Fall 2013 · Vol. 42 No. 2 · pp. 122–123 

From the Editor: The New Calvinism Considered

Vic Froese

They revere the Bible as the infallible, if not inerrant, authority for Christian faith and life. They have a passion for missions. They see the local church as the place where faith is best nurtured and lived out. They are fiercely committed to the doctrine of salvation by God’s grace through faith in Jesus. They long for spiritual revival, but also work for social justice. Their one desire is to glorify the sovereign God with their lives. “They” are the New Calvinists. With so many common values, why are some Mennonite Brethren, especially in Canada, concerned that New Calvinists and their doctrines are increasingly influential in the denomination? In this issue our contributors identify and evaluate the concerns and suggest how they might best be addressed. While the articles on this topic, like the original impetus for the theme, come out of the Canadian context, we hope that our American readers and others will also benefit from their analyses and insights.

The first article is by John Neufeld, pastor of the Willingdon Church in Burnaby, B.C., the largest Mennonite Brethren church in Canada. A council member of the Gospel Coalition (a New Calvinist organization), Neufeld argues that a closer association of Mennonite Brethren with Reformed theology would benefit both in important ways, and implicitly attributes the success of his ministry in part to that synthesis. Brian Cooper is more reserved in his assessment of how positive an influence New Calvinism might be. A polarization of theological positions in the MB church is a real possibility. However, Mennonite Brethren history suggests that forces that might threaten the unity of the Canadian MB Church can and will be resisted, and might even strengthen it in the long run.

Myron Penner suggests that MBs are already unwittingly adopting New Calvinist suppositions and compromising their ethos. He cites numerous reasons why MBs should, at the very least, walk into a cosier relationship with New Calvinism with their eyes wide open. Similar concerns are raised by Anthony Siegrist and Gary Wiebe. Focusing their attention specifically on the Gospel Coalition, the authors identify tensions between it and Anabaptism, and suggest why the Coalition might nevertheless be attractive to some MBs. They admit, however, that MBs can certainly learn a thing or two from that organization.

Terry Hiebert and Jared Hiebert explore the differences and commonalities between New Calvinism and another recent arrival on the evangelical stage: Neo-Anabaptism. They find that the two differ markedly from each other on important issues but believe that as both “tribes” navigate the unpredictable waters of the post-Christendom era their relationship can be mutually beneficial. Taking a different tack, Jon Isaak’s article is an {123} attempt to initiate a conversation with New Calvinists on the subject of what it means to be human. He submits that the tendency of Calvinist theology to focus on the atoning death of Jesus while Anabaptists fix their attention on his life and teachings accounts for differences in their theological anthropologies. He concludes his discussion by suggesting a way to take the conversation a step further.

Although Doug Heidebrecht does not address the New Calvinist movement directly, his article on the MB theology of mission does touch on that little matter of what the gospel is, a question for which New Calvinists are quite confident they have the answer. With a confidence of their own MBs have historically “majored” in evangelism and mission, but they have struggled to relate those passions to peace and social concerns in their theology. If I read Heidebrecht correctly, he is (at least in part) calling MBs to take the richness of Scripture more seriously as they work at developing a more comprehensive theology of mission.

Finally, John E. Toews takes us back to an earlier time when a fundamentalist spirit caused serious commotion in the North American MB Church. The “inerrancy controversy” targeted the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary faculty in the late 1970s and early ’80s, and Toews gives us a revealing and detailed account of how it unfolded. The controversy pre-dates the advent of New Calvinism as a distinct evangelical movement, but it is interesting that two of the drafters of the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy (J. I. Packer and R. C. Sproul) are considered guiding lights for the New Calvinist movement.

There is no “Ministry Compass” article in this issue. Or perhaps I should say, we have many “Ministry Compass” articles in this issue, but none under that heading. Next time we will again include something more directly related to the practice of pastoral ministry. Until then, I hope you will find yourself wiser for having read this issue, or, failing that, at least better informed about the issues New Calvinism raises for our community.

Vic Froese
General Editor