New Calvinism and On-Going Reformation

This month’s Tabletalk (Ligonier Ministries, June 2010) is devoted to the subject of the “new Calvinism”, that fairly recent revival of interest in the doctrines of sovereign grace going on in evangelical circles throughout this country (U.S.) and abroad. Christian journalist Collin Hansen called attention to it a few years ago in his book Young, Restless, and Reformed, and last year Time magazine even made mention of it in its list of “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now” (made #3!). Now Tabletalk offers some critique of and suggestions to the movement. On the whole I was pleased with their comments. I am going to give you a couple of quotes from the issue that I think you will profit from too. And at the same time encourage us in our continuing pursuit to be “reformed yet always reforming” (according to the Word of God).

The first quote is from R.C.Sproul himself in his lead article “Fueling Reformation”. At the end of his article he writes these important words:

All this is to say that Reformed theology so far transcends the mere five points of Calvinism that it is an entire worldview. It is covenantal. It is sacramental. It is committed to transforming culture. It is subordinate to the operation of God the Holy Spirit, and it has a rich framework for understanding the entirety of the counsel of God revealed in the Bible.

So it should go without saying that the most important development that will bring about reformation is not simply the revival of Calvinism. What has to happen is the renewal of the understanding of the gospel itself. It is when the gospel is clearly proclaimed in all of its fullness that God exercises His redeeming power to bring about renewal in the church and in the world. It is in the gospel and nowhere else that God has given His power unto salvation.

If we want reformation, we have to start with ourselves. We have to start bringing the gospel itself out of darkness, so that the motto of every reformation becomes post tenebras lux — “after darkness, light.” Luther declared that every generation must declare freshly the gospel of the New Testament. He also said that anytime the gospel is clearly and boldly proclaimed, it will bring about conflict, and those of us who are inherently adverse to conflict will find it tempting to submerge the gospel, dilute the gospel, or obscure the gospel in order to avoid conflict. We, of course, are able to add offense to the gospel by our own ill-mannered attempts to proclaim it. But there is no way to remove the offense that is inherent to the gospel message, because it is a stumbling block, a scandal to a fallen world. It will inevitably bring conflict. If we want reformation, we must be prepared to endure such conflict to the glory of God (p.7).

Next comes these fine words from Burk Parsons, in his article “Calvinism Isn’t Enough”:

It’s hard to know what may come of this so-called ‘New Calvinism.’ However, we do know that if the New Calvinism does in fact endure, it will endure only because it becomes firmly established on the old Calvinism of John Calvin himself – the same Calvinism of Jonathan Edwards, Martin Luther, Augustine, and the apostle Paul, which is nothing less and nothing more than the all-encompassing gospel-religion of our eternal and triune God – a religion, in the best sense of the term, existing in and among people of every tribe, language, and nation whom our Lord has sovereignly called into an eternal relationship with Himself through the redeeming work of the Son and the applying work of the Spirit.

The Calvinism I’m describing is an historically and ecclesiastically grounded Calvinism established within and upon that which our covenant Lord established and against which the gates of hell shall not prevail – the church of Jesus Christ. And we, the called-out ones, are the confessing church of Jesus Christ, and have been given ordinary means of God’s grace (the Word, prayer, and the sacraments, that is, all aspects of worship for all of life) through which God has promised to convict, convince, convert, equip, purify, discipline, sanctify, and sustain to the end, that we would love God, glorify God, and enjoy God forever (pp.20-21)

And finally, this from R.C.Sproul, Jr. in “Repentance and Reformation”:

That piety that drives reformation, however, is Reformation piety. That is to say, we will get nowhere if we seek to change the world by our own spiritual bootstraps. Reformation piety is not a mere commitment not to dance, drink, or chew, and not to date girls that do. No reformation will ever be built on the foundation of our own spiritual ardor. Reformation piety is a piety that breathes the very air of repentance. It sets aside the camel-swallowing, gnat-strangling propensity we all have of looking at our own sins through a microscope and looking at the sins of others through a magnifying glass. We instead ought to be, as Luther was before us, haunted by our own sin long enough to cry out for the grace of God. And then we believe.

It was, in the end, faith that brought us the Reformation, and only faith will bring us another. We did not change until we learned that we cannot change ourselves. We did not enter into purity until we understood, by His grace, that only His purity would do. That Reformation faith, however, did not end with our own salvation. Neither did it leap from our own salvation to remaking the world. Instead, it moved from saving faith to sanctifying faith, from repenting to believing. Then, all heaven began to break loose.

…The life of repentance and faith — this must needs be our only “strategy.” Repent and believe, and reformation will follow. Jesus said so. Luther said so. Here we stand. We can do no other. So help us God (p.27).