature believers will have more preference for them over their local church. Conferences are amazing – it’s such a blessing to get to attend, to fellowship with so many likeminded brothers and sisters. It’s encouraging to get to see our heroes in the faith – and maybe even snap a selfie with them. It’s spiritually refreshing; a spa day for your soul. But it cannot be held in higher esteem than your own church. Serving enthusiastically in your local church is paramount.
“If we are not committed to a local congregation of believers we are not walking in the center of God’s will.”
This concept is mirrored in the book of Hebrews:
“And let us consider how to stimulate one another in love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25
“The keyword here is ‘committed’. The command is not fulfilled by mere attendance but by our active participation in the growth and sanctification of the body. We should never think that we are doing God’s will simply because we attend a church with sound theology and expository preaching and are frequently involved in theological conversations with our peers. We are committed when we are actually ministering in the church under the direction of the elders who for the sake of the least of Christ’s brethren, even those who do not share our interests in high theological dialog but are simply struggling to make it down the road to Zion. If we do not love the most broken, needy, and theologically inept brethren in the local church, then our love for the church and for Christ Himself is in question.”
Purity is essential. Scriptures abound in direct commands to stay pure. While salvation is monergistic, sanctification is synergistic. We do have a responsibility. Colossians 3:2 tells us to keep our minds pure by setting them on things above. Ephesians 6:16 says to keep our heart pure we have to resist the flaming arrow of the evil one. 1 Peter 2:11 says we strive to keep our souls pure from lusts of the flesh.
“Our innermost being must be driven by the desire to know God and follow Christ by the power of the spirit. Every Christian must cultivate his own spiritual life before God in order to bring Him glory.”
Many people reject the concept of holiness because it sounds too legalistic. But the pursuit of personal holiness is nothing like legalism – which separates the grace of God from the law of God.
“When we isolate divine grace from divine law, we fail to see the infinite love of God that stands behind the commands He issues. When this unbiblical divorce takes place, we view His commands as burdensome, too heavy to bear.”
Some people oppose legalism to such an extreme that they take their “Christian liberties” too far and have caused damage. Purity starts with our minds being prepared for serving the Lord. We must keep our minds pure from the worldly influence.
“There can be no loose thinking that is disconnected from the whole truth of scripture. Neither can there be any doctrines neglected. Nor must there be any worldly beliefs allowed to infiltrate our minds. We must master the whole truth of Scripture, and its whole truth, must master us.”
We have to be in total control of our minds, not inebriated or emotionally unstable. We must have sound judgment and a submissive, obedient heart. This growth in holiness is centrally focused on the expectant Hope in the return of Christ. One aspect of the Holy Spirit is His goal of conforming us into the image of Christ. He empowers us to serve Him with a joyful heart. Personal holiness is an act of spiritual empowerment.
I thought the book was excellent – quite emboldening. It’s not a light read – but one that you want to savor slowly and meditate upon. It was encouraging in that this book provides a sense of unity to the centrality of the New Calvinism movement. There are so many variations to the movement that it is crucial that we understand what it IS and ISN’T. This book did an excellent job of describing just that.
I would highly recommend this book to pastors who are not Calvinists – simply because there is so much misinformation out there about Calvinism and this could shed some light on the issue. The book could also encourage them, likewise, to focus on sola Scriptura, commitment to the local church, the pursuit of Holiness, Holy Spirit empowerment in ministry, and biblical discernment.
The only negative thing I can say is that I had a bit of trouble following some parts of the chapter that Dr. Conrad Mbewe wrote on the Holy Spirit's empowerment. It is a subject that is crucial to study and to have a firm grasp on in this age of counterfeit prosperity gospels. And perhaps it was just his style of writing, or that there is a need for multiple book volumes to cover it as deeply as is required of the content? I have heard him speak in person and thoroughly enjoy his material – but this chapter was a little hard to follow his train of thought.
This book is vital for all Reformed believers to read. We must remain focused on the centrality of Scripture – and not get lost in the charismatic mysticism, the “hip” churches that focus on emotional enticement, non-essential ministries, etc.
“When our culture laughs at our gospel, we must not apologize, dumb down, or so contextualize the gospel the offense of the cross is veiled from the eyes of sinful men. We must do the work of discipleship, apologetics, evangelism, missions, and gospel preaching with the confidence that God’s Word is our authority and as ambassadors of the King – we will not remain silent. The battle cry of the Reformation was sola Scriptura. May it be said of us that we are people of the Book – unflinching on the inerrancy, authority, and sufficiency of God’s Word. The battle over the Bible continues today, will you be found faithful?”
- Page 31 – “When pragmatism overshadows theology, the end result will be compromise. The need of the hour is for our orthopraxy to match our orthodoxy. When pastors capitulate on sola Scriptura, the entire church suffers. This methodological shift will affect everyone from children to senior adults. We are guilty of creating functional atheism when we distance ourselves from the authority and reliability of God’s Word. New Calvinists are not being confused with theological liberals by any stretch, but the cultural pressures to lighten up and avoid taking the Bible too seriously are perpetually present – even among the New Calvinism movement. All true preachers of God’s Word feel a certain pressure to avoid being too preachy. Meanwhile, liberals are awaiting children from evangelicals’ churches, and with open arms, they receive a new crop of them onto the university campuses each fall. Once these students are isolated from their homes and their local churches, professors go on immediate attacks against the authority of God’s Word. Much like Satan in the Garden of Eden, they arrogantly cast doubt upon the reliability of God’s Word.”
- Page 64 – “The local church will in some measure take upon itself the doctrine, character, and piety of its ministers – for good or evil. We should pray that our influence over the church would increase only to the degree that we increase in fear of the Lord and in submission to what is written in His Word. Let there be no soiled rag of flesh on our bodies and nothing of our own cleverness in our mouths, for as ministers we do have influence, and as ministers, we will be called to give an account before the throne of the living God with regard to how we have cared for His most precious possession! How then can we know how to conduct ourselves in our care of God’s household? It is only through what is written in His Word. It is only under the infallible guidance of sola Scriptura. Paul wrote to Timothy ‘I write so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God.’ Therefore, the more closely we submit ourselves to what is written, the clearer our conscience will be, and the more confidence we will possess. Consequently, the more we stray from the direct commands of Scripture and give ourselves to our own inventions, the more we open ourselves to Christ’s reprimand.”
- Page 66 – “… let me remind you of two unalterable truths, whose interpretation are not open to debate. The first is that we will be judged, and for some ministers, this will result in the loss of everything except our souls. The second is that the only infallible standard by which we are to guide our conduct in the church is the written Word of God. The further we stray from it, and the more we take away from it or add to it, the less confidence we can have that we will pass through judgment unscathed.”
- Page 73 – “… there is more teaching in Scripture regarding how one is to live the Christian life than how one is to become a Christian. … God is, first and foremost, more concerned with what He is doing in us than with what He is doing through us. He is fundamentally concerned with our godliness before He is with our giftedness. He is of first importance, more interested in our spirituality than in our productivity. This is to say, God is principally focused upon the depth of our maturity before the breadth of our ministry.”
- Page 80 – “Being glib in preaching is valued over having gravitas. I believe it can be shown that this casual thinking about God has led to the new casual worship of God. Moreover, the pulpit is more a dialogue than a declaration. A heavy dose of being sober in spirit is much needed medicine today.”
- Page 101 – “The historic reformed position took it for granted that the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Spirit – such as speaking in tongues, interpretation of tongues, miraculous healing, etc – had ceased with the passing on of the apostles in Bibles times. Notice that this does not mean God cannot do something extraordinary or miraculous, especially in answer to the prayer of God’s people. He is God! He can do all things. Rather this refers to the cessation of the gifts being embodied in individuals so that they are empowered to do the extraordinary in an ongoing way as was the case with the apostles. So any seeking of spiritual empowerment that suggests the restoration of such gifts must be biblically misinformed.”
- Page 115 – “This enthusiasm for sound doctrine is a mark of Gods favor and blessing. The inadequacy of the church growth movement is directly related to its inadequate theology and the failure of the Emerging Church was inevitable because of its failure to embrace sound doctrine. New Calvinism, though, is built upon the firm foundation of the historic doctrine of the Christian faith. God has awakened people who for far too long have been content with poor theology and I am convinced that He will use these now awakened Christians to approach the world with missionary fervor.”