How Calvinist Are the “New Calvinists,” Really?

While Calvin had a political vision in his role as a magisterial reformer in Geneva, very little about 16th century Geneva is politically relevant today.  Although, Dr. James points out that Calvin persuaded Geneva’s civic leaders to make provisions for a mass immigration of Protestant refugees fleeing Catholic persecution in France.  Likewise, immigration is an issue of importance for New Calvinists in 2018.

James said the model New Calvinists are following is exemplified by Keller and others who are engaging in social justice issues, specifically, helping people who are struggling in urban areas.

And while the mercy ministries getting the most attention align more often with progressive politics, Collin Hansen, the editorial director for The Gospel Coalition, said the views expressed by New Calvinists are diverse.  As evidence, he points to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler who often addresses family issues, abortion, and sexuality more conservatively than some others within the movement.

John Calvin Would Not Recognize New Calvinists’ Interest in Spiritual Gifts

Mohler, Piper and others are also seen as ushering in a new wrinkle in Calvinist thought; the acceptance of Charismatic views of the spiritual gifts.

Dr. James credits Wayne Grudem, a theologian and seminary professor, for closing the rift between Calvinists and Charismatics. While there is no connection to Calvin, many of the New Calvinists have embraced Charismatic gifts and extol them in their ministries.

Another practice that many New Calvinists have begun to accept is spiritual formation; practices such as contemplative prayer or meditating on Scripture to get closer to God.  

Marjorie J. Thompson finds some connection to Calvin in these practices in her book Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life:

“Its practice in the Christian church was refined and given special weight by Saint Benedict in the sixth century. In Benedictine tradition, spiritual reading is referred to by its Latin title, Lectio Divina. Few Protestants are aware that figures like the great Reformer John Calvin and the Puritan pastor Richard Baxter advocated a method of reflective meditation with scripture that is directly derived from Benedictine practice.”

But again, Dr. James finds more connection to contemporaries such as Dallas Willard for instilling an interest in what could be called Catholic spirituality among New Calvinists.

There is another attitude common among New Calvinists that could be described as an aversion to the belief that God has a special relationship with the United States. It could be summed up in the phrase “God and Country.”

Calvin’s reformation was closely identified with the political structure in Geneva so a reticence to embrace nationalism is unlikely to have come from his teachings.  Rather, Dr. James believes Millennials are cynical about glorifying the American way because they’ve seen it fail. They don’t automatically think America is always right and distrust political and even religious institutions.

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Bob Ditmer
Bob Ditmer has worked in Christian media for more than 20 years including positions with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and Focus on the Family.

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