The New Calvinism Considered: A Personal and Pastoral Assessment by Jeremy Walker
The wave of interest in Calvinism in recent years is burgeoning and exploding in both the American context and overseas. Pastor Jeremy Walker considers this trend in his new book, The New Calvinism Considered to be both a cause of commendation and concern for the growth of the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet, there is a difficulty in ascertaining, “documentary evidence for the assertion that some individual or group is, in some measure, New Calvinist” (12). Labels often are more pedagogical markers rather than true to the nature of a movement or group. Take this with the fact that the New Calvinist movement is replete with books, conferences, blog posts, and sermons that overwhelm the observer and much more those who wish to engage the movement on a whole. Pastor Walker is very good in this book at identifying larger currents in the New Calvinist stream that are worthy of commendation: Christ-oriented and God honouring, grace soaked, missional, complementarian, and expository preaching (40-57). His chapter on cautions and concerns is more than the double the page count of his commendation chapter (17 to 45). Yet, he makes some very good points regarding the commercialism and uneasy nature of the movement’s ecumenical forays.
Jeremy writes, “New Calvinists are often ready to overlook and overcome boundaries that may cripple other people, sometimes because they have been saved from the spiritual regions that others have effectively begun to consider beyond the pale” (45). The missional focus of many New Calvinists (Acts 29, Driscoll, and Piper among others)provides a healthy engagement with diverse cultural areas where the power of the gospel transforms the lives of people beyond the comfortable sectors of a narrow vision. The Acts 29 movement in particular is very wise in seeking to provide a vast amount of training for church planters that enabled them to succeed in places where others have failed. I think Jeremy could have done more here by including John Piper’s ministry globally and how the development of Bethlehem College and Seminary as training pastors from all areas for the work of ministry enables global growth. The model of reaching out to sectors of America that have no visible evangelical presence is also another constant of the New Calvinist movement.
I was also glad that Jeremy indicated the desire for this movement to engage in preaching that is expository in nature. Take Crossway for example, they have an entire series of new book designed to be study guides on individual books of the Bible alongside their commentary series, Preach the Word, devoted toward an expository rendering of biblical texts. Books, sermons, and blog posts generally revolve around what a biblical passage means (53). This common theme of taking the preaching of God’s Word seriously and not engaging in frivolous talk outside the Scriptures is hallmark of the New Calvinist movement.
Cautions and Concerns
Jeremy spends a great deal of time in his section focusing on cautions and concerns of the New Calvinist movement. He rightly engages the commercialism of some of the movement with its avowed focus on systems and programs that produce results. We don’t have to go very far to see how Mark Driscoll is constantly promoting his books through interviews and programs, and even arriving unannounced at the Strange Fire conference to pass out his new work. Jeremy’s pushback on this celebrity pull is his critique that the New Calvinist movement asks the question, “What will work,” rather than “What is right” (61)? Pragmatism for the sake of gain without a witness to strong biblical foundations is recipe for disaster in the long run, even if it does work in the present.
Pastor Jeremy’s point that to conflate justification with sanctification by removing much discussion of the role of duty and law is on target. Although I think he misses Piper’s point when John talks about being satisfied in God, Jeremy rightly states that the lack of discussion surrounding duty and law is puzzling. I wonder if an overemphasis on grace and a devaluing of duty and law-keeping is centered on the idea that pushing duty/obedience pushes evangelistic efforts in the wrong direction. In other words, we get people relying on some false sense of security for saving faith instead of grace found in Christ. Yet, Jeremy is right to state that, “Principled obedience is not legalism…Indicative and imperatives are yoked together. We are redeemed for holiness” (79-80). Holiness is a reveling in the law of God that produces joy and strength carried alongside an appropriate understanding of our justification. I think Jeremy goes a bit far in labeling this kind of lack of discussion incipient antinomianism, because you can rightly see this discussion of law in the writings of Kevin DeYoung, Ligon Duncan, Sproul and others.
Jeremy has written a good introduction to the issues surrounding the New Calvinist movement. The book lacks a sense of balance in its presentation though; for instance, the section on Commendations includes 1 ½ pages on the missional focus of the movement while there is at least 10 pages on the dangerous ecumenism of the movement. I think this is off-balance considering the missional work of such people as Tim Keller and Matt Chandler. Overall, I was glad to see Jeremy engage the issues of ecumenism, pragmatism, and holiness. The issue of the church and how it relates to this movement with so many various denominations and strands, including organizations with no direction church affiliation, will be the main issue of concern for years to come regarding this movement.
Thanks to EP Books and Cross Focused Reviews for the copy of this book in exchange for review.