Calvinism Appearing in Unexpected (and Innapropriate) Places

Calvinism Appearing in Unexpected (and Innapropriate) Places September 19, 2013

Due to the rise of what my friend Scot McKnight calls “neo-Puritanism” (what others have labeled “the new Calvinism” or just “resurgent Calvinism”) TULIP Calvinism is popping up in places it does not belong. Especially young men are reading John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Matt Chandler, even Michael Horton, and taking this new found theology “home” with them into the denominations they grew up in or have joined. Often those denominations are historically averse to Calvinism–such as Wesleyan-Holiness, Pentecostal and Anabaptist ones.

Often these denominations did not have the foresight to expect this influx of “young, restless, Reformed” people and so never wrote statements of faith that explicitly excluded TULIP. Their whole, entire ethoses were contrary to TULIP, however, and “five point Calvinism” is completely foreign to their histories and theologies.

I receive e-mail all the time (too many to respond to) from pastors, lay people, and even theologians (college, university and seminary professors) informing me about this infection of Calvinism in their denominations and related institutions. Usually they want some advice about how to handle this.

Now, let’s be clear about what I’m talking about and am NOT talking about. Many denominations are historically-theologically, confessionally Calvinist. Of course I’m not talking about them. They are where Calvinists belong!

Then there are many other denominations that are historically-theologically open to Calvinism; Calvinism has long been accepted as a live option within them. An example would be certain Baptist denominations such as the Southern Baptist Convention. I see no problem with Calvinists belonging to these denominations and even promoting Calvinism within them–so long as they do it fairly (not misrepresenting other views or implying that Calvinism is the only legitimate Christian theology).

Finally, though, there are denominations that are historically-theologically rooted in theological-spiritual movements antithetical to Calvinism. What I mean is that these denominations’ prototypes (founders, leading spokespersons, etc.) were set against Calvinism and everyone knows that. Some of them have authoritative confessional documents that rule out Calvinism. Some do not. Either they never suspected that Calvinism would come into them or they are non-creedal and non-confessional “Bible only” denominations that eschew written statements of faith.

What are some examples of denominations that historically-theologically (doctrinal statements, prototypes) are against Calvinism such that TULIP Calvinism is not only “new” to them but also contrary to their historical-theological ethos? Well, all Wesleyan denominations, all Restorationist (Christian/Churches of Christ) denominations, all Anabaptist denominations, and all Pentecostal denominations.

Some years ago a well-known president of a leading, independent evangelical seminary, a man who happens to be strongly Reformed, informed me that “There are Reformed Pentecostals, you know.” He clearly meant Calvinist Pentecostals. My response (having grown up Pentecostal and read many books about Pentecostalism and having published some articles about it) was that in Pentecostal circles “Reformed Pentecostal” means NOTHING other than “non-Wesleyan, non-perfectionist.” In other words, “Reformed Pentecostals” (a misnomer but a commonly used one) means Pentecostals who do not believe in a “third definite work of grace”–entire sanctification in this life. This is one of the major divisions among Pentecostals (historically speaking). Some believe in entire sanctification as a definite experience subsequent to conversion and Spirit baptism and some do not. But “Reformed Pentecostal” definitely does not mean “Calvinist Pentecostal.”

Are there Calvinist Pentecostals? I knew a few when I was growing up Pentecostal. One I knew, a youth pastor and evangelist, claimed to be “Calvinist” ONLY because he had come to believe in the doctrine of “the eternal security of the believer”–a doctrine rare among Pentecostals and one that, by itself, does not constitute “Calvinism.” So, in reality, no. I have never known or heard of a TULIP Calvinist Pentecostal pastor or leader. If such exists, it’s an extreme rarity and anomaly.

TULIP Calvinism is absolutely foreign to those denominations and traditions I mentioned above. And yet I am now receiving e-mails from concerned Mennonites, Nazarenes, Pentecostals, Independent Christians, etc., notifying me that many young pastors among them have adopted TULIP Calvinism. They are almost pulling their hair out wondering how to stop this trend.

My first advice to them would be: Buy a few hundred copies of Against Calvinism (by yours truly) and pass them out to young pastors! Or require young pastors to read it–or something like it (although I don’t personally know of any relatively light book that does what it does).

My second advice is to rediscover and re-enliven your denomination’s historical-theological roots and ethos and make clear that TULIP Calvinism is foreign, if not anathema, to it.

My third advice is to confront young pastors (and other influencers) about their TULIP Calvinism and make clear they must recognize it as foreign to the denomination’s history and ethos, if not its doctrinal standards, and insist that they hold it as opinion and not promote it as “the” only biblical and God-honoring theology.

This is exactly the advice Calvinist pastors, leaders, theologians would give if the situation were reversed. Imagine an influx of Arminians into, say, a Presbyterian or Reformed denomination! Well, of course, most of those have confessional standards that rule out Arminianism. And yet some of those denominations have not enforced every jot and tittle of their confessional standards. They have permitted limited diversity–sometimes including something like Arminianism. But suppose a whole bunch of aggressive, young, passionate Arminians suddenly flooded into those denominations? I guarantee their leaders would be nervous and follow the suggestions I provided above (about dealing with the opposite problem).

I have said here before, several times, that I value Christian unity and denominational particularity. I think denominations should resist being swayed by fads and trends–especially ones that would move them to become something entirely different than they were historically and theologically.

Frankly, little sets my theological teeth on edge quite so much as “Calvinist Mennonite” or “Calvinist Pentecostal” or “Calvinist Nazarene.” These should be oxymorons–just like “Arminian Reformed” and “Arminian Presbyterian” and “Arminian Lutheran” and “Protestant Catholic” (or “Catholic Protestant!”). Now, as I have made clear here many time (I have to keep repeating myself for newcomers): I do not think Calvinists are less Christian than Arminians or vice versa. But they are wrong theologically. From their perspective, Arminianism is wrong theologically (so I’m not being unfair or insulting). And these are not unimportant matters. It’s natural that churches and church-related institutions take a stand for or against Calvinism or Arminianism–without breaking all fellowship and cooperation. It’s the same (IMHO) as baptism–a church that baptizes both infants and mature believers is confused about baptism. People who take baptism seriously ought to go to a church that baptizes ONLY persons they think are appropriately (biblically, theologically) eligible for baptism according to a theology of what baptism is and is not.

To Calvinists in historically-theologically non-Calvinist denominations I say “Come out from among them and be separate!” Or, at least “Respect the historical-theological ethos of your denomination and don’t use your Calvinism to try to change it into something it never was.” I would say the same to Arminians in historically-theologically Calvinist denominations (if there are any).

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