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:
- C.H. Spurgeon
- D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
- Banner of Truth Trust
- Evangelism Explosion
- The Inerrancy Controversy
- The Presbyterian Church in America
- J.I. Packer
- R.C. Sproul and John MacArthur
- John Piper
- 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.  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. 
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.
- 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.
- 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.