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Fall 2013 · Vol. 42 No. 2 · pp. 178–194 

New Calvinists and Neo-Anabaptists: A Tale of Two Tribes

Jared Hiebert and Terry G. Hiebert

The Reformation was a tribal era in which Reformed and Anabaptist leaders disagreed fiercely about what the Bible required them to believe and do. 1 John Calvin is quoted as saying, “I have no more in common with [Menno] than water has with fire.” 2 When Menno Simons and Reformed leader John à Lasco conducted a disputation in January 1544, the two could not sort out their five points of difference. Consequently, the “Mennists” were ordered “expelled from the country if they did not accept instruction from the Scriptures.” 3 In a strange turn of events, the two leaders reconnected in 1553. When Lasco’s ships, loaded with Reformed refugees, were found stranded in the Wismar harbor, Menno’s Anabaptists helped with the rescue. In a short time, the two groups were fully engaged in theological disputations, this time represented on the Reformed side by pastor Martin Micron. Menno rejected the Reformed views, arguing that while Lasco “blasphemously teaches” the sinfulness of Christ’s flesh, Micron “unscripturally garbles” the text. 4 The {179} debates became so heated that the Anabaptists drove the Micron party out of Wismar. When Micron reported the Anabaptists to the authorities, the result was predictable—Menno fled. 5

The vulnerabilities of Neo-Anabaptism and New Calvinism will be exposed, but each tradition shows signs of courage and resilience that offer hope.

Almost 450 years after the initial encounter between the Reformed John à Lasco and the Anabaptist Menno Simons, more dialogues were held. This time they were more civil. In 1983 the Reformed World Conference, the Baptist World Alliance, and the Mennonite World Conference began a path of dialogue with a joint worship service in Zurich Cathedral. Zurich, of course, was where Felix Manz, the first Anabaptist martyr, was drowned in 1527. In 1984 and again in 1989, Reformed and Mennonite leaders sought to move beyond the historic divisions between the tribes. 6 After the consultation at the University of Calgary they reported:

Despite the elemnts [sic] of convergence noted above, it was admitted that some continuing mutual suspicion remains, involving a partially articulated attribution of moral inadequacy. The Mennonites suspect that the Reformed-Puritan traditions sell out biblical principles too soon to the strictures of necessity. The Reformed heritage suspects that the Mennonite tradition says that it was to be socially responsible and engaged, but is not in fact ready to take full responsibility for justice in society. 7

The “Baptism, Peace, and the State” report of 1989 expressed appreciation for the spirit of unity evident on both sides, and then made nine recommendations addressing differences on infant and believers baptism, the nature of the church, and the relationship of Christians to state power. 8

That same year ethicists Richard Mouw (Reformed) and John Howard Yoder (Mennonite) acknowledged that explaining the differences between the two traditions was “confused and confusing.” 9 Still, they admitted to real ethical differences: from a Calvinist point of view Anabaptists had rejected the cultural mandate; from the Anabaptist perspective the Reformed had abandoned their commitment to a biblical renewal of the church. 10 Observing the emotional undertones of the relationship, Mouw and Yoder stated, “when the real differences between the two communities were taken up by polemicists whose arguments were shaped by the struggle for political domination, the commonalities began to recede into the background.” 11 To overcome this division, Mouw and Yoder appealed to the common origins of Reformed and Anabaptist traditions in their stance toward the Roman Catholic Church. As well, Reformed and Anabaptist groups faced similar challenges in living out their visions of a faithful church in North American culture. Mouw and Yoder agreed that the two groups were important for the benefits they could bring to evangelicalism: “An examination of the themes of Reformed–Anabaptist dialogue that sees them as issues in an {180} intra-family dispute can do much to promote a more richly evangelical understanding of the full scope of Christian discipleship.” 12

Rapid changes have occurred in evangelicalism since 1989, including the rise of Neo-Anabaptism and the New Calvinist movement. Conferences, books, articles, and online blogs by their respective advocates testify to the state of the ongoing conversation/dialogue/debate. Apparently the descendants of Menno and Calvin still have an uneasy relationship: they are more civil than in the sixteenth century, but hesitant in their acceptance and appreciation of each other. At times the conversation and response to blog posts still resonate with the all-too-familiar tones of Reformed condescension and Anabaptist bristling.

In this paper, we examine these most recent offshoots of the Reformed and Anabaptist tribes. We will define the two movements by considering their personalities, activities, and core beliefs. A close look at their hermeneutical assumptions and theological frameworks will reveal important distinctives. We conclude by exploring what these traditions have to offer each other as they journey into the future.


The New Calvinism 13 is generally known by its unwavering commitment to the five solas of the Reformation (sola Scriptura, sola fides, solo Christo, sola gratia, soli Deo gloria) and to the “doctrines of grace” or “TULIP” (Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints). 14 Numerous observers have identified names, schools, and publishers connected to the New Calvinism. 15 John Piper, Don Carson, Tim Keller, Albert Mohler Jr., J. I. Packer, John MacArthur, and R. C. Sproul are some of its most prominent spiritual and intellectual leaders. It counts Westminster Theological Seminary, Westminster Seminary California, and Southern Baptist Theological Seminary as its main training grounds. Multnomah, Thomas Nelson, Zondervan frequently publish New Calvinist works, but Crossway publishes primarily for that market.

The New Calvinist movement first came to prominence in 2006, with Collin Hansen’s Christianity Today article, “Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism is Making a Comeback and Shaking up the Church.” 16 It was a movement long in the making. Well before Hansen’s article appeared, John Piper’s Desiring God (1986), Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology (1994), and the ESV Study Bible (2001) were shaping the movement’s theological identity. Today the shaping continues through New Calvinist blogs, podcasts, and iTunes U courses. 17 Legions of ministries have grown out of the New Calvinism, including Desiring God, 9Marks, and the Gospel Coalition. The movement has grown into a multi-faceted phenomenon. {181}

The Gospel Coalition and its “Foundation Documents” 18 deserve closer inspection. The organization was founded by Tim Keller 19 and D. A. Carson 20 who arranged a pastors’ colloquium at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in 2005. The less than fifty pastors invited came from assorted denominational backgrounds, but all were committed to a Reformed theological perspective, to biblical expository preaching, and to evangelism and service. 21 In 2007 these pastors authorized Keller and Carson to draft what have become the Coalition’s constitutional documents. According to the Coalition, “The doctrinal convictions and vision for ministry codified in these documents are what the Gospel Coalition strives to spread for the glory of God. We do this because we believe God has revealed a timeless message and agenda greatly needed in our day.” 22 For our purposes, the Coalition’s “Foundation Documents” will serve to represent the core convictions of the New Calvinism, due to their broad acceptance in that camp and their faithful expression of its key doctrinal commitments. Kevin DeYoung nicely summarizes these convictions as “The belief that God is the center of the universe and we are not, that we are worse sinners than we imagine and God is a greater Savior than we ever thought possible, that the Lord is our righteousness and the Lord alone is our boast.” 23


New Calvinists believe that the Bible is without error, but also that its inerrant content must be properly interpreted. The Gospel Coalition declares that the Bible must read both along the whole Bible and across it. Reading along the entire Bible (sometimes called the “diachronic” approach) means reading it as a redemptive-historical narrative that begins with creation and reaches its climax with Jesus Christ (Luke 24:13–27; 44–49). Creation, fall, redemption, and restoration are the key moments in the biblical narrative, and a thorough understanding of the historical eras encompassed by it are crucial to a proper understanding of the Scriptures as a whole. But one must also read across the whole Bible (also known as the “synchronic” approach), which involves “collect[ing] its declarations, summons, promises, and truth-claims into categories of thought (e.g., theology, Christology, eschatology) and arriv[ing] at a coherent understanding of what it teaches summarily.” 24 Both of these ways of reading have their weaknesses—ethical legalism for the first method and pious individualism for the second—but “at their best” both are vital for comprehending the meaning of the gospel as presented in the Bible. 25

The absolute sovereignty of the triune, creator God is a central conviction in the New Calvinist belief system. The immortal and eternal God has exhaustive foreknowledge, determines the smallest details of the universe, and saves his elect monergistically. From eternity God has foreknown and {182} chosen some for salvation and has committed himself, through the redemption secured by Christ alone, to save his elect from sin and hell. Christ died as the representative and substitute for the elect, thus securing all aspects of salvation for them, from their justification to their sanctification and glorification. 26 Upon acceptance of Christ’s work by faith, God gives the Holy Spirit to the elect, applying the benefits of salvation as well as guaranteeing their perseverance in faith and future inheritance. 27 All that God does and is aims at “the praise of his glorious grace.” 28

New Calvinists believe that in marriage and in the church, God has ordained that men and women play complementary (not equal) roles. This complementarianism arises from the view that gender roles must be grounded in the biblical doctrines of creation, fall, and redemption rather than in secular cultural developments. 29

The strong New Calvinist sense of mission comes out of a rich theology of God’s kingdom as the exercise of God’s sovereignty in the world for the eventual redemption of all creation. 30 This means that the church must be a counter-culture for the common good—radically different from the culture, yet willing to serve neighbor and enemy sacrificially. This in turn requires careful contextualization of the gospel in ways that are neither too accommodating to culture nor too culturally conservative, temptations that the gospel itself can help believers resist. 31

A well-developed ecclesiology commits New Calvinists to the renewal of faith in the gospel of Christ, reforming ministry practices to conform fully to the Scriptures, and proclaiming a gospel that “seeks the lordship of Christ over the whole of life.” 32 Their theology addresses matters of the head as well as the heart, because it is focused on nurturing a “gospel-centered” faith that expresses itself both in church and in culture. Their “gospel-centered” ministry aims at an empowered corporate worship and the expository preaching of God’s Word, but it also places a high value on evangelistic effectiveness, counter-cultural community, the integration of faith and work, the doing of justice and mercy. 33

The ways in which New Calvinists work out their gospel-centered faith belies the “frozen chosen” and antinomian reputations of their Reformed tradition. 34 The New Calvinism is rich in piety but this is, admittedly, a different piety from the evangelical version it seeks to correct. It emphasizes the means of grace God uses to produce commitment, rather than the means of commitment that lead to grace. 35 New Calvinists also hold up Christ as the one to whom we are united by faith and through whom we receive our justification and sanctification—he is not merely a moral example. This union with Christ in the gospel enables the believer to live for God. Reformed piety is thus not about moving higher than the gospel, but growing into it more deeply. 36 {183}


Anabaptism is virtually as old as the Reformed tradition, its basic beliefs having been largely fixed in the Schleitheim Confession of 1527, 37 only five years after Swiss reformer Ulrich Zwingli resigned his priesthood in 1522. It has since generated numerous mutations of itself. About its most recent offspring, the Neo-Anabaptists, Stuart Murray has said, “[we] identify with the Anabaptist tradition and are happy to be known as Anabaptists, but have no historic or cultural links with any Anabaptist-related denomination.” 38 As is true of New Calvinists, Neo-Anabaptists are a diverse group, with numerous supporters in North America, Australia, New Zealand, and in the UK. However, because Neo-Anabaptism is by nature more diffuse and less concerned with creedal adherence, the movement is more difficult to define than New Calvinism.

Whereas Time magazine hailed New Calvinism as a world-changing movement, mainstream media references to the Neo-Anabaptism are rare. Brian McLaren’s mention as one of the twenty-five most influential evangelicals in 2005 is the nearest equivalent media recognition of the new movement. 39 In typical Anabaptist style, the Neo-Anabaptists are a diverse, populist, and socially concerned bunch. Scot McKnight, Rob Bell, Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis, Ron Sider, and Shane Claiborne have been viewed as Anabaptist, whether or not they self-identify. 40 Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary, Eastern Mennonite University, Fresno Pacific University and its Biblical Seminary, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary Canada, and Canadian Mennonite University are identifiably Anabaptist. Beyond the Mennonite seminaries, Anabaptists only influence (rather than control) other institutions of higher education. 41 The main publishers of Anabaptist books are Herald Press, Pandora Press, Cascadia Publishing House, and the Institute of Mennonite Studies. Several other publishers—Kindred Productions, Good Books—also issue Anabaptist titles from time to time.

The rise of Neo-Anabaptism is signaled by writings like Shane Claiborne’s Irresistible Revolution and Tony Campolo’s Red Letter Revolution. The only Anabaptist books reaching iconic status are John Howard Yoder’s Politics of Jesus and Ron Sider’s Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. 42 Neo-Anabaptist bloggers include the likes of David Fitch (Reclaiming the Mission), Scot McKnight (Jesus Creed), and Tony Campolo (whose blog appears on the Red Letter Christians website). Few high profile Anabaptist speakers have podcasts. Megachurch pastor Greg Boyd is considering joining his congregation to either the Mennonite Church USA or the Brethren in Christ. 43 Boyd is also the founder of ReKnew, a blog calling believers and skeptics to “rethink things they thought they already knew.” 44 The “ReKnew Manifesto” (2012) articulates core convictions that rethink life, faith, God, Kingdom of God, providence, atonement, salvation, hell, and {184} humanity. 45 But since the manifesto includes revisionist doctrines not essential to Neo-Anabaptism, our attention will shift to the more conciliatory work done by Anabaptists in the UK and Ireland. 46

The Anabaptist Network

The Anabaptist Network (TAN) was formed in 1991 under the influence of the London Mennonite Centre (LMC), a Mennonite Board of Missions venture started in 1953. LMC sponsors study groups, theology groups, conferences, and Anabaptism Today Journal. In the 1990s, Nelson Kraybill, LMC director, and Stuart Murray formed a network of persons sympathetic to Anabaptism. Since the late 1990s, Murray and participants in the network have written several books on themes related to Anabaptist hermeneutics and post-Christendom, church planting, evangelism, discipleship, worship, and mission. 47 Murray’s Naked Anabaptist is by far the best-selling British Neo-Anabaptist book.

The Anabaptist Network outlines seven core convictions of the Anabaptist faith. The Network cautions readers that these convictions are contextual to Britain and Ireland; they are not ideological or required for membership; they are not concerned chiefly with belief. They are, rather, aspirational Anabaptist beliefs and values meant to supplement or complement the classical Christian creeds. 48

We reproduce here in full the Anabaptist Network core convictions, which concisely describe the beliefs of its members:

  1. Jesus is our example, teacher, friend, redeemer, and Lord. He is the source of our life, the central reference point for our faith and lifestyle, for our understanding of church and our engagement with society. We are committed to following Jesus as well as worshipping him.
  2. Jesus is the focal point of God’s revelation. We are committed to a Jesus-centred approach to the Bible, and to the community of faith as the primary context in which we read the Bible and discern and apply its implications for discipleship.
  3. Western culture is slowly emerging from the Christendom era when church and state jointly presided over a society in which almost all were assumed to be Christian. Whatever its positive contributions on values and institutions, Christendom seriously distorted the gospel, marginalised Jesus, and has left the churches ill-equipped for mission in a post-Christendom culture. As we reflect on this, we are committed to learning from the experience and perspectives of movements such as Anabaptism that rejected standard Christendom assumptions and pursued alternative ways of thinking and behaving. {185}
  4. The frequent association of the church with status, wealth and force is inappropriate for followers of Jesus and damages our witness. We are committed to exploring ways of being good news to the poor, powerless and persecuted, aware that such discipleship may attract opposition, resulting in suffering and sometimes ultimately martyrdom.
  5. Churches are called to be committed communities of discipleship and mission, places of friendship, mutual accountability and multi-voiced worship. As we eat together, sharing bread and wine, we sustain hope as we seek God’s kingdom together. We are committed to nurturing and developing such churches, in which young and old are valued, leadership is consultative, roles are related to gifts rather than gender and baptism is for believers.
  6. Spirituality and economics are inter-connected. In an individualist and consumerist culture and in a world where economic injustice is rife, we are committed to finding ways of living simply, sharing generously, caring for creation, and working for justice.
  7. Peace is at the heart of the gospel. As followers of Jesus in a divided and violent world, we are committed to finding non-violent alternatives and to learning how to make peace between individuals, within and among churches, in society, and between nations. 49

These convictions outline the stance of a Jesus-centered gospel with a focus on the ethical implications of being the church in a post-Christendom context.

This Jesus-centered faith flies in the face of the separatist reputation of Anabaptism. 50 Neo-Anabaptism has a substantive message and it engages the world, although differently than the generic evangelicalism from which it comes. When Neo-Anabaptism speaks of the gospel, it refers to creating a community that centers on Jesus, a fellowship which it invites people to belong to, even before they believe and behave like Jesus-followers. 51 It holds up Jesus Christ as a model for discipleship even as it affirms that Jesus is Redeemer and Lord. Through Christ’s redemption we are capable of following Jesus. Anabaptist discipleship is not about simply worshipping Jesus as Lord but in growing deeper in the practice of following him as Lord. 52 {186}


The Gospel Coalition and the Anabaptist Network are both concerned with renewal of the church for the sake of the good news of God’s mission to reconcile persons and creation to himself. The two approaches, however, are quite different, as the actions and beliefs of their leaders, ministries, and many writings attest. Their respective underlying frameworks and assumptions suggest some reasons for their disagreement. 53

Hermeneutical Frameworks

Early Anabaptist hermeneutics was quite diverse, but common principles provide the framework for the Neo-Anabaptist hermeneutic today. This framework contains six assumptions: (1) Scripture is self-interpreting when read under the guidance of the Spirit in a community of discipleship. (2) Scripture is interpreted in a Christocentric fashion so that the life and words of Jesus become normative for understanding the rest of Scripture. (3) The New Testament as the Word of the New Covenant takes priority over, but does not eliminate, the Old Testament. (4) The Spirit and Word create a dynamic tension between spiritual insights and literal readings. (5) Scripture is better understood in a community of disciples (community hermeneutics), than through individual scholars. (6) A hermeneutic of obedience is the test of valid biblical interpretation. The Anabaptist hermeneutical framework is best seen in “a Spirit-filled disciple, confidently interpreting Scripture within a community of such disciples, aware that Jesus Christ is the centre from which the rest of Scripture must be interpreted.” 54 Thus it leaves open the question of what affirmations must be arrived at, insisting only that interpretation be done in the context of a Spirit-led discipleship community and that its conclusions be consistent with the life and message of Jesus Christ. But the varieties of interpretations such a framework can produce are countless, which largely explains the glut of denominations within the Anabaptist family, but also accounts for that tradition’s adaptability to new political and cultural environments.

By contrast, the New Calvinist hermeneutical framework assumes that it is the theologian or pastor-theologian, perhaps in consultation with others, who interprets the Scriptures for the church. It focuses less on the characteristics of the community in which biblical interpretation takes place and more on the assertions biblical interpretation must confirm, which typically include the five points summarized in TULIP. The framework dictates that the Bible be read as the story of a covenanting God who acts in history to redeem his chosen ones. The diachronic reading along the Bible typically finds this pattern: creation, fall, redemption, restoration. Jesus is the main protagonist of this story, and his death and resurrection, its climax. The redemptive-historical reading of the Bible establishes the context for {187} systematic theology and confessional statements. The latter are products of a synchronic reading across the Bible that identifies its propositional truths, which are then compiled, systematized, 55 and finally delivered to the church to be believed. The framework can be dynamic, with Scripture a source of spiritual truths perpetually replenished by the Spirit, a source which then provides always more insights for confessional statements and systematic theology. It can also become a closed system, however, in which Scripture provides the key themes for a confession or systematic theology, which in turn become guides to the right interpretation of Scripture, which then confirms the theology, ad infinitum. Ironically, this infinite feedback loop can produce a highly stable rational system that is theologically sterile.

Theological Assumptions: Centered vs. Bounded Sets

The Neo-Anabaptists represented by the Anabaptist Network employ a centered-set approach to theology and praxis. Centered-set theology “views Christianity as a fluid and flexible force field held together by a strong magnetic center. The boundaries are not as important as the center that identifies authentic Christianity. 56 The “Anabaptist core convictions” include vital but minimal statements about Jesus Christ, the church, discipleship, and mission, which most Anabaptists should be able to affirm as in some way central to who they are. This creates a space for Neo-Anabaptists in other Christian traditions to retain the best of those traditions as they incorporate the key convictions of Anabaptism. Hence the hyphenated labels some wear (e.g., Anabaptist-Baptist, Anabaptist-Anglican, etc.). 57 As migration is practically in the DNA of Menno Simons and Anabaptism, it is not surprising that Neo-Anabaptist theology is mobile. Its theological framework provides light but not lite luggage essential for Christian discipleship on the long journey from Christendom to a post-Christendom world. The small theological core is embedded within a narrative biblical theology that focuses on God’s kingdom, Christ, and the priesthood of believers. And because Anabaptist theology is based not primarily on either/or but on a first/then set of assumptions (that is, first the New Testament and then the Old), it also supports the traditional Anabaptist priority of the New Testament as the guide for the church and then the Old Testament as the guide for society. 58

The New Calvinist beliefs affirmed by the Gospel Coalition employ a bounded-set approach to theology and praxis. Bounded-set theology views Christian orthodoxy as clearly identified, systematic formulations of boundaries. These boundaries identify and maintain authentic Christianity. 59 So confessions and catechisms guide the theological endeavor, direct theological inquiry, and inform biblical interpretation. For New Calvinism, these theological frameworks become the borders for lives of discipleship. 60 {188}

In the New Calvinist framework, doctrine arises when the work of biblical theology—its major theme being the fulfillment of God’s redemptive plan in the gospel of Jesus Christ—arrives at a systematic conclusion. This step, the identification and formulation of a clear proposition, is essential if the truth of Scripture and its application to practical life are to be faithfully affirmed. 61 Doctrine is the result of the church’s desire to rightly interpret the Word of God as a covenantal document and apply it to life within the covenantal relationship with God. 62 For New Calvinists, correct theology allows the church to live rightly in society and properly fulfill its mission to the world. Firm theological positions are thus utterly important, but only when, and only because, they reflect the “proper” biblical interpretation of God’s whole revelation received through the ministry of the Holy Spirit. 63 The New Calvinist theological framework, therefore, is built on a set of both/and assumptions that see life in society and in the church as basically good. 64


The Reformed and Anabaptist tribes have a 500-year history of questioning the legitimacy of the assumptions of “the Other” concerning hermeneutics, theology, and ethics. The Gospel Coalition and the Anabaptist Network are two recent expressions of the distinctive practices and beliefs of these two tribes. Theologically speaking, Mouw and Yoder, or even WARC and MWC, are saying that when the tribal leaders take off their masks, they discover each other as family members. If we are dealing with a family dispute rather than a tribal dispute, distinctions will not and should not be resolved by the marriage of the smaller Anabaptist family to the larger Reformed family. This move was attempted in the sixteenth-century Netherlands and Zurich but with negative effects for both sides. 65

Instead of inter-tribal marriage, we are wiser to see the differences as they are treated in the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38–42). Expositors of this story have typically commended Mary and belittled Martha. However, a careful look at the story’s context reveals a more nuanced picture. Jesus is sending the seventy-two on a mission to announce the gospel of the Kingdom (10:1–24) when an expert in the Torah asks him, “What must I do to inherit eternal life” (10:25 NIV). Jesus responds with the Great Commandment to love God and love neighbor (10:26–28). Next, Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan, which calls disciples to love neighbor first, and then glorify God in religious services (10:29–37). Then, at Mary and Martha’s home, Jesus calls them to love God first, and then prepare the meal (10:38–42). In the context of the Great Commission and the gospel of eternal life, the Bible portrays the Great Commandment to love God and neighbor as a household of sisters. 66 In the context of Luke {189} 10, Jesus reverses the expected order of priority in proclaiming and demonstrating God’s transforming mission.

The metaphor of sisters for these two traditions offers an imaginative space for collaboration in a post-Christian environment. The metaphor is particularly instructive because we believe that both members of this family are migrating to post-Christian cultures where New Calvinist and Neo-Anabaptist movements can make their truth claims. But neither tradition is dominant in North American society or in the global Christian church. The journey of the sisters is a post-triumphalist journey along the margins of society that will almost certainly reshape our worship, community, and mission in interesting ways. Bryan Stone even suggests that “it may be from the margins that evangelism can be most effective. 67

On this journey, both sisters will be vulnerable to elements of post-Christian culture. Ironically, the Reformed tradition is particularly exposed because of its significant investment in a rationally coherent theology, its naïve assumption that Christian and middle-class North American values are essentially congruent, and its readiness to seek power and control for cultural transformation. New Calvinists need to admit that increasing individualism and intellectualism makes them susceptible to collapse. The New Calvinism resembles Zwingli’s cathedral in Zurich whose arches extend to the sky but may collapse under the weight of “desiring God.” 68 Neo-Anabaptism, on the other hand, is particularly vulnerable because of its weak Christology, its naïve assumption that their communities can substantially incarnate Christ’s gospel of peace, and its desire to be like the world in order to transform it. Neo-Anabaptists need to admit that their increasing assimilation and de-churching makes them susceptible to extinction. Neo-Anabaptism resembles the Menno Simons monument in Witmarsum, where hollow pipes form an outline of a church where believers once worshipped.

As the two sisters journey into a post-Christian culture the vulnerabilities of Neo-Anabaptism and New Calvinism will be exposed, but each tradition shows signs of courage and resilience that offer hope. Neo-Anabaptism provides the gifts of mission as a demonstration of justice, compassion, and peace prior to proclamation; of alternative community in multi-voiced churches with consultative leaders; and of worship that “sanctifies humans, invites people in community to collaborate with God’s mission, and calls Christians to witness, embodiment, hopefulness, action, and alternative living.” 69 New Calvinism provides the gifts of worship characterized by expository, Christ-centered preaching of the Word that strengthens the individual to do the will of God; of counter-cultural community living in gospel-centered relationships of service, mutual love, and accountability; and of mission to declare Christ’s saving work, to integrate faith and work, {190} and to practice justice and mercy—all for the glory of God. 70

The New Calvinism and Neo-Anabaptism are two sisters commonly mistaken for two tribes. In the last century, both sisters found some hospitality in the centered-set theology of evangelicalism. The arrangement functioned adequately in the 1970s and ’80s with a prominent modern evangelicalism, especially in America. But since 1989 and the rapid shift to post-Christian culture, evangelicalism has found the journey difficult and is facing identity issues. 71 New Calvinism is a bounded-set approach, challenging to the theological and evangelistic ambiguity of evangelicalism. Neo-Anabaptism is a centered-set alternative challenging the megachurch ecclesiologies and “moral majority” thinking within evangelicalism. 72 As the evangelical theological framework struggles to create an identity for where the journey leads, perhaps now is the time for both New Calvinists and Neo-Anabaptists to consider a more stable foundation on which to think and live. With this new opportunity, we recommend a more generous spirit and a humble posture in returning to the beginning of the dialogue at a point in the Reformation when two sisters agreed on one thing—sola Scriptura.


  1. Referring the liberal-evangelical theological differences, UK blogger John Kuhrt uses a term that could be applied to Neo-Anabaptists and New Calvinists: “theological tribalism.” John Kuhrt, “When Two Tribes Go to War,” Resistance Renewal: Faith, Transformation & Social Justice (blog), June 2, 2011,
  2. Willem Balke, Calvin and the Anabaptist Radicals, trans. William J. Heynen (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1981), 207. Balke’s book seeks to vindicate Calvin against the Anabaptists, but fortunately his tone is more charitable than that of the Genevan reformer.
  3. J. P. Müller, Die Mennoniten in Ostfriesland (Amsterdam, 1887), 24ff. Cited in Cornelius Krahn, “Lasco, John à (1499–1560),” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online,,_John_%C3%A1_(1499-1560).
  4. Menno Simons, “Forty-Five Unscriptural Confessions, Explanations, False Glozings, Adulterated and Garbled Scriptures, Presented to the Reader for the Explanation of the Matter.”, accessed August 30, 2013,
  5. Krahn, “Lasco.”
  6. Ross T. Bender and Alan P. F. Sell, “Reformed-Mennonite Dialogue: Phase Two,” Journal of Mennonite Studies 8 (1990): 10.
  7. Ibid., 13.
  8. “Baptism, Peace, and the State in the Reformed and Mennonite Traditions, 1989,” Ecumenism in Canada, {191}
  9. Richard J. Mouw and John H. Yoder, “Evangelical Ethics and the Anabaptist-Reformed Dialogue,” The Journal of Religious Ethics 17 (Fall 1989): 127.
  10. Ibid., 129.
  11. Ibid. (emphases added).
  12. Ibid., 135.
  13. Sometimes called the “Neo-Reformed” movement or even “Neo-Calvinism” despite the latter’s earlier connection to the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands and the Christian Reformed Church in North America. Abraham Kuyper (1837–1920) played a significant role in their formation.
  14. For a more generous account of the larger Reformed tradition, see Kenneth Stewart, Ten Myths of Calvinism: Recovering the Breadth of the Reformed Tradition (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2011). Stewart will not equate New Calvinism with that broader tradition, in fact criticizes those New Calvinists for whom TULIP functions as a creed.
  15. A few of these are David van Biema, “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now: The New Calvinism,” Time, March 12, 2009,,28804,1884779_1884782_1884760,00.html. Other sources are Mark Dever, “Where’d All These Calvinists Come From?” 9Marks (blog), June 26, 2007,; and Justin Taylor, “Where’d All These New Calvinists Come From? A (Serious) Top 10 List from Mark Dever,” Justin Taylor: Between Two Worlds (blog), The Gospel Coalition (TGC) website, August 27, 2012,
  16. Hansen, “Young, Restless, Reformed: Calvinism is Making a Comeback and Shaking up the Church,” Christianity Today, 22 September 2006, Hansen followed up with a fuller account of New Calvinism in his book, Young, Restless, Reformed: A Journalist’s Journey with the New Calvinists (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2008).
  17. Trevin Wax, “September 11 and the Rise of the New Calvinism,” Kingdom People (blog), TGC website, September 6, 2011,
  18. “The Gospel Coalition: Foundation Documents,” TGC website, rev. April 12, 2011,
  19. Author of several books of practical theology, Keller’s The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (New York: Riverhead, 2008) was a New York Times bestseller. Keller is also the founding pastor of the famed Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York.
  20. A former Baptist pastor, author or editor of over fifty books, Carson earned a PhD in New Testament from the University of Cambridge. He is now research professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. His Reformed theological perspective is evident in his many books and articles. {192}
  21. “History of the Gospel Coalition,” TGC website, accessed October 16, 2013,
  22. Ibid.
  23. Kevin DeYoung, “Why I Am a Calvinist (And a Lot of Other Christians Are, Too),” Kevin DeYoung: DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed (blog), TGC website, May 13, 2009,
  24. “Theological Vision for Ministry,” TGC website, rev. April 12, 2011,
  25. Ibid.
  26. “Confessional Statement,” nos. 4–8, TGC website,
  27. Ibid., 9. In this way, all of the petals of the acrostic TULIP are present. This is unfortunate because TULIP is already too often (erroneously) viewed as the center of Reformed faith.
  28. “Confessional Statement,” TGC website, no. 5.
  29. Ibid., no. 3. See also “Theological Vision for Ministry,” TGC website, III.
  30. “Confessional Statement,” TGC website, no. 10.
  31. “Theological Vision for Ministry,” TGC website, III.
  32. “Preamble,” TGC website.
  33. “Theological Vision for Ministry,” TGC website, IV.
  34. Stewart, Ten Myths. See chapters 5 and 6 on myths that Calvinism is largely anti-missionary and promotes antinomianism.
  35. “Preamble,” TGC website.
  36. Michael Horton, “The Reformation and Spiritual Formation,” Modern Reformation 22, no. 4 (2013): 28.
  37. See Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology: An Introduction (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 1995), 60–63.
  38. Stuart Murray, The Naked Anabaptist (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2010), 18. Murray notes that John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas exert a strong influence upon Neo-Anabaptism.
  39. Time Staff, “Influential Evangelicals: Brian McLaren,” Time, February 7, 2005,,28804,1993235_1993243_1993300,00.html. McLaren identifies Anabaptism as one of many traditions in Generous Orthodoxy (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009). Neo-Anabaptism in its orthodox formulations is distinguishable from the revisionist Emergent Church. Still, the two are often mistaken for each other. A clearer reference to Anabaptism (not Neo-Anabaptism) is made by Madison Gray and Tracy Samantha Schmidt, “The Amish School Shootings,” Time, December 20, 2006,,28804,2011254_2015215_2015212,00.html.
  40. Kevin DeYoung, “The Neo-Anabaptists,” Kevin DeYoung: DeYoung, Restless, and Reformed (blog), TGC website, June 3, 2009, The list should include Alan Hirsch, Alan Roxburg, Greg Boyd, and no doubt others.
  41. There are examples of Anabaptists at seminaries like Fuller, Southwestern Baptist, and Asbury. In Europe, examples of schools influenced by {193} Anabaptism are Spurgeon’s College in London and the International Baptist Theological Seminary in Prague.
  42. Anabaptists have no study Bible, complete commentary set, or widely used theological text—a contributing factor to their lack of unity on biblical-theological matters.
  43. Melissa Steffan, “Minnesota Megachurch to Go Mennonite? Possibly, Says Greg Boyd,” Christianity Today Gleanings, February 12, 2013,
  44. Greg Boyd, “ReKnew Manifesto,” ReKnew (blog), July 18, 2012,
  45. Ibid. Boyd’s blend of theological exploration and Anabaptist themes, while potentially important, is beyond our scope. See Tyler Tully, “Pitfalls and Proposals for the Post Christendom Reformation,” Young Anabaptist Radicals: Let’s Activate Something (blog), October 9, 2013, Greg Boyd and Mark Moore have started something of a conversation but it’s too early to tell if it’s going anywhere.
  46. One connection between American Neo-Anabaptists and the Anabaptist Network in the UK and Ireland is Greg Boyd’s foreword to Stuart Murray’s Naked Anabaptist. Currently North American Neo-Anabaptism is more fragmented than its New Calvinist counterpart.
  47. Alan Kreider, “The Story of the Mennonite Trust,” The Mennonite Trust, 2013, For Post-Christendom see Stuart Murray, Post-Christendom (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2004). For insights on post-Christendom in America see Alan Kreider and Eleanor Kreider, Worship and Mission After Christendom (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 2011), 259–63.
  48. Murray, Naked Anabaptist, 44–46.
  49. Ibid., 45–46 (emphases added). Murray makes the disclaimer that “The Naked Anabaptist makes no claim to be the only or most authentic interpretation of the Anabaptist tradition” (154).
  50. Ibid., 31–41.
  51. Stuart Murray, Church After Christendom (Milton Keynes, UK: Paternoster, 2004), 26–36.
  52. Murray, Naked Anabaptist, 54–56.
  53. The analysis that follows is informed by Mark Liederbach and Alvin L. Reid, The Convergent Church: Missional Worshipers in an Emerging Culture (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2009). Their approach to emergent and evangelical associations parallels ours. See also John Kuhrt, “When Two Become One (Tribalism in the Church, part 2),” Resistance & Renewal: Faith, Transformation & Social Justice, June 13, 2011, When considering the evangelical versus liberal relationship, Kuhrt suggests placing the evangelical gospel in the center, surrounded by the larger social ring of liberal social justice. {194}
  54. Stuart Murray, Biblical Interpretation in the Anabaptist Tradition (Kitchener, ON: Pandora, 1999), 210–16. See also Murray, Naked Anabaptist, 63; Lloyd Pietersen, Reading the Bible After Christendom (Harrisonburg, VA: Herald, 2012).
  55. “Theological Vision for Ministry,” II.2.
  56. Roger Olson, The Mosaic of Christian Belief: Twenty Centuries of Unity and Diversity (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2002), 47. Murray explains the centered-set approach in Church After Christendom, 28–30.
  57. Murray, Naked Anabaptist, 18.
  58. David Fitch, “Knitting While Detroit Burns? The Reformed ‘Both/And’ versus the Anabaptist ‘First/Then,’ ” Reclaiming the Mission (blog), August 27, 2013, See also John Kuhrt, “When Two Become One.”
  59. Olson, Mosaic, 47.
  60. “Theological Vision for Ministry,” TGC website, II.3.
  61. Ibid., I.2.
  62. Ibid., I.3.
  63. Ibid., I.4.
  64. David Fitch, “Reformed Missional versus Anabaptist Missional versus Pragmatic Missional,” Reclaiming the Mission (blog), January 23, 2009,
  65. Equally we do not favor the simple merging of the two theological families into one (e.g., Reanabaptformedists, Reformed–Anabaptists, or just Evangelical).
  66. Luke 10:38–39 states that Martha owned the home and Mary lived with her. What is the theological significance, if any?
  67. Bryan P. Stone, Evangelism After Christendom: The Theology and Practice of Christian Witness (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2007), 11.
  68. See John Piper’s classic, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Sisters, OR: Multnomah, 1986). Note that the date of publication was near the end of evangelical prominence in America.
  69. Murray, Church After Christendom, 137–89.
  70. “Theological Vision for Ministry,” TGC website, V.
  71. John S. Dickerson, “The Decline of Evangelical America,” The New York Times [Sunday Review] (opinion), December 15, 2012,
  72. Scot McKnight calls the older evangelicalism “a big tent” where we did not have to agree but all gathered inside. Michael Horton refers to evangelicalism as the “village green” where people meet whereas the church is where confessions and creeds are defined. McKnight, “Who are the NeoReformed?” Jesus Creed (blog), February 16, 2009,
Terry Hiebert (PhD, Baylor) is Academic Dean and teaches theology and ethics at Steinbach Bible College, Steinbach, Manitoba. Jared Hiebert (PhD candidate, Westminster), is lead pastor at Cornerstone Bible Church (Fellowship of Evangelical Bible Churches) and adjunct faculty in history at Steinbach Bible College, Steinbach, Manitoba.

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