Book Review: The New Calvinists; Changing the Gospel
Published in 2014, clearly I am late to the party, but I wanted to give a brief review of this book because I found it a valuable and helpful primer on the problems of the so-called New Calvinism.
Written by Dr. E.S. Williams, a medical physician and layman in the church of Charles Spurgeon – the London Metropolitan Tabernacle, now pastored by Peter Masters – The New Calvinists covers many of the same topics and same concerns with the resurgence of Calvinism over the last decade and a half that we have covered at Polemics Report and Pulpit & Pen.
With an endorsement from Peter Masters on the back cover, the book characterizes its mission as exposing the age-old problem of mixing the church with the world, and squarely lays that accusation at the feet of the “New Calvinism” coming from America and its three primary proponents, Tim Keller, John Piper, and Mark Driscoll. To put it simply, the book was small in content and easily readable in several hours, but it delivered. Masters writes of the book…
“This book reveals the new ‘gospel’ of the so-called ‘new Calvinism.’ It is a gospel that changes the terms of salvation, and that loves the world and embraces its culture.”
Masters, of course, is the old-school Reformed Baptist who doesn’t countenance the hipster snowflake generation, who is constantly reminding the skinny jeans preachers to keep of his lawn. His friend, Dr. E.S. Williams, is of the same vein, and it is a beautiful thing.
The Gospel Coalition
The first blessing of the book, for me, was the brief explanation of the founding of The Gospel Coalition and its suspect beginnings. As I have only recently caught on to the social justice, Gospel-lite, ecumenical and Intelligentsia leanings of what I’ve affectionally called The Social Gospel Coalition, my elder brothers from across the pond had caught on from nearly the beginning. A brainchild of, in part, Tim Keller, the Gospel Coalition embraced worldiness from its inception. The perspective of Williams was absolutely spot-on, and taught me a few things I didn’t know about this Trojan Horse. Williams writes…
“Established in 2007, the Gospel Coalition is the brainchild of Dr Don Carson…and Dr Tim Keller (who produced its theological vision for ministry…The ambitious vision of The Gospel Coalition was to create a movement that by long-term effort would renew and reform evangelical thought and practice, both in the USA and worldwide.” And then, quoting Colin Hanson on the first Coalition meeting, “The Gospel Coalition seeks nothing less than a return to the theological consensus enjoyed in the days of neo-evangleicalism led by Billy Graham, Carl Henry, Harold John Ockenga, and many others.”
The Gospel Coalition was created not to promote or advance sound doctrine, but to create evangelical consensus. Suddenly, things are making more sense. Williams continues…
“Among its prime aims The Gospel Coalition sought to motivate pastors and theologians to undertake social activity. It theological vision for ministry would urge Christian people to become a counter-culture for the common good. The ‘doing of justice and mercy’ would become a highly important aspect of Gospel-centered ministry…This view is none other than the old social gospel conceived by theological liberals and popular among them in the early twentieth century.”
Bingo. It’s all coming together, now.
Williams lists several problems with the “New Calvinism” coming out of The Gospel Coalition, including its social gospel, its love for worldly music, its license for worldliness, and it’s ties to “New Evangelicalism,” which is tied to the modern ecumenical movement which is – in my opinion – pretty much the downfall of everything that is pure and sacred in American Protestantism.
While railing against “contemporary worship” may drive most of us batty (such detestation of modern stylings is typical of Peter Masters and those within his sphere of influence), I found it interesting that Williams gives a list of virtual sell-outs and worldly compromisers performing at the Moody Bible Institute, who back in 2014 weren’t known yet as sell-outs and worldly compromisers He lists Lecrae, Trip Lee, and Sho Baraka, all of whom have fallen from grace for anyone remotely theologically conservative. It seems that Williams, that Puritanical fundamentalist fuddy-duddy was a seer.
Williams eviscerates Keller, who liberals love (Newsweek called him, “The CS Lewis of the 21st Century,” which should make theological conservatives bristle, and they wouldn’t consider complimentary).
What I didn’t know, but now I do thanks to Williams, is that Keller was greatly influenced by both economic and cultural Marxism, learning from the infamous Frankfort School, which I wrote about briefly in this explanation of Cultural Marxism, which has broadly taken over The Gospel Coalition, the ERLC, and has captured the minds of many New Calvinists. Williams explains…
“In college he was ‘heavily influenced by the neo-Marxist criticial theory of the Frankfurt School. Tim Keller explains, ‘In 1968, this was heady stuff. The social activism was particularly attractice, and the critique of American bourgeoisie society was compelling…He admits that he was ’emotionally’ drawn to the social activism of the neo-Marxists…Living out the neo-Marxist ideology of the Frankfurt School within the church became the goal of his life.”
Wow. I guess that explains what Thabiti Anyabwile, with his proud endorsement of Hillary Clinton, his anti-cop hatred, his liberation theology, and his race-baiting Cultural Marxism has found a home at the The Gospel Coalition, and without protest from the organization’s founders. Williams says matter-of-factly, “What Tim Keller claims as his ‘new way of thinking about the Bible’ is essentially the old liberation theology of the Latin American Roman Catholics.” Of course, as Williams points out, Keller embraces Roman Catholics as fellow believers, so that makes total sense.
Keller’s is an Intelligentsia-branded, self-enlightened, pretentious evangelicalism, one that is openly horrified at the “religious fanatics,” who Keller seems to identify as anyone who believes the Bible as literally as possible, and has a tendency to speak without embarrassment of that fact. And although Williams didn’t use the term, at least that I saw, Keller is nothing but a modern day Socinian.
Williams also goes on to express annoyance that Keller quotes Roman Catholic author Flannery O’Connor as an idol and icon, which made me laugh in amazement, because I have often said the same about Russell Moore and other Intelligentsia leaders who have an odd fixation with this pagan author. He goes on to cite church members leaving Keller’s Redeemer Bible Church for teaching them the Roman Catholic and mystic practice of Lectio Divina.
Piper is one of who – at the time – Williams considered the three leaders of New Calvinism in America (Mark Driscoll was the third, who has since fallen from grace and seems to be looking to reemerge in charismatic rather than Calvinist circles). Of Piper, Williams writes…
It is a wonderful mater when a scripture comes home to the mind with great force, and one appreciates the sense and depth and wonder of the Word, but it is presumptuous to hear a voice, whether audible or as if it were audible, directed in a special visitation. It often suggests great spiritual pride, that a believer should feel so honoured. Yet charismatic subjectivism is increasingly approved of in the New Calvinism. The historic Protestant position afirms ‘that the Word of God, spoken through apostles and prophets, and intended for the direction of his church, is now found only in the sacred Scripture…How sad it is if thousands of young Christians are not taught the safe principles of the Word, which alone can keep them from charismatic delusion.”
Williams goes on to write about the connection between Piper and the ecstatic Passion Conference, writing, “Remarkably, [Piper] preached in the dark, except for a spotlight that focused on him. Why no light? Because the mystical, ecstatic atmosphere of Passion, so carefully cultivated by the mix of darkness, psychedelic strobe lights, and relentless, overpoweringly loud beat music, would have been shattered if the youthful audience had been brought to its senses.”
Williams also goes into some depth regarding Piper’s characteristic lack of discernment, including his lamentation that he was “appalled at the kinds of slander that have been brought against [The Purpose Driven Life],” in his promotion of evanjellyfish ecumenist extraordinaire, Rick Warren. He writes…
“John Piper undoubtedly stands at the very centre of the New calvinism, but his readiness to embrace as authentic Calvinism an extreme example of easy-believism and pragmatic gimmickry shows him to be remarkably unreliable as a guide. His rejection of the doctrine that signs and revelatory gifts have ceased has also made him an unsound guide in one of the most dangerous departures from conservative faith, and left him indifferent and open to charismatic practices.”
Williams addresses other issues in the book, including (now, almost irrelevant) Mark Driscoll, New Calvinism in the UK, the Porterbrook Network, and more.
If you want to know more about the dangers posed to evangelicalism by “New Calvinism,” read this book. You can find it at Amazon.