Archibald Alexander Will Beg to Differ

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I am deeply honored to be the recipient of satire from Darryl Hart, who is concerned rightly to divide the New Calvinists from the Old.  According to Hart, a true Old Calvinist is one who has Lutheran sympathies and, since I really do not (admittedly), then Hart argues that I am in fact a New Calvinist myself.  This is, I think, a revealing way of shaping boundaries, though nothing new for the esteemed Dr. Hart.  (And I do indeed esteem him.)  For him, true Calvinism requires a trifecta of Oldness: Old Light, Old Life, Old School.  His desire to segregate me results from my convictions as a New Light, New Life, Old School Calvinist (for those up on their 18th and 19th century history).  I dare say this puts me in very good company, since by this standard Archibald Alexander and his progeny are highly suspect as well, not to mention virtually all of my more recent heroes such as James Boice, Eric Alexander, and Sinclair Ferguson.

Beneath the satire there are no doubt real issues expressed in Hart's criticism and I am glad to respond, lest Old School Calvinism be reduced to the ecclesiastical sliver that Hart is able to stomach:

First, the point of my previous blog piece was that I think it a pretty good thing -- even a great thing -- that tens of thousands of formerly Arminian Baptists and Charismatics have discovered the doctrines of grace, having learned them more or less from us.  I am excited for their sake, because I know what a difference it makes to one's life as a Christian to exult in sovereign grace and to give God glory in all things.  I realize that these fellow Christians (we do consider them Christians, don't we?) are still Baptists and Charismatics and, while I do indeed have concerns, I would prefer to be encouraging rather than critical.  This attitude is, Hart seems to believe, unworthy of true Old Calvinists.

Second, since I am happy about the New Calvinists, it is argued that I must be one myself.  I am not sure that this bothers me that much, but I do find it to be curious.  I cheerfully delight in TULIP, having written a book commending it and chairing a conference that is known for proclaiming it.  I am committed to ordinary means of grace ministry, as the video on the front page of my church's website will indicate.  I am deeply committed to the Regulative Principle of Worship and my favorite book to recommend on this subject was co-written by Darryl Hart himself (I heartily recommend this to my New Calvinist friends, together with all of Hart's outstanding and thought-provoking books).  I hold to a view of the Lord's Supper that is essentially that of John Calvin, as seen in the booklet I wrote on this for the P&R Basics of the Faith series.  Alas, all of this is of no avail!  I am happy for former Arminians to rejoice in the sovereignty of God, so my card must be revoked! So be it.

Third, as a matter of fact I am indeed more positive about the New Calvinists than I am about Lutheranism.  One reason is that together with John Calvin I consider union with Christ to be the center of Christian soteriology rather than the doctrine of justification.  This means that I do not subordinate sanctification to justification but hold them together in Calvin's duplex gratia.  I find these vital truths embraced and celebrated by a great number of New Calvinists and by virtually zero Lutherans (or Lutheran-leaning "Old Calvinists" for that matter).  Moreover, if being a Lutheran-leaning Old Calvinist means that I must embrace a radical two kingdoms position that will keep me from speaking publicly against manifest evils like abortion and homosexual marriage, then once again I am willing to have my Old Calvinist credentials held in derision.

I suppose a squabble over who really deserves to be "Old Calvinist" was as inevitable as it is embarrassing.  I, for one, would not think to question Hart's claim to this status, which is indeed a worthy one.  But there are some things more worthy.  Encouraging the spread of God's sovereign grace in the broad fields where multitudes of Christ's sheep are found is, in my view, a cause well worth risking my status in the eyes of entrenched gate-keepers who find it objectionable.

Posted March 22, 2014 @ 4:07 PM by Rick Phillips
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