As an evangelical Christian, living in England, and after hearing JD Hall recently recommend ‘The New Calvinists’, and seeing that it was about the UK church, I was eager to open it and see what it said.
I’ll give a playback of my thoughts as I worked through the short book. I apologize if I come across biased or angry – I tried to be fair and unbiased (but really struggled)!
Firstly, the introduction of The New Calvinists was very well written, and a challenge to the resurgence of Calvinism in the world as a whole. It truly has become the ‘cool’ kid on the block right now, which the rise of particular Facebook groups and podcasts. Williams makes a good point that we should be careful because “In a similar way New Calvinists desire to work with charismatic and emerging churches, and wink at the adopting of Catholic and New Age mysticism.”
Williams then went to talk about Tim Keller. I felt the quotes and examples shown were used well, and I came away wondering whether I’d been blind to all these things in the past.
Then he turned to John Piper and I recognized a quote that Williams had used. I read what was written about said quote and thought to myself ‘that is not how I remember that at all’. So I went back to the mentioned blogpost, and reread it. Personally I think Williams either didn’t read the whole article, or at least he did not get what Piper was saying. He did not say that ‘God speaks to him’ in a charasmatic sense, instead it was a challenging piece to say God speaks through his word.
It was at this time that I started to notice Williams’ disregard for anything ‘rock’ or ‘rap’ related. Williams appears to think that these two musical genres are worldly and so tainted by sin that no good can come from them. He comes back to this again and again through the book. I can understand where he is coming from, but I felt that his personal opinion overshadowed his views.
Williams then raised some issues with Mark Driscoll, which in hindsight he was right about. This made me – again – question my understanding on the previous section. Maybe he was right? Perhaps my view on this topic is skewed?
Then things got really personal for me. In the chapter “New Calvinism in the UK” Williams critiqued a number of organisations that I am either involved with, or have benefitted from in the past. As a ‘Cornhill student’ I found this quote particularly unfair: “We would be hard pressed to find a Cornhill student who is prepared to defend a six-day view of creation… [this] in turn casts doubt on the historicity of Adam and Eve, the reality of the Fall, and thus the plan and purpose of redemption.”. This made me put the book down and put my head in my hands. I wanted to shout ‘Hello?! I’m here if you want a chat…’ This is where I really felt that this book has gone off the road and straight down into the ditch.
As a ‘Cornhill student’ I found this quote particularly unfair: “We would be hard pressed to find a Cornhill student who is prepared to defend a six-day view of creation… [this] in turn casts doubt on the historicity of Adam and Eve, the reality of the Fall, and thus the plan and purpose of redemption.”
Music Ministry UK
Williams then turned his gaze to ‘Music Ministry’ (another group I have worked with). Here are some quotes: “Like New Calvinists in the USA, most of the churches within the Proclamation Trust’s sphere of influence are given over to the contemporary worship scene. Some have a music director, many have a worship band, and most sing contemporary songs which have emerged from the charismatic movement.” Here, again, his disregard for anything ‘modern’ comes to the forefront. I wonder whether Mr Williams is an exclusive Psalmist, or whether he thinks the 15th Century was height of ‘sanctified music’?
In my church it is a joy to sing new and old songs, particularly when they are theologically sound. I admit that a lot are not nowadays, but should we throw the baby out with the bathwater? Having a music director allows churches to vet an area of word ministry that in many areas is unguarded! Yes – I get that many churches abuse this role, but please, don’t tar everyone with the same brush!
In my church it is a joy to sing new and old songs, particularly when they are theologically sound.
He continues: “Music Ministry, which passionately promotes the contemporary music scene, is teaching an unbiblical message that encourages Christians to conform to the pattern of the world”. I get the impression that, to Mr Williams, anything that the world ‘likes’ must be wrong for Christians. He also lumps a number of well-known musicians into the charismatic camp (his words: “the Gettys, Stuart Townend [all charismatics]” – I personally do not think that’s true, and may be wrong, but I was fed up with having to check the facts on everything I read). This seems like opinion rather than theological fact. I feel Williams dictates his view on church worship from Romans 12, but forgets 1 Corinthians 14.
Next in the crosshairs of The New Calvinists is Acts 29 and the Porterbrook Network. At this stage I was extremely cynical. I have known many people who have benefitted from Steve Timmis and Tim Chester, and personally have gained a lot this year from their exegetical teaching. The allegations made against them in this chapter just did not ring true from what I know of them. Then I read this, quoting Tim Chester: “Life in our congregation is messy… Indeed I sometimes describe our church as a group of messy people led by messy people.” This sounds like a church that shares struggles with one another, and realizes that we are all sinners before holy God. Williams then says straight afterward “Messy church’ is a policy of holding church events that are attractive to families uncomfortable with a traditional worship service. A messy church invites people to come for an exciting time of craft, drama and fun, followed by a meal together.” This is not what Tim Chester was talking about. These are two completely different topics. I really wonder if Williams saw ‘messy church’ and googled it and pasted the first thing he saw. As a Englishman, involved in a local church, I could tell the difference between these two things.
I was so excited to read The New Calvinists, and it’s a real shame that this book comes across as an unresearched, divisive rant. It came across that there is only one perfect church in the world (the book even suggests you could attend their seminary!) There are sections of this book that we NEED to address. The issue is that they’re in the middle of other parts that are completely misrepresented. And that means they lose their value. Please call the church out where it needs calling out, but please do your research first! This is why people do not take this type of criticism seriously.
There are sections that we NEED to address, but they’re in the middle of other parts that are completely misrepresented, that they lose their value.
Unfortunately, I cannot recommend this book – and trust me, I really wanted to!