Here are the two most important things you need to know about the rise of the New Calvinism: it’s not new and it’s not about Calvin. Of course, some of the conferences are new. The John Piper–packed iPods are new. The neo-reformed blog blitz is new. The ideas, however, are not. “Please God, don’t let the young, restless, and reformed movement be another historically ignorant, self-absorbed, cooler-than-thou fad.”
And while I’m praying: “Please God, don’t let the New Calvinism ever, ever be about the New Calvinism.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m not afraid to be called a Calvinist. I’ve read the Institutes multiple times, most of Calvin’s commentaries, and was voted “Calvin Clone” by my peers at seminary. I thank God for Calvin. But if the New Calvinism is to continue as a work of God, which I think it has been, it must continue to be about God. Young Christians have been drawn to Calvinism not because they were looking for Calvin or an “ism,” but because they were drawn to a vision of a massive, glorious, fall-down-before-Him-as-though-dead kind of God who loves us because He wants to.
The influence of Calvinism is growing because its God is transcendent and its theology is true. In a day when “be better” moralism passes for preaching, self-help banality passes for counseling, and “Jesus is my boyfriend” music passes for worship in some churches, more and more people are finding comfort in a God who is anything but comfortable. The paradox of Calvinism is that we feel better by feeling worse about ourselves, we do more for God by seeing how He’s done everything for us, and we give love away more freely when we discover that we have been saved by free grace.
I’d like to think that we are Calvinists because of what we see in the Bible. We see a God who is holy, independent, and unlike us. We glory in God’s goodness, that He should save miserable offenders, bent toward evil in all our faculties, objects of His just wrath. We rejoice in God’s electing love, which He purposed for us before the ages began. We are grateful for God’s power by which He caused us, without our cooperation, to be born again and enabled us to believe His promises. We take comfort in God’s all-encompassing providence, whereby nothing happens according to chance, but all things—prosperity or poverty, health or sickness, giving or taking away—are sent to us by our loving heavenly Father.
As Calvinists and Christians, we praise God for His mercy, shown to us chiefly on the cross where His Son died, not just to make a way for us to come to Him, but effectually for us such that our sins, our guilt, and our punishment all died in the death of Christ. We find assurance in God’s preserving grace, believing with all our might that nothing—not even ourselves—can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. We delight in the glory of God and in God’s delight for His own glory, which brings us, on our best days, unspeakable joy, and on all otherdays, still gives purpose and order to an otherwise confusing and seemingly random world.
What draws people to Reformed theology is the belief that God is the center of the universe and we are not, that we are worse sinners than we imagine and God is a greater Savior than we ever thought possible, that the Lord is our righteousness and the Lord alone is our boast.
The attraction of the New Calvinism is not Calvin, but the God Calvin saw—not some new fad, but something old with new life blowing through it from the Spirit of God.
Kevin DeYoung is the Senior Pastor at University Reformed Church in East Lansing, Michigan. A graduate of Hope College and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Kevin is the co-author of Why We’re Not Emergent: By Two Guys Who Should Be (Moody, 2008) and the forthcoming Why We Love the Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion, and the author of Just Do Something: A Liberating Approach to Finding God’s Will (Moody, 2009).