Posted by: stpowen | July 10, 2014

The ‘New Calvinists’ and E.S. Williams

Mark 8:23-5. ‘So He took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the town. And when He had spit on his eyes and put His hands on him, He asked him if he saw anything. And he looked up and said, “I see men like trees walking.” Then He put His hands on his eyes again and made him look up. And he was completely restored and saw everyone clearly.’

‘Nobody on earth has managed this Reformed resurgence with all its diversity. No one on earth has planned it, and none can or should harness it. This is a work of God. It may be short-lived, or it may be wide and deep and long. God will decide. I make no triumphalist predictions. We don’t control it’ (John Piper).

I am recently returned from the Summer School of Theology at the Metropolitan Tabernacle in London. I wasn’t able to stay for the whole time, but what I was able to attend was very worth-while. I hope to write something further on it if I get the time.

I purchased a number of books while I was at the meeting, including a small volume by Dr. E.S. Williams entitled, The New Calvinists: Changing the Gospel. In this book, Dr. Williams take aim at several of the leaders of resurgence in Calvinism that has been taking place in recent years, mostly in America but also here in the UK. The are chapters on Tim Keller, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, the Proclamation Trust and the Porterbrook Network.

Readers of this blog will be aware that I have reservations about several of these people and organizations. However, Dr. Williams’ approach is to damn them all equally and without reservation. He appears to do this on a very limited acquaintance with his subject. He seems, for example, to have read only one, or possibly two, of Tim Keller’s books, and those are apologetic rather than doctrinal in content. Now Keller is a most prolific author and it must be admitted that to have read all his works would be a herculean effort, but a deeper knowledge might possibly have led Dr. Williams to a more balanced position. There is a book that critiques Keller more thoughtfully: Engaging with Keller by Iain Campbell and W.M. Schweitzer (Evangelical Press). There are problems with certain aspects of Keller’s theology and this book exposes them without denying his great usefulness in popularizing serious Christian doctrine. It also follows the Biblical pattern shown in Acts 18:24ff of experienced ministers correcting and encouraging one who, whilst holding the principles of the faith accurately, is adrift in certain aspects.

In Mark 8:23ff, quoted at the head of this article, we see the Lord Jesus doing a sort of ‘two-stage’ healing of a blind man. Since our Lord healed many people with a single word or touch, we may be sure that it was no lack of power that caused Him to cure the blindness in this way. Was it not done rather for our benefit as readers, to show that people recently converted do not at once gain perfect theological knowledge, but rather come to maturity over a period of time? So it may be that when people come to a knowledge of Reformed theology out of a liberal, charismatic or Arminian background, they do not immediately shed their attachments to non-Reformed practices but, God willing, they will do so as they mature.

For myself, I praise God that Keller, Piper and the others are bringing more people to a knowledge of Calvinistic doctrine. Would Dr. Williams really be happier if seekers after truth in America and Britain were left to the mercies of Joel Osteen, Creflo Dollar and Steve Chalke? I believe that a better reaction to the New Calvinism is that of Joel Beeke, who, being of the opinion that the Puritans are the best guides to Reformed theology, has written a number of simple introductions to their beliefs and writings, and sold them at New Calvinist meetings with great success. Increasing numbers of Americans are now reading Puritan and Reformed literature and this is being reflected in the number of confessional Reformed Baptist churches being planted in the U.S.A., the Calvinistic resurgence within the Southern Baptist churches, and the increase in modern Reformed literature being published by Solid Ground Christian Books and Reformed Baptist Academic Press.

Finally, I leave my readers with Iain Murray’s account of the recent Together for the Gospel Conference, held in Louisville, Kentucky in April. This conference is said to be a flagship for the New Calvinism, yet it would seem to have ticked most of Dr. Williams’ boxes. The movement seems to be growing, not only in numbers, but also in maturity.
http://www.banneroftruth.org/us/resources/articles/2014/thoughts-together-gospel-conference-2014/
I recommend my readers to take the time to read the article for their encouragement. God grant that we may see such an event in Britain sometime soon.

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Responses

  1. Steve, I’ll save a comment on Dr Williams and his book for later.

    You may find it interesting to read in full the article by David Jackman from Evangelicals Now that was selectively quoted by Iain Murray in the link you gave. I believe Murray’s close connection with MLJ caused him to take offence at Jackman’s views, but I think Murray misrepresented Jackman.

    Here’s the article: http://evangelicalsnow.wordpress.com/2014/06/07/notes-to-growing-christians-from-david-jackman-double-bubble-trouble/

    PS your article above is all in bold text, which makes it a bit hard to read – I suspect this was unintentional – perhaps you could fix it somehow.

  2. Hello Ian,
    Thanks for your heads-up on the text, which I have corrected.

    I am not sure that I agree with David Jackman- I believe that people do want certainty from the pulpit and that was one of MLl-J’s strengths. If the preacher doesn’t know what he believes, why should anybody listen to him?


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