December 18, 2017

New Evangelicalism and New Calvinism: The Same Disaster

This is Part 1 ♦ Part 2 ♦ Part 3 ♦ Part 4 Part 5 Part 6 ♦ Part 7

Matt Recker

The New Calvinism is a movement that boasts groups like The Gospel Coalition (founded by D.A. Carson & Tim Keller in 2004) and Together for the Gospel (Ligon Duncan, Mark Dever, C. J. Mahaney, and Al Mohler, founders). As a movement, the New Calvinism repeats in some ways of the original New Evangelicalism of the late 1940s and 1950s. Several emphases of the New Calvinism are to be appreciated: the Gospel focus, expository preaching, and the desire to have the Gospel touch every aspect of a believer’s life. Nevertheless, there are also dangers to be found in the movement.

Just before his death, Francis Schaeffer wrote The Great Evangelical Disaster to express disappointment over the deep failure of New Evangelicalism. One of the great flaws found in New Evangelicalism was the compromise of biblical truth with the culture of its day. I believe the identical danger exists within the New Calvinism.

In 1956, in a Christian Life magazine article, “Is Evangelical Theology Changing,” the principles of the New Evangelicalism were enumerated. Here is a summary of those points:

  1. “A friendly attitude toward secular science”
  2. “A willingness to re-examine beliefs concerning the work of the Holy Spirit” [this emphasis contributed to a surge of charismatic teaching]
  3. “A more tolerant attitude toward varying views on eschatology”
  4. “A shift away from so-called extreme Dispensationalism” [the New Evangelicals objected to Dispensationalism’s pessimistic view of world history]
  5. “An increased emphasis on scholarship” [part of an attitude viewing fundamentalists as anti-intellectual]
  6. “A more definite recognition of social responsibility” [viewing fundamentalists as retreating from social and political involvement]
  7. “A re-opening of the subject of biblical inspiration” [a change which opened the door to question Biblical inerrancy]
  8. “A growing willingness of evangelical theologians to converse with liberal theologians” [finally resulting in evangelicals not seeing theological liberals as lost souls but merely misguided but well-meaning Christians][1]

It is my belief that many of these same tenets of New Evangelicalism are fully imitated by the New Calvinism. They are not minor flaws, but major errors in the faith of Christianity. Perhaps a present leader of this New Calvinist movement will someday write a book entitled, The Great New Calvinist Disaster. In this article, I will examine the first tenet of New Evangelicalism as compared to the New Calvinism.

The first point stated of New Evangelicalism that parallels the New Calvinism is stated simply: “a friendly attitude toward science.”[2] Dr. Ernest Pickering says that original New Evangelicals “seemed embarrassed to observe that the world view of fundamentalists was so extremely contrary to the world view of liberals” and thus they sought to “reconcile the teachings of the Bible with the various scientific theories that were current” in order to “make the Christian view more acceptable to godless intellectuals.”[3]

Like the New Evangelicals of old, some of these New Calvinists remain deeply embarrassed by a belief in God’s literal creation of the world in seven days. Tim Keller, one of the most popular New Calvinists is the pastor of the Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City. He aggressively promotes and unabashedly teaches a theistic evolution. This view may win him many friends among the cerebral elites and major media in our metropolis, but his tragic compromise undermines the very Gospel that he says he holds dear. In The Reason for God, Keller replies to the concerns of a young intellectual who is terribly bothered by the “unscientific mind-set” toward the Biblical teaching that God directly created the world by His wisdom and power in six days. Keller responds to this unbelief with these words:

“Evolutionary science assumes that more complex life-forms evolved from less complex forms through the process of natural selection. Many Christians believe that God brought about life this way. For example, the Catholic church, the largest church in the world, has made official pronouncements supporting evolution as being compatible with Christian belief.”[4]

Mr. Keller overlooks a number of significant truths in this one statement. First, he believes the philosophical assumptions of ever-changing evolutionary theory rather than the literal truth of God’s Word. Although evolutionary scientists assume evolution, the Bible does not. Rather, throughout Scripture God says that He is the immediate creator of the heaven and earth, and His creation declares His glory. Further, in Genesis 1, God tells us in clear language that He created the world in “six days.” The word “day” is a word that normally means a day in the twenty-four hour sense. The days of creation in Genesis 1 were defined by distinct boundaries with the phrase, “evening and morning.” The days of creation are also numbered in a series which points to literal twenty four hour days. There are no exceptions in Hebrew of a series of days meaning anything other than literal twenty four hour periods of time. The days of creation were also modified by a number, first day, second day, etc. The Ten Commandments resolve any possible uncertainty as God commands us to work six days and rest one day just as He worked on the six days of creation and rested on day seven (Exodus 20:9-11). Second, In Genesis 2:7, Scripture tells us that God made man from the dust, not a monkey or hominid. Jesus agrees with this and Himself said: “Have ye not read, that he which made them at the beginning made them male and female” (Matthew 19:4). Third, Keller buys into the lie of so-called simple life forms. Man could not evolve from less complex life forms. Why? Because there is no such thing as a simple life form, for all life is irreducibly complex, even a single cell. Even if evolutionists assume it and “many Christians” believe it, let God be true and every man a liar. Keller makes his argument for evolution based on majority rule rather than on God’s Word. Fourth, to call the Catholic church a true church is indeed a tragic compromise. The Roman Catholic system attacks the Gospel of the grace of God, places tradition equal to Scripture, and establishes the church as the infallible authority and interpreter of the Bible, yet Keller calls it “the largest church in the world.” Mr. Keller is not seeing clearly to take such a position, yet many hold his intellectualism in high regard.

Mr. Keller writes extensively for the Biologos website, whose purpose is unequivocally stated: “We at BioLogos believe that God used the process of evolution to create all the life on earth today… (and) agree with the modern scientific consensus on the age of the earth and evolutionary development of all species, seeing these as descriptions of how God created.”[5] In one such Biologos article titled “Creation, Evolution, and Christian Laypeople,” Keller wrestles with how to present science to Christian laypeople in such a way that evolution and the Bible seem compatible.[6] He writes with a tolerance toward almost everyone—to theistic evolutionists, progressive creationists—to everyone that is, except biblical creationists! It seems Keller sees Biblical creationists as ‘anti-scientific religionists’ who must be enlightened.[7]

Although Keller accepts a literal Adam and Eve, he believes they are still “a product of evolutionary biological processes.”[8] According to Keller, this would make Adam the son of a “soulless human-like hominid.”(( Ibid.)) By hominid I mean a human ancestor between a man and a monkey but a species closer to man than a monkey. Evolutionists would say all such hominids are now extinct. Keller argues for both a literal Adam and a hominid. Keller simply cannot have it both ways. If he believes in a literal Adam, he must contend that sin and death began with Adam according to Romans 5:12, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” If he says that man evolved from a hominid, he must allow for death before Adam’s sin.

This is a dangerous accommodation and deliberate re-interpretation of the Bible to conform to the worldly spirit of our age. Such evolutionary teaching that allows for a hominid, creates far more problems than it solves, and it attacks the foundations of the Gospel. This teaching undermines the Bible teaching of the sinful nature of man created in the image of God. Allowing for hominids would mean that Adam was formed in a way entirely different from the Biblical text and would also necessitate that there was death before sin, contradicting clear Scripture. Paul also writes, “The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit… The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:45, 47). It is clear that Paul refers back to the literal Genesis account of creation where we read, “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breathe of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). That one man was Adam, created from the earth in the image and likeness of God. The Biblical record emphasizes that God directly created man, from the dust, wholly apart from the use of previously existing animals. To promote theistic evolution and then pronounce the Roman Catholic system as a reason to hold to such a view is a deeply flawed approach that will set any ministry in the direction of disaster. May God give us grace to stand for a strong view of Scripture, and to hold without shame those points under ferocious attack, refusing to bend the Bible in order to appease those who criticize it.

Matt Recker is the pastor of Heritage Baptist Church in New York City.

  1. “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” Christian Life, March 1956, pp. 17-19. []
  2. “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” Christian Life, March 1956, pp. 17-19. []
  3. Ernest Pickering, The Tragedy of Compromise (Greenville, SC: BJU Press, 1994), p.14-15. []
  4. Tim Keller, The Reason for God (New York, NY: Dutton, 2008), p.87. []
  5. []
  6.; “Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople, Tim Keller. []
  7., A response to Timothy Keller’s ‘Creation, Evolution and Christian Laypeople, Lita Cosner. []
  8. Ibid. []

Although Proclaim & Defend is the blog of the FBFI, the articles we post are not an expression of the views of the FBFI as a whole, they are the views of the author under whose name they are published. The FBFI speaks either through position statements by its board or through its president. Here at Proclaim & Defend, we publish articles as matters of interest or edification to the wider world of fundamentalist Baptists and any others who might be interested.

Submit other comments here.