New Calvinism

Posted: April 17, 2010 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
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By Matt Horan

There is a “New Calvinism” taking root in American Christianity.   The followers of Jesus whose personalities crave certainty, who crave a God of sovereignty and power, are flocking to voices like Seattle’s Mark Driscoll or Charlotte’s Steven Furtick.  Who knew that a guy could gain a second wind just past his 500th birthday?  Seems that John Calvin is doing just that.

Born in 1509, Calvin’s precepts are interpreted and practiced in a variety of ways, but the core has been summed up in the acronym “TULIP.”

  • Total Depravity–there is nothing good that comes from humanity apart what God brings out of it.
  • Unconditional Election–There is nothing that humanity can do to warrant God’s saving grace.
  • Limited Atonement–“Predestination,” only those that God chose beforehand for salvation will live with him forever.  Some will, and some won’t.
  • Irresistable Grace–Those chosen for salvation will not be able to resist.  They will follow Christ and will live with God for eternity.
  • Perseverance of the Saints–Once a person becomes a follower of Christ, they will remain one for life.  Anyone apparently “backsliding” was never a true follower in the first place.

Even these elements are defined with some variation depending on who you ask.  A sixth common element could also be offered–Biblical Inerrancy, meaning that the original writers of the books of the Bible wrote by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and wrote without error of any kind in reference to the facts and sayings recorded.  Denominations in this family tend to be Presbyterian, Baptist, and Lutheran.  (I’m not a huge Wikipedia fan since anybody in the world can edit it, but there’s too much variety among Presbyterians and Baptists to link to just one denomination.)  While they’d never profess to follow a Roman Catholic who left the church like Calvin, Catholicism leans in this direction as well.

Calvinism didn’t have an especially good 20th century.  “Wesleyan” denominations like the United Methodist Church, the Wesleyan Church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Salvation Army, the Free Methodist Church, and the Church of the Nazarene made great inroads during the Second Great Awakening, and through the Social Gospel movement.  In short, Wesleyan denominations (descended from Anglican John Wesley’s work and preaching of the 18th century) are pretty much on the other side of four of the five TULIP doctrines.  There is good in humanity that can respond to the grace of God, atonement is offered to all and is not limited to a select few, grace can be resisted (we have “free will”), and a faithful follower of Jesus can indeed renounce their faith if they so choose.  Common ground is found on the “U;” Wesleyans and Calvinists likely agree that grace is offered because of God’s generosity, and not because of humanity’s deserving it.

Wesley preached against the teachings of Calvinism with great passion, opting for “foreknowledge” rather than “predestination.”  Plus, perhaps with some influence from liberation and process theologians, Wesleyan/Methodist followers of Jesus are more likely to be persons and personalities who need space to live with some uncertainty, ambiguity, even paradox.  Things aren’t certain, but to them, that’s okay.

There are such personalities, just as there are those who crave certainty.  Is one in error while the other has it right?  Perhaps a Calvinist would say yes, while a Wesleyan/Methodist would say no!  Either way, each creates opportunities for different types of people to follow Jesus Christ.


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