Additional Thoughts on The New Calvinism
by Jesse Locken
I realized after writing my article discussing “The New Calvinism” as a propaganda tool, that I failed to explain where I saw the error in TIME Magazine’s interpretation of Calvinistic theology, and the problems I perceive within the theological movement of the New Calvinism and its acceptance of TIME’s portrayal of their faith. I hope to address a couple of my concerns here, with the hope that those who have read my article understand the perspective I am coming from.
The first statement in the article that stood out to me was “a sinful and puny humanity.” While this is one way to describe what Calvinistic theology teaches, without being taken in the broader context of the cosmic Biblical worldview from which Calvin was teaching, this statement is a somewhat misleading portrayal of how Calvin and his followers viewed humanity in the context of God’s sovereignty. It also sets the overall tone of the remainder of the article, with God’s sovereignty being associated with mostly negative ideas such as illness and home foreclosure, with God “unaffected by human action or decision” and being described as an “austerely demanding God of their country’s infancy.”
My concern with this statement and the tone of the article is that the theological leaders mentioned in the article did not bother to address the fact that one of the fundamental Biblical teachings is that man was in the beginning created good, in the image of God, and thus all men retain such dignity and worth in the sight of God–sinners and puny though they be, they are still representations of God’s image. This is why man was prohibited from taking the life of another human being after the flood: “Who so sheddeth a man’s blood, by man shall his blood be shed: for in the image of God hath he made man”(Gen 9:6, Geneva Bible). Calvin adhered to this teaching, and his own comments on this verse are insightful:
For the greater confirmation of the above doctrine (the shedding of man’s blood), God declares, that he is not thus solicitous respecting human life rashly, and for no purpose. Men are indeed unworthy of God’s care, if respect he had only to themselves; but since they bear the image of God engraven on them, He deems himself violated in their person. Thus, although they have nothing of their own by which they obtain the favour of God, he looks upon his own gifts in them, and is thereby excited to love and to care for them. This doctrine, however, is to be carefully observed, that no one can be injurious to his brother without wounding God himself. Were this doctrine deeply fixed in our minds, we should be much more reluctant than we are to inflict injuries. Should any one object, that this divine image has been obliterated, the solution is easy; first, there yet exists some remnant of it, so that man is possessed of no small dignity; and, secondly, the Celestial Creator himself, however corrupted man may be, still keeps in view the end of his original creation; and according to his example, we ought to consider for what end he created men, and what excellence he has bestowed upon them above the rest of living beings. (John Calvin, Commentaries on Genesis, Baker Books  p. 295-296)
As someone who most people would label a “Calvinist” (I do largely agree with the majority of Calvin’s views, because I believe they are Biblical), I take issue when theological leaders do not correct a half-truth portrayal of what Calvin believed concerning God’s sovereign purpose and the end to which humanity was created (especially when it is presented by a mass-media outlet), and approve of a description of God as being “austerely demanding”–as if God has placed some burden on humanity that works against freedom and that man is nothing but a simple slave to the will of God.
First and foremost, God demands love for Him as our Creator, and secondly love for our neighbor who is created in his image–these are blessings for man under God and in right relationship with Him, not curses as the article leads one to believe. Rather than being enslavement, God’s sovereignty is freedom and is man’s hope for the future, because our future is determined and secure, and has purpose and meaning in this life–those who have faith in Christ know that we have a future and are to labor for the Kingdom of God.
While it is true that God is sovereign over things such as home foreclosures and illness, he does not delight in the punishment of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:33, 33:11) but seeks their repentance, as God maintains the created order in an expression of His continual goodness to all humanity (Matt. 5:45). If He does not delight in the punishment or suffering of the wicked, how much does He delight in the suffering of His people? Man’s sin is thus first and foremost a hatred of God, his sovereignty, and his act of grace in creating the heavens and the earth, and a hatred of man’s responsibility and obligation to God to have dominion over the creation as His image-bearers. Only in such a context can we understand the Biblical view of humanity and of sin against God, the seriousness of sin, and the atonement of Christ for our sins against Himself as the God who suffered for our sin against His own person and image in man. Indeed, as Hebrews teaches, “For it became him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the author of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2:10). This is also one area the article does not touch on, which is the atonement of Christ as being central to the Kingdom of God, as it is God Himself who reconciles man to Himself by his sovereign act and purpose.
Secondly, the article claims that the New Calvinism believes that “our satisfaction–and our purpose–is fulfilled simply by 'glorifying' Him.” Unfortunately, we are not given an example of how the New Calvinism views glorifying God other than the context of the article, which to re-emphasize, are topics such as illness, home foreclosure, austerity, and a sinful and puny humanity. The Christ of the Bible came to make atonement for His people, to establish His position on the throne of God’s Kingdom, to bear witness to the truth of the Scriptures, and to usher in a New Creation in which everything is being made new and taken captive for Him under the original dominion mandate of Genesis. While the Christian certainly suffers in this world, the purpose is not “by a logic we may not understand but don’t have to second guess,” but is for the purpose of the victory of Christ and the glorification of God and His Kingdom, with the final future eternal state being a total transformation of the entire created order in which sin and death no longer exist, as it did before the fall.
It is precisely because of the sovereignty of God that our suffering takes on meaning and purpose as we struggle in our battle against sin, death, and decay for the glory of God, bringing people and nations under His rule in time and history, with the ultimate victory already claimed by Christ on His throne. Thus as a general rule, the Christian society and culture will continually progress as a culture of peace, prosperity, and the application of God’s Word by His Spirit to the daily lives of believers, amidst the suffering and death sin and man’s own evil heart has impacted this world with.
Rather than see these flaws in the article as a fundamental attack on the God of the Bible–by portraying His sovereignty (and belief in such) as something bringing primarily suffering, austerity, divisiveness in the church, and backbiting among believers, rather than regeneration, victory, justice, and truth–it is interesting that TIME’s description of The New Calvinism embraces and approves of a humanistic, God-replacing philosophical belief in which God is merely sovereign over the evil that a “sinful and puny humanity” is subject to in this life. God is not viewed as a liberator from oppression through man conforming to His Law and what He requires of each and every person because He loves and cares for His creation, in particular mankind who bears His image, but as a heartless “micromanaging” deity who orchestrates everything and who is more akin to a tyrant, made in the image of man.
With just these couple of examples in mind, in my view the New Calvinism supports predestination by man rather than God, as it submits and approves of TIME magazine's theological definitions, which is for the most part comprised of those who hate God and His grace and seek to establish a global power structure antithetical to God’s Word and to the throne of Christ. Man in such a global power structure “collectively” becomes the arbiter of good and God becomes the “micromanaging,” “austerely demanding” deity of suffering to which Christians must submit. He is no longer in the place of primacy, honor, and obligation above everything (i.e. the covenant oath) who provides His creation with blessings, grace, mercy, truth, law, and order, but is relegated to the merely personal and is defined by the pragmatic ideas of those who seek to control and manipulate the church, governments, and society as a whole as they seek autonomy over God.
Therefore, when I see an article contained in a 10-part series run by a publication which espouses ideas traditionally antithetical to Scripture and supportive of man’s ideas as an autonomous collective, I tend to stop and question, wondering what exactly is being taught by our church leaders and theologians, and become inclined to view such a movement as a tool used for propaganda, instead of one used to “cast down imaginations, and every high thing that is exalted against the knowledge of God, and bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
Jesse Locken is an average guy with a full-time job as a sales consultant who desires to apply God’s Word to all of life. He resides in the beautiful Pacific Northwest in Seattle, WA. He blogs, rants, analyzes, and vents at his website, FrequencyPropogation.