Saturday, January 10, 2009

They *may* be Calvinists... but leave the Puritans out of it!

I see that a movement called "New Calvinism" is trying to sweep the nation, led most notably by someone named Mark Driscoll in Seattle. They claim to have rehabilitated the teachings of John Calvin, particularly the ideas that all humans are damned and unable to earn salvation, and that God has chosen just a few to be saved, no matter what they do, and most to be damned, no matter what they do.

They're not truly Calvinists, of course; no one can recapture a historical moment. Calvin and his followers were born because of their socio-political moment; even the English Puritans who adopted Calvinism changed it. Living religion always changes. It's clear that their leader in Seattle is no Calvinist, since he believes God talks directly to him, telling him who to marry and what career to enter into.

The difference between New and real Calvinists is that the first Calvinists were not trying to recapture something. They were revolutionaries, exacting the same kind of harsh punishments on dissenters within their group that any political revolutionary group does. They were thinking for themselves and coming up with a new religion in response to both the old Catholic church and the new Lutheran one. The Seattle "Calvinists" are making up a casserole of hodge-podge beliefs from all corners in order to shock with a new-yet-old doctrine.

Why go on and on about these "new" Calvinists? Because the article had to drag the Puritans into it!

This new group has nothing, of course, in common with the Puritans. The Puritans weren't trying to shock anyone with their faith, and they were extremely thoughtful about their religion. It was a very intellectual religion, relying on soul-searching, Bible reading, prayer, and a rationally laid out progress toward reaching a point where Grace, if it was coming to you, could be known to you. They didn't have "star" preachers who trampled the rights of their congregations; the congregation was a democratic body that asserted its control over its pastor and teachers, and there was a love and respect between the leadership and the congregation that is missing in today's version.

To link the new group to the Puritans is to sully the name of the latter, and people are all too willing to do so because they believe all the misrepresentations of this important Founding group. I don't think Mark Driscoll, Antinomian, would have lasted ten minutes in Massachusetts Bay Colony, and he clearly has nothing in common with our 18th-century Founders, who would have balked at his authoritarianism.

5 comments:

Brian said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

As someone who has been following this new Calvinism for historical purposes, I find quite a few problematic statements you make here:

1. "particularly the ideas that all humans are damned and unable to earn salvation, and that God has chosen just a few to be saved, no matter what they do, and most to be damned, no matter what they do"

Neither Driscoll, nor most Calvinists today, believe that only a few will be saved or that most will be damned. Secondly, the way you phrase this removes Driscoll's (and other Calvinists') focus on works as a result of salvation. No Calvinist accepts works FOR salvation, but all teach works AFTER or AS A RESULT of salvation.

2. "The difference between New and real Calvinists is that the first Calvinists were not trying to recapture something"

This is way off. If you read just a few pages of Calvin's Institutes, the main thing that jumps out is that he's trying to recapture the teachings of the church fathers, particularly Augustine, which he believed the Catholic Church had abandoned. This is classic "recapturing" if I've ever seen it.

3. If you have read Driscoll, Piper, or any other "new Calvinist," I can't imagine how you could come up with the idea that they aren't "thoughtful about their religion." Their kids are named after reformers, they profess to hope to be modern spokesmen for past theologians such as Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon. They read, write, and speak at conferences copiously. How do you define thoughtful?

4. If Cotton Mather wasn't a "star" preacher, then I don't know who was.

5. What do you mean by calling Driscoll an "Antinomian." If you mean this in terms of Anne Hutchinson, God-talking-directly-to-people, then you are probably right. But if you mean it in terms of its historical definition - the belief that if you're predestined by God for salvation, then it doesn't matter how you live or what laws you break - then you are very wrong. Driscoll is as far from this as possible.

Feel free to respond if I have misrepresented or misunderstood your position. I am genuinely interested in this subject and in other people's interest in it.

Lori Stokes said...

Hello! Let me get to your comments:

1. I am NOT well-informed about the NCs, and am going only on the 4-page article on them in the Times, which featured many quotes from Driscoll and church members, so I may be wrong, but Driscoll emphasized in the article that "clean living" is pointless (and possibly homosexual).

2. Most dissenters claimed to be trying to reestablish the apostolic church, but were actually acutely aware of needing something new for revolutionary times.

3. Describing most representations of Jesus as "hippie, queer Christ" as Driscoll does here is not thoughtful. Neither, I think, is saying Martin Luther had "a quill in one hand and a drink in the other... His story is kind of indie rock."

4. There were star Puritan preachers, but they themselves were not worshipped and admired, strictly their teachings. They didn't get extra money or power, and they were still called or dismissed by democratic congregational vote.

I don't mean, again, to go off on Driscoll per se; this blog isn't about arguing about different religious practices. I mean strictly to sever the connection between NC and the founding Puritans.

5. I do mean in the God-talking-to-you sense.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the responses. Very helpful, and clears just about everything up. Driscoll is particularly odd, and difficult to characterize, because he says so many off-the-wall things.

Thanks again for clarification.

Tom Van Dyke said...


I don't mean, again, to go off on Driscoll per se; this blog isn't about arguing about different religious practices. I mean strictly to sever the connection between NC and the founding Puritans.


Well, it seems only The New York Times is arguing that, unless I missed where this Discroll fellow compared himself to the Puritans.

We should take the NYT about as seriously and deeply on religion as World Net Daily. In fact, I take WND more seriously, because at least its correspondents have cracked a Bible now and then [or have ever read John Calvin], unlike your average NYT minimum-wage J-school grad.

So I guess your criticism is of the NYT, Lori. I've already tipped my hand that I'm disposed to agree. ;-}

Driscoll disdains the prohibitions of traditional evangelical Christianity. Taboos on alcohol, smoking, swearing and violent movies have done much to shape American Protestant culture — a culture that he has called the domain of “chicks and some chickified dudes with limp wrists.” Moreover, the Bible tells him that to seek salvation by self-righteous clean living is to behave like a Pharisee. Unlike fundamentalists who isolate themselves, creating “a separate culture where you live in a Christian cul-de-sac,” as one spiky-haired member named Andrew Pack puts it, Mars Hillians pride themselves on friendships with non-Christians. They tend to be cultural activists who play in rock bands and care about the arts, living out a long Reformed tradition that asserts Christ’s mandate over every corner of creation.

From what I've gathered from your writings, Lori, is that the Puritans were Calvinistic, but had already begun to mutate from Calvinism.

I meself have no affinity for either, but smokin', drinkin', tattooed rock'n'roll out-in-the-world Christianity via John Calvin? Well, points to the NYT for unearthing something danged interesting at least, even if they'd have understood being deposited on Mars far better.