Would the Real Neo-Reformed Please Stand Up?

Derek Ouellette —  November 13, 2010

I have to ask, where are all of the New Calvinists everyone’s talking about? The neo-Calvinists are – it seems to me – similar to the so-called neo-Atheist in one crucial respect: no new substance, only new aggression. But if we’re talking about “neo-Reformed” maybe we should look less toward the Calvinists, and more toward the Arminians. The pushing and the shoving, the aggression, name calling and the myriad of literature produced in recent years by the neo-Calvinists has had a tremendously positive effect for Arminianism and other moderate evangelical positions.

Neo-Calvinism – in its overconfidence – has drawn a sharp line in the sand, and in so doing – perhaps to the downcast surprise of the Calvinists – has and is resulting in an influx of bible-believing evangelicals answering a BIG “nay” to the Calvinist call to dogma.

So they hammer and shout in blog post after blog post, relentlessly, aggressively, mercilessly, on Facebook, Twitter and everywhere their voice can be heard. But by and large people have been content not taking sides: “I don’t understand everything” they say, “but what you teach makes God evil. I can’t accept that when I read my bible”. They continue, “I can’t explain all the passages you throw at me, but if what you say about God is true, then those passages don’t matter anyways because God – in some unknown mystery you say – cannot be trusted because, truthfully, he is the father of lies. The very bible you use to defend these beliefs of yours renders the bible inoperative.”

But the line is pressed none-the-less: “if you truly are going to be ‘biblical’” the Calvinist says, “then you must accept what I am saying. Either you’re a bible Christian or you’re not. And if you are, you must accept Calvinism”. This option is simply unacceptable because, as said, this theology renders the bible inoperative. “So where do I go from here?” says the average Christian when pressed to think about these theological matters from a biblical perspective.  “Give me a bible-based alternative.” In enter Arminian/Anglican/Wesleyan theology with its biblical foundation and via-media guiding principle, supported not just from scripture but also by all the church Fathers.

There is – in my Christian Bookstore – an “academic/theology” section, and I always know when a Calvin-Reformed (“neo-Calvinist”) has blow through this section, because books by N.T. Wright are always “covered up” or “hidden behind” by the works of R.C. Sproul, John Piper and others. It’s frustrating. It’s dogmatic. It’s narrow-minded. It’s cultish. Yes, that’s it. It’s like a cult. “Don’t both searching things out. Don’t think. Read this specific material then shut off your brain. Become a robot. Regurgitate John Piper or R.C. Sproul and you’ll be good. Keep to our favourite slogans (we particularly like the slogan: “imputation”), and you can’t go wrong. And most important of all: Don’t even consider the possibility that you read the bible through the spectacles of Reformed Tradition. There is no such thing; you are simply ‘sola scriptura’.”


Is it any wonder why the work of N.T. Wright strikes such fear into the hearts of neo-Calvinists.

Here’s a thought:  for every twenty books we sell by N.T. Wright, one by Sproul might slide through the door. That’s a fact. Maybe people don’t want to be forced to choose between a theological system called “Calvinism” and one called “Arminianism”. Maybe they just want to know “What Saint Paul (and other biblical authors) Really Said?”

If someone made the call: Would the Real Neo-Reformed Please Stand Up, I am convinced that the elite class, the Calvinists, would be far outnumbered by the villagers, the town-folk, the peasantry, and some very prominent intellectuals.

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Derek Ouellette

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a husband, new dad, speaker, writer, christian. see my profile here.
  • http://www.perpetualproverbs.com Pumice

    I used to really enjoy R.C. Sproul. Thirty years ago, before he got the new haircut, I was on his mailing list. I purchased his tapes on the Holy Spirit. Fast forward. When I got my I-pod I noticed I could download his lectures. It had been a long time since I had been in contact with his teaching. I was in for a shock. I was walking and listening and about a year ago and I heard him declare war on Arminians to one of his classes. He was tired of watering it down so that everyone could get along. I listened enough to know he was serious and deleted his podcast. I am Wesleyan but I have never had problems with listening to Alistair Begg. Mark Driscoll I can also enjoy. They do not try to de-Christianize everyone who disagrees with them. I am a Wesleyan because I think Wesley put the puzzle together best. I don’t think he is infallible, but I find his writings inspiring.

    People, the enemy is not Calvinist or Wesleyan. The enemy is Satan.

    Grace and Peace.

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Pumice, that little testimony itself is worth it’s gold as a blog post. I could not agree more. Thanks for sharing.

  • Brian MacArevey

    Strong words Derek…though many of your criticisms are right on the money. I believe that the church is much larger than they insist on making it, and if they insist on alienating themselves from a work of God, that is their perogative.

    Hopefully, over time, the strong voices and minds within this movement (if there really is one) will recognize that earnestly contending the faith has much more to do with living a life of love, and being committed to a reconciliatory righteousness, than it does with demanding that everyone believe the way that they do.

    They have alot to offer evangelicalism, if their pride would stop getting in the way.


  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Very true Brian. I should make it clear that I am not saying that Calvinism (any brand of it) is a cult. Only that the neo-Calvinists sometimes have cult-like tendencies.

    Frankly, I wish the “Calvinist” issue never existed. The church thrived for 1500 years without making this an issue (with notable exceptions).

  • Aaron

    Hey Derek,

    I found your blog from Roger Olsons blog. I would be interested in hearing what evidence for an arminian resurgence do you see? From what i can tell the neo reformed seem to be gaining a lot of Ground and Armininans (especially profs in seminaries) seem to be either on their side or staying quiet? What am I missing (and I am asking as an arminian)

  • http://covenantoflove.net Derek Ouellette

    Hi Aaron,

    This is really a slippery subject. How do we measure such a thing as an “resurgence” or the gaining of ground? If the Barna Group poll proved anything, it is that these things are not easily measurable.

    According to that poll, I found it interesting that churches which embraced the Arminian/Wesleyan tradition have seen a greater increase in church attendence then Calvin/Reformed churches. So if we take the poll at face value, and define “gaining ground” by numbers – there you have it.

    Unfortunatley things are not that simple. So a key to my post above is the phrase: “Arminianism and other moderate evangelical positions“. This includes the rise of the New Perspective on Paul adherents, the recent influence of the Orthodox Church Theology on Western Evangelical Churches, the rise and influence of Emergent/Emergence forms of Christianity, the fact the Pentecostalism (rooted in Wesleyanism) is the fastest growing branch of the Christian faith worldwide and others. So as far as a pure numbers game in considered, Calvinism is really a tiny little sliver somewhere.

    BUT, as James Smith points out, “it’s not populist numbers that change culture: it’s the leadership power of “elites.”” So, if we define “resurgence” or “gaining ground” as who can scream the loudest and be the most aggressive, then clearly there must be something to a “resurgence” of neo-Calvinism, but not in the way it is often portrayed.

  • Aaron

    Thanks Derek,