The New Calvinism v. the Simplicity of the Gospel
By Cynthia Kunsman
Under Much Grace
Actually, it’s been around for awhile – about as long as I have, actually, but before I was old enough to read about it.
I don’t really pay much attention to the neo-Calvinists that move in the Louisville Baptist-anointed circles
, though I am apparently known as one of their more outspoken critics. In following the ideology of misogyny in Evangelicalism, I traced much of it back to them and therefore had to address it. Though much goes back to an out of context interpretation of John Knox
on the Presbyterian side which is more consistent with my experience, the influence of the bunk borrowed from the Baptist misogyny within all of Evangelicalism cannot be ignored.
Some suggest that most of what passes for Calvinism these days doesn’t even qualify as real Calvinism, especially from those in the Gospel Coalition
type of camp. Paul Dohse has been busy writing
about this subject and recently released a book
about how two aberrant Anglicans and a Seventh Day Adventist from Australia were invited to Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia in the late sixties, detailing how their subtly twisted doctrine has resulted in the errors of what passes for Calvinism today. Actually, most of the controversies concerning doctrine among the Reformed can be traced back to the Australian Forum in some way, or from the Redemptive Historical Method
which preceded them. The group launched some provocative “new” ideas at that time, and what they actually accomplished was a remerging of justification and sanctification, but they marketed it as Reformation Theology.
The short version of things
J. G. Vos
became very interested in the significance of Christ’s history
and participated a movement that encouraged people to find a message of Redemption in every Bible passage, relating it to the history of Christ. Goldsworthy, an aberrant Anglican, developed a whole esoteric sounding theology about the “holy history of Christ,” he worked along side Brinsmead, a Seventh Day Adventist (SDA), and it resulted in most of the errors and controversies we’ve seen among the Reformed in the past decade or two. Most of what Jon Zens teaches came from Brinsmead, and most of what Piper teaches sounds just like Goldsworthy
. (See addendum note below.)
Piper’s preaching quietism
through his “beholding as a way of becoming,” a form of Christian mysticism enjoining passive contemplation and the beatific annihilation of the will
. And remember the controversy within Federal Vision about the significance of Christ’s miracles to the believer, another tributary of this discussion of the “holy history”? But they don’t tell you about the foundational soteriology of these men.
In some shared disdain for Lutheran theology, they explain how salvation really happens
in their old publication called “The Present Truth
” which was once staggeringly popular at Westminster. (Take note that “the present truth” is a doctrine in SDA church, invented by the Whites
. It was also the name of their first SDA publication
in the 19th
Century.) In a discourse that switches back and forth from Catholic Theology into Prostestant statements so many times that I gave me theological whiplash, they explain the process. First, the believer is “caught up in the holy history” of Christ and “replaces his history” with Christ’s. As a result of the change in the person who has been assimilated or has assimilated Jesus and is changed, it is then that God decides to bestow the grace of justification on a man because he’s suddenly become acceptable to God. Sorry, folks. This just became justification by works, and sanctification and justification become the same thing.
This is the more subtle reason why Piper
and others preach the gospel to
The "Fetus" of the New Calvinism from Present Truth
themselves every day which I personally consider to be different that morning devotions or contrition over sin as a New Creation in Christ. This is why Piper and Mahaney do all of their histrionic weeping over their poor, sinful state, because they are still subject to it, giving it power. New life in Christ for them is dependent on daily infused grace and justification, because God forbid that a man be a benefactor of some life changing internal experience that suggests that he maybe might have played some role in his own salvation on an experiential level. Where’s the score card? You need one to keep track of all of the intricacies they’ve added into the simple message of faith in the Gospel. The Australian Forum, the source of this stuff, also goes on to describe salvation as a 13 Step Process. (Can anyone see the flashing red light of “Gothardism” going off in my head?)
I also wonder about how broad the influence of Brinsmead, the SDA, has been within New Covenant Theology (NCT). I stumbled upon Paul Dohse’s material after learning that Baptists who follow NCT embrace other SDA doctrines
that have nothing to do with supporting how New Testament believers relate to the Old Testament laws. One man believes in soul sleep (note the comments
), and another
believes that Jesus is really Michael the Archangel and deleted all of the negative comments which you can find here
. I’m not so concerned about the former, but identifying Jesus as Michael challenges the Doctrine of God and invalidates the doctrinal distinctions that separate orthodox Christianity from theological cults. Is this more fruit, a generation later, of the influence of the Australian Forum? I think that most reasonable people should consider the question. I’m still reeling over the title
of the Australian Forum’s magazine, named directly after an SDA doctrine. Somehow, that got by the brightest and best at Westminster? Yet, it explains so much regarding all of the controversies and problems among the Reformed. What other crazy theological schemes have I ended up supporting in all earnest over the course of my life?
The Truth About the New Calvinism
You can read more at Paul’s Passing Thoughts blog
and in his book about the New Calvinism
and decide for yourself. I spent the better part of a week, day and night, trying to disprove Paul’s thesis. I have to agree with him at this point and turned up some more corroborating evidence that he didn’t even know about at the time. The element of his observations that most impressed me was how greater understanding of the teachings of Goldsworthy has helped me understand why most of these New Calvinists don’t seem to make any practical sense to me. They’re preaching a new version of quietism
, and their theology is not all that different from what Gothard teaches
People need to think about what they’re taking in and they need to compare it with Scripture. Are we told this stuff plainly in Scripture, or are ministers trying to sell ideas and books to make a living through “ministry”? Should we really be “branding” the teachings of the Word in postmodern fashion? Sadly, I think that this desire to profit from the sale of books and make a living from these kinds of efforts has been a significant influence in the development of these “new” ideas. Everyone must have a twist and an edge and a brand to be successful. But there is really nothing new under the sun.
Faith in Christ shouldn’t be that difficult. It’s my belief that many of these men are actually ignorant to what they’re actually teaching, just like I was ignorant to some of the junk theology I’ve followed in the past. But… woe! These men must answer for so much.
But what do I know? I’m just a woman, and my gifts and insights are secondary and ineffective
in the New Calvinism. But then, I’m not a “New Calvinist.”
But I fear, lest by any means,
as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty,
so your minds should be corrupted
from the simplicity that is in Christ.
In response to several inquiries I’ve received, some people misunderstand my purpose in noting that examples of John Piper and Jon Zens in such close association as two students and advocates of Calvinism who I believe were influenced by a common source. Some have misunderstood this reference as a claim that Piper and Zens teach the same doctrine. I thought it might be helpful to add this clarification from one of several emails I’ve written this morning on the subject:
I did not state and did not mean to imply that Piper and Zens teach the same doctrine. In the context of the paragraph, I spoke to the source of error introduced by aberrant doctrine into Presbyterian academics. Mine was a statement that both Piper and Zens were inspired by the Australian Forum, individuals who were invited to Westminster in the late ’60s and early ’70s. The forum was comprised of three individuals, Goldsworthy, Paxton, and Brinsmead. While agreeing on a very confusing doctrine concerning justification and merited grace (through assimilating Christ’s history and denying one’s own personal history to become acceptable to God), Goldsworthy and Brinsmead contributed different things to the Australian Forum. Piper and Zens merely capitalized independently from the different things each man contributed.
Goldsworthy, the Anglican, liked the teachings of Vos and added his error into the hobby horse of the redemptive history method. Piper agrees with Goldsworthy’s ideas about the “holy history of Christ.” It surely seems to me to have colored everything he believes, resulting in a very Roman Catholic-like merging of justification and sanctification, something external and objective which infuses into a believer. Piper picked up on the justification problems that Goldsworthy taught, but from what I gather, Piper remained committed to Covenant Theology’s stronger connection to the Old Testament system which views the Abraham as the foundation of the Church. (For more information, please refer to this comparison
of Dispensationalism, Covenant Theology, and New Covenant Theology.)
Zens derived different things from the forum and used Brinsmead’s ideas from SDA to create his own alternate theological system to provide an alternative to both Dispensationalism and Covenant Theology. Zens rejected Covenant Theology’s connection to the Old Testament system by way of SDA doctrine that he gleaned from Brinsmead. If you read Zens’ work on NCT, he quotes Brinsmead extensively and more than any other single person. Even the last email I received from him a couple of months ago featured a quote from Brinsmead. It had to be an old quote, because it’s my understanding that Brinsmead transitioned all the way out of any type of Christianity some time ago.
To his credit, I have not noted that Jon Zens references Goldworthy’s errors concerning justification and sanctification. I am, however, concerned that Zens advocates a belief in soul sleep which is another doctrine associated with SDA and its progenitors, though this doctrine is far less critical than the concept of an external and objective gospel which merges justification and sanctification. Piper’s teachings argue against an inner transformation which bestows a believer with the Spirit’s power and discernment to resist sin. If Zens teaches anything like this doctrine, I’m unaware of it.
I hope that helps. Paul Dohse explores this topic in greater depth on his blog
and in his book
which I encouraged people to seek out for more information. There’s so much information available in those sources, I cannot do them justice in a single blog post.
Addressing only the doctrinal errors associated with the objective, infused gospel concept at this point, you may also find additional information at the new Coalition Against New Calvinism
Filed under: 1 Tagged: | Australian Forum, Coalition against new calvinism, Gothardism, justification, Paul Dohse, quietism, salvation, Sanctification, SDA doctrines, The Gospel Coalition