As a physician and church leader in the United Kingdom, E. S. Williams examines the “New Calvinists” from a unique perspective. Interestingly the term is seldom used in the UK even though it has “penetrated deeply into the UK evangelical camp” (p. 51). (On a side note, I found the same to be true concerning the Spiritual Formation Movement on a recent visit to Britain. Church leaders were unfamiliar with the title even though the effects of the movement were evident everywhere.)
Williams defines New Calvinism as “a growing perspective within conservative evangelicalism that embraces the fundamentals of 16th century Calvinism while also trying to be relevant in the present-day world” (p. 7). However, it is a movement that “has made no attempt to separate from worldliness” (p. 68). This is a fundamental flaw, Williams believes, for, as Peter Masters writes, “You cannot have Puritan soteriology without Puritan sanctification” (pp. 10-11).
The term New Calvinism stems from a Collin Hansen’s 2008 book, Young, Restless, Reformed (pp. 8-9). It has close ties with the Passion Conference, The Gospel Coalition, Sovereign Grace and the Acts 29 Network. It is identified as theologically embracing Calvinism, but its uniqueness comes in its practices which distinguishes it from “old” or traditional Calvinism. Williams’ lists these practices as an emphasis on a new social gospel, a license for worldliness, contemporary worship, and an attempt to engage the culture as new evangelicals have done for the past half century (pp. 13-16).
Williams focuses his attention on three New Calvinist leaders: Tim Keller, John Piper and Mark Driscoll. He criticizes Keller for his social gospel (which is essentially the same as liberation theology), his views on hell, his acceptance of Catholic mysticism and theistic evolution (pp. 19-29). Williams views Driscoll as one who is legitimizing dangerous worldly practices and endorses charismatic practices for Christians (pp. 38-50). John Piper, while not without his own issues, popularizes and endorses the movement, not only directly but also through his inconsistencies and lack of discernment (pp. 31-37).
Williams devotes chapters five and six to New Calvinism in the UK and then closes with a short chapter which provides a warning from Jonathan Edwards of the dangers of counterfeit religion.
The New Calvinists is a short read on an important trend within modern evangelicalism. Williams’ position is clear and he pulls no punches. Not everyone will agree with every assertion made, but the author’s comments are well documented and worthy of careful consideration. This is a good introduction to New Calvinism.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel