We’re One, but We’re Not the Same
by Burk Parsons
If it’s new, it’s likely not true, and if it’s true, it’s likely not new, or so the saying goes. Generally speaking, when someone uses the word new to describe something old, I’m not only not impressed but usually a bit puzzled and often a bit concerned. Although the phrase the “New Calvinism” has been around for centuries in one form or another, the recently popularized use of the phrase is largely attributable to Time magazine’s March 12, 2009, cover story “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.” Number three on their list? The New Calvinism. In God’s providence, Time’s journalistic efforts helped to shine an even bigger spotlight on a global movement many of us have been aware of for quite some time.
In his 2006 Christianity Today cover story and subsequent book Young, Restless, and Reformed, journalist Collin Hansen provided us with a helpful glimpse of various ministries and men that have been influential in this Calvinistic resurgence among a new generation of believers. Hansen surveyed some of the men whose confessionally and historically Calvinistic and Reformed ministries are foundational to this Calvinistic resurgence, but he also reported that many associated with the New Calvinism are committed Baptists who would of course have differences with us old Calvinists as well as with John Calvin himself. Nevertheless, while differences do indeed exist among us (which no one pretends otherwise), there is most certainly a common doctrinal bond that unites us in our respective Protestant confessional traditions—a fundamental agreement on the sovereign character and work of God.
Calvinists, new and old, and all “Calvinists” before Calvin, have stood with one voice as we have answered age-old questions pertaining to God, man, the gospel, and salvation. From the Augsburg Confession of the Lutherans (1530) to the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglicans (1563) to the Canons of Dort (1619) to the First London Baptist Confession (1644) to the Westminster Standards (1646) to the Second London Baptist Confession (1689), we have been united in the essential matters of the faith and have historically worked carefully to apply the ancient maxim: “In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” Although in applying such a principle we certainly don’t want to make light of the real differences between old and new Calvinists, we do want to make sure we are all taking the same position as we worship our one sovereign God, coram Deo, as Calvin—and as Christ—would have it.