Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Soli Deo Gloria

Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Soli Deo Gloria

Today I’m continuing a short 5-part series on the five solas of the Reformation.  This post would normally be posted on Tuesday, but since tomorrow happens to be the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, I will be writing a completely different article on that subject tomorrow.

The five solas are specific Latin slogans that emerged from the Reformation era as a means of identifying specific doctrinal positions that stand in contrast to the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  The slogans are:

  • Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  • Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
  • Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
  • Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
  • Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)

Today’s focus is on the fifth sola—Soli Deo Gloria (Glory to God Alone). If the five solas are built upon the firm foundation of sola Scriptura—it’s appropriate that we come to understand that the work of God in saving sinners is all for the glory of God alone.  When Johann Tetzel and others would say, “When a coin in the coffer rings, a soul from purgatory springs.”  This was to ascribe glory to man’s alms or the Roman Catholic Church’s authority to make the transaction.  This is nothing but a blasphemous doctrine.

Why Soli Deo Gloria?

The work of salvation is a work of God alone.  Sure, man responds to God in the process, but not until the work of God has already been accomplished and put into motion.  Man is dead in trespasses and sin and cannot work his way to God, will his way to God, worship his way to God, or pay his way to God (Eph. 2:1-5).  Salvation in many evangelical circles has been reduced down to a three step process whereby people make a decision to follow Jesus by asking Jesus to come into their heart.

All throughout the Bible, we see that salvation is something far different than a human decision.  Salvation, as Jonah said, “belongs to the LORD” (Jonah 2:9).  John the apostle, in his Gospel put emphasis on the fact that sinners are born of God (John 1:12-13).  He makes it clear that we are not born again by the will of man, the will of the flesh, by blood relationships, or any other common belief.  We are saved when we are born of God.  John returns to that same thought as he writes to a group of churches in his epistle known as 1 John.  He writes, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).

Robert Robinson penned these famous words in 1758:

Jesus sought me when a stranger,
Wandering from the fold of God;
He, to rescue me from danger,
Interposed His precious blood;

As the Bible places great emphasis upon the fact that God saves sinners and that the work of salvation is a work of God in divine mercy saving a people who not only don’t deserve to be saved, but are completely unable to save themselves—it only makes sense that salvation is for the glory of God alone.  That’s why the Reformers pointed back to God—not the pope, priests, saints, or any other religious hierarchy.  Salvation of fallen sinful man is to the praise of God alone.

The next time you hear people giving a congratulations to sinners who have just been rescued by the sovereign grace and mercy of God—remember that the sinner didn’t do anything to deserve or earn salvation.  Instead of praising the new Christian—we should praise God.

Last of all, let it be known that for us to praise God and for God to desire the praise and glory is not in the slightest degree sinful.  We should never equate the football player who struts into the end zone with arrogant chest pounding displays of human effort with God who desires the praise of His people.  When people desire to be praised it’s an ugly thing, but when God desires to be praised it’s a wonderful thing.  God’s jealousy is not birthed out of arrogance and sin.  Instead, it flows out of the purity of God’s holiness (Ex. 20:3-5).

Revelation 4:11 — Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.

 

Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Sola Gratia

Misunderstanding the Five Solas—Sola Gratia

Today I’m continuing a short 5-part series on the five solas of the Reformation.  The five solas are specific Latin slogans that emerged from the Reformation era as a means of identifying specific doctrinal positions that stand in contrast to the beliefs and practices of the Roman Catholic Church.  The slogans are:

  • Sola Scriptura (Scripture Alone)
  • Sola Gratia (Grace Alone)
  • Sola Fide (Faith Alone)
  • Solus Christus (Christ Alone)
  • Soli Deo Gloria (To God Alone Be Glory)

How can the phrase, sola gratia (grace alone) be misunderstood and misapplied by Protestant believers?  In the attempt to stand in a continual protest of the works based salvation of the Roman Catholic Church, we must continue to point out that God saves sinners by grace alone—not based on the value of any works.  However, we must never diminish the need for good works to be present in the life of a child of God.

Defining Sola Gratia

When the Reformers used the phrase, sola gratia, they were insisting that God saves sinners based on God’s divine grace alone.  The idea was nothing new, in fact it was taken from the clear teachings of Scripture.  In Ephesians 2:1-10, the apostle Paul makes his point clear—salvation is by grace alone, apart from works, so that no one will be capable of boasting.  As the Reformers were protesting the selling of indulgences and various other practices of the Roman Catholic Church—their motivation in sola gratia was to point upward to God and make a clear point that God saves sinners by his grace and anything added to God’s grace is no longer grace.

Misunderstanding the Catholic Church

When people make the claim that the Roman Catholic Church does not believe in the saving grace of God, that actually is a misrepresentation of the Catholic’s position.  According to official Roman Catholic doctrine, they do embrace the teachings of salvation by the grace of God.  However, where the problem arises is when Protestants attach the word “alone” to the statement.  The Roman Catholic Church teaches that sinners are saved by the grace of God, but not all alone.  For instance, according to the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1257:

“Baptism is necessary for salvation for those to whom the Gospel has been proclaimed and who have had the possibility of asking for this sacrament. The Church does not know of any means other than Baptism that assures entry into eternal beatitude . . . “

While it should be clear that baptism is a work of man in obedience to God’s command, sometimes it is overlooked because it’s one of the ordinances of the church.  However, if you continue to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church 2010, you will see these troubling statements regarding works:

”The specific precepts of the natural law, because their observance, demanded by the Creator, is necessary for salvation,”

At the Council of Trent, the Roman Catholic Church made this frightening statement to anyone who embraced salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone:

“If any one saith, that by faith alone the impious is justified; in such wise as to mean, that nothing else is required to co-operate in order to the obtaining the grace of Justification, and that it is not in any way necessary, that he be prepared and disposed by the movement of his own will; let him be anathema,” (Council of Trent, Canons on Justification, Canon 9).

Misunderstanding Sola Gratia

Not only do people often misunderstand sola Scriptura, but they likewise misunderstand and misrepresent the intent behind sola gratia.  While we as helpless sinners are saved by God’s grace alone, the grace of God should never be alone in the life of a believer.  In other words, works do not save a sinner, but good works are present in the life of a believer as a direct result of the changed life by the grace of God.  Hear Paul in his letter to the church at Galatia:

yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified (Gal 2:16).

The Judaizers had crept into the church in Galatia and were teaching a salvation by faith in Jesus, but they added circumcision to the equation.  Suddenly, it was no longer salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone for the forgiveness of sins.  They added works to the formula.  In doing so, they changed the gospel from God’s gospel to something else—and Paul gave a stern warning to such practices in the opening words to the church at Galatia (see Gal. 1:6-9).

As we turn over to James, we see language that perhaps seems to be contradictory.  James argues for works to be present and active in the life of a believer.  James writes, “But someone will say, ‘You have faith and I have works.’ Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works” (James 2:18).  James’ point is clear—the works of a person’s life reveals their true spiritual condition.  Faith without works is dead and lifeless which points to the reality of a person who has never experienced the grace of God.

Do you have good works that flow out of God’s grace in your life?  Charles Spurgeon once wrote the following statement, “Although we are sure that men are not saved for the sake of their works, yet we are equally sure that no man will be saved without them.” [1]

Don’t misrepresent sola gratia by denying the need for good works and a pursuit of holiness in the life of a child of God.  At the same time, never lean upon good works as a means of your salvation.


  1. Charles Spurgeon, The New Park Street Pulpit, 4:265.
Calvinist

Calvinist

In 2008, Collin Hansen published a book titled: Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists and in doing so, coined the phrase Young, Restless, Reformed.  Today, that same group is no longer so young and restless. Although the movement is largely populated by a younger demographic, there are many older people who identify as New Calvinist in their persuasion and remain active online and in various para-church ministry settings.

Not only did authors, theologians, and media outlets such as Time Magazine pick up on this doctrinal resurgence in the last several years, but so did Les Lanphere, a film maker who has recently unveiled a project that charts the explosive boom of the New Calvinist movement in recent years.  The film is well researched, graphically appealing, and accurately documents the modern day resurgence of historic biblical theology.

One of the points that the film drives home is the necessity of the local church—which happens to be a passion of mine and it just so happens that Les Lanphere interviewed me on that subject and included a portion of that interview as a loving critique of the New Calvinism movement within his film.  I was grateful that he pointed out the areas that deserve praise as well as some of the deficiencies among the movement—such as an unhealthy fascination with celebrity icons and personalities that often have a greater voice in the ears of local church members than their local pastors.

I highly recommend this film and believe that it can be used to do more than chart a movement.  It can point out the need for solid biblical preaching that places a big God before people on a weekly basis.  What are some of the shortcomings of the film?  Every book, article, sermon, and song will have some area of deficiency and perhaps this film does as well.  While it charts the movement from various angles and documents the use of media outlets, technology, and conferences—there were some noticeable voices missing from the film such as Voddie Baucham, John MacArthur, Albert Mohler, and Mark Dever.

It was Mark Dever who asked a very important question in an article titled “Where’d All These Calvinists Come From?” where he documented the resurgence of Calvinism in our present day.   Mark Dever along with several other voices have been a large catalyst among the Calvinistic resurgence in evangelicalism and especially within the Southern Baptist Convention—a Convention founded by Calvinists in the mid 1800s.

Aside from lacking a few additional key players in the movement—the film is an excellent documentary and one that you will want to add to your library of resources.  Remember, this film does more than document a movement—it actually teaches truth at the same time.

Purchase the Film on DVD / Blue-Ray

Purchase or Rent the Film in Digital Format

 

 

Was John Calvin a Hyper-Calvinist?

Was John Calvin a Hyper-Calvinist?

Many people claim that John Calvin was against missions and that those who call themselves Calvinists or ascribe to the 5-points of Calvinism are anti-missional in their thinking.  Is that true?  Does the belief in a robust God who saves spiritually dead sinners create cold hearts who resist any work of gospel missions among the neighborhoods and the nations?

Over the past several years, the population of men and women who embrace the doctrines often called Calvinism has drastically increased within the evangelical church—notably so within the Southern Baptist Convention.  This has caused many to question their beliefs, examine their positions, and in some cases, to take up the sword and fight.  The common charge is that anyone who’s a Calvinist is also a hyper-Calvinist—someone who opposes the spread of the gospel.  First of all, there must be a distinction between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism (just as there must be a distinction between the First Baptist Church in your local community and Westboro Baptist Church in Kansas).  Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism and before we label someone a heretic, we must understand that vocabulary choices matter.

John Calvin’s Missionary Zeal

Did John Calvin teach people to hide the gospel under a basket (Matt. 5:14-16)?  The very moment that you stop listening to horrible sermons, inaccurate lectures in Bible college and seminary settings, and stop reading historically and intellectually dishonest blogs in the Internet, you will actually discover something rather refreshing about this often hated figure from church history.  John Calvin was not only a man with a passion for preaching the Bible, he was also a zealous hearted, missions focused preacher.

As Calvin’s preaching thundered from his pulpit in Geneva, he was preparing men to go and lead churches in France.  He organized, trained, developed, and sent out hundreds of these zealous hearted missionaries who proclaimed the good news of the gospel.  These missionaries stood upon the firm foundation of a robust sovereign grace.  As these men were convinced of God’s sovereignty in salvation, such knowledge became the fuel in the furnace of their hearts as they went out to plant churches and preach the gospel.  By 1562, Calvin (with the aid of other surrounding cities) had planted over 2,000 churches in France.  Some of the missionaries who were sent out from Calvin’s church died as martyrs.  Does this sound like a hyper-Calvinist to you?

The hyper-Calvinist rejects any effort to proclaim the gospel to the non-elect.  Rather than preaching the gospel indiscriminately and allowing God to bring sinners to faith, the hyper-Calvinist resists any attempt to offer the gospel to those who aren’t the elect of God.  Does this sound like the ministry of John Calvin?  Edward Panosian writes the following:

From that city [Geneva], hundreds of missionaries, evangelists, and pastors traveled to all corners of the continent preaching the gospel.  Their efforts, sometimes sealed with a martyr’s blood but always crowned with success, thrilled Calvin. [1]

Harry R. Leader points out that “Calvin’s beloved France, through his ministry, was invaded by more than thirteen hundred Geneva-trained missionaries.” [2]  Why would someone who rejected the idea that we need to send out missionaries to preach the gospel actually send out hundreds of trained missionaries to preach the gospel?

I’ve read about (never met an actual hyper-Calvinist other than the Westboro group) people who were hyper-Calvinistic in their theology, and they would never send missionaries out to spread the good news of Christ.  They would consider it a waste of time and effort.  One such figure from church history was named John Ryland, and he rebuked William Carey for inquiring about “using means” to reach unbelievers (it should be noted that it was William Carey, the Calvinist, who was trying to organize a missions effort).

The Missions Preaching of John Calvin

No hyper-Calvinist would preach with a missionary zeal as was consistently evident in the preaching ministry of Calvin.  In a sermon titled, “The Call to Witness” Calvin preached from 2 Timothy 1:8-9.  He made this powerful statement:

If the gospel be not preached, Jesus Christ is, as it were, buried. Therefore, let us stand as witnesses, and do him this honor, when we see all the world so far out of the way; and remain steadfast in this wholesome doctrine. . . . Let us here observe that St. Paul condemns our unthankfulness, if we be so unfaithful to God, as not to bear witness of his gospel; seeing he hath called us to it.

The preaching ministry of a hyper-Calvinist is cold, lifeless, and without passion for the lost world.  That doesn’t describe the preaching of John Calvin.  For instance, in a sermon on Isaiah 12:5, he said the following:

[Isaiah] shows that it is our duty to proclaim the goodness of God to every nation. While we exhort and encourage others, we must not at the same time sit down in indolence, but it is proper that we set an example before others; for nothing can be more absurd than to see lazy and slothful men who are exciting other men to praise God.

John Calvin was not only a faithful expositor of God’s Word and a defender of the true faith, he was also a zealous proclaimer of the faith.  He preached with trumpet zeal and passionately pointed people to Jesus Christ.  In a letter to five missionaries who had been arrested and were facing death, John Calvin wrote a letter to them on May 15th, 1553.  Here is what he said:

Since it pleases him [i.e. God] to employ you to the death in maintaining his quarrel [with the world], he will strengthen your hands in the fight, and will not suffer a single drop of your blood to be spent in vain. And though the fruit may not all at once appear, yet in time it shall spring up more abundantly than we can express. But as he hath vouchsafed you this privilege, that your bonds have been renowned, and that the noise of them has been everywhere spread abroad, it must needs be, in despite of Satan, that your death should resound far more powerfully, so that the name of our Lord be magnified thereby. For my part, I have no doubt, if it please this kind Father to take you unto himself, that he has preserved you hitherto, in order that your long-continued imprisonment might serve as a preparation for the better awakening of those whom be has determined to edify by your end. For let enemies do their utmost, they never shall be able to bury out of sight that light which God has made to shine in you, in order to be contemplated from afar. [3]

Hyper-Calvinists are heretics who oppose the open preaching of the gospel and never engage in missions.  Whatever your opinion of John Calvin is, let’s be sure to make this clear point—he was no hyper-Calvinist.  The towering figure of Geneva who labored in his expository preaching, trained missionaries, and prepared them to die well—was no heretic.  We must be careful to learn church history from accurate records and to use vocabulary carefully.

If the missionary preaching of John Calvin’s ministry is what it means to be a Calvinist, may the Lord raise up many more.


  1. Edward Panosian, “John Calvin: The Theologian” in Faith of Our Fathers, ed. James Cardinal Gibbons, (New York: Aeterna Press, 2015), 109.
  2. Harry R. Leader, “The Churchman of the Reformation” in John Calvin: A Heart for Doctrine and Doxology, ed. Burk Parsons, (Lake Mary, FL: Reformation Trust, 2008), 68.
  3. Letter 318 [in Jules Bonnet, ed., Letters of John Calvin, tr. Mr. Constable (1858 ed.; repr. New York: Lenox Hill Pub. & Dist. Co., 1972), II, 406].
Calvinism Is Not Hyper-Calvinism

Calvinism Is Not Hyper-Calvinism

Last week, I was interviewed by Chris Arnzen on his radio show, Iron Sharpens Iron, on the subject of hyper-Calvinism.  It caused me to think about this subject and the importance of using vocabulary properly.  As the father of a type 1 diabetic, I spend much of my time explaining to people in random conversations that type 1 diabetes (T1D) is not the same thing as type 2 diabetes (T2D).  Therefore, let me begin by clearly stating this point—Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism.  When I engage in conversation with people who want to discuss Calvinism, I’m happy to do so, but I want to be sure that we’re using the same dictionary.

What is Calvinism?

Calvinism is a system of theology that seeks to systemize the teachings of Scripture on the subject of salvation.  What is the relationship between the absolute sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man?  This is the central issue of Calvinism.  It takes the name of the Reformer John Calvin, who was a passionate preacher of Scripture in the Sixteenth Century in Geneva, Switzerland.  During the Protestant Reformation, the Reformers were seeking to unleash the true gospel from the intense strangle hold of the Roman Catholic Church.  It was through this period of time that the Bible was being printed in the common language of the people and was simultaneously being proclaimed expositionally.

A group of followers of Jacobus Arminius who studied under Theodore Beza (a disciple of John Calvin) drafted a document known as the Remonstrance.  It was a detailed refutation of the sovereignty of God in salvation.  It elevated the free will of man above the sovereign initiative and power of God.  These people were known as Arminians.  Their doctrine would eventually become known as Arminianism.

An official meeting, known as the Synod of Dordt, was held in 1619 in order to respond to the submission of the Arminians in their Remonstrance.  The overall conclusion was that the Remonstrance was incorrect and that the biblical view of salvation teaches that God is the author and finisher of saving grace.  The “five points” of Calvinism came as an answer to the unscriptural five points authored by the Arminians in 1610 me eventually were organized with an acronym T.U.L.I.P. To explain the key teachings.

Historical Timeline Surrounding the Doctrines Known as “Calvinism”

440 Bishop Leo of Rome becomes “Bishop of Bishops.” Asserts Primacy of Rome over the Church; Dark Ages Begin.
1382 John Wycliffe translates Bible.
1384 John Wycliffe martyred by Rome.
1439 (Approximate) Printing press invented.
1517 Luther Nails 95 Theses to the Wittenberg Church Door; The Reformation begins (Post Tenebras Lux).
1522 Luther’s New Testament.
1526 Tyndale’s New Testament.
1536 William Tyndale Martyred by Rome; Institutes of the Christian Religion (John Calvin).
1553 Bloody Mary becomes queen of England and restores power to the RCC. During
Mary’s reign, more than 300 Protestants are burned. John Rogers (publisher of the Matthew’s Bible) is the first to be burned at the stake. Many Protestants flee from England to Geneva.
1559 Calvin opens his college in Geneva. Within five years the college would have over 1500 students.
1560 The Geneva Bible is printed. It was the first Bible with verse references and sold over one million copies between 1560 and 1640. John Foxe publishes Foxe’s book of Martyrs.
1561 Belgic Confession (Guido de Bres).
1563 Heidelberg Catechism (Zacharias Ursinus and Caspar Olevianus).
1564 John Calvin Dies.
1571 The Synod of Emden (birth of the Dutch Reformed Church).
1609 Jacobus Arminius dies.
1610 Remonstrance (Arminians or Remonstrants led by Johannes Uytenbogaert).
1611 Counter-Remonstrance (led by Pieter Platevoet).
1618 Opening of the Synod of Dort & Opinions of the Remonstrants.
1619 Synod Dismisses the Arminians & Adopts the Canons (AKA – 5-Points of Calvinism).

The system known as Calvinism is really five counter points to Arminianism.  Years later, Wesley adopted the Arminian position and thus the Methodist movement was born. Although there are certain exceptions, historically, Baptists and Presbyterians have been more Calvinistic and opposed to the doctrines of Arminianism while the Methodists and groups such as the Assemblies of God have embraced the doctrines known as Arminianism.  Today, Calvinism is sometimes known by titles such as Reformed theology and the doctrines of grace.

What is Hyper-Calvinism?

Hyper-Calvinism is not a term used for those who are overly passionate about Calvinism.  That’s actually what we refer to as “cage stage Calvinism.”  When understood properly, hyper-Calvinism is a technical term for an extreme and unbiblical view that rejects any need for Christians to engage in missions and evangelism.  Simply put, hyper-Calvinists forbid the preaching of the gospel and the offer of salvation to the non-elect.  Such people believe that God has chosen people in Christ in eternity past and will bring about His results without the help of His people.  Hyper-Calvinism is heresy and must be rejected.

To illustrate the views of hyper-Calvinism, consider what happened during a pastors’ meeting years ago.  A man named William Carey wanted to organize an effort to get the gospel to what he called heathen nations.  Carey stood up and addressed the crowd by requesting that they discuss “the duty of Christians to attempt to spread the gospel among the heathen nations.”  Mr. Ryland, and older minister, exclaimed loudly, “Sit down, young man!  When God pleases to convert the heathen, He will do it without your aid or mine.”  Carey did not stop.  His allegiance was to Christ – not Mr. Ryland.  Carey went to India and proclaimed the good news of Christ.

Carey would write a book titled – An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians, to Use Means for the Conversion of Heathens. He would argue his case that we should use means to reach heathens – contrary to what Mr. Ryland – the elder minister said in his meeting as he scolded the young Carey for bringing up the subject.

William Carey, in his Enquiry, wrote: “It seems as if many thought the commission was sufficiently put in execution by what the apostles and others have done; that we have enough to do to attend to the salvation of our own countrymen; and that, if God intends the salvation of the heathen, he will some way or other bring them to the gospel, or the gospel to them. It is thus that multitudes sit at ease, and give themselves no concern about the far greater part of their fellow sinners, who to this day, are lost in ignorance and idolatry.”

It must be pointed out that William Carey was a Calvinist. Although William Carey had only a grammar school education – he would shake the world with the gospel.  Carey once preached a sermon where he stated – “Expect Great Things – Attempt Great Things.” It was later added – “Expect Great Things From God – Attempt Great Things For God.”  That’s exactly what he did as he proclaimed the true gospel of King Jesus.  India would never be the same. The world would never be the same. The way the church viewed missions would never be the same – because of this Christ-exalting Calvinist that has become known to us as the “father of modern missions.”

What’s the Difference?

The difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism is the distance between heaven and hell.  Calvinism is full of life and passion for God and desires to make God’s glory shine among the nations.  Hyper-Calvinism is lifeless heresy that damns people to hell, kills evangelism, and ruins churches.  Take a good look at the missionary movement of church history and you will see Calvinists leading the charge.  Men like William Carey, Adoniram Judson, and Charles Spurgeon were all Calvinists.  Many people overlook the missionary heart of John Calvin himself.  He trained and sent out many missionaries who passionately preached the truth.  Many of these men were martyred for their faith.

The next time you’re talking to someone with type 1 diabetes, just remember—it’s not the same thing as type 2 diabetes.  Also, the next time you’re talking to a Calvinist, remember, Calvinism is not hyper-Calvinism.  To call faithful Calvinistic Christians hyper-Calvinists is to consign a massive number of people from church history to the flames of hell (including people like Charles Spurgeon, William Carey, Martin Luther, Andrew Fuller, Adoniram Judson, and George Whitefield).  What’s the difference between Calvinism and hyper-Calvinism?  Calvinism proclaims the true gospel while hyper-Calvinism proclaims no gospel at all.

Iron Sharpens Iron Radio show – Tuesday (11-15-16)

What is the New Calvinism?

What is the New Calvinism?

First of all, the New Calvinism isn’t all that new.  This is a movement that’s relatively young in terms of church history, but it’s not a new movement in recent years.  In 2008, Collin Hansen published a book titled: Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists and in doing so, coined the phrase Young, Restless, Reformed.  In the following year, Time Magazine published a series of articles beneath the umbrella of “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.”  The third article in the series was written by David Van Biema titled, “The New Calvinism.”  In his article, Biema writes:

Calvinism is back, and not just musically. John Calvin’s 16th century reply to medieval Catholicism’s buy-your-way-out-of-purgatory excesses is Evangelicalism’s latest success story, complete with an utterly sovereign and micromanaging deity, sinful and puny humanity, and the combination’s logical consequence, predestination: the belief that before time’s dawn, God decided whom he would save (or not), unaffected by any subsequent human action or decision.

In terms of the movement – the New Calvinism is very fluid and difficult to fully define.  It’s hard to get your hands around the entire movement, especially since the group is no longer explicitly young and not completely restless.  Although a difficult task, it is my goal to provide a working definition of the New Calvinism that goes beyond the mere descriptive cliché that’s often thrown around in blogs, books, and sermons.

Where Did the New Calvinism Come From?

Mark Dever asked a very important question in an article titled “Where’d All These Calvinists Come From?” where he documented the resurgence of Calvinism in our present day.  Mark Dever provided a list of reasons why a growing resurgence on Reformed doctrine seems to be taking place especially among those born in the 1970s and 1980s.  His list included the following:

  1. C.H. Spurgeon
  2. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
  3. Banner of Truth Trust
  4. Evangelism Explosion
  5. The Inerrancy Controversy
  6. The Presbyterian Church in America
  7. J.I. Packer
  8. R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur
  9. John Piper
  10. The Rise of Secularism and Decline of Christian Nominalism

Mark Dever writes, “Reformed theology, on the other hand, teaches about a god who is GOD. The kind of objections that seem to motivate Arminianism are disallowed by the very presuppositions Calvinism understands the Bible to teach about God. This God is sovereign and exercises His sovereignty. This God is centered on Himself. And this God is understood to be morally good in being so Self-centered. In fact, it would be evil, wrong, deceptive for Him to be centered on anything other than His own glory. There is no apology about this.”

In a unique manner, Tim Challies has provided a helpful (although in need of an update) infographic where he has charted the resurgence of Reformed doctrine in our modern evangelical culture.  According to his infographic that begins with John Piper’s book Desiring God in 1986 and moves through the inaugural CROSS Conference in 2014.  Tim Challies points out writings, conferences, cultural issues, media advancements, music and ministries that have led to the rise of the New Calvinism.  Make no mistake, technology has been a massive catalyst to the uprising of Calvinistic soteriology and Tim Challies’ blog has been a driving force within this category.

Before there was a Charles Spurgeon and a John Piper, there were others such as the Puritans and the Reformers who stood valiantly to defend the doctrines of grace beneath the looming and dangerous power of the Roman Catholic Church.  Where did John Calvin get his Calvinism?  As Charles Spurgeon once said in his “A Defense of Calvinism” – “It is a nickname to call it Calvinism; Calvinism is the gospel, and nothing else.”  In other words, Calvinism comes from the pure doctrines of Scripture and as the church is moved to the Word of God with confidence, she becomes convinced of the pure teachings of Scripture; a big God, a glorious salvation, and all of this is by God’s initiative and for His glory.  If the Bible is inerrant – the doctrines of grace as taught in the Bible must be embraced as truth.

Toward a Definition of the New Calvinism

The New Calvinism movement presupposes a Calvinistic doctrine which is often used interchangeably with Reformed doctrine.  Calvinism remains the definitive term associated with the teachings of the Reformation.  Although John Calvin never organized and named a theology after himself, his name remains synonymous with the doctrines of grace.  To be Reformed means to embrace the doctrines known as Calvinism, at minimum, on the doctrine of salvation.

R.C. Sproul writes, “The late theologian Cornelius Van Til once made the observation that Calvinism is not to be identified with the so-called five points of Calvinism. Rather, Van Til concluded that the five points function as a pathway, or a bridge, to the entire structure of Reformed theology.”  It’s important to realize that there is much more to Reformed doctrine than merely the doctrine of soteriology, although that is the basic foundational level.

To be Reformed is to be something different than Roman Catholic.  In terms of family debate, to be Reformed is to be something different than Arminian.  The core focus of this debate is upon the doctrine of salvation.  Exactly how does a big God save wretched sinners?  This is the key question that ultimately determines what end of the spectrum you land upon.

The movement known as the New Calvinism is constantly changing and morphing like the weather in – well, most cities.  Just when you think you’ve got a grasp on it, something will happen to make you question yourself such as John Piper’s invitation to Rick Warren to join him at a Desiring God National Conference where he claimed to believe the doctrine of Unconditional Election. [1] Jeremy Walker is helpful as he writes in his book titled, The New Calvinism Considered: A Personal and Pastoral Assessment:

Any survey and assessment of this order is admittedly like a snapshot of a recently discovered animal: just when you think you have captured the essence of the creature it moves again and you discover something new.  As such, a final or conclusive assessment is not immediately possible. [2]

Therefore, New Calvinism as a movement can be defined as an eclectic and at times edgy group of multi-ethnic, multi-denominational, and age-diverse Reformed people from all parts of the world who are hungry for a big sovereign God. These people are Christ-exalting, Spirit-driven, missions-motivated, and Bible-believing Christians who are seeking to know God, worship God, serve God, and bring glory to God. For quite some time, this movement was known as the Young, Restless, and Reformed. The New Calvinism movement remains young in terms of a movement, but the people who make up the movement are not necessarily young. Today there are many older people who have come to be identified among this movement.

Is this movement always Christ-exalting, Spirit-driven, missions-motivated, and Bible-believing?  The clear answer is – no.  All movements have problems over time, sin that enters the camp, and issues that must be faced.  The New Calvinism movement is no exception.  Is the New Calvinism movement a true Reformation?  I genuinely hope so, but only time will tell.  In some ways it would be better to strive for historic Calvinism as opposed to the edgy, and at times sketchy, New Calvinism of our modern evangelical culture.  At times the movement needs more balance and maturity.

The New Calvinism remains very youthful.  Will men, women, boys, and girls remain steadfast and immovable regarding the pure doctrines of grace and the inerrancy of the Bible?  Will this movement endure through the approaching tsunami of persecution on Christianity?  Time will tell the truth, but for now, we must be excited to see both the young and aged coming to embrace the truths of the doctrines of grace.


  1. John Piper invited Rick Warren to participate in the 2010 DG National Conference.  In an interview, Rick Warren claimed to believe the doctrine of Unconditional Election.
  2. Jeremy Walker, The New Calvinism Considered: A Personal and Pastoral Assessment, (Faverdale North Darlington, England: Evangelical Press, 2013), 117.  NOTE:  This is a Kindle Edition.