December 18, 2017

New Calvinism: Best Sellers, Scholars and Compromise

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

Matt Recker

World Magazine reported recently that “Seattle’s Mars Hill Church paid a California-based marketing company at least $210,000 in 2011 and 2012 to ensure that Real Marriage, a book written by Mark Driscoll, the church’s founding pastor, and his wife Grace, made the New York Times best-seller list.” Because of a rash of similar unethical and often bizarre behavior like this, Mark Driscoll’s New Calvinistic ministry is in meltdown. It leaves me with a question, however. What is his felt need to be on the New York Times Best seller list? What motivates his longing? He is not the only leader of this New Calvinism movement that highly regards the credibility of being recognized by the New York Times. If you look at conference speakers of this movement, and you will regularly see listed the size of their church or their books being promoted as New York Times best sellers as measurements for their true success.[1]

Dr. Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian Church is a darling of the intellectual elite in the New Calvinism. He is beloved by the New York Times having received rave reviews for a number of his books, and he is renowned for his alleged understanding of the Gospel. Yet Keller invited the well-known retired Anglican bishop N.T. Wright to speak at Redeemer Presbyterian Church’s Center for Faith and Work in 2010.

Wright is notoriously known for his “New Perspectives on Paul” and his strong attack against the historic doctrine of justification by faith in Christ and the believing sinner having Christ’s righteousness imputed to him freely by grace through faith. Wright says that this interpretation of justification does “violence” to Paul’s writings. This is a merciless assault against the Gospel, for this doctrine is at the heart of the Gospel and foundational to our salvation.

My thesis is not to break down Wright’s heresy on justification by faith, but only to point out that despite his inarguable false teaching he was invited by Keller to speak at a church-sponsored Redeemer event. At the lecture, Wright was introduced by a teaching elder of Redeemer, Wright’s books were sold promoting his heresy on the New Perspective on Paul, thus, being endorsed by Keller and Redeemer Presbyterian Church. This sort of theological dialogue brings the cancer of confusion and heresy into the church. This also leaves me with a question. What motivates Keller to invite Wright to his church, knowing the obvious heresy Wright promotes?[2]

In an interview with Hillsong NYC pastor Carl Lentz, Katie Couric asked “Do you guys have positions on, say, gay marriage, and things like that?” Lentz answered Couric, “We have a stance on love; in everything else, we have a conversations.” He would not go beyond that and would not take a stand on God’s truth regarding marriage. He said, “Very rarely did Jesus ever speak about morality.” What a compromise, yet he is invited by Louie Giglio to his well-known Passion Conference (Noted New Calvinists like John Piper, Francis Chan, Matt Chandler have also been invited to this conference through the years).[3]

I submit to you that these compromises are a part of the fruit of New Evangelical’s clarion call to seek an “increased emphasis upon scholarship.”[4] Harold Ockenga further summarized the New Evangelical’s intention by lamenting “the lack of respect evangelicals had in academic circles and desired to see a measure of respectability regained through the efforts of scholars who could defend Christianity on intellectual grounds.”[5] Similarly, New Calvinism is firmly entrenched in a view that accommodates the spirit of the world, and in doing that, they long to be seen as being scholarly, tolerant, and respectable to the world at large.

An increased emphasis on scholarship? Yawn, and you might say with a sigh, “who cares?” But this nuanced shift that causes them to reach for respect demonstrates their longing for admiration by the wider culture, to be seen as intellectual and thoughtful, nuanced and nice.

Are we called to reach out to be respected in an intellectual world where the “pride of the life” dominates one’s motives? Even when this motive is clearly not of the Father, but is of the world? (1 John 2:15-17) Are we called to be beloved by academics in a world and by a world that hated Jesus without a cause? (John 15:25) Have we forgotten that the wisdom of the Lord Jesus did not impress the intellectuals of His day and they crucified Him? Have we forgotten that Jesus Himself said, “I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you?” (John 15:19). Have we forgotten that Jesus warned us that He is “come to set a man at variance against” even his nearest and dearest relations? (Matthew 10:35, variance means to sever or divide in two).

When a baseball player lunges for a pitch while off balance, he usually fails to reach his true goal and misses the ball entirely. Similarly, the seemingly innocent lunge of New Evangelicals and New Calvinists to achieve academic accolades have caused them to fail in the ultimate goal to glorify God. It has helped lead to dialogue with theological heresy and ultimately resulted in the surrender of foundational truths like Biblical creationism, inerrancy, and salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone. It has motivated many to defy God’s clear moral commands against fornication as well as deny that marriage is the exclusive God ordained institution between one man (husband) and one woman (wife) in a mutually consented “one flesh” relationship (Genesis 1:27; 2:24; 1 Cor. 7:1-6; Romans 1:26,27; Ephesians 5:22-33).

Dr. Ernest Pickering wrote how the New Evangelicals showed a disdain for the ‘Bible Institute mentality’ and had little use for Bible colleges.[6] An increase emphasis on scholarship was the need. This reminds me of Northland Baptist Bible College in Dunbar, WI. For many years I spoke there in an Urban Ministry block class, chapels, and mission conferences. The last time I was there I felt the shift. Innocently, the name was changed to Northland International University. Then a Southern Baptist was invited to speak at a block class. Matt Olson the president, visited a Sovereign Grace Church ministry of a young man who had split from a good fundamental church. Recently, Albert Mohler of Southern Seminary (Southern Baptist and co-founder of the Together for the Gospel Conference) spoke at the convocation. A contemporary rock band was formed and played on campus and soon the school had moved from its fundamentalist roots.

We must remember that just as King Jehoikim took his penknife to shamelessly shred God’s inspired words, so the world will not blush to disregard His truth. “The preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness,” and “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him.” (1 Corinthians 1:18; 2:14). Time will not change this truth, and neither will writing New York Times best sellers, tolerating false teachers like N.T. Wright, or playing academic games in the lust for respectability. We live in a day where it is thought to be a ‘hate-crime’ to speak the truth in love that God alone has the right to define the definition of marriage. These are serious times. What is needed is not the persuasive words of man’s wisdom, but to stand and speak by the power of His Spirit.


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

  1. http://www.worldmag.com/2014/03/unreal_sales_for_driscoll_s_real_marriage []
  2. A helpful article to make sense of Wright’s confusing position can be found at http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/new-perspective-paul-calvin-and-nt-wright/ []
  3. See the interview here: http://apprising.org/2014/06/07/pastor-carl-lentz-using-bait-and-switch-with-homosexuality/ []
  4. “Is Evangelical Theology Changing?” Christian Life, March 1956, pp. 17-19. This is the fifth point Harold Ockenga mentioned that summarized the New Evangelicalism. []
  5. Ernest Pickering, The Tragedy of Compromise, p. 13. []
  6. Ernest Pickering, Ibid, p. 84. []


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