In response to the recent TIME magazine piece on the YRR, Mark Driscoll published a piece on the Resurgence contrasting the “new” Calvinists with the “old” Calvinists. It was followed up by a piece with a kinder, gentler treatment of the tired, old urban-center fleeing, stuffy Calvinism. Darryl Hart responds to the vanished post by pointing out the fact that much of what Driscoll counseled has been tried. That program is called the Christian and Missionary Alliance.
Rather than respond point by point to Pastor Driscoll’s original post I want to challenge the premise on which it rests, namely that his theology, piety, and practice are genuinely “Calvinist” and second, that “Calvinism” can be reduced to the doctrine of predestination that can be recontextualized in congregations which are at odds with the Reformed confession.
Let’s look at the last one first. There are two persistent myths about “Calvinism.” The first seems to be as widely accepted by evangelicals as it is by the critics of Calvinism, i.e., that the central dogma or organizing principle of Calvinism is the doctrine of predestination. Because evangelicals accept this premise (because they don’t seem to read Calvin or his successors much), they speak of any Protestant who holds any of the five points of the Synod of Dort as a “Calvinist.” This leads to the weird expression, “So-and-so is a 1-(or 2- or 3- or 4- or 5-) point Calvinist. The second myth is a corollary to the first, i.e. that Calvin was a tyrant. This is a fiction created by the critics of Calvin and his followers, on the assumption that anyone who held to the doctrine of absolute divine sovereignty must have been a tyrant (even if the evidence says otherwise).
The Reformed Churches confess much more than the doctrine of predestination. We confess a whole system of doctrine, i.e. a theology, a piety, and a churchly practice. You can read all about it in the riveting new book, Recovering the Reformed Confession. According to the Reformed Churches (as opposed to ahistorical evangelicals) the doctrine of predestination is a necessary doctrine but not a sufficient doctrine. Imagine trying to play ice hockey with only a hockey stick. Now that is inarguably an essential piece of equipment for the game of ice hockey, but it is only a start. Ice hockey is impossible with ice, skates, a puck, and a goal. Just as there is more to ice hockey than sticks so there is more to Calvinism than predestination. Genuine, old-school, 16th- and 17th-century Calvinism confessed doctrines of God, humanity, Christ, salvation, church (including the sacraments), and last things.
To strip out and isolate the doctrine of predestination and to recontextualize it changes its character. There were several medieval theologians who taught a high doctrine of predestination. They also taught that God sovereignly infuses grace into and creates righteousness within the sinner on the ground of which God may rightly justify the righteous. There were medieval theologians who taught, in effect, the five points of Dort, but none of these theologians would be admitted to the ministry of the Reformed Churches. They all taught a doctrine of justification incompatible with the Protestant (Reformed) doctrine. Many of them held to a Christology at odds with ours. They held a view of the church and sacraments incompatible with ours. In other words, the doctrine of predestination, even limited atonement, did not make them “Reformed.” If that is so then, it is so now.
Second, there is precious little evidence that the doctrine confessed and preached at Mars Hill Church is Reformed. There’s little evidence that Mars Hill is a recognizably Reformed congregation. Compare the Mars Hill doctrinal statement to the Belgic Confession, the Heidelberg Catechism, the Canons of Dort, or the Westminster Standards. The doctrine of the continuing work of the Spirit confessed by Driscoll and Mars Hill Church is closer to that of the Anabaptists than it is to Calvin (who regarded the Anabaptists as “fanatics”), Beza, the Synod of Dort, or the Westminster Assembly. The doctrine of baptism confessed by Driscoll and Mars Hill Church is exactly opposite than confessed by all the Reformed Churches since the earliest 16th century.
If Mark Driscoll presented himself for membership in St. Peter’s in Calvin’s Geneva, he would have been rejected. Why? He doesn’t believe the faith confessed by the church. He would have been rejected by the consistories and synods in the Netherlands, France, and by the sessions in Scotland. They would not have recognized his confession as Reformed.
The ugly truth is that too many Reformed folk are too excited that a prominent leader in evangelicalism, someone with increasing visibility in the media, identifies himself as Reformed. Pastor Driscoll feels comfortable co-opting the adjective “Calvinist” because real Calvinists, those who actually believe and practice what Calvin believed and practiced, let him use it.
It was nice of Pastor Driscoll to add a second post, softening the blow of the original post, but the original reflects his contempt for historic, confessional Calvinism. Fine. He’s entitled to his opinion. I would rather have him speak his mind about how dead, suburban, and disinterested in evangelism or whatever else he thinks we are than to be patronized for the sake of public relations. Better, however that he and we be honest about the fact that Pastor Driscoll isn’t actually a Calvinist. He may not be pleased with the “old” Calvinists but at least they were actually Calvinists.