The troubling trends in America’s ‘Calvinist revival’

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Photo courtesy of Thierry Ehrmann (

Photo courtesy of Thierry Ehrmann (

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When Mark Oppenheimer declared that “evangelicalism is in the midst of a Calvinist revival” in The New York Times earlier this year, he was only partially correct.

According to a 2010 Barna poll, roughly three out of 10 Protestant leaders describe their church as “Calvinist or Reformed,” a proportion statistically unchanged from a decade earlier. According to the research group, “there is no discernible evidence from this research that there is a Reformed shift among U.S. congregation leaders over the last decade.”

And yet, Oppenheimer is correct that something is stirring among American Calvinists (those who adhere to a theological system centering on human sinfulness and God’s sovereignty that stems from 16th century reformer John Calvin). While Calvinist Protestants—including Presbyterians, some Baptists, and the Dutch Reformed—have been a part of the American religious fabric since the beginning, Oppenheimer points to a more vocal and visible strain that has risen to prominence in recent years.

Photo courtesy of Thierry Ehrmann (

Photo courtesy of Thierry Ehrmann (

They’ve been called the “young, restless, and reformed” or neo-Calvinists, and they are highly mobilized and increasingly influential. Their books perform well in the marketplace (see John Piper or Paul David Tripp), their leaders pepper the lists of the most popular Christian bloggers (see The Gospel Coalition and Resurgence), and they’ve created vibrant training grounds for raising new recruits (see Reformed Theological Seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary).

This brand of Calvinists are a force with which to reckon. But as with any movement, America’s Calvinist revival is a mixed bag. None can deny that many have come to faith as a result of these churches and leaders. The movement is rigorously theological, which is surely one of its greatest contributions. Just as Quakers teach us much about silence, Mennonites teach us much about peace, and Anglicans teach us much about liturgy, so Calvinists spur us on with their intellectual rigor.

And yet, from where I sit, there are several troubling trends that must be addressed if this faithful faction hopes to move from a niche Christian cadre to a sustainable and more mainstream movement.

One of the markers of the neo-Calvinist movement is isolationism. My Reformed friends consume Calvinist blogs and Calvinist books, attend Calvinist conferences, and join Calvinist churches with Calvinist preachers. They rarely learn from or engage with those outside their tradition. (My feeling is that this trend is less prevalent among leaders than the average followers.)

The most sustainable religious movements, however, are those which are willing to ask hard, full-blooded questions while interacting with more than caricatures of other traditions. When neo-Calvinists insulate and isolate, they hyper-focus on those doctrines their tradition emphasizes and relegate other aspects to the status of afterthought. The Christian faith is meant to be lived and not merely intellectually appropriated. This requires mingling with others who follow Jesus, are rooted in Scripture, and are working toward a restored creation.

Gregory Thornbury, a Calvinist and president of The King’s College in New York City, told me, “I think the ‘young, restless, and reformed” are different than the Dutch stream in that they tend to stay with authors and leaders that they know. It does run the risk of being provincial, but I don’t think it is intentional. There are universes where people stay, and they read the things they know.”

Gregory Alan Thornbury is a Calvinist Christian and president of The King's College in New York City. He encourages his students to "read promiscuously." - Photo credit: New Southern Photography

Gregory Alan Thornbury is a Calvinist Christian and president of The King’s College in New York City. He encourages his students to “read promiscuously.” – Photo credit: New Southern Photography

To guard against this, Thornbury says he encourages King’s College’s students to be “intellectually gregarious” and to “read promiscuously.”

“People need to read outside of the tradition,” Thornbury says. “We say we want to have contact with people outside of our culture, but we ghettoize so easily.”

His words remind me of Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, who speaks of “thin” and “thick” expressions of religion:

“[Thin religion is] religiosity reduced to a single symbolic gesture. And once you reduce religion to that . . . you can project everything that you want onto that . . . [Thin religion] isn’t textured. It doesn’t have depth. It doesn’t have relief. It doesn’t rely on a long history of that religion with all the varieties of reflections that have gone on in the religion.”

Coinhabitation with other Christians guards a movement against “thin” expressions of religion.

Another troubling trend I see in the movement is tribalism. This is the kinship tendency within a group to protect insiders while combating outsiders.

Several prominent Calvinists, for example, declined the opportunity to comment on this story due to fear that their words might be used to disparage the movement. Said one well-known leader via email, “I don’t want to be a brick in a wall that’s used against the tradition/movement I identify with.”

To be sure, neo-calvinists don’t shy away from controversy and aren’t reticent to critique those outside of the movement. (One might refer to some Calvinist’s blistering responses to Donald Miller’s announcement that he doesn’t attend church.) Yet these same leaders are often resistant, delayed, and then tempered with their critiques of other Calvinists who seem to stray.

An illuminating example of this might be the recent glut of Mark Driscoll controversies—from sexist comments to charges of plagiarism to proof that he bought his way onto the New York Times bestsellers list using ministry monies. Leaders in the movement were effectively mum until a select few broke the silence of late. The first accusations of Driscoll plagiarizing were revealed on November 21st, but the first truly critical response posted by neo-Calvinist mega-blog, The Gospel Coalition, trickles out on December 18th. One might compare this with the response to Rob Bell’s book “Love Wins” that was in full bloom before the YouTube trailer finished buffering.

Even those who were brave enough to critique Driscoll were mostly moderate. And several Calvinists told me off-the-record that many who offered full-throated criticisms of Driscoll—like Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary—have been relegated to the margins as a result.

Tullian Tchividjian is pastor and blogger at The Gospel Coalition who has been challenging neo-Calvinists from within the ranks. He announced just this morning that what he calls “the powers that be” were forcing him to take his blog elsewhere. The decision was less than ideal, he said, and is a result of having “some differences with some of the other contributors.” Tchividjian said the decision was “probably over due” since “the messaging of The Gospel Coalition has morphed over the last seven years.”

Tim Keller is a leading Calvinist pastor and New York Times bestselling author.

Tim Keller is a leading Calvinist pastor and New York Times bestselling author.

We might also make mention of Tim Keller, a paragon among neo-Calvinists if there ever was one. Keller is a part of Francis Collins’ Biologos and a theistic evolutionist. He holds many of the same views that triggered the forced resignation of Old Testament professor Bruce Waltke from Reformed Theological Seminary. Another Calvinist leader, Southern Baptist Seminary president Albert Mohler, has called theistic evolution “a biblical and theological disaster” and said that Biologos leaders were “throwing the Bible under the bus” with “ridiculous” logic.

Because Tim Keller has become something of a prize hen for Calvinists—New York Magazine called him “the most successful Christian evangelist in the city”—you won’t likely hear other neo-Calvinists mention Keller’s views. Tribalists attempt to “clean house” when it comes to outsiders but “sweep under the rug” when it comes to insiders.

As Roger Olson, Baylor University professor and author of “Against Calvinism“, told me, “[Neo-Calvinist’s are] a tribe, and they’ve closed ranks. Somehow they’ve formed a mentality that they have to support each other because they are a minority on a crusade. Any criticism hurts the cause. I’ve seen the same thing among feminists and black theologians.”

Olson says that when he speaks to Calvinist leaders, they will often critique the movement and its other leaders in private, but never in public. My experience has been identical.

“There is a fundamentalist ethos in [neo-Calvinism],” Olson says. “You get pats on the back and merits for criticizing outsiders, but not for criticizing insiders. There is a system where if you are young coming up in the ranks, you get points for criticizing or exposing those outside the movement but it’s not your place to criticize those who are above you in the movement itself.”

This tendency is more curious given that neo-Calvinists claim to be rooted in the ancient rallying cry, “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda” or “The church is always to be reformed.” You can’t maintain a constant state of reformation when you refuse to self-reflect, when you preserve for preservation’s sake, you’re your modus operandi is both “circle the wagons” and “fire the canons.”

Let me be clear: I’m not arguing that Calvinists should criticize themselves more harshly. Rather, I wish they might extend the same grace to others that they give to themselves.

A final troubling trend I believe plagues America’s “Calvinist revival” is egotism. This one may sound like ad hominem at first blush, but I mean it more as an observation of the movement’s predominant tone. Talking so much of sovereignty and salvation and atonement can inflate the ego. It is the type of thing described in Helmut Thielicke’s book, “A Little Lesson for Young Theologians.” Attaining theological knowledge often leads to the idea that one is in a better place to understand God or more in tune with God.

As the ego inflates, the body rises and one begins to speak from above rather than from across. This is often seen in the way neo-Calvinists speak as if they are the arbiters of the term “gospel.” Search the term “gospel” on the web site of the Reformed publisher Crossway and you’ll see what I mean. Or listen to the way some neo-Calvinist leaders frame every ethical issue of the day, not as a difference of opinion among Christians of mutual goodwill, but rather an affront to the gospel itself.

“The perspective of many today is that if you aren’t a Calvinist, you don’t really have a grasp of the gospel,” Olson says.

Sometimes it seems as if Calvinists view themselves as judge, jury, and executioner of the Christian movement at large—determining who is faithful and not, who believes the gospel and who doesn’t, who is in and who is out. (One might call to mind John Piper’s iconic and infamous “Farewell, Rob Bell” tweet.) Some within the movement talk of God’s sovereignty while seeking to control the destinies of other Christians and often speak of man’s depravity with a haughtiness that undermines it.

As Scot McKnight, professor at Northern Seminary told me, “Calvinists can give really strong impressions that those who disagree with them are both unfaithful and that they theologically and intellectually lack courage. And that trend is relatively new.”

A large ego often precedes a harsh tone—an surefire influence limiter. Scholar Martin Marty says the religious world isn’t divided into liberal and conservative, but rather “mean and non-mean.” Those who opt for a mean or arrogant tenor—whether real or perceived—have a short-shelf life in the span of history.

Bethany Jenkins, director of The Gospel Coalition’s faith and work initiative, thinks some of her fellow Calvinists’ tonal problems may be unintentional: “I think some Calvinists have come to think that in order to be faithful you have to be strident, but you don’t need to be. As Tim Keller has said, ‘We are a chosen people, but we are not a choice people.'”

I reflect on the Apostle Paul’s observation that “Knowledge puffs up.” Which is to say, egotism is a human problem rather than a Calvinist one. Yet, the vice seems to afflict this movement with consistency. If neo-Calvinists don’t get a rapid infusion of humility—and quickly—then perceptions of egotism will be an albatross around their necks.

Though these problems are serious, I am for any movement that lifts up Jesus and proclaims the Christian good news. I have many friends within the neo-Calvinist movement that challenge me with their commitment to scriptural fidelity and the supremacy of Christ. If America’s “Calvinist revival” turns out to be a resurgence, I hope they abound in grace–both inside and out.

Ah yes, grace. Another cherished Reformed virtue.

(RNS needs your help. If you appreciate these posts, please consider a donation so RNS can meet its $10,000 fundraising goal by Friday. For every donation of $100, we’ll send you a signed copy of Jonathan Merritt’s book, “Jesus is Better than You Imagined.”)

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  • Tim

    Nicely done, Jonathan. As a decades-long Reformed believer, I’ve been very troubled by the way many who say they are Calvinists have chosen to present themselves, and for all the issues you’ve outlined here.

    I would hope that the neo-Calvinists (or YRRs or whatever label is chosen) will remember that the gospel is not about who’s out and who’s in; the gospel is about Jesus. The more we point to him the less we’ll point fingers at each other.


  • Great article! I love and am challenged by the description of religious teams as being either “mean” or “non-mean.” Tulliangate (and my own internal reaction to the under-bussing he obviously received) serve to highlight this reality. It’s all too easy to become lovelessly concerned with the truth while forgetting that the whole point of loving the truth is to enable people to be set free by it, in relation to Jesus.

  • Thank you for this article. It is a difficult read, having worked within a reformed baptist church recently. Though I hold some of the Calvinist theology, this article resonated with me as people I interacted with fit each characteristic that you described. Even I fit the characteristic, too.

    It is unfortunate to watch friends and family, who hold so dear this theology, confine themselves to one method of thinking and hinder any chance of experiencing God in a bigger light and across a broader horizon.

    There were parts that I felt uncomfortable when reading, but I hope that is my own self-reflection which is sharpening me and maturing me further in the faith of Christ. Thank you again!

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  • Caleb Sweazey

    This article includes some helpful critiques, but you should refrain from making broad and exclusionary generalizations like “[they] frame every ethical issue of the day” in such-and-such terms. Always, every, and never should be replaced with often, most/many, and rarely, or at least add a disclaimer like “it seems”. Otherwise, you lose your audience and run the risk of sounding tribalistic and egotistical yourself. That said, I think you present some good cautions and exhortations for every Christian, including Calvinists.

  • Steve

    Enjoyed the article. Informative and well done. Unfortunately, the concerning trends of Isolationism, Tribalism and Egotism, just remind me of the what is concerning about every denomination. This one is just getting churned right now so it makes news.

  • All very well-said and well-observed.

    Except these aren’t Neo-Calvinists. That was a different movement that originated out of Dutch Calvinism a hundred and some years ago.

    These folks are all followers of New Calvinism.

  • While some of these critiques are valid, it would probably be more effective if you also critiqued your own side. After all, you’re accusing the Neo-Calvinists as being too closed and not self-critical enough. As a former Pentecostal, Reformed church attendee, Baptist church employee, and Wesleyan seminarian, I find that many of your critiques cut across all camps. (That’s coming from someone who agrees with many of your critiques and who dislikes the extremism in some Neo-Calvinist camps.)

    The ecumenical movement and other such “open door” positions can be just as closed to certain positions that do not fall within its accepted boundaries. So while proponents Neo-Calvinism should be willing to dialogue (if for no other reason than to better formulate their own positions), so should other camps talk more with them.

    After roughly 20 years in a Pentecostal church in the Assembly of God denomination, I can affirm that they were just as suspicious as any Neo-Calvinist congregation I have encountered.

  • By the way, Katherine is correct about the distinction between Neo and New. My comment is about New rather than Neo. Sorry about that.

  • Ken Wadley

    Well said, Caleb. Thanks for the post, Jonathan.

  • I. Heath

    I think this article is fair. I am of the reformed tradition and agree with a lot of the critique. I think the tone is respectful as well which I would argue has not always been the way Merritt has approached Calvinists or Neo Calvinists. I would submit one thing that is left out is that Tullian has planned on leaving TGC and moving his blog to “Liberate” (his new site coming out in August) for quite sometime. Not saying it completely makes TGC cutting ties with him 3 months early a non story, but I think it is important information nonetheless which can be found in the story Merritt links. I do think there is plenty of tribalism in other Christian movements outside of Calvinism, but I agree that my tradition has been slow to self-criticize and quick to jump on other views. In particular are the Driscoll situation and then the Sovereigh Grace abuse issue. While I think it is wise to know the facts before condemning or disciplining, I think complete silence on those situations without any real comment from TGC while it all played out was pathetic. Anyway, thanks for the piece. Not that you need my approval, but I think those are fair concerns and shared in a reasonable and respectful way.

  • Richard

    Semper reformanda*

  • Rick Gebauer

    Great Article here Jonathan. I thought it was very fair and expressed a tone of care rather than critique. I’ve also been encouraged with the comments and their charity and thoughtfulness.

    Thank you.

  • Jonathan,

    While I agree with much of your collum, it has been my experience that much of your critque is applicable to most evangelical subgroups. If you take out intellectual rigor and replace it with; immersion, performance, evangelisim, gift of the Spirit, missions, social justice or numerous other qualifiers – what you end up with is isolationism, tribalism and religious pride. Thoughts?

  • I. Heath

    I would add that maybe writing a critique of your own tradition/other traditions out there would be a good idea. Calvinists aren’t the only ones with faults but you seem to hone in on them alot. Again, not saying you don’t have some valid points in the piece because you do, but it would help your creditbility as a Religion Journalist to critique the other sides out there as aggressivley as you do the Reformed traditions.

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  • Thanks, Joel. I don’t have a “side” and don’t claim a particular theological system. I resonate some with Reformed theology and some with Wesleyan theology, I’m more moderate on some issues and more conservative on others. And I don’t think you have to pitch water off both sides of the ship in order to get a boat to float. So while I tried to be even-handed in the article, it was already coming in at 2,000 words (more than double the avg), so there was simply no more room.

  • Brilliant, my brother. Thank you for your courage in writing this piece. You’ve put into words a lot of what I felt during my dozen-plus years as a pastor. I encountered these “isms” frequently in those days, particularly among folks who had joined John MacArthur’s church while in college. Some of these young adults, returning post-graduation to the church in which they grew up, held their relatively new Calvinist convictions graciously and were easy to talk with about theological differences. But others were quite hardened against any substantial disagreement with Dr. MacArthur, causing significant heartache for me and disruption within the church as a whole.

    It all makes me think of the old quote from Matt Chandler about his experience of arrogance in the Reformed community:

    Also, I wonder if Kenneth Stewart’s “Ten Myths About Calvinism” from IVP would speak to these issues, too. I haven’t had a chance to read it, but he seems to have concerns about perspectives held by both non-Calvinists and Calvinists..

  • Michael Lumpkin

    Well written, Jonathan. I do think that anyone with a more distinct doctrinal position would be subject to these critiques. The greater SBC problem for most years was an indistinct theological position that allowed pragmatism to win the day. May the pendulum swing with a good, robust cadence and not get stuck as we partner, all of us, for the propagation of the gospel.

  • Rick G

    I would agree with this with one caveat. The Calvinist tribe seems to have the microphone in their hand most often…that creates a different impact on the other faith traditions and on their own consequentially.

    Also, one point of this article that I resonate with is the marketable use and dissemination of the word “Gospel” in the YRR subculture. The word seems often to be used as a word that denotes biblical inerrancy…I feel that is a troubling development. To appear use the word “Gospel” as almost a branding technique (probably unintentional) is difficult to reconcile for those of us on the outside of the tribe.

  • I agree with a number of the comments that these bad habits aren’t unique to the Reformed, but it is ironic. I come from the Dutch older cousins of this tribe and have seen similar dynamics play out within our own isolated-ethnic-enclave history. The irony is that this particular theological confession is theoretically supposed to play out in humility because our central confession is that we can’t take credit for what we’ve received. We then turn around with pride and defensiveness implicitly blaming everyone else for now agreeing with us. We Calvinists confess our sinful pride and then display it in all of its sinful glory. We should ask our godly and humble non-Calvinists brothers and sisters to pray for us.

  • Your phrase “theological system centering on human sinfulness and God’s sovereignty” really needs to be reversed. Calvin’s work really begins with the sovereignty of God not human sinfulness.

  • oops, “for NOT agreeing with us”, See, even when I try I still can’t do it. O wretched typist that I am! 🙂

  • A good reminder, Jonathan, but I don’t think this is a relatively new problem. Maybe it is more visible with the advent of the internet and the immediacy of communicating ideas. But Reformed theologians have been lobbing critiques and attacks for centuries. If you go back and look at what was happening in religious thought in the late 1500s through the 1700s, there’s no shortage of similar polemic lobbing. I think it just comes with the territory of believing something so passionately that others do not adhere to.

    Of course, we should always look back to Scripture’s prescriptions on how to engage in such conversations. Whether we are critiquing appropriately or inappropriately should be informed by Scripture, not exclusively by how people feel when they hear it. First and foremost, speak the truth in love.

  • Great article. With one foot in the New Calvinist/YRR camp, I have seen a good bit of these criticisms in day-to-day tweets, personal encounters and blog posts. With that said, Jonathan you also quite equitably pointed out the tradition’s great strength of intellectual rigor, which is certainly a positive.

    I just had a couple things to chime in on…

    1) The YRR/New Calvinism is incredibly amorphous. It spans across the traditional Reformed denominations, but then it also encompasses a decent portion of the SBC/nondenominational circuit as well. This is why it has such a voice; it’s the popular voice in the [still large] conservative spectrum. How large it truly is becomes questionable, because I think a number of folks agree with otherwise sound theology, but may not be true “five-pointers.” (IE: A number of SBC’ers and nondenoms.)

    With that said, referring back to John Piper’s talk a month or two back, I would distinguish a more popular version of YRR from a more traditional version of Reformed. The two are often lumped in together, but a strong case can be made that a Reformed Baptist is not the same animal as a Reformed Presbyterian. Diversity here, is okay and welcomed, but there is a good bit of who is Reformed versus not Reformed under the surface. However, it tends to be limited to a critique of the older, traditional Reformed of the YRR crowd.

    2) Twitter is a microcosm of case in point. Just go look at the responses. It’s quit tribal in the sense of “us” vs “them” mentalities.

    My problem with Reformed theology has always centered around the idea that the non-Reformed are a lesser Christian of sorts. Now, most Reformed will back down from saying this explicitly, but when they start debating a Wesleyan, for instance, the language is peppered with as many undercuts as you’ll hear “gospel-verbal adjectives.” Dr. Sproul probably sums this us best when, laughingly, he always says that Arminians are barely saved. I would look to Dr. Sproul as a typically more charitable Reformed mind, but then I see that type of comment as just ambivalent enough to be a criticism. It is as though Wesleyans, Arminians, et. al will someday grow up, and accept the doctrines of grace. That, my friends, is egotistical, because it does belie the fundamentalism that is found on all sides. Namely: “You don’t believe what I believe, so you are inferior.” The qualifier is always what “I believe.” Sola Scriptura, eh?

  • Charlie

    And closing the ranks around C J Mahaney, while throwing sex abuse victims under the bus.

  • Jonathan J. Turner

    Somewhere in your coverage, you should have mentioned that Janet Mefford, the interviewer who pushed the accusation of plagarism on her radio show, issued an apology:

    Also, it would be helpful to have more elaboration on contrasting today’s neo-Calvinist doctrines (which I can only somewhat imagine) with John Calvin’s doctrines in 16th C. Geneva (which I understand from “Tudor Puritanism” by M. M. Knappen, Chicago Press, 1939, Ch. VII).

  • Joshua Davis

    As many have noted, These problems are not new or unique to reformed traditions. Also, I find the charge of tribalism to be interesting, since this group actually avoids much of the denominationalism you find in other traditions. A quick perusal of the speakers and panelists at T4G finds a surprising array of denominations and church leaders present including Baptists, Nondenominational, Presbyterian, Dutch Reformed, Anglican, and more. Also, to say that “talking so much about sovereignty, salvation, and atonement can inflate the ego” is patently false. The topics you listed provide the means of humility within this group, not ego. Now, you may be referring to the phenomenon known as “cage Calvinism” among insiders, but this is due to a lack of understanding of the above doctrines, not a commitment to them

  • Will

    Great article, but let me say. As a student at 2 different “rival” SBC seminaries (Southwestern and Southern), I found that all of your critics of the neo-reformed are also true of the traditionalist SBC members and others like them. This article really should reflect that but does not. As a person who is neither in the “traditionalist” or the “neo-reformed” camps, I find this article one sided and somewhat frustrating.

  • Katherine,
    Unfortunately where Neo-Calvinism as a term should be equated with Kuperianism, it is now widely used to refer to the “Young, Restless & Reformed.” Scot McKnight has suggested this predominantly North American new Calvinist movement should really be called Neo-Puritan.

    That being said, this is a good and important article, Jonathan. Thank you for it.

  • Forgive the misspelling of Kuyper.

  • Lydia

    I do not understand the surprise at the arrogance and meanness in this movement. You guys ever read about Calvin’s Geneva? People were not only imprisoned, banished or tortured for disagreement with his doctrine but publicly punished if they fell asleep during his sermons. The list of micromanagement is long. Ever read any Luther? These men were tyrants who believed in a state church. Controlling people. An amusing site is the Lutherinsulter.

    All of this is indicative of their heros. The Puritans were sin sniffing tyrants bar none.

    This is not a “man of their time” position. There were nice guys back then. Some of them even had a third baptism.

  • This seems to dovetail in with an article I posted yesterday: Fear-Driven Biblical Interpretation?.

    Yes, there are great challenges that must be looked at here within the neo-Calvinist movement. There are some great neo-Calvinists/reformed folk today (my current pastor being one of them). And I think most of them do this out of a noble heart for Christ. But many are stepping over the lines, driving things out of a fear-focus & emotive manipulation where secondary issues are being claimed as “gospel issues.” Shepherds are given to protect & guard the sheep. But we need to consider if we are being over-protective at times.

  • The link seems to not be working in the title of the article, so here is the URL:

  • samuel Johnston

    I am sorry to say, I know two individuals who are “Calvinist Revival”. They share an authoritarian attitude with an illuminate intellectual position. Poor Jesus! He would have never fit in!

  • Thank you for the this wonderful article. As someone who found Christianity in law school through a reformed ministry and was fed spiritually through a reformed discipleship program, I was led to believe for much of my adult life that reformed theology is Christ’s theology. Thanks to you and others (Rachel Held Evans comes to mind), I’ve been liberated from this narrow (and in my mind very incorrect view). These days I prefer to keep it simple and stick with my favorite reformed tenet, grace.

  • Karla

    Well said! We must stick to what the Bible says and the Bible says to
    Repent or perish! If people say they love Jesus and then they don’t
    follow the Bible/religion no Truth is in them! Ephesians 5:18 says don’t
    get drunk and also 1 Corinthians 6:10 says that all drunkards go to hell.
    The wine Jesus made was from the fruit of the vine/new wine/it was diluted
    and the Bible says don’t get drunk on strong wine so people who get drunk
    with wine are also wrong! Christians should not be getting drunk,gambling,
    mean,gossips,coveting/jealous,prideful,have sharp tongues,filling their
    body with drugs,sleeping around/living the same way before they came
    to Christ. People need to read the whole Bible not just part of it because
    Grace is not a license to sin but the power not to and there’s a really big
    difference! 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 the whole chapters need to be preached
    more because people today seem to forget that Jesus said many will say
    to Me Lord,Lord and not enter heaven! Jesus also said that you are one
    of Mine only if you continue in My teachings/follow Me! We must Repent!

  • Jonathan, I have $100 that says the Christian Post wouldn’t pick up this piece if they could!

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  • In one sense Merritt is exactly “right-on.” But in another sense, “how can your message, be judged by those you feel do not have a pure Gospel?” The problem that most Calvinists run into is not shades of theological mediocrity, but shades of theological heresy, antinomianism, and post-modernism, contextualization, non-biblical values, seeker-friendliness, etc. What the true Calviinist is being asked it to be tolerant to those very things he takes a stand against, and has always taken a stance against.

  • Adam

    Roger Olson’s last name is spelled ‘Olson’ not ‘Olsen’. Easy mistake; easy correction.

  • Tim

    The apology was for the way she said it, not for what she said.

  • Val Albrecht

    So, a group of people that has come to believe in theological distinctives is something new? I guess you folks have never had any experience with Pentecostalism, Seventh Day Adventism or Independent Fundamentalist Baptists.

  • It makes me sad that believing in Jesus doesn’t always seem to make people act like Jesus. I was so sad I wrote a poem about it:

    Neither shall they learn war any more

    Schools out – geometry and algebra
    equations dancing off the chalk board and into
    battle plans: blueprints to burn
    not build up. We have learned
    to take what we want by force;
    beggars with AK47s
    blasting for bread,
    shooting for scraps of self-esteem;
    napalm fueled by the oxygen of fear,
    forever burning;
    the intensity of our passion
    Little Neros who would rather torch others
    than set ourselves on fire to
    burn until
    we are consumed;
    the lens through which we magnify
    our father turned back on us.
    How can we love our enemies when we can’t even
    Love our friends?

  • Definitions are tricky to nail down….do I belive in mans depraved nature, do I believe in a God that is ultimately in control…yes and yes….am I a Calvinist I guess I fit the definition. Perhaps the constant thought I deserve hell but have been given heaven is a GOOD thing. I am going to heaven I deserve hell so the grace I have been given by God should be given to the person who just cut me off and made me slam on my brakes…..or I made without apology an SS joke to a Russian classmate I apologized later perhaps I should not complain about my order being totally messed up at the burger joint.

  • Dennis

    I understand some of your concerns about the Calvinist camp but I take issue with your example of Tim Keller. He is in fact not a “theistic evolutionist.” He clearly states in the Reason for God, “For the record I think God guided some kind of process of natural selection, and yet I reject the concept of evolution as All-Encompassing Theory” (pg. 94).

    Further you contradict yourself when you say that the Calvinist camp is a tribe that protects all insiders like Keller and Driscoll when you just talked about how this very same camp threw out Tulian Tchividjian and Bruce Waltke. So which one is it? Are they a tribe that protects their own or throws them out?

    Having said that all camps should be self-critical. One of the tenants of the Reformation is that the church is constantly reforming and not just reformed. May this movement continue to reform and reach many for the cause of Christ.

  • Steve in Toronto

    I agree with a lot of what in the article but its flawed by it’s aggressive ,polemical and uncharitable tone. It’s easy to look at men like Driscoll and C.J. Mahoney and conclude that the whole movement is rotten to the core but by the author own admission men like Carl Trueman (hardly the marginal figure described in the article) Tchividjian and Keller represent a very different and more promising directions. I would also like to say the use of the word “neo-Calvinist” is unhelpful. The term has long been used to describe a thread of the Dutch Calvinist tradition associated with Abraham Kuyper, Herman Dooyeweerd, Hans Rookmaaker and institutions like Calvin Collage and the Free University in Amsterdam. Ironically both the Young Restless and Reformed and their Arminian critics would greatly benefit from exposure to this rich, edifying and sophisticated theological and political tradition

  • Daniel F. Wells

    Good article.

    One correction. Technically, Keller is not a theistic evolutionist. He is a progressive creationist. Big difference.

  • John

    I too follow the reformed tradition. I too am troubled with the Neo movement. They worry too much about how people get there instead of being concerned that the harvest is plentiful.

  • Your critique of the “neo Calvinist” movement could be said of any group that puts promotion of a specific doctrine above, (and often far above) preaching Christ, and Christ crucified. I would say every group has many people in that category. As important as doctines may seem to some, they have done more to divide than unify through the ages. Most of my favorite (mostly all long dead) authors teach that only Jesus saves and remain focused on the work of Christ. I have no clue where they stand on issues the Church deems critical. Most people who call on the name of Jesus don’t put a lot of time and effort in the small stuff, when there is so much we still can learn about Christ. We won’t be discussing doctrine in heaven anyway, we’ll be blown away by Christ.

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  • Lydia

    “It’s easy to look at men like Driscoll and C.J. Mahoney and conclude that the whole movement is rotten to the core but by the author own admission men like Carl Trueman (hardly the marginal figure described in the article) Tchividjian and Keller represent a very different and more promising directions. – See more at:

    Trueman was part of a panel that declared Mahaney fit for ministry just a few years ago. Did he talk to any victims who had put their stories out there? If he is going in a different direction, I would request he explain being a part of exonerating Mahaney. Why was he involved at all?

  • mark


  • Fernando

    Insightful article. Scary trends especially if one thinks that our current cultures require us to be more in dialog with one another as Christians and even with other religions, instead it reveals our growing tendencies to be even more fragmented among ourselves as Christians. I don’t see a problem on have a different theological perspective, since that is part of Christianity’s tapestry, but it becomes a problem if we value differences more, than working together and respecting one another as Christian’s to reach out to our world.

  • Nate Musson

    what are the distinctives?

  • TBD

    I actually find that the one person who embodies this eogtistical nature is Kevin DeYoung. I think he embodies everything wrong with this neo Calvinism and embodies the arrogance and the judgment that comes with it. I actually hope it’s a fad that goes away soon.

  • Yup. Mouw, the Plantingas, Wolterstorff, the Institute for Christian Studies gang in Toronto (Olthius, Seerveld, Hart), Jamie Smith maybe–these were the original creative left-of-center type of Calvinists who gave the neo-Calvinist name its early cache. Most of the people in this article should be described as fundamentalist, or maybe conservative/evangelical Calvinists. The article, as a whole, reminds me of why I like to think of myself as a recovering Calvinist–a Unitarian with Trinitarian leanings, maybe?

  • John

    “Coinhabitation with other Christians guards a movement against “thin” expressions of religion.”

    Yet, it is the anti-Calvinists in the SBC CONSTANTLY stirring up this contentiousness and trying to create litmus tests to exclude Calvinists from the denomination.

    This is nothing but ad hominem because the so-called “traditionalists” see their power slipping away as they have failed to create revival and disciple an entire generation that is now spitting out the shallow dribble of the church growth movement and instead being mobilized by the rich theology of the Reformed Baptist tradition–which is certainly more historical and traditional than anything expressed in the so-called “traditional statement.”

  • NC

    May their tribe NOT increase, say I.

  • NC

    Right. Because when you’re starving every bitter thing tastes sweet.

  • Ummmm, it really is a “man of their time issue.” Ever read any Menno Simons? You know, founder of the gentle pacifist Mennonites? He was just as religiously intolerant as Calvin, Luther, or the Borgia popes for that matter…. 500 years ago religious tolerance just wasn’t something seen of value. A heretic was understood as threatening you, your family and your whole community with eternal damnation if his views caught on–hence they simply were not tolerated. Europe before the religious wars was a very different place than its been since…

  • Progressive creationism sees God as creating things over vast periods of time–without the “survival of the fittest” mechanism of Darwinism. It is a form of Old Earth creationism, so it accepts the standard secular scientific dates on the age of the earth….just without evolution. Keller has, however, called for the acceptance of Christians who believe in evolution.

  • Matt

    Good article but please stop using “tribalism” as a pejorative. It’s colloquial form is misrepresentative of indigenous folks and it’s dehumanizing.

  • Atheist Max

    Christian sects are best identified by
    which parts of the Bible they call ‘hogwash’.

    As one moves from sect to sect they throw out a little more of the Bible.
    And after enough searching you end up ATHEIST.

    Because there isn’t much in the Bible that isn’t hogwash.

  • Harry

    Great article. It’s high time someone begins to see the danger of this rise of Calvinism. Too often most people have chosen to either ignore this sinister movement for fear of being too judgemental. Not since the rise of the Moral Majority and the Christian Right has there been such a dangerous movement on the scene. At least with other strange movements such as Word of Faith, Holy Laughter etc. it was obvious to see, but with this “New Reformed” movement they tend to disguise themselves under a veil of the intellectual. Some even coming across as truly learned men. This is what makes it particularly dangerous. I say we should listen to the words of Jesus when he said “Go to your closet and pray’ and stay away from these dangerous churches and the men who lead them!!!

  • YT

    not claiming a particular theological side, seems to be the new theological side in vogue. Not picking a fight, I myself am apart of that tribe.
    I do want to ask though, is Keller definitely a theistic evolutionist, or he is open to the idea as a possible option for Christian.

  • Philip

    While I agree with many points in this article about trends and issues in Calvinism, I am more disgusted that we keep shooting our own! Yes, every ideology and tradition will have its issues. Remember, we are not perfect yet and will always have our very real problems that affect others and the culture around us. But please, stop giving ammunition to a world that is already rapidly trending towards more bashing of Christianity. Though it is necessary to point out problems within Christianity, there is a better way to articulate the concerns.

  • Miguel Benitez

    As someone who is part of the group you are critiquing I appreciate much of what you’ve written above and I hope I’m mindful of it and that it helps me be more honoring to God in the way I approach these things.

    That said, are you sure you have your facts straight about RTS and Waltke? That’s a very big accusation of a reputable institution and it’d be a shame to put something like that in writing if one did not do the proper homework.

  • I’m not a complete adherent to Mimetic Theory, but one of its observations is worth pondering in this discussion:
    A community cements its coherence by identifying and attacking the ‘other’ or outsider, making them the scapegoat. In my journey I have been in Evangelical circles, as well as Charismatic/pentecostal, and then the Calvinist/Reformed versions of these.

    Now I move more comfortably in Peace Church/Anabaptist and Progressive company, which I find more refreshing, open minded, and happy to dialogue.

    In the former group I did notice the desire to attack others holding other views on secondary doctrine and praxis, for individuals to promote their own credibility and create internal unity based on ‘Theological Correctness’ by their own definition. This unpalletable, distasteful and grating factor was a large part of re-evaluating where I stood on certain issues.

    However, a word of warning:
    Now I am in other circles I am noticing a tendancy to do the same in return. This means that debates can degenerate to attacking the man, rather than countering the opinion they state. There almopst seems a barely buried desire to see someone from the old school fall from grace, and the rumours of the same misdemeanours (the same ones that you note are not readily discussed within the Calvinist camp) spread like wildfire out here.

    Anyone who can spread bad news or land a punch on Driscoll or Piper is hot.

    We’ve got to focus on how we’re called to live, not what they’ve said or done.

    Here are more of my similar thoughts:


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  • Thanks for the article, Jonathan. The three concerns you mention have reared their ugly heads in many movements before, leading me to believe they are more human tendencies than particular to Calvinists. However, the YRR’s are to be commended for their rigorous use of the gift of the intellect. But I would suggest that perhaps the Church has existed longer than this or that “ism.” And learning the wisdom of the undivided Church may be therapeutic for these three “concerns.”

  • Matt Fortunato

    Well written, the ethos of the movement troubles me. I agree with the point about Tribalism. I almost agree with the point about Egotism, though many times “conviction” and “ego” are conflated into the same category when they should not be. I cannot altogether discount the point about Isolationism, but this seems an ironic statement. Non-Calvinists tend to avoid Calvinism like the plague. “Calvinism,” “TULIP,” and “Reformed” are regarded as curse words and are considered heresies not even worthy of testing against Scripture. The popular mindset is that there is no way this stuff can be biblical. Naturally this will isolate one group from the other. Last, remember that Calvinists are only Christians and will have weakness upon weakness. Tribalism, egotism, and isolationism are hallmarks of our culture that seep into most “versions” of Christianity. I hope the arguments and perspectives would never be discounted simply because of weaknesses in the people.

  • Steve W.

    I very much appreciate this article, as it captures accurately the rhetoric we see in today’s Christian landscape. I grew up in a strong Calvinist / Reformed tradition, and I value the theological underpinning that I received as a result. However, I have come to witness more and more arrogant certainty, and less humility, among Calvinist leaders; I find that a bit ironic, given our whole emphasis on depravity. Thank you, Jonathan, for this insightful piece.

  • Bonnie

    I’m guessing that what Merritt means is that the way a leader within the movement is treated has to do with his value to the movement or particular part of the movement he is involved with. It’s too bad that Merritt makes some statements that seem like gossip because they are not backed up, but I have observed many of the same behaviors that he calls out and wish he’d done a better job of substantiating them.

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  • Dan

    “The perspective of many today is that if you aren’t a Calvinist, you don’t really have a grasp of the gospel,” Olson says.

    It’s no wonder many neo-Calvinist have this mentality when leaders on the Reformed side says things like:
    “If you’re not Reformed, you’re just wrong” Steve Lawson, G3 Conference
    “If you’re not Reformed, you’re irrelevant.” John MacArthur

    Statements like that do not foster unity among the brethren.

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  • Occupy Christianity

    Yes, I believe that Merritt states in the article that these traits are not confined to Neo-Calvinism. However, they do seem to be much more prominent, accepted, and even celebrated within the Neo-Calvinist movement than, say, the Progressive Christian movement.

    These are, to be sure, human traits. But we, as Christians, are called to aspire to a higher calling – to overcome sinful traits, or more precisely, attitudes like these that (while not in themselves sinful) can lead to sinfulness. Morality has to do with much more than sexual mores. Neo-Calvinists can’t seem to apply the same moral criticisms to their own actions than to their “pet” sins. Perhaps the same can be said for many other movements, but it does seem to be much more pronounced.

  • Brent

    I am a pastor who was forwarded this article for my thoughts. Here was my brief response.

    Just a quick response from my first impression. The author seems to be dealing with that group of Calvinists that needs to be in a cage for a few years. True Calvinism drives a person to their knees in humility. This is why he made the comment “One of the markers of the neo-Calvinist movement is isolationism. My Reformed friends consume Calvinist blogs and Calvinist books, attend Calvinist conferences, and join Calvinist churches with Calvinist preachers. They rarely learn from or engage with those outside their tradition. (My feeling is that this trend is less prevalent among leaders than the average followers.)

    There is a difference between maturing Calvinists and immature Calvinists. All three of his critiques are against the immature calvinist whose theology has not matured to produce humility and gratitude and graciousness.

    When you discuss this article and things like this, remember to point out that the gospel is at stake – even quote spurgeon if you want, “Calvinism is the gospel” – and if we are not vigilant in defending the gospel against corruption and distortion, we will not be vigilant in promoting the glory of God since the two are inextricably joined.

  • Aaron

    Great article. Although I will point out that Keller doesn’t consider himself a Theistic Evolution even though he signed the Biologos statement. He considers himself a “progressive creationist” – plays into the macroevolution-macroevolution spiel.

  • What does scripture say about war en toto… should be scary that behond 2010 a remark posted on facebook has the bitter sarcasm preserved well from a genocide that took place in 1940…..however what scriptures often point out about man’s nature hammers home what a woman who lost her husband and child during world war II warned me about (she was my aunt and my conversion to Christ occurred within the previous 4 months) human nature is well……..evil…..rage and hatred are as Natural as lust and envy proving the fall happened and only 1 thing will end wars.

    If I deserve hell but have been given heaven (Biblical premise Calvin would point out. )
    how should I act towards those who raped and murdered my classmate or the person who raped and murdered the mother of 2 of my teammates….if scripture tells me by grace I have been saved not through works so that no man should boast and Christ tells me to love my enemies…..

  • Chris

    Same issues in the SBC 🙁

  • Roy Clouser

    Dear Lydia,
    The accusations that you have repeated in your posting are, in fact, false. Calvin never had anyone punished in any way for disagreeing with him. He never held an office in Geneva, as he was a French immigrant and only native Swiss were allowed to hold office.
    It’s not your fault that what you read somewhere were falsehoods, but I do recommend that you consult a reliable history such as The Reformation World (Routledge, 2003). Luther & Calvin had their faults, but were not the “tyrants” you accuse them, of being./

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  • James

    Well said Caleb. A great reminder that will stick with me. Excellent post Johnathan. I found you through a link from Jay Bakker

  • James

    Neo-Puritan, Neo-Quaker, Neo-Friends :{D

  • Mark Russell

    Look, I do not pretend to be an expert about such things, but I am a human being and I can tell you that the “disturbing trends” here are not unique to “neo-Calvinists”. Isolationism, tribalism, and egotism could be demonstrated in ANY group. Simply pointing out the humanness of one group and calling it a trend is both disingenuous and a sad attempt to make a point. Look, both Jonathan Merritt and John Piper have their share of sinful attitudes and behaviors, many of which fit into the “troubling” categories listed in this article. But it has nothing to do with Calvinism and everything to do with being an imperfect human being.
    If fact, if anyone reads this article and thinks to themselves, “Merritt has it right, these are disturbing trends among those ‘Calvinists,'” then they have just looked into the mirror and seen those trends among themselves.

  • Ricardo

    Silly article. What’s so infamous about saying ‘Goodbye’ to Rob Bell, a universalist who is well outside of Christianity? Are we to embrace heretics into the fold as “Christians” so clowns like the author may regard us as being in the “non-mean” category he has invented? That little addition makes me doubt the overall claims of the article.

  • Daniel

    Dennis, the answer is that they protect rank. If anyone dares step out of line, on any issue of theological minutia, they’re out. In other words, if you dare use your brain to think, you’re out. Simply toe the line and you’ll be OK. Do and say whatever Popes DeYoung and Taylor tell you to do and say, and you’ll be fine. Oh, and stand with the victims of abuse and thus, against the abuser, and you’ll be kicked out as well.

  • Daniel

    Spot on. Wildly ironic that he wrote a book “the whole in our holiness.” LOL, I guess over the top arrogance has nothing to do with holiness. Of course, as with all of TG$C “writers” (or, should I say, their ghost writers), all of what they write only applies to the lemmings who buy their books. Doesn’t apply to the big dogs.

  • Mike

    So are you saying Rob Bell is a Christian? Was Piper wrong?

  • Daniel

    Straw man much? Pope MacArthur thinks that if you’re not Pre-trib, Pre-mill, Dispensational, Calvinistic, infralapsarian (or is it supralapsarian) then you’re either a heretic or BARELY a Christian.

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  • Jim Kray

    Okay, here’s my response which will draw ire, I’m sure:

    Let’s see, the banner for RNS (the Religious News Service), note that it’s not CNS (the Christian News Service) and on the left side is a Charismaniac. Got it?
    Under the three headings:

    1. Isolationism (which is his term for “Getting your head/heart straightened out from years of dumb Arminian teaching”). You bet I’m going to filter what I read! What web pages I visit, what conferences I attend! The vast bulk of “churchianity” has gone off the deep end and Jesus gave me a lifeboat with the Reformed faith. I’m not getting out.

    2. Tribalism (which really means “Knowing which issues are really bad, somewhat bad and a little bad”).
    How would you rank these issues?:
    1) Driscoll rips off some paragraphs, goes overboard on his language.
    2) Rob Bell denies hell, promotes universalism.
    3) Tim Keller thinks God used macro-evolution.
    Me, from worst to least is 2,3,1. In that order. So my response is negative to them all (let me toss in John Piper’s continuationism which I would make the same as #3). 1 is bad, 3 is worse, 2 is heresy. Get it?

    3. Egotism (which really means “Knowing what a great gift the Reformed faith is and protecting it like crazy”) The article says that 3 of 10 church claims to be Reformed. Really? From what I’ve seen in 5 or 6 widely spaced areas in the country (West, Mid-West (2), East and South), Reformed churches (really Reformed, not like the PCUSA) are rare. What we have is exceptionally precious. For most of us who came out of the nonsense, the process was brutal. We’re not better than others, we’ve just been driven to a beautiful spot (by Someone Else). Does it need some tweaking? Yes it do.

    A Dangerous Calvinist–sempa reformata, dudes!

  • This is a good article. I would add that there is a missing ingredient to the above mentioned mess that is common among Conservative Christian groups. That missing ingredient is authoritarianism. I usually define this term as truth being determined by credentials rather than by fact and logic. Along with tribalism, which is an excellent pick up, authoritarianism stifles the acceptance of criticism of others in the tribe lest their credentials are diminished. It also explains the reluctance of people in a tribe to recognize the contributions of those outside lest outsiders obtain enough credentials to be listened to.

  • Jack

    I find Kevin DeYoung to be just the opposite of egotistical. His writings connect a large audience with some very valuable and powerful insights. Much of this criticism appears to focus on a developing group discovering its identity and, as others have said, guilty of similar issues other groups and movements must confront.

  • Carl J. Fielstra

    Some valid observations. Agree that we, as Calvinists, Neo-Calvinists, and non-Calvinists should always be wiling to look within and without.

    I recall my own experience. Dutch heritage and culture, yet my dad (Dutch Reformed) ventured outside the culture in marrying my mom, raised in the Salvation Army.

    We’d faithfully attend Christian Reformed Sunday services (morning and evening) and my sister and I were schooled in the [Reformed] Christian primary and high Schools. Almost attended Calvin College, but also veered off course and attended a state university, radiate school. and a private (at the time) law school.

    Though Calvinists in most of our ways and thinking, the fact that mom was employed by the local Salvation Army kept us a bit “off balance.” While at the time I was somewhat embarrassed among my school peers by our Salvation Army link (my friends liked to call it “starvation army” because of its work among the poor and homeless), I am now most grateful for the “outside the camp” exposure.

    I recall many childhood discussions with my disapproving, very Dutch grandmother. “But grandma, do you think that the only songbook we’ll use in Heaven will be the Psalter Hymnal?

    The bottom-line, of course, is the Lordship of Jesus. And, under His Lordship it is incumbent only that we seek to serve Him, regardless of labels, cultures, and doctrinal fine points.

    I don’t think anything else will matter when we bow at the Throne of Grace.

  • Shelley L Houston

    I cannot understand how reformed circles continue to embrace Doug Wilson and his cronies as viable people of faith. Although Wilson’s booklet, “Southern Slavery: As It Was,” is out of print (see reviews and excerpts on I have heard nothing of Wilson’s recant of the outrageous statements he made within. Who will speak out against theonomists and reconstructionists who, for all intensive purposes, deny the atoning blood of Christ in their teaching? Somebody PLEASE denounce Wilson and his arrogant brood.

  • Rebecca W

    I posted this on Twitter too but helpful here too?

    “@zhoag @JonathanMerritt —@byronborger told me about this EXCELLENT article.
    This movement is actually NOT “NEW Calvinism”. (Neo-Calvinism already happened! 🙂

  • Rebecca W

    Also helpful on “The 2 streams of Reformed theology” ..

    @zhoag @JonathanMerritt —PS: This is also REALLY helpful re: the “OTHER” Reformed Theology
    By @JustinHolcomb…

  • very good text abou Calvinist !!

  • John H.

    With all due respect, this thesis seems poorly argued here. One, you make it sound as if only Calvinists would be expected to critique Donald Miller for saying he is done with going to church (for now). Is such a critique the provenance of Calvinists alone? If other evangelicals also critiqued Miller wouldn’t their joining the Calvinists undo the charge of isolationism?

    Second, you undo your example of Driscoll-criticism by bring up Carl Trueman. Trueman’s (among others) strong and consistent criticism of Neo-calvinist celebrity disarms your thesis. Then you bring up Tullian T. Have you not noticed the possibility that TT is the one being critiqued by the Neo-Calvinists instead of the other way around. His dismissal from TGC is evidence of the very thing you are saying doesn’t exist sufficiently – criticism of those in “the movement.”

    This article is too vague and too loosely argued with questionable anecdotes to be convincing.

  • Katie

    “Those who opt for a mean or arrogant tenor—whether real or perceived—have a short-shelf life in the span of history.”

    You mean like Martin Luther?

  • Great, great article, Jonathan. So grateful for your good research and clear writing.

    Except — as I’ve said repeatedly in other conversations like this — it is a real shame that sloppy journalists (and guys like Olsen who simply should know better) continue to use the term neo-Calvinist for these recent advocates of older school Reformed theology. There IS a movement that for decades and decades has actually called itself neo-Calvinism, and that is the tradition in the line of Abraham Kuyper. Often-cited thinkers like Al Wolters, RIch Mouw, Jamie Smith and Fuller’s Gideon Strauss, institutions like the Center for Public Justice and Toronto’s Institute for Christian Studies, much of the animating spirit of Calvin College, and of course, Comment magazine, connected with the think-tank Cardus, all routinely call themselves neo-Calvinists, stemming from the revisions and developments after Kuyper, from the likes of Herman Dooyeweerd and Nic Woltersdorf, and many others. This robust movement is well known among anyone who has done their homework on the broader manifestations of a Reformed worldview — Thornberry alluded to the Dutch — and it seems to me that since they’ve clearly called themselves that for half a century or more, evangelical journalists like yourself shouldn’t allow others to hijack the phrase.

    Frankly, I don’t think those involved the resurgence of conservative Reformed systematics (Mohler, Piper, Grudem, TGC) even call themselves neo-Calvinists, so why do journalists and guys like Olsen keep calling them that? Let’s face it, Jamie Smith and Rich Mouw, who DO called themselves neo-Calvinists, are a far cry from the newly vocal “old school” Calvinist likes of Driscoll and Maheny. Kuyperians bring a neo-reform to older Calvinism. The folks you are writing about here are new to the game, relatively speaking, but add little new, so shouldn’t be called neo.

  • Joshua

    I think your article is rather critical of a people group within Christianity rather than Christianity itself. We don’t necessarily need to label people even if they have labeled themselves; rather let’s listen to what they are saying not as a unit but as an individual. Calvinists like Baptists or Evangelicals are different but not all the same within their own groups. I liked one thing you said, which was from the Apostle Paul’s writing. ‘I reflect on the Apostle Paul’s observation that “Knowledge puffs up.” Which is to say, egotism is a human problem rather than a Calvinist one.’ This article you wrote seems to be more of a human problem within Christianity and not necessarily a Calvinist one, as Calvinists are vastly different and as I felt like you were writing more about the mainline church than the emerging church, whatever that means. Take care and God Speed friend. Cheers!

  • Lon

    I appreciated this perspective for it’s objectivity.

    Confession: I was taught to be an anti-calvinist, but “converted” to the Reformed perspectives on most Bible questions over 25 years ago. Yes, I think all Christians and Churches would be better off if they interpreted the Bible this way. However, I am not young or restless, nor am I in-tune with all of the leaders of the YRR movement.

    Therefore, I appreciated that this article documented and criticized flaws in the movement that all Christians, of any theological persuasion, should eschew.

    Thanks for this, Lon

  • Kelvin Smith

    This is a perfect example of the egotism discussed. Calvinism is, in this view, identical to the gospel–anything that isn’t Calvinism isn’t the gospel. I’m reminded of a speaker at the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology a few years ago, who said “Reformed theology is really just Biblical theology.” So anyone who disagrees can be dismissed as unbiblical. That arrogance makes it impossible to dialogue with, much less learn from, anyone who doesn’t dot their i’s and cross their t’s the same way. And that doesn’t display humility or graciousness.

    There is much Scriptural support for aspects of Reformed thought. There is also much Scriptural support for other interpretations. We all are prone to emphasize favorite verses and discount those that have a different flavor. Let’s not be so quick to anathemize those who balance Scriptural passages in different ways while still holding to Biblical inerrancy.

    By the way, Jonathan, a better translation of “Ecclesia reformata, semper reformanda” would be “The reformed church, always reforming.” Reformation is past and present, not just aspirationally in the future.

  • Rob

    Well done, thank you.

  • Daniel

    Your first two sentences don’t go together. Are you refering to Kevin, or to his writings? Sadly, as with most of these guys, those are often two totally different things.

  • Daniel

    Outstanding insights! Thank you!

  • Jeremy

    Michael Servetus comes to mind. Calvin didn’t walk alone in that one, but he definitely played a major role. He is, however, the only one Calvin had killed, yes.

  • TSingle

    Also, to say that “talking so much about sovereignty, salvation, and atonement can inflate the ego” is patently false.–Well said, Joshua. The real problem among us–I’m old, reformed, and restless–is that we have tended to hold these truths in a vacuum of virtue. The prevailing attitude that contributes to the egotism is, “WE know ALL the truth on these doctrines and YOU don’t.” We don’t really know them in the heart as we should.

  • Thanks, Steve. I, too, balked at this sentence, but I promptly remembered an undergrad professor’s insight that much of “Calvinism” has strayed pretty far from Calvin’s own thought. I appreciated some of the above comments that attempted to more accurately describe the subject group as more Kuyperian, or even New Puritans. The Christians this post describes, in my mind, typically get to John Calvin through Jonathon Edwards, and rarely start with John Calvin.

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  • dave povey

    if we would forget our own brand of christianity and remember that we SHOULD follow only 1 and that is JESUS. HE SAID LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART AND LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOUR AS YOURSELF.forget genealogies and GO AND DO WHAT JESUS COMMANDED US TO TO PREACH THE GOOD NEWS FEED THE POOR. Pure religion is this to feed the fatherless and the widow and keep oneself from being corrupted by the world.JESUS came and is coming again for his people not for sects. Forget others no person is perfect only 1. forget trying to make sure you got it right because you never will. GOD is not interested in your intellect only your heart. I am not an intellectual [ i have to use a dictionary to help me spell] but i do know the joy of sitting in the dirt with the homeless of praying for the hurt and sick of feeding the poor of telling people just how much GOD loves them and how special they are to him. JESUS came to seek and save the lost and we are the ones and the only ones HE chosen to use. so please forget creating differences between us go sit in the dirt with the poor homeless JESUS DID.

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  • Jeremy Edgar

    Jonathan, I agree with the general criticisms of your article. I have some similar concerns about the New Calvinism, of which I would consider myself to be somewhat a part of. Yet some of your specific examples left me scratching my head. Tullian, for example, SHOULD take his blog elsewhere if he is promoting beliefs that do not line up with The Gospel Coalition’s beliefs. Another one is using the number of books with the word “gospel” in the title as evidence New Calvinists think they have cornered the market on the gospel, so-to-speak. To me it is simply because New Calvinists cherish the gospel and connect everything in life to the gospel, something not every “camp” does. Lastly, John Piper’s “farewell” tweet seems incredibly justified to me. Bell has brought the false teacher label upon himself, and Christian leaders have the responsibility to call it out. You sound as if it is arrogant to have made such a judgment.

  • John MacArthur has shared fellowship and pulpit with RC Sproul and Iain Murray who are both pedo-baptists and anything but dispensationalists, He frequently cites the works of Spurgeon who did not believe in the pre-tribulation rapture, I highly doubt he thinks of these men as “barely Christian”. It seems you are firing at a straw man.

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  • Eric

    Hi Eugene. I appreciate your thoughts. You caught my attention because you’re also a pastor. I am someone who is desperately trying to find either an online program or some sort of program where I can get some formal theological training that is not Calvinist but is also not arminian. I don’t know why people think that if you’re not one you have to be the other. Any thoughts you have would be appreciated. I’m getting desperate and exhausted. Thanks.

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  • barbbflyjc

    for Curtis may 20- i am impressed with the humble teachable spirit you’ve shown as a calvinist! you are the only humble one i know now – my Pastor says i ran into hyper calvinists but i dont know any else so thx!!!

  • Great article. One question, though: If Calvin were alive and well in first century Corinth, would Paul have included him in his line-up? (I follow Paul, I follow Cephas…) If you say no, then that would make Calvin greater than Paul and the others. If you say yes, then that would relegate all self-confessing Calvinists to the status of spiritual infants. Am I missing something?

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  • Dan

    Calvinism is NOT the Gospel. The calvinist god gets glory from damning sinners. This is NOT the God of the Bible. I defend the Gospel, but I oppose the false teachings of calvinism. To say that Calvinism Is the gospel, is blasphemy.

  • Vic

    As a European Christian, I am reeling from the nasty atmosphere in large parts of the American blogosphere.
    From my (incomplete) observations, I feel that Jonathan Merritt’s take on this New/Neo/Vocal Calvinist movement is largely correct – it certainly is in terms of discussing the biblical equality of women and men. I’m referring to the authoritarian rhetoric of CBMW and I say this an an evangelical Christian committed to a high view of Scripture.

    I’m also deeply offended by the Calvinist claims that Arminians are barely Christian? barely saved? I have never heard this over here in Europe! In France! I tend to be Arminian – but I need to state most emphatically that Arminians do not believe in salvation apart from grace nor do they deny the sovereignty of God. My French husband, who is currently studying at a faculty where there are both Calvinists and Arminians on the teaching staff likes to point out that such a polarization of two points of view which both find some scriptural justification smacks more of Greek thought than Hebraic thought, in which two apparently conflicting positions are held in tension. He demonstrated this in an essay and was given 18/20- by his Calvinist professor!

    “As the ego inflates, the body rises and one begins to speak from above rather than from across. This is often seen in the way neo-Calvinists speak as if they are the arbiters of the term “gospel.” ”
    This is a profound statement, and one we would all do well to remember.
    I have literally seen physically puffed-up people and physically subdued and cringing people – usually oppressed women in (some) complementarian churches.

    Blessings to all.

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  • Kelly

    The problems with this post are not unique to Jonathan but are endemic of our age.

    First, there is the seeming surprise by the continuing manifestations of sin even in prominent believers’ lives. Jonathan speaks as though these manifestations are unique to this movement and to these men. What is truly amazing when considering the work of God in the history of the church is how often He uses broken, and in many cases severely broken, individuals to accomplish His purposes. It would be sufficient to point to the Davids of the Bible, but we can also consider Luther, Zwingle, Wesley, Moody, etc. Let’s stop expressing shock and thank God for His amazing grace.

    Second, there is the need to classify by use of an “ist” (Calvinist, or neo-Calvinist, or new-Calvinist, or centrist…) rather than to speak in terms of core beliefs. Using the “ist” obscures those beliefs and allows for group criticism, but this is surely in keeping with our culture. Everyone has to be a part of a group and for those that resist group identification…well, there’s a group for that! What is also in keeping is our unwillingness to speak to individuals about their own sin. Instead we tell someone else about it; or better yet, we throw them all into a group and then tell the world.

    Third, this pervasive use of “Calvinist” not only obscures the actual beliefs held but it obscures history. Jonathan would probably classify the older Augustine as a Calvinist. But he would also have to classify Tyndale, Luther, Zwingli, and many other “reformers” who preceded Calvin as Calvinists. Perhaps we could call them “pre-Calvinists” so we can put them in a group. Wouldn’t it be more productive to engage the core beliefs rather than the particular “ist” that we can throw people into?

    Fourth is the conflation between principled conviction and egotism. Is there true egotism among some to whom Jonathan refers? Certainly, see the first point, but we have become so thin-skinned that frank criticism is branded as “meanness,” and taking a principled stand on core conviction is arrogance and egotism. One only has to read the exchanges among Luther, Zwingli, Calvin, and many others from that era that evangelicals would accredit with greatness to see how thin skinned we’ve become, and these exchanges were among “their own.” I’m not advocating the kind of invective these reformers used. We should all strive to season our words with grace. I’m only arguing for a bit of perspective.

    The cry for everyone to come together and dialogue so that we can work out our differences and be united is not new, but this denies the governing power of core conviction. This power goes unacknowledged (but is no less real) by those whose core conviction is to be in the middle. We should all treat one another with love, but it seems to me that those who advocate most for dialogue and unity will not be satisfied until we are all united around their core beliefs. Apparently this is what it will take to avoid charges of “isolationism,” “tribalism,” and all of the other “isms” we can get away with and still remain “open-minded”, “even-handed,” and “nice.”

  • Daniel

    A few years back, Johnny Mac used the final session of his annual shepherds conference to rip to shreds all those who didn’t believe in Dispensationalism. Really? That’s worthy of the entire closing session? Guys like Johnny Mac are all about defining everyone else by points of theology that are entirely secondary issues. So much for the centrality of the Gospel.

  • Claris Van Kuiken

    From what I have personally experienced within the Christian Reformed and Reformed churches over the past 25+ years, I am inclined to say that many of the “New Calvinists” may be borrowing from New Age/Emergent teachings (through the many convoluted books they read from so-called “Christian” authors, and perhaps occult authors as well–like Ken Wilber). They may be at different stages in their “conversion” to a different gospel–or, they may have already rejected the true gospel and be purposefully introducing false teachings stemming from Eastern/occultic mysticism a little at a time since they know if their congregations/readers knew what they actually believed, it would not go over well. I’ve experienced the lies and know the deception that is in the CRCNA, the RCA and the colleges that they support. They are well-documented in my book, Battle to Destroy Truth: Unveiling a Trail of Deception. What has happened within the CRC since I wrote my book, and many other former conservative denominations, is sickening. And, it is only getting worse because of the lack of discernment, complacency, and discipline within the church. It only takes a single, anti-biblical concept disguised as Christian for a leader to embrace to lead countless Christians down the wrong path. You don’t have to adhere to the power of crystals, UFO’s, and other nonsense to advance the New Age cause of a socialist, one-world, utopian order. It’s occult meditation, in all its various forms, that is so crucial for the “transformation” of the world to take place, according to New Age leaders/authors. And, tragically, it is being embraced and promoted by countless “Christian” leaders. That John Piper sat down with Rick Warren to defend his book, Purpose Driven Life–on video no less, is extremely disturbing. Iis but one example of how mass confusion within the church takes place.

  • Claris Van Kuiken

    Last line on previous comment should read: “It is but one example…..” Sorry, couldn’t resist correcting the mistake.

  • David Hunt

    Good article! It concerns me when Christians have an “I am of Calvin” attitude. I love Calvinists, but am still yet to hear one of them clearly show that “Irresistable Grace” can be found in the Bible. It’s concerning if young Christians devour books by Calvinist authors only, which can lead them to embrace Replacement Theology also.

  • Barry

    Thank you, Kelly, for your keen insights~

  • KG

    My goal here is not to defend Calvin’s role but to clarify. It really is not accurate to say that Calvin had him killed. As you point out, others were involved. Calvin used his influence to condemn the teaching of Servetus and supported the execution but the fact is Calvin did not have the authority to render a civil or capital judgment. In fact, Calvin did not even lead the prosecution of the theological case against him.

    While it is true that Calvin supported the execution (along with virtually every other Christian leader of the time including Calvin’s usual adversaries), it is also true that he argued that Servetus should be beheaded as a traitor rather than burned as a heretic. Servetus was wanted in much of Europe both Catholic and Protestant and would have been executed almost anywhere he was arrested. The sentiment was not unique to Calvin, Geneva, or even Reformed lands. Calvin was not even a citizen of Geneva when this occurred and did not have the authority to order an execution.

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  • Polemic will always be a part of religious discussion, regardless of who has the microphone. At the end of the day, though, there must be positive appeal. The New Calvinists message has that appeal when it discusses God’s initiative in choosing us, and how He comes to get us in our lives! My personal focus will always be on presenting a devotional, pastoral message with this as the focus rather than making sweeping critical statements about culture, the church, or individual people. Nevertheless, I don’t think that it’s possible to deny that despite polemic that the New Calvinist message of God’s grace has resonated with a lot of people, and this despite the polemic, and despite disagreement within the movement.

  • Steve

    I think your comment is ignorant and has no backing. Yes, there are groups of people that claim to be Christians, but if they throw out parts of the Bible, they aren’t. To be a Christian means to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and therefore the sole foundation upon which anything can be determined.

  • Steve

    I think that this verse does a nice job with your argument.
    “Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”

    So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” They said, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How does he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?” Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day. It is written in the Prophets, ‘And they will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me—not that anyone has seen the Father except he who is from God; he has seen the Father. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes has eternal life. I am the bread of life. Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

    (John 6:35-51 ESV)

  • “roughly three out of 10 Protestant leaders describe their church as “Calvinist or Reformed,” a proportion statistically unchanged from a decade earlier […] there is no discernible evidence from this research that there is a Reformed shift among U.S. congregation leaders over the last decade.”

    These are two different things. Calvinist leaders do not necessarily lead Calvinist churches. My own church is an example. While some (maybe all – I don’t know!) of the leaders are calvinist, the church is not calvinist and has members with many different views on the subject. Occassionally this leads to some interesting discussions (!) but we’re brothers & sisters first – calvinist/armenian are just details.

  • Do you have proof of this? Or is it slander and gossip and bearing false witness against our neighbour? We’re all very ready to believe bad stuff about people we disagree with.

  • Well, I would hope we would accept Christians who believe in evolution! “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you”. That doesn’t mean we have to agree that their view is valid. But if someone is a Christian we absolutely should be accepting them.

  • Max

    Great article! Merritt has just described the New Calvinism movement (and a particular flavor of New Calvinists) spreading like wildfire through the Southern Baptist Convention.

    There is no doubt that the New Calvinists I’ve had close encounters with and interact with on various blogs are isolationists, tribal, and as arrogant as they come. I’m getting sick and tired of these young whippersnappers thinking they must recover the “gospel” that the rest of us lost. Statements like “Calvinists spur us on with their intellectual rigor” imply that non-Calvinists are Biblical-illiterates. They love to debate Scripture taken out of context, but debating is not preaching the Gospel.

    Merritt’s assessment of New Calvinists is right on: “Attaining theological knowledge often leads to the idea that one is in a better place to understand God or more in tune with God.” They forget that the Gospel really is simple enough for a child to understand. Education does not produce one ounce of revelation … it’s by Spirit saith the Lord! New Calvinists depend too much on one-line tweets of Piper Points, Driscoll Drivel, and Mohler Moments to the point of not operating themselves with spiritual understanding … that’s why much of their theology is stinkin’ thinkin’.

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  • Rosie

    “Sometimes it seems as if Calvinists view themselves as judge, jury, and executioner of the Christian movement at large—determining who is faithful and not, who believes the gospel and who doesn’t, who is in and who is out. (One might call to mind John Piper’s iconic and infamous “Farewell, Rob Bell” tweet.) Some within the movement talk of God’s sovereignty while seeking to control the destinies of other Christians and often speak of man’s depravity with a haughtiness that undermines it.”
    Yes, this is very true. It is still a vice I struggle with. I have also been dealt the most uncharitable and judgmental blows by Calvinists regarding my decision to return to unity with the Church at Rome. They claim to know the state of the souls of millions of other people. Dangerous territory, friends.

  • Ryan

    I agree Joel.. and, my opinion is that all these symptoms are summed up with one word, pride. Pride that keeps us–as the body of Christ–from seeing each other’s potential. Pride that bars us from reaching out to other denominations… from every denomination. Pride that isolates us, because of our selfish idolatry, considering ourselves before others… We need to stop going to church for ourselves as if taking a daily supplement, and we need to start living in the body of Christ, going to church not for ourselves, but going for everyone else, to have fellowship. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will inherit the kingdom of heaven… man is inherantly judgemental, we need peace, not a contest of who can cast the first stone. It’s all just a big bash fest, who can diminish the other the best… what happened to good ol’ fashioned admonishing, let all speech by used for edification, for building each other up right? Ha, maybe I’m just venting, as my point has completely digressed.

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  • Lamar Carnes

    It seems endemic in our culture of the Church to keep using a term which has not one bit of evidence reflective of it being honest or correct in promoting any message about wehat it is supposed to be about. I am referring to so-called Calvinism. Even those engaged in the movement or teachings use it freely. To me this is dishonest. John Calvin DID NOT coin the term, nor did those who followed John Calvin. Also, the teachings were very prevalent during the entire history of the Church by many Church fathers, and also, Martin Luther was more involved in teaching the doctrines of grace than John Calvin, especially in a dynamic pointed activity and position all the way from his writings to his sermons. Calvin certainly believed in the Doctrines of Grace, but really HAD nothing to do with any great emphasis upon them as the others did. WHY certain opponents used His name with the Doctrines as if he and others who believed in such were followers of John Calvin I cannot and do not know. When the “Armenians” who I am sure are the ones who coined it, used a term they should have used Lutheranism, if they were going to just make it be identified with the period of time in history, although, it was around since the days of the Apostles, and before according to the scriptures! Isn’t it time to drop Calvins name from this and just call the doctrines the doctrines of grace and stop this wrong name calling thing? I say yes, because most of those who yell against the teachings have no idea what they are about!! When you ask them they misrepresent the teachings so much it is rather embarrassing to have to deal with them. Jacob Arminius and his name rightly goes along with the teachings identified by him because he and his followers used his 5 points. Also they can be traced back to Pelagius. But using Calvin, no – it can’t be traced BACK TO HIM as the instigator or originator of it at all. That would be like calling the doctrines using the name of Bucer, or some Anabaptist of the day. None of which had anything to do with this matter. The Synod of Dort handling the 5 points of Jacob’s stuff is where it all started during that period. So, call them Dortism if you like that would be more truthful. Or better yet, anti-Armenians doctrines.

  • Brian McCauley

    I agree, Dan.

    Calvinism originally cam from Augustine of Hippo and he was a student of Greek Platonism…human wisdom and sad at that!

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  • Ed

    Interesting article. However, I think that the intent of John Piper’s tweet was exactly right on the money. He took a lot of flak for it, but just take a look at Rob Bell’s interview with Oprah. It proves that Piper was prescient – he could see that Bell was radically departing orthodoxy.