Barna and the New Calvinists

November 23, 2010

In a new study
on the influence of the NeoReformed or "New Calvinist" movement on the church,
the Barna Group concludes that "there is no discernable evidence from this
research that there is a Reformed shift among U.S. congregation leaders over
the last decade."  A number of
evangelical Christian leaders (such as Skye
and Ed
) maintain that the study seems to contradict their on-the-ground
experience.  With the growing
popularity of New Calvinist books and conferences, and with leaders like Mark
Driscoll and John Piper becoming the secular media's go-to Christian voices,
the NeoReformed movement appears to truly be the next
new evangelical thing. Yet according to Barna, there are no more pastors
who identity as Reformed today than there were ten years ago.

I've frequently questioned Barna's methods and conclusions.
Here I wonder if the researchers are forgetting the ways in which perception is
often reality.  A culture or
subculture's zeitgeist is not easy to measure.  The influence of the NeoReformed crowd--often evidenced
through hyper-Calvinist theology, strict gender roles and belief in penal
substitutionary atonement as the litmus test for one's faith--goes beyond pastors
or even church members self-identifying as Reformed.

I've been shocked recently to discover the stealth influence
the movement has had on evangelical friends and family.  When I was attending a conservative
evangelical Bible church some 12-15 years ago, the church believed in a
free-will theology and mocked people who followed a human like Calvin instead
of following only the Bible.  These
days, the same friends still think following Calvin is wrong, yet their
theology is pure Calvinism.  They
truly believe that their theology comes from a plain reading of scripture, and
they become really confused when I point out how their "biblical" theology has
shifted.  They never call
themselves Reformed, but for all practical purposes, that is what they are.

I see a comparable influence at work in the church I
currently attend.  The church is
very much an emerging church--we are postmodern, the leaders read all the
emerging authors--yet we do not call ourselves emerging.  In fact, most of the people at the
church have no idea what the emerging church is.  But we are influenced by the movement.

So I would not dismiss the influence of the NeoReformed
crowd simply because it cannot be easily measured.  Minds are being changed (whether they realize it or not)
through books, radio shows, magazines and conferences.  Ideas have power.  And for those of us who worry about
what the influence of the NeoReformed message means for the church--especially
for women in the church--I don't think we should let this study convince us to
stop being watchful.


Don't waste your time

I'm just coming out of this now. All the distinctives of 'calvinism' (and most other religious isms) are founded on categories and definitions from a pre-modern time. Why does anything imagine they are worth slavishly following today, anymore than we follow pre-Copernican astronomy? [Though admittedly it's a great gig for people who sell CD's]. An enormous amount has been learned about the cosmos and about the Bible itself in the past few hundred years, but the neo-Reformed and all other fundamentalists pretend it doesn't exist or must be incorrect. I think Christians should just be Christians whose foundational principle is "love God and your neighbor" and not "love substitutionary atonement" etc.

Hyper Calvinism misdefined and used as an insult?

While being a huge anti-fan of tribal and divisive labels
such as Evangelical, Calvinist, Denominations and Church Groupings …… and even Emerging,

and preferring to think of myself as a simple Disciple of Jesus

… I think we need to be careful with both definitions and name calling, such as 'HYPER-Calvinist.'

I would respectfully ask whether there is a danger that your use of the label 'Hyper-Calvinism', which implies the unattractive arrogance of infallibility and omniscience about God, is itself used with an air of assertive and critical self confidence that mirrors the unattractiveness you seek to highlight in the other?

Historic Hyper-Calvinism, as referenced back to the times of Carey and Spurgeon rather than contemporary reformed theology, is the error in which the belief in the Sovereignty of God becomes so out of balance with other Biblical doctrines of the nature and character of God, that appealing to human responsibility is itself seen as errant.

Convinced Calvinists (5 or 7 point) CAN still believe in God's love, mankind's responsibility, and the need to obediently offer God's love to others. You may not agree with their theology, but that doesn't tip them over to H-Cism.

Whether you like or agree with them or not, people like Piper, Driscoll, Carson etc would hold enough of a sense of the mystery of God, that while believing in His Sovereignty they would still preach to human reason and make every effort to 'persuade men' on a human rational level.

As such, even if they believe in reverse or double predestination (WHICH I DON'T - as it relies on the use of deducing a theologically systematic logical conclusion from what is NOT said in scripture) it still doesn't make them hyper.

They still evangelize. They still love. In their actions they still allow for human choice and response to a message of God's love for us through the cross.

You may disagree with parts of their theology, but that doesn't give you the right to put them in a box marked 'Hyper-Calvinist' and slam the lid down, any more than it gives some of them the right to slam down the lid of the Heresy box on anyone who read The Shack. An exclusive claim to all truth is unattractive, wherever it surfaces.

It seems to me that you just don't like what can be seen as their apparently clinical and heartless theology, and have fallen for a bout of inaccurate name calling.

What does that achieve?

Jez Bayes

Background references:

Excellent discussion here:

Index of resources critiquing Hyper-Calvinism in a very Calvinist website:

For an excellent historical perspective, check out this book:

in which you find these 2 quotes from Spurgeon, fighting off the hyper-Calvinists of his day:

‘Men who are morbidly anxious to possess a self-consistent creed, a creed which will put together and form a square like a Chinese puzzle, are very apt to narrow their souls. Those who will only believe what they can reconcile will necessarily disbelieve much of divine revelation. Those who receive by faith anything which they find in the Bible will receive two things, twenty things, ay, or twenty thousand things, though they cannot construct a theory which harmonizes them all.’ ("Faith," Sword and Trowel, 1872)

and: “That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other.

If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other.

These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.” (New Park Street Pulpit, 4:337)

This is a good word: "Here I

This is a good word:

"Here I wonder if the researchers are forgetting the ways in which perception is often reality. A culture or subculture's zeitgeist is not easy to measure."