Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Eclecticism of Today's Churches

I've got so many series going that it's hard to keep track.  I haven't finished up my Church Kids Go to College and am not even close to done with Why I'm Not a Calvinist, so you can expect more there.  There are a few others that I know I'm not done with, but a new one today.


I have enjoyed reading the Puritans.  I've read them and have had our church read them---John Owen, Francis Turretin, Richard Baxter, Thomas Watson, Thomas Goodwin, and William Gouge.  Now, understand that  if I lived at the time of the Puritans, they might have persecuted me.  We don't believe the same.  I am a Baptist.  The Baptists agreed with the Puritans on many points.  One way that I appreciate them is in the consistency they manifest in their theology.  Even if you disagree with them, you have to admire them for their consistency.

Most of the reformed and the Calvinists that I encounter today do not reveal the consistency of the Puritans I read.  They act or talk as though they have taken the mantle of the Puritans.   They really dig them.   They are reformed and they are Calvinist to a certain extent, what seems plainly to be a convenient extent.  These are the so-called "new Calvinists" and the "young, restless, and reformed."

As we have been evangelizing in the Sacramento area, I have met many in the new Calvinist category.  Many of  the churches there have arrived at that position.  However, I've read the Puritans, and these are no Puritans.  Their belief and practice are not consistent, really a total patchwork.  The word is eclectic.  Their doctrine and practice is a buffet table and they pick and choose what it is that they want on their plate.

What is so much characteristic of the Puritans is God-centeredness.   The new Calvinists, these young, restless, and reformed, they're not God-centered.  They pick where they want to be God-centered.  Ironic, huh?  They pick how it is they're going to be God-centered.  They choose, of course, to say they're God-centered, but they are not.  They also choose how they'll be reformed.  If they're doing the picking, then it isn't God doing the choosing.  They're monergistic where they want to be monergistic.  Eclecticism.

The new Calvinists claim a Calvinist soteriology, while using today's new measures of Finney.  The results justify their methods, but they're also vindicated by a new Calvinist explanation.  They label their pragmatism with new theological terminology:  missional, contextual, and incarnational.  It's the same old bait and switch, but with a new tackle box.  But why does anyone need the new measures, when they have the sovereign authority and power of God?  Isn't that sufficient?

What I see is that certain facets of Calvinism remove from the responsibility of evangelism.  I understand that a true Calvinist would argue against this.  However, it is still how it very often works.  The highways and hedges are not crowded with Calvinistic preachers.  I never run into them out preaching.  I visit their doors, and they're "like so happy I'm doin' this, dude."  "I'm like so totally with it."  Not really.  (It doesn't, um, work.  It, well, turns people off.)  They've got their Finneyesque new measures, with the title scratched out, and sharpeed over with their above new theological lingo.  This is, like, what Jesus would have done.

They mostly center on what people want and offer a palatable portion of Calvinism with neon lights.  They can make the "service" a rock concert and it be Calvinistic too!  Forget William Gouge.  Forget the Puritan methodology, solely regulated by Scripture.  Pick off some Puritan meat and throw away the rest.

What I'm describing is also what the patron of the new Calvinists, John Piper, has done.  He intimates a repackage of Jonathan Edwards for a contemporary audience with his Christian Hedonism, meanwhile totally contradicting Edwards' treatise on the religious affections.  Piper offers a big bowlful of passion, leaving affection in the crisper or to spoil in the back.

No true Calvinist is a continuationist, but not in the new Calvinism.  You can go cessationism or continuationism.  The door opens for experience to replace the authority of Scripture, even though God isn't in charge without an autocratic Word.  No sole fide without sole scriptura in Calvinism really.  But not with new Calvinism.  Reformed and Charismatic.  A floor wax and a dessert topping.

There is no rule except there is no rule.  You can pick what you want.  This should be ironic for a group that features the sovereignty of God.  However, when it comes to success the pyrotechnics do matter, a lot.  Do you have on your best dress t-shirt?  Did you trim your soul patch?  Are your frames suitably retro?  Do you have the right film chosen for your illustration?  Is your verbiage suitably coarse?

The Puritans believed in one God and one Bible.   One Word.   That's part of the reformed carcass that makes the trash compactor.  You get to pick and choose what's your Bible.  There's even a theological explanation for that one---you don't want to do like the Roman Catholics with their Latin Vulgate.  I mean, you're really reformed.  You're protesting the Catholic idea that there is one Bible.  What a minute.  That wasn't a Protestant protest.  They were actually protesting a Latin Bible.  They were truly arguing for one original language Bible.  Oh, who cares, it sounded like a serious argument.  And you can use any version of scripture you want, any Bible you want, what ever one is the newest and even the hippest.  And when that one's out of fashion---which it will be---then you'll choose the next latest Bible that comes out.  But you get to choose.  Again.  And still be monergistic!

If you can choose your own Bible, then surely you can choose your own methods, and basically pick and choose whatever it is of your Calvinism and your Protestantism and your reformation that you want to use.  Eclecticism is where it's at today.  Calvinism is where it's at too.  At least until I choose otherwise.  Monergistically, of course.


Joshua said...

Bang on and much appreciated. I've been having a bit to do lately with our Reformed friends - having attended a session on Christ-Centred Preaching by Bryan Chappell.

I can't understand how these folks can possibly be actually reading the Puritans. The Puritans were death on purity and holy living. They were absolutely hated in their day for reproving worldliness and linking it directly to an unregenerate condition. They would find most of the "strict" Fundamentalists today to be remarkably loose and careless.

Luke 11:47 is what keeps coming to my mind:

47 Woe unto you! for ye build the sepulchres of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. Truly ye bear witness that ye allow the deeds of your fathers: for they indeed killed them, and ye build their sepulchres.

Matt 22:30

and say, If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.

The worldly Calvinists build the sepulchres to the Puritans and Spurgeon and the like, but they would hate and oppose them at every step were those men alive with us today. They read them for high words about God, and to stimulate the mind to pleasurable reflections, but the men themselves they would utterly abhor.

You need do nothing more than imagine Phil Johnson and Piper inviting Spurgeon out for a beer, a trip to the films and a jamming worship session to understand how long that fellowship would last.

The Puritans had a legion of religious professors in their day decrying them as Pharisees and legalists for the strict application of the Scriptures to their lives. The New Calvinists would have been spearheading that legion. The baldfaced hypocrisy of it is breathtaking, and it deserves to be pointed out.

When one abandons NT Christianity for the closest substitute, this is the snare that awaits many. Thank you for your warnings against it.

Unknown said...

Of all the Puritans that I have read, I like Watson the most. His "Body of Divinity" is such a treat to read. Owen is just out of my league (just coz I is stupid)...way out there. I need Owen broken down sincerely. Owen Clip Notes, or Owen for Dummies (hmmm, maybe I should look that one up, but I digress). New Calvinism, Conservative Evangelicals, Historical Fundamentalists should just be called, disobedient Christians, IMmHO. :-)

Lance said...

Never could quite understand their Amillennialism (their Theonomic Universal Church ushering in the Kingdom on Earth)with their Monergism. You cannot separate the Puritans from their Theonomy in trying to replicate Calvin's Geneva in the New World. It was their Theonomy that prompted the Danbury Baptist to write Jefferson to write the First Amendment defining the "wall of separation" between Church and State.

Kent Brandenburg said...


Right on and well put. I agree that there is some intellectualism to help offset their superficial appearance in their love for reading the difficult prose of Puritans. I don't Phil or Piper drinks---they are old school in certain way---but I get the gist of it. Thanks.


Approach reading them like you would jogging. Go slow and be satisfied with it.


Great point! Not totally consistent those Calvinists. These New Calvinists way less so.

Reforming Baptist said...

I recently read "The Explicit Gospel" by hipster pastor Matt Chandler. In the book, he criticized the church growth movement that just cares about getting bodies in the door without any real care to make sure these people are converted. But then he has Rick Warren endorse the book on the front cover. I'm thinking..."duh! Who in the world has more contributed to the very thing you are criticizing?"

It made me think...why can't these people see their own inconsistency and hypocrisy?
A couple of thoughts came to mind when I read your post mentioning the Puritans.

First, the Puritans' Calvinism wasn't embraced because of Rock Star preachers leading a movement. They're beliefs and convictions and the outgrowth of those beliefs were forged in persecution. Their writings on holiness (Thomas Watson, being my favorite) came from the intense pressure put upon them by the church of England. They were not perfectly consistent either, but they became giants of maturity due to the difficulty that they endured. They were also a minority movement as well. Those who rise anywhere near the stature of the Puritans will always be a minority. BTW, they rejected the KJV and were Geneva Bible only! If you really want to be a purist, use the Geneva Bible instead! It's back in print.

The "New Calvinists" have come out of New Evangelicalism and Revivalism and are looking for something with more substance. Yet, they are still a product of their own background. Matt Chandler for instance is a product of the most sappy, moralistic, worldly side of the Southern Baptist world. Even though he - and people like him - have taken some steps in the right direction, they are still immature due to the flabby, sugary, non challenging evangelical environment that they are developing in. A few will rise out of such inconsistency and pursue godliness: Paul Washer for example. He's more fundamental than a fundamentalist, and he strives to be pure like the Puritans, but he's not invited to speak at the Gospel Coalition either! He's a minority just like the Puritans. Interestingly enough, Paul Washer's theology and practice was forged in the rigors and difficulties of missionary work in South America amongst many dangers toils and snares - something that the other popular new Calvinists know nothing of.

Joshua said...

Pastor Brandenburg,

You are correct regarding their stance on alcohol, and I have misrepresented them there. I believe Piper also is cautious about worldly entertainment.

In both regards they both fall well short of where Spurgeon stood, and he would have had nothing to do with them.


An excellent summary - I think you've put your finger right on it.

Anonymous said...

Your observations about the "new Calvinists" are spot on, especially the smorgasbord comment. However I also think that comment could be said about all of today's churches, which have only the shortest statement (if any) of beliefs and a much varied "gospel" or "evangelism" message that they take to others. American Christianity is largely a smorgasbord and ALL professing believers pick and choose where they go and what they believe. (It is just easier to be inconsistent when you don't have a confession of written beliefs because no one can pin you down).

There are several messages against New Calvinism on Sermon Audio and even some new blogs, mostly by Calvinists taking the "cool" Calvinists to task, and rightly so.
See the 95 Theses Against New Calvinism for example, a protest very apt. No wonder John Piper just retired since he has become a lightening rod (but he exposed himself).

As far as you being persecuted by the Puritans, Oliver Cromwell was a puritan and the Lord Protector of England after the Puritans swept the wicked King Charles I from office and beheaded him for treason against their constitution (Patrick Henry referred to his in his famous Stamp Act Speech; applying a warning to King George!). But it was Cromwell who gave and was champion of liberty of conscience for Baptists in particular, so under a Puritan Parliament the Baptists actually sprung up in their full rights of liberty! That part of history needs to be understood to refute the idea of Puritan persecution of Baptists (in England). The Baptists then published their 1689 London Confession openly to prove how similar their beliefs were, and that they were no "anabaptists" (which actually was a heretical sect, not true baptists).

Charles Spurgeon wrote and preached the Calvinistic doctrines very openly, which is worth considering. Who would claim he ever hedged on evangelism?

The New Calvinists ought to be avoided entirely, and you have correctly identified several of their traits.

Kent Brandenburg said...


I believe you are correct and I should have considered more closely the relationship of Baptists to Cromwell. I actually assumed that and shouldn't. However, I know of the history of the Baptists and the Puritans in early American history with the persecution of Obadiah Holmes in Massachusetts Bay Colony. I knew that John Bunyan served in Cromwell's army before his conversion and his persecution later came as Charles II led England back into Anglicanism. Thanks for your comment.

Lou Martuneac said...


I am late looking in, but I think the article by Dr. Peter Master makes a good companion to yours here. See, The Merger of Calvinism With Worldliness from 2009. The following are his three opening paragraphs.


When I was a youngster and newly saved, it seemed as if the chief goal of all zealous Christians, whether Calvinistic or Arminian, was consecration. Sermons, books and conferences stressed this in the spirit of Romans 12.1-2, where the beseeching apostle calls believers to present their bodies a living sacrifice, and not to be conformed to this world. The heart was challenged and stirred. Christ was to be Lord of one’s life, and self must be surrendered on the altar of service for him.

But now, it appears, there is a new Calvinism, with new Calvinists, which has swept the old objectives aside. A recent book, Young, Restless, Reformed, by Collin Hansen tells the story of how a so-called Calvinistic resurgence has captured the imaginations of thousands of young people in the USA, and this book has been reviewed with great enthusiasm in well-known magazines in the UK, such as Banner of Truth, Evangelical Times, and Reformation Today.

This writer, however, was very deeply saddened to read it, because it describes a seriously distorted Calvinism falling far, far short of an authentic life of obedience to a sovereign God. If this kind of Calvinism prospers, then genuine biblical piety will be under attack as never before.

Lou Martuneac said...

Two more brief excerpts from Dr. Masters that compliment your points.

C J Mahaney is a preacher highly applauded in this book. Charismatic in belief and practice, he appears to be wholly accepted by the other big names who feature at the ‘new Calvinist’ conferences, such as John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler. Evidently an extremely personable, friendly man, C J Mahaney is the founder of a group of churches blending Calvinism with charismatic ideas, and is reputed to have influenced many Calvinists to throw aside cessationist views.

The new Calvinism is not a resurgence but an entirely novel formula which strips the doctrine of its historic practice, and unites it with the world.