Critiquing “New” Calvinism

A few posts have come across our screens this week critiquing “new” or “neo-” Calvinism. It began with Scot McKnight’s quick salvo, “The Pesky Calvinists are Back.” Then, a couple others shared their past posts addressing neo-Calvinist woes. And one of them is a Calvinist who blogs at The Gospel Coalition!

Here’s a bit from Scot’s post:

In a period of three days I experienced three different people troubled by pesky, young Calvinists. First, a leader told me he had all but left a local church because too many young aggressive Calvinists were disrupting the church so he backed out; second, a pastor told me of a friend on a church board made up of pesky Calvinists who was both accused of heresy and removed from leadership because he had participated in a spiritual formation conference; and now this from a young man troubled by both the confidence of pesky young Calvinists and the implications of that theology on how we view God.

This, as my friend Roger Olson has often said, is the core issue: What kind of God meticulously determines all things and then holds people accountable for what was predetermined? What does the love of God mean in such systems of thought? I recently saw an article on the internet said “the [Calvinist interpretation of the] doctrines of grace are my life.” Really? Isn’t Christ your life? Isn’t God your life? Well, the pesky Calvinists are back and it is time to raise an alarm.

And here’s part of a reflection offered by blogger Micah J. Murray:

That day came sunny and unexpected. A casual conversation suddenly grew deep. Words like “predestination” and “election” and “sovereignty” weighed heavy on me, words that often swirled in the air in those days and those places.

“Why does God keep creating people and then not predestining them to salvation?” 

It seems like an abstract, philosophical question now. On that day, it was the last card in the house. And it was slipping.

“We believe that every life is precious. That God knits us together in the womb. And yet, He randomly predestines most to eternal destruction? But why? Why doesn’t He stop creating people that He knows He won’t predestine to salvation?”

The answer was probably something about His ways being higher than our ways. Maybe something about God getting glory from both the people who go to heaven and the people that go to hell.

“But how can I enjoy my salvation, knowing that it’s just the luck of the draw? That I won a divine lottery to keep me out of hell, but that most won’t? How is salvation good if it’s unmerited, arbitrary, random, and most are predestined to destruction?

It’s a heavy question, with many layers. But the answer was quick, and devastating:

“That I was saved and others are not, that there’s nothing I could do to earn it, that there’s no reason why – this just makes my salvation an even more special and precious gift.”

The last card slipped, and the house fell.

Finally, here is the perspective of Calvinist pastor Derek Rishmawy today at The Gospel Coalition: 

Some of you might be wondering, “Why go into all of this? This is obvious. Who would question that?” Let’s be honest and say a lot of Calvinists won’t admit this difficulty, and it comes out in the condescending, aggressive, abrasive, and unhelpful way they approach theological engagement with people who disagree. You know the kind. You can find them in Bible studies, blog comment sections, insular Reformed churches that nobody visits; the archetypical newbie who presents masterfully botched iterations of Reformed doctrines, as if they were the most obvious truths of God that only a perversely obstinate fool could miss; the crusty expert who adds in just enough condescension and sneering to belie all his talk of grace. (“Just watch this sermon on Romans 9 and you’ll thank me for showing you how dumb you are.”)

This was my final reason for being put off from Calvinism: really arrogant, thickheaded, (often young) know-it-all, sneering Calvinists. Who wants to be planted in soil that yields such fruit? In the long run that isn’t the best reason to reject a doctrine, as it’s just another version of the common atheist objection: “But if Christianity were true, then Christians should be great, but all the Christians I know are jerks so it must be false” (see C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity). Still, there’s something to it given Christ’s own declaration that people are known by their fruits.

I’m issuing a plea of sorts to my Reformed brothers and sisters for patience with, or a “helpful humility” toward, those who don’t embrace the distinctives of Reformed theology, Calvinism, and those of us to those who hold it.

Now, obviously, Derek still argues for the “truth” of Reformed theology, about which I’m sure both Scot McKnight and Roger Olson would have something to say. However, each of these writers essentially highlight the same problems. And that’s saying something too.

So now the question is: How about you? Have you experienced anything similar from the “New Calvinists”? What about Calvinism in general? Are you a fan or do you find it problematic? We’d love to hear your perspective!

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