Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Reformed Baptist Trumpet (November 2010): "Neo-Evangelical Calvinist or Reformed?"

The November 2010 issue of The Reformed Baptist Trumpet, the e-journal of the Reformed Baptist Fellowship of Virginia, was sent out today.  Thanks again to Judi LaGrange of CRBC for her work in putting it together.  The issue includes an article by David P. Murray titled Christ in Creation from the 2010 Keach Conference and a book review of James M. Renihan's Edification and Beauty:  The Practical Ecclesiology of the English Particular Baptists, 1675-1705 (Paternoster, 2008).  You can read the entire issue on googledocs here.  Below is the editoral:

Neo-Evangelical Calvinist or Reformed?

Our generation has witnessed a revival of interest in the doctrines of grace or five-point Calvinism. Journalist Colin Hansen has tagged these new Calvinists as “young, restless, and reformed.” The movement has been spurred by the writing and preaching of men like R. C. Sproul, John Piper and Wayne Grudem. It has been celebrated and promoted in conference movements like “Together for the Gospel” and “The Gospel Coalition.”

There now appears, however, to be a divide forming in the ranks. On one side are the neo-evangelical Calvinists who are passionate about Calvinistic soteriology. On the other side, are those who say that merely embracing the five points of Calvinism does not go far enough. The latter contend that reformed theological principles must be applied to all other aspects of doctrine and practice, most significantly to the doctrine of worship.

I have attempted to trace below a few of the dividing lines on various issues between those who are seeking to be more self-consciously “Reformed” and those whom I am calling “Neo-evangelical Calvinists.” I do this with caution, realizing that some Presbyterians (like R. Scott Clark) would argue that Baptists cannot properly be identified as “Reformed” given that they depart from the magisterial reformers on the issue of baptism. For a counterpoint to Clark, see James Renihan’s book Edification and Beauty on early Particular Baptist ecclesiology (reviewed in the November 2010 issue of The Reformed Baptist Trumpet) in which he convincingly argues for the Reformed roots of these early Baptists who “believed that they had taken the principles of the reformation to their logical conclusion,” and thus “they were self-consciously more reformed than the paedobaptist reformed churches” (p. 17)!

Dividing Lines between Reformed and Neo-evangelical Calvinism


Reformed: Prefer the detailed, robust, and historical confessions of faith and catechisms that come from the classical Reformation era (e.g., Canons of Dort, Belgic Confession, Heidelberg Catechism, Westminster Confession of Faith, and Second London Baptist Confession of Faith).

Neo-evangelical: Argue that classic confessions of faith need fresh interpretations for the contemporary context or less strict subscription for evangelistic purposes. Often prefer confessions of faith that allow broader interpretation (e.g., among Baptists preference for the New Hampshire Confession over the Second London Baptist Confession).

Lord’s Day

Reformed: Hold to the abiding validity of the fourth commandment as part of God’s moral law, though recognizing that the day of rest is Sunday, the day of Christ’s resurrection, under the new covenant. Describe Sunday as the “Christian Sabbath.”

Neo-evangelical: Reject concern over the Lord’s Day as legalistic. See the fourth commandment as completely nullified, perhaps due to the influence of dispensationalism. Compare comments by John MacArthur in his Study Bible notes on Exodus 20:8: “Significantly, the command for the Sabbath is not repeated in the NT, whereas the other 9 are. In fact, it is nullified (cf. Col 2:16, 17). Belonging especially to Israel under the Mosaic economy, the Sabbath could not apply to the believer in the church age, for he is living in a new economy” (p. 125). Southern Baptist theologian Thomas Schreiner has likewise recently concluded, “Believers are not obligated to observe the Sabbath” (in his forthcoming book 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law).


Reformed: Hold firmly to the Regulative Principle of worship. The only proper elements in worship are those commanded by God in Scripture. See the worship service as a set and designated time on the Lord’s Day. Strive for reverence and simplicity. Likely to have minimal instrumental accompaniment or, increasingly, none at all. Likely to include the singing of canonical psalms. Those who speak publicly in worship services are ministers and elders.

Neo-evangelical: Hold to the Normative Principle of worship. Worship elements not expressly forbidden by Scripture are allowed. See worship as inclusive of all aspects of life and not just designated worship services on the Lord’s Day. Likely to make use of contemporary and “third wave” hymns and songs in worship and may have a choir or even a “praise band.” May allow persons other than elders, including women, to speak and lead in public worship.

Miraculous Gifts

Reformed: Hold to a cessationist view. Though God may perform miracles as he pleases, miraculous gifts and extraordinary signs ceased at the end of the apostolic era. The emphasis now is on the sufficiency of Scripture and the ordinary means of grace.

Neo-evangelical: Hold to non-cessionist view. Some, like Sovereign Grace churches, openly affirm and promote such practices. Others hold to an “open but cautious” view.

Purpose of the Church

Reformed: See the purpose of the church primarily as worship. Focus on the ministry of Word and Sacrament. The church’s call is clearly to preach the gospel and administer baptism and the Lord’s Supper till Christ returns.

Neo-evangelical: See the purpose of the church as evangelism and missions. Seek to study the culture and present the gospel in terms and through media that are intelligible to this age. Seek to be “incarnational” and “missional” in ministering to this culture. The church’s ministry includes concern for the environment, the arts, social justice, and mercy ministry to the poor and disenfranchised.


Reformed: Uphold the view of the ministry as a distinct office in the church and practice distinct ordination to gospel ministry. Though some have adopted the “parity” of elders view, most hold that the office of Ruling Elder is distinct from that of the Minister.

Neo-evangelical: Downplay the distinct role of the ministry and the practice of ordination to gospel ministry. Uphold egalitarian “parity” view of elders, though they may still provide for the role of a “Senior Pastor.”


Reformed: Uphold the doctrines of the infallibility and the divine preservation of Scripture as outlined in Reformed confessions (Westminster, Second London Baptist). More likely to make use of the traditional text of Scripture (Masoretic text of the OT; received text of the NT) and translations that are based on this text (e.g., Geneva Bible, KJV, NKJV, and NASB).

Neo-evangelical: Uphold doctrine of inerrancy of Scripture, including the inerrancy of the “original autographs,” as outlined in the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy. Prefer modern critical Biblical texts (for the New Testament, the UBS/Nestle-Aland 27th ed.) and translations that are based on this text (NIV and, predominantly, the ESV).

One question that arises in making these distinctions is what the future will hold for neo-evangelical ministers, churches, and para-church ministries that have embraced Calvinistic soteriology without further Reformed commitments. Will they still be Calvinistic in soteriology in the next generation and beyond? Does a strong stand on the sovereignty of God in salvation alone ensure doctrinal fidelity? More foundationally, what do the Scriptures teach on all these subjects (Sabbath, worship, charismatic gifts, etc.)?


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