Tuesday, April 6, 2010

New Calvinism...

The theological system called Calvinism is one of the latest trends sweeping the nation. The form of this "New Calvinism" as it is called is characterized quite nicely in a recent blog post my C. Michael Patton entitled "What Is The New Calvinism?... And Are You Part of It?" In this article Dr. Patton does a very nice job of summarizing what New Calvinism in America is and I suggest if for that, however I do find his final paragraph to be slightly disturbing.

The only critique that I have of the movement is one of perception, not one of intention. It is that the New Calvinist movement is just that—New Calvinist. As strong as I am on the reformed doctrines of grace and as much as I love the Evangelical attitude, Calvinism is not what we are about. Calvinism simply represents one interpretive component of the Gospel. No matter how important we might believe this component to be, it pales in comparison to the bigger picture of Gospel. I am a Christian who believes in the atoning death, burial, and resurrection of Christ first. My Calvinism comes forth or fifth.

Did you notice the problem, or what I am taking issue with? It is not that his "Calvinism" comes fourth or fifth, but that it seems his "Calvinism" is bifurcated from the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Now I am sure that Dr. Patton would never view his Calvinism apart from the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ it does seem odd that he can view those aspects of his faith apart from his Calvinism as though they were two different compartments in an ice tray. If the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ are of first importance, which they are, what gives them meaning? Wouldn't it be the person of Christ, who God is, and if belief in Christ actually saves?

Over a hundred years ago C.H. Spurgeon responded to something along these lines during what is now called the Downgrade Controversy where doctrine took a back seat to "felt needs" and the like. Spurgeon actually was as bold as to proclaim that the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, that is the things of first importance are not only the Gospel but also what has been nicknamed Calvinism. He puts it far better than I would:

"Salvation is of the Lord." That is just an epitome of Calvinism; it is the sum and substance of it. If anyone should ask me what I mean by a Calvinist, I should reply, "He is one who says, Salvation is of the Lord." I cannot find in Scripture any other doctrine than this. It is the essence of the Bible. "He only is my rock and my salvation." Tell me anything contrary to this truth, and it will be a heresy; tell me a heresy, and I shall find its essence here, that it has departed from this great, this fundamental, this rock-truth, "God is my rock and my salvation." What is the heresy of Rome, but the addition of something to the perfect merits of Jesus Christ—the bringing in of the works of the flesh, to assist in our justification? And what is the heresy of Arminianism but the addition of something to the work of the Redeemer? Every heresy, if brought to the touchstone, will discover itself here. I have my own private opinion that there is no such thing as preaching Christ and Him crucified, unless we preach what nowadays is called Calvinism. It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else. I do not believe we can preach the gospel, if we do not preach justification by faith, without works; nor unless we preach the sovereignty of God in His dispensation of grace; nor unless we exalt the electing, unchangeable, eternal, immutable, conquering love of Jehovah; nor do I think we can preach the gospel, unless we base it upon the special and particular redemption of His elect and chosen people which Christ wrought out upon the cross; nor can I comprehend a gospel which lets saints fall away after they are called, and suffers the children of God to be burned in the fires of damnation after having once believed in Jesus. Such a gospel I abhor.
C.H. Spurgeon - A Defense of Calvinism - Emphasis Mine

Calvinism is so tied up in the death and resurrection of Christ because it is the doctrines that explain that Christ died for my sins, not some concept out there that if I am good enough I will get into heaven, not to make a way for me to be saved but to actually save me. This is what every Christian believes even if s/he does so inconsistently with the rest of their theology. Furthermore they believe that Christ's payment was accepted by God and thus Christ was raised. Another "Calvinistic" concept, Christ actually bought me from God, not almost paid for me and I have to add something but actually bought me, paid in full. That is the Gospel. That is Calvinism. So yes while some aspects of Calvinism are not by necessity of First Importance, the aspects of "New Calvinism" are, namely the doctrines of grace which is the main emphasis of the "New Calvinism" and secondarily the Nature of God.

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you. - The Apostle Paul