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Fall 2013 · Vol. 42 No. 2 · pp. 132–147 

Reformed Theology Among Canadian Mennonite Brethren

Brian Cooper

Who are the Mennonite Brethren? Where do our roots lie, and where are we going? The answers to these questions among Canadian Mennonite Brethren reveals concerns about theological identity, and particularly about the degree to which Canadian Mennonite Brethren have borrowed, and continue to borrow from non-Mennonite evangelical groups. This sentiment has acquired heightened urgency in recent years. 1 As Mennonite Brethren (MBs) have become less a community linked by socio-cultural identity and more by theological commitments, 2 the question of what those theological commitments are, and where they originate, becomes more pressing. The degree to which Canadian MBs ought to cooperate with non-Mennonites has been an ongoing theological conversation over time. In recent years, the stated identity of Canadian MBs as members of a tradition that is built around a renewed awareness of the inherently evangelical 3 dimension of Anabaptist convictions 4 has been confronted by a new theological reality in the form of a resurgent conservative Reformed evangelical agenda, arising mainly from the United States, that appears to threaten this harmony. What is more, from some voices in the {133} Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches (CCMBC) have come comments indicating that evangelical theology, especially that of the New Calvinist variety, is not easily reconciled with Anabaptist commitments. Rather than lament, I suggest that the responsible approach is to carefully appraise the claims being made so that one can arrive at a proper assessment. My modest thesis is that while New Calvinist influences could distract Canadian Mennonite Brethren from maintaining their holistic understanding of church mission and even cause denominational division, the evidence from the history of the CCMBC will show that this need not be the case. Rather, as has been true in the past, MBs can learn and be enriched by this theological tradition. As a starting point, to give clarity and context, I will examine the major players in New Calvinist theology.

Challenges from outside the community force us to rethink theological priorities in a way that can actually deepen our understanding and appreciation of our heritage.


Over the past two decades, a rise in the prominence of New Calvinist 5 theology has changed the balance of power in several American denominations, and also in seminaries such as Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. 6 Riding this theological wave has been a series of organizations intended to reorient American evangelicalism around the Reformed theological center it was perceived to have forsaken, and to bring the import of this theological core to bear on the American scene in a new and dynamic way. The parallels claimed by organizers between this contemporary movement and historic theological protest movements such as the Confessing Church in Germany illustrated the significance believed to inhere in this new reformation. The identity statement of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals describes the sense of urgency:

[W]e believe the Church must not only assent to her confessions but confess the gospel afresh in protest against the spirit of this age. Like the Lutheran and Reformed evangelicals who formed the Confessing Movement against the Nazi party in the 1920s and ’30s, we recognize that we must be in a “state of confession”— especially because accommodation to the spirit of the age has sapped the Church of her strength and caused her to divide her loyalties between the lordship of Christ and the lordship of this age’s “principalities and powers.” 7

The mantle of this reforming impulse has been taken up by a succession of alliances and movements, including Together 4 the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, The Acts 29 Network, The Resurgence, and the Redeemer City to City Network as the most notable examples. Each intends to return the Church to a renewed and purified evangelical Christianity. Notwithstanding the characterization of this broad movement as New Calvinist, {134} neo-Calvinist, or neo-Reformed, the characteristics of its theological agenda actually defy simple descriptions. Although they can usually be associated by an adherence to Reformed soteriology, 8 members of the movement come from a variety of denominations, and the predominant theological methodology is oriented towards a stated desire return to the theological orthodoxy they believe has been neglected rather than to craft a new confessional statement. Notwithstanding the clarity of confessional statements articulated by organizations such as the Gospel Coalition, association with the movement is based more on willingness to subscribe to the ideology that theology must return to a particular understanding of the orthodoxy of the past than it is based on strict adherence to a theological formula. 9

Much of the impetus behind such theological retrenchment is a reaction against movements within evangelical Protestantism perceived as having oriented church ministries toward the inclinations of the churches’ target audiences rather than toward the call of theological commitments. As a result, trends such as the Church Growth movement, and especially seeker-sensitive approaches to church work, are viewed as fatally compromising the demands of the biblical gospel. 10

The pragmatic focus of Church Growth and seeker-sensitive approaches to ministry are seen by the theologically conservative members of the New Calvinist community as defective in two major respects. First, the perception is that many seeker-sensitive North American churches compromise the integrity of the gospel message in order to make Christianity palatable to a consumer-oriented audience. According to Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and Gospel Coalition blogger, when “Christians try to eliminate the counter-cultural, unfashionable features of the biblical message because those features are unpopular in the wider culture—for example, when we reduce sin to a lack of self-esteem, deny the exclusivity of Christ, or downplay the reality of knowable absolute truth—we’ve moved from contextualization to compromise.” 11 The theological vision of the Gospel Coalition is to correct the over-contextualization that leads to compromise of what New Calvinist leaders see as the objective truth of the gospel. 12

Second, on a closely related note, contemporary evangelical theologies are frequently seen as being tainted by Arminian leanings that exalt human ability to respond to the gospel and corrupt proper appreciation for the sovereignty of God. In contrast, New Calvinist theology has seen itself as a corrective to this weaker Arminian theology believed to have compromised the gospel. Arminian approaches to evangelism in particular, insofar as they have emphasized human decision, and by implication human moral self-determination, are seen to contradict biblical depictions of human depravity. Some are described as venturing into semi-Pelagian theology in {135} their emphases concerning human responses to the gospel. 13 Exacerbating fears about theological drift in connection to the sovereignty of God in soteriology is the lingering suspicion by many in the New Calvinist camp that Arminian theology carries in it the tendency toward theological liberalism—emphasis on human effort in the process of salvation, diminishment of the inspiration and authority of Scripture, and more broadly, a more human-centered approach to Christianity. 14


The influence of New Calvinist movements such as the Gospel Coalition has been felt among Canadian MBs as well. For example, ten churches in the CCMBC are listed as member churches of the Gospel Coalition (TGC). 15 As well, the senior pastor of the largest MB church in Canada is a TGC Council member. 16 Half of all the Acts 29 Network churches in Canada are Mennonite Brethren (three of six). 17 Not surprisingly, many of the theological critiques that New Calvinist leaders have leveled in evangelical circles have also appeared in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren world. In light of these objections, the question of how Canadian MBs ought to maintain their evangelical Anabaptist identity remains an open one. 18 The influence of Church Growth theory on MB ministry efforts is widely known. 19 It is also widely recognized that the expectation that growth could be initiated through techniques based on social and scientific research has been reconsidered by those who advanced it. 20 The perception of New Calvinist leaders in the CCMBC is that the contour of MB confessional identity has been shaped by the theological pragmatism of the Church Growth movement, resulting in a “big top tent” confessional identity that reflects a trend away from robust theological precision in favor of a more theologically broad, even latitudinarian attempt to manufacture missional unity.

New Calvinist critiques of Arminian theology are applied in the Canadian Mennonite Brethren context; the perception is sometimes expressed among New Calvinist leaders that MBs are “a denomination that is largely Arminian.” 21 Because MBs are Arminian, they must be susceptible to liberalizing tendencies and corruption in doctrines concerning Scripture and the nature of human responses to the gospel, and so correspondingly susceptible to the corrosive effect of cultural ideologies such as feminism.

The question remains: Is this perspective accurate? On the surface, the similarity between the Arminian emphasis on free will acting in response to the call to repentance and the Anabaptist emphasis on discipleship among MBs is noteworthy, so much so that Mennonite leaders adopted the language of Arminian theologians. {136}

We were to be like the disciples of old who heard the call of Jesus and left everything. This approach to behavioural change in a sense continued the Arminianism, embraced by many of our Mennonite forebears, which regarded the will as fundamentally free. Therefore, change is a matter of seeing a better way and deciding to do it. 22

Stephen Dintaman’s assessment of Mennonite theology seen here is cogent for two reasons. First, he rightly notes that the Mennonite, and perhaps even more the MB, approach to behavioral change has borne an historical similarity to that of Arminian revivalism. But second, and more significantly, he notes that this similarity is an apparent one—“in a sense” continuing a kind of Arminianism that Mennonite leaders found amenable. The Mennonite willingness to adopt Arminian language was not the result of imbibing Arminian soteriology; rather, Mennonite leaders simply adopted language that phenomenologically approximated their desire to mandate the Nachfolge Christi as the pattern for Christian faith. They were not nearly as interested in human capacity for response to God as they were in insisting that humans must respond. To insist that Arminian theology crept into Mennonite thought is to ascribe a level of sophistication, not to mention a priority, that did not exist in the Mennonite community.

Further, the MB renewal movement was birthed out of a desire to turn from the consequence of the very circumstance that Dintaman highlights. Like their Mennonite relatives, MBs continued the emphasis on discipleship after the example of Christ as the model for authentic Christian faith. But unlike the Mennonite community they left, MBs rooted this discipleship in a call for crisis conversion that emphasized human depravity and the necessary work of the Holy Spirit to bring transformation. 23 MB confessions have never addressed the Arminian proposal that salvation could possibly be lost. The MB interest has always been to define the visible marks of salvation and the shape of the redeemed life. Connecting MB theology and Arminianism caricatures the Mennonite Brethren tradition. Not unaware of such theological streams as Arminianism, MB theological leaders have actually emphasized the need to pay heed to the totality of biblical teaching—on both divine sovereignty and human responsibility—in order to give adequate instruction both about finding assurance of salvation and also the dangers of apostasy. 24 It seems more tenable to assert that MB theology appears Arminian to those with Reformed theological inclinations because it both stresses discipleship and refuses to speculate or make declarative statements about certainty in the realm of eternal security of believers.

More broadly, MB approaches to Scripture on other topics do not sit well with New Calvinist convictions regarding the need to proclaim truth {137} in an uncompromising way. Both because of convictions about addressing the entire witness of Scripture and because of the emphasis on the role of the community in theological discernment, MBs have been less inclined than their New Calvinist counterparts to make the sort of dogmatic assertions that the latter see as the mark of theological orthodoxy.

Compounding the problem that this methodological difference poses is the recent shift in the CCMBC on the role of women in ministry leadership. The developments that contributed to the current position, expressed in the 2006 Canadian Conference resolution on women in ministry leadership, were seen as the product of the diversity of readings which all sought to be faithful to the relevant biblical texts, but which even in their contradictory conclusions were not incompatible with fellowship based on the priority of Christian discipleship. As a result, the conference resolution allowed individual congregations to discern the appropriate leadership role that women might play.

It is evident that individuals and congregations practice a diversity of convictions based on different interpretations of Scripture as it regards the church’s freedom to call women to serve in ministry and pastoral leadership. On this non-confessional issue, the Board of Faith and Life recommends that the Conference bless each member church in its own discernment of Scripture, conviction and practice to call and affirm gifted men and women to serve in ministry and pastoral leadership. 25

By virtue of the passing of the resolution, this is seen as an area in which MBs have agreed to allow for disagreement without prejudice. In contrast, New Calvinist-minded members of the CCMBC consider allowing latitude on this point to be a troubling and dangerous step. New Calvinist advocates of complementarian 26 theology view this as egalitarianism, motivated by an underlying feminist agenda. This egalitarianism, if followed to its logical hermeneutical and philosophical conclusions, could lead the CCMBC not only to disassemble biblical authority in the denomination but also ultimately to affirm the validity of homosexual practice. 27 Although John Neufeld, for one, acknowledges that there are many who assert what he terms an egalitarian theological position who do not go so far, he “cannot see how you can untie these issues.” 28 Assigning gender roles a prominence so crucial as to become a predictor of orthodoxy, as these comments indicate that they are for at least some New Calvinist leaders, seems out of place in a movement that asserts fidelity to the gospel as its primary theological marker.

The tendency to see hidden motives and heterodox trajectories seems to be a key element in the rise of New Calvinist theology, as is a strident {138} level of rhetoric warning of error or potential error in areas of theological disagreement. 29 As such, it may be preferable to refer to the rise of neo-fundamentalism, or a movement akin to fundamentalism, rather than the rise of New Calvinist theology. Michael Clawson defines neo-fundamentalism in relation to the militant reaction against postmodernism and other theological trends perceived to be a threat to traditional orthodoxy, much as twentieth-century fundamentalism was a militant reaction to the modernism that fundamentalists thought threatened the orthodoxy of a century ago. 30 This reactivity is evident in books such as Reclaiming the Center, written to confront and refute evangelical accommodation of postmodern theological influences. 31

Moreover, a separatist impulse persists, inclining New Calvinist leaders to withdraw from active participation in partnerships determined at one time to be acceptable, in much the same way as earlier fundamentalist leaders did. Joel A. Carpenter notes that the fundamentalist networks that developed in the 1930s and 1940s arose because “fundamentalists were convinced that they could no longer adequately express their faith . . . in their home denominations. Instead, they forged a network of religious enterprises that were firmly under their control.” 32 This is strikingly similar to the context in which contemporary New Calvinist organizations were established. The similarity between the rigid and militant intolerance of divergent theological positions that was characteristic of early twentieth-century fundamentalism and the trends that have emerged in the organization and discourse surrounding New Calvinist Christianity suggests that comparing the two movements is à propos. Further, there are reasons to believe the terms “New Calvinist” and “neo-Reformed” themselves are problematic and ought to be reconsidered.


Theological terminology is frequently used colloquially, with little attempt to clarify what is meant. In light of this, it should be noted that New Calvinist theology is not uncontested in its appeal to the theological heritage of John Calvin and the Reformed tradition. The sense of unease among self-professed Reformed leaders is so intense that some refer to themselves as Calvinians rather than Calvinists in order to dissociate themselves from the New Calvinist movement. 33 The assumption that those who associate themselves willingly with New Calvinist theology represent some sort of united theological front is not true. For example, 2012 saw the very public departures of Mark Driscoll and James McDonald from the council of the Gospel Coalition. 34 Ostensibly, the occasion for their departure was a difference of opinion about the treatment of theological disputes with controversial pastor and Oneness Pentecostal preacher T. D. Jakes. This had {139} little to do with details of Reformed theology, but much to do with how to handle theological disagreements and the degree to which disagreement either shapes or precludes ministry cooperation. The willingness to part company over doctrinal matters is a sign of fundamentalism, and the reason why this movement is more accurately termed “neo-fundamentalism” than “New Calvinism.”

Fundamentalism has historically proven a major source of controversy in MB circles in Canada. As a result, its return in the form of a New Calvinist theological agenda raises the specter of a monolithic group creating conflict, even if purportedly in pursuit of truth. Even more, many of the theological differences being brought to the fore (the role of women in ministry, for one) are unrelated to Reformed theological convictions. But because of the presumption that militant theological voices are from the New Calvinist movement, many MBs broadly apply the term “neo-Reformed” to theological conservatives the way Amish people refer to all non-Amish as “English,” with no nuancing or differentiation among different groups. In many conversations, the terms neo-Reformed, Reformed, New Calvinist, and Calvinist are presumed to be synonymous. Those who are assumed to have association with Dispensational theology are also assumed to fall into the neo-Reformed/New Calvinist camp. The common complaint is that any or all of these theological streams are felt to be at odds with Anabaptist theology. This is not, however, always the case. 35

On the other side of the conversation, a longstanding tendency has taken hold in MB circles which asserts the need to uphold authentic Anabaptist values in the face of the interdenominational cross-pollination that is increasingly common in the CCMBC. Whereas New Calvinist leaders in the CCMBC desire a return to orthodoxy as defined by Puritan theological sensibilities, these Anabaptist stalwarts advocate a return to a pure and authentic Anabaptist theology, freed from the erosive effect of ideas from other theological traditions. Already in the 1960s, leaders such as John A. Toews, taking their cue from proponents of Harold S. Bender’s Anabaptist Vision, applied its lessons to MBs and rallied around a version of that vision known as the Company of the Committed. 36 Toews dedicated his 1975 book on the history of the Mennonite Brethren “To the ‘Company of the Committed’ in our brotherhood, who with faith and courage under the guidance of the Holy Spirit endeavor to translate the Anabaptist vision of Christian discipleship and community into the work, witness, and life-style of the church in the contemporary world.” 37

This desire to repristinate early Anabaptism saw “outside” influences as necessarily corrosive, as well as unnecessary. Theological problems encountered in the larger evangelical world were completely evitable, as {140} indicated in this remarkable statement from John Howard Yoder, given at a 1969 conference of Mennonite and Mennonite Brethren seminarians:

The current debate all across Protestantism, which the Mennonites have not had the clarity of vision to transcend or heal, between the social and the individual dimensions of Christian experience and expression, is one of the fruits of this disjointed borrowing from contradictory sources where a position arising with greater integrity directly from Anabaptist rootage or from a rereading of the New Testament would have avoided the debate completely. 38

Yoder’s assertion is problematic in several ways, but for the purposes of this article, two observations will suffice. First, the suggestion that it is possible to develop a position “from Anabaptist rootage” rather than from borrowed sources is propaganda not supported by the best evidence. 39 Anabaptist theology neither originated from a pure single source, nor did it fail to borrow from other traditions. Second, Yoder’s presumption of a superior “rereading of the New Testament” assumes the priority of an unspoken hermeneutic. It is not accurate to assume that New Calvinist (or any) theological opponents construct theology without care for Scripture.

Mennonite Brethren must similarly acknowledge the eclecticism that shaped their early theological development. The community that withdrew from the Mennonite establishment in Russia borrowed both from the Lutheran Pietism of Eduard Wuest and also the Calvinist Baptist theology of German leaders such as Johann Gerhard Oncken. The first MB confession of faith cited Reformed Baptist Charles Spurgeon as well as Anabaptist Menno Simons. 40 The founders of the MBs saw themselves as a renewal movement that substantially continued the theology of Menno Simons rather than turning from it, 41 but believed that borrowing from other traditions was nevertheless acceptable. The theological conversation regarding what is authentically Anabaptist must be framed another way.

Borrowing from other theological traditions and engaging in interdenominational cooperation are not new to MBs, nor are fears about where such efforts might lead. Lest MBs think that the specter of militant New Calvinist theology, introduced through borrowing from evangelical Protestantism, is a new one in our denomination, let it be noted that already in 1972, John A. Toews was lamenting that

we have brethren in our midst who have an “inner urge to align ourselves with other groups . . .” They usually look with suspicion upon cooperation in MCC or fellowship in MWC, but have no scruples to identify themselves with pedobaptists and militarists in EFC or NAE. This polarization of views does not only produce tensions within our brotherhood—it destroys our ability to unite for {141} a powerful thrust in a common purpose as evangelical Anabaptists and may eventually lead to a complete disruption in our brotherhood. 42

This statement is so similar to those currently being voiced in the CCMBC that it could almost be repeated verbatim today. It shows that the practice of aligning with groups and traditions from the mainstream of evangelical Protestant Christianity is nothing new, and whether one considers such influences generally helpful or harmful, they have not fractured Canadian MBs in the forty years since this piece was written. It may be that the current New Calvinist flavor of evangelical Christianity influencing MBs may not prove to be harmful to the CCMBC. A productive conversation with this tradition, if it is allowed to happen in a mutually respectful way, may actually enrich our tradition, as others have before.


The influence of New Calvinist theology among Canadian MBs has raised well-founded theological concerns. For example, Canadian MBs wary of a return to fundamentalist spiritualizing of the Christian evangelistic message point out a narrow understanding of gospel among many New Calvinist theologians. This narrowing of the gospel to the verbal proclamation of the cross is epitomized by the fact that the list of “international relief projects” on the Gospel Coalition web site consists entirely of initiatives to translate books written by TGC leaders (in order to address a “theological famine”). 43 But the gospel-centered approach of New Calvinist theology is not entirely negative. Reformed-leaning critics of certain contemporary Anabaptist influences within the MB world critique the disconnection of the message of the atoning work of Christ from Christian mission work, pointing to many enterprises that seem to reduce the gospel to social justice and compromise biblical essentials of the gospel. 44 While such criticisms are sometimes overstated, they are not completely without merit; recent governance changes in MCC, for instance, have served to connect that organization more directly with denominational constituencies as well as bolster a renewed articulation of its orthodox theological foundation.

The polarities defining New Calvinist and Anabaptist theologies need not create division or impede MB efforts at faithful mission. Although there are areas of disagreement, many of these are less substantive and more the product of diverse approaches to theological articulation. Encouraging warm-hearted theological conversations in which the benefit of the doubt is extended to others on the basis of true Christian charity would help to overcome the majority of these problems. MBs have historically valued broad participation in the community hermeneutic that has shaped the denomination, and ought to recall that the dialogue has not always been {142} congenial. So, troubling conversations in the present should not surprise or dismay. Rather, divergent theologies within the MB fellowship can help provide correctives to potential blind spots and facilitate good theological contextualization in a rapidly changing landscape.

Theological voices that challenge accepted theories from within the MB community also bring new perspectives on MB historical influences and theological development that stimulate a reconsideration of how true to the evidence our assumptions about the past actually are. The perspective that being a Reformed Anabaptist is legitimate because of the conversations throughout history between Reformed theology and Anabaptist theology, even if considered to be a tenuous argument, is not one to be rejected out of hand.

Additionally, challenges from outside the community force MBs to rethink theological priorities in a way that can actually deepen our understanding and appreciation of our heritage. John A. Toews clearly had a conversation with evangelical Protestants in mind when he wrote,

In the Anabaptist concept of salvation, faith and following (Glaube und Nachfolge) were inseparably linked. They could not separate the work of the cross from the way of the cross. Somehow they felt that the cross of Christ and the cross of the believer were connected. That was also why they rejected the so-called Satisfaction Theory of the atonement (that Christ fulfilled the moral law for us). 45

Similarly, interaction with other theological traditions and with culture coming from outside Christian circles has created a venue for reviewing the MB theology of peace, peacemaking, and pacifism. Seemingly addressing both Niebuhrian Christian Realists and twentieth-century ideological pacifists, John A. Toews writes,

The Anabaptists were not political pacifists. Their pacifism was limited in scope to the personal life of the Christian and to the corporate life of the church. Their goal was not a warless world but a nonresistant church. They were biblical and historical realists and their pessimistic view of the world and its kingdoms enabled them to escape the pitfalls of a later liberal pacifist movement. Nonresistance was expressed both negatively and positively. 46

If MBs are to avoid the perils outlined by Stephen Dintaman in his landmark article, “The Spiritual Poverty of the Anabaptist Vision,” they will not do so solely on the strength of internal conversations. We are enriched by robust conversations, including those with whom we disagree, and should embrace them.

Mennonite Brethren leaders need to respond to misapprehensions about the ways in which MB theology intersects paradigmatically with {143} other theological systems. MBs would greatly benefit from a reappraisal of the value of systematic theology, and also acknowledge the systematic function of the biblical-theological approach MBs advocate in order to provide a better apologia for MB theology in the wider Christian arena. Our engagement of the issues must not only clarify what we believe, but also challenge assumptions brought to the conversation by ill-informed theological interlocutors. The tension between New Calvinist and Anabaptist theology is not simply evidence of the larger debate between Puritan and Pietist evangelicalisms, 47 though there are similarities. The conversation must move to a deeper level before it will be able to move forward. As well, MB biblicism has been assumed rather than clarified. As a result, the Bible has become contested ground between MB and New Calvinist individuals—among others. MB approaches to Scripture need to be explored and defined if they are to provide clarity rather than simply fuel further debate.

In all of this work, the danger is that the militancy of New Calvinist Christianity will polarize MBs so completely that it will fracture our denomination before a way to reconcile divergent theological convictions can be discerned. Although this is always a possibility, history reminds us that various theological and cultural issues have threatened unity in the past, but were overcome. As a result, I look forward to the future with confidence that the larger unity among Mennonite Brethren will be preserved, and that even where the shape of our evangelical Anabaptist identity changes over time, by God’s grace it will change for the better.


  1. For example, Harry Loewen, “A Case for Studying Our Spiritual History,” MB Herald, 26 May 1978, 32.
  2. Peter M. Hamm, Continuity and Change Among Mennonite Brethren (Waterloo, ON: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 1987).
  3. In this context, I am referring to “evangelical” in the theological sense, as focused on the need for a personal relationship with God in Jesus Christ by faith. Cf. Donald K. McKim, Westminster Dictionary of Theological Terms (Louisville, KY: Westminster-John Knox, 1996), s.v. “Evangelical.”
  4. For example, in a Canadian conference survey done in 2005, 89 percent of respondents agreed with the statement “I am committed to our Evangelical/Anabaptist distinctives.” Only 3 percent disagreed with this statement. Karla Braun, “A Guided Tour of the Currents: How the MB Herald Shaped our Attitudes about Evangelical Anabaptism,” MB Herald, February 2012, 18.
  5. While not a monolithic movement, partisans of New Calvinist theology can generally be identified by the following distinctive commitments contained in the confessional statement on the Gospel Coalition website: belief in the {144} inerrancy of Scripture, penal substitutionary atonement theology as defining the core of the gospel, complementarian gender ordering, and a generally Reformed ordo salutis (though not all New Calvinists are five-point Calvinists). “Confessional Statement,” The Gospel Coalition (TGC) website, accessed October 26, 2013,
  6. Collin Hansen, “Young, Restless, Reformed,” Christianity Today, September 2006,
  7. “Who We Are,” Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, accessed September 13, 2013,,,PTID307086_CHID798774_CIID2382696,00.html.
  8. Michael Clawson, “Young, Restless, and Fundamentalist: Neo-fundamentalism Among American Evangelicals,” Roger E. Olson: My Evangelical Arminian Theological Musings (blog), January 19, 2012,
  9. Churches affiliated with the Gospel Coalition come from several different denominations, not all of which adhere closely to Reformed theology and not all of which agree on various ecclesiological points such as baptism, communion, and church polity. “Church Directory,” TGC website, accessed October 26, 2013,
  10. John Neufeld, interview by Brian Cooper, September 27, 2013.
  11. Tullian Tchividjian, “Contextualization Without Compromise,” Liberate (blog), TGC website, July 12, 2010,
  12. “Theological Vision for Ministry,” TGC website, accessed October 25, 2013,
  13. John Neufeld, interview by Brian Cooper, September 27, 2013.
  14. Several reasons are given for this. Arminian soteriology is sometimes criticized for placing too high an emphasis on human self-determination. Another rationale is that the emphasis on human free will is an affront to the sovereignty of God, and even that it conflicts with orthodox understandings of the theology of biblical inspiration. “This Arminian understanding of the Scriptures, say Calvinists, ‘assumes that the serious intentions of God may in some cases at least be defeated, and that man, who is not only a creature, but a sinful creature, can exercise veto power over the plans of almighty God.’ ” Lorraine Boettner, The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination (Philadelphia, PA: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1932), 33; cited by David Ewert, Finding Our Way: Confronting Issues in the Mennonite Brethren Church (Winnipeg, MB: Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 1999), 8. For more recent characterizations, see Eric Holmberg, “Arminianism: The Root of ‘Christian’ Liberalism?” YouTube, December 3, 2007,

    In mainline denominations from the Reformed tradition, congregations that dissent from longstanding theological formulations such as the Church Order of the Synod of Dort or the Heidelberg Catechism exhibit traditional signs of theological liberalism. Kevin DeYoung, “Doctrinal Unity Is the {145} Foundation for Denominational Unity,” TGC website, September 21, 2012.

  15. “Canada Churches,” TGC website, accessed October 25, 2013,
  16. “Council Members,” TGC website, accessed October 25, 2023,
  17. “Find Churches,” Acts 29 Network, accessed October 25, 2013,
  18. Indeed, the question is sometimes asked whether Christians can be both evangelical and Anabaptist, as though the two are at odds. Evangelical and Anabaptist are seen as in tension rather than complementary. E.g., Greg Harris, “The Doctrines of Revelation and Scripture: A Critical Reflection Paper,” unpublished essay, June 2013, 5.
  19. For example, the ministry of Evangelism Canada, which was largely a Church Growth movement among the Mennonite Brethren. See James Nikkel, “Church Growth Background,” in Evangelism Canada: A Canadian Digest for Church Evangelism and Growth 1, no. 3 (September 1984), 1. This periodical was distributed to MB members with the MB Herald.
  20. “Willow Creek Repents? Why the most influential church in America now says ‘We made a mistake.’ ” Out of Ur, October 18, 2007,
  21. For example, John Neufeld, “Perseverance in the Gospel” (plenary address no. 6, The Gospel Coalition 2012 Canada Conference, May 2012). Audio available at
  22. Stephen F. Dintaman, “The Spiritual Poverty of the Anabaptist Vision,” MB Herald, 5 March 1993, 6.
  23. Article 4 of the current Mennonite Brethren confession states: “Whether in word, deed, thought or attitude, all humans are under the domination of sin and, on their own, are unable to overcome its power.” Confession of Faith: Commentary and Pastoral Application (Winnipeg: Kindred, 2000), 52.
  24. David Ewert, “Preservation of the Believer,” in Finding Our Way: Confronting Issues in the Mennonite Brethren Church (Winnipeg: Centre for Mennonite Brethren Studies, 1999), 19. Note: This paper was given at the first study conference of the General Conference of the Mennonite Brethren Church of North America in Winnipeg, Manitoba, in December, 1956, under the auspices of the Board of Reference and Counsel.
  25. “Board of Faith and Life Women in Ministry Leadership Resolution,” Canadian Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches website, accessed October 25, 2013,
  26. “Confessional Statement,” TGC website, accessed October 30, 2013,
  27. Neufeld, “Perseverance.”
  28. Ibid.
  29. Clawson, “Young, Restless, and Fundamentalist.” {146}
  30. The definition comes from George Marsden and is cited by Clawson in “Young, Restless, and Fundamentalist.”
  31. Millard J. Erickson, Paul Hjoss Helseth, and Justin Taylor, eds., Reclaiming the Center: Confronting Evangelical Accommodation in Postmodern Times (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2004). The title of this book suggests that it was written largely in response to Stanley J. Grenz, Renewing the Center: Evangelical Theology in a Post-theological Era (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2000).
  32. Joel A. Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 33.
  33. Joel B. Green, “Reframing Scripture” (lecture series sponsored by the Canada Research Chair in Interpretation, Religion, and Culture together with the Department of Religious Studies, Trinity Western University, Langley, BC, September 25, 2013).
  34. D. A. Carson and Tim Keller, “Carson and Keller on Jakes and the Elephant Room,” TGC website, February 3, 2012,
  35. One pastor with whom I spoke who has a reputation for being theologically conservative was both surprised and amused when I informed him that he was associated with New Calvinist theology.
  36. This title was taken from that of the book by American Quaker author and theologian Elton Trueblood, The Company of the Committed (New York: Harper & Row, 1961).
  37. John A. Toews, A History of the Mennonite Brethren Church: Pilgrims and Pioneers (Fresno, CA: Board of Christian Literature, General Conference of Mennonite Brethren Churches, 1975), v.
  38. John H. Yoder, “Anabaptist Vision and Mennonite Reality,” in Consultation on Anabaptist Mennonite Theology: Papers Read at the 1969 Aspen Conference, ed. A. J. Klassen (Fresno, CA: Council of Mennonite Seminaries, 1970), 30.
  39. The traditional view of theology arising “from Anabaptist rootage: was defined and characterized by Harold Bender and the so-called Bender school of Anabaptist historiography. Cf. Harold S. Bender, The Anabaptist Vision (Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1944). Reprinted in Global Anabaptist Wiki, s.v. “The Anabaptist Vision (1944),” latest revision July 9, 2012, This school of thought (which included Yoder), now largely superseded by more recent scholarship, held that Anabaptism began with the first believer’s baptisms in Zürich on January 21, 1525, and that later forms of Anabaptism which differed were deviations from true Swiss Anabaptism. It is also seen in the festschrift for Harold Bender, edited by Guy Hershberger, The Recovery of the Anabaptist Vision: A Sixtieth Anniversary Tribute to Harold S. Bender (Scottdale, PA: Herald, 1957). The proclamation of a singular Anabaptist vision sometimes bordered on triumphalism. The watershed article marking the change in Anabaptist historiography, however, was James M. Stayer, Werner O. Packull, and Klaus Deppermann, “From Monogenesis to Polygenesis: The Historical Discussion of Anabaptist Origins,” Mennonite {147} Quarterly Review 49, no. 1 (January 1975): 83–121, which inaugurated a trend toward reading early Anabaptism as so diverse that it scarcely could be called a “movement.” More recent Anabaptist scholarship has moved to a more moderating position on this issue, though; acknowledgment of more balance between the unity and diversity of Anabaptist origins can be seen in more recent works such as Hans-Jürgen Goertz, The Anabaptists (London: Routledge, 1996) and C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology: An Introduction (Kitchener, ON: Pandora Press, 1996). Cf. Brian Cooper, “Human Reason or Reasonable Humanity? Balthasar Hubmaier, Pilgram Marpeck, and Menno Simons and the Catholic Natural Law Tradition,” unpublished PhD thesis, 2006.
  40. Global Anabaptist Wiki, s.v. “Mennonite Brethren Church Confession of Faith (1902),” last modified June 22, 2012,
  41. Regarding doctrine, the Document of Secession from the Mennonite Brethren Church reads: “In the articles, we are in agreement with our dear Menno, according to our convictions from the Holy Scripture.” Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online, s.v. “Document of Secession (Mennonite Brethren Church, 1860),” last modified August 26, 2013,,_1860).
  42. J. A. Toews, “In Search of Identity.” MB Herald, 10 March 1972, 3.
  43. “Relief Projects,” TGC website, accessed October 25, 2013,
  44. For example, see Ron Redekop and the Elders’ Board of Northside Community Church, “An Open Letter to MCC,” MB Herald, 21 June 2002, 4.
  45. John A. Toews, “The Company of the Committed,” MB Herald, 6 November 1981, 4. It should be noted that even where Anabaptists reject the Satisfaction Theory of the atonement (as advanced by Anselm), they do not reject the substitutionary nature of the atonement; the two are not synonymous.
  46. Ibid., 5.
  47. In this context, the Pietist stream of inward-focused, experiential Christianity combined with the more publicly focused orientation of the Puritan tradition to form what we now know as evangelical Christianity, as noted by Mark Noll, The Rise of Evangelicalism: The Age of Edwards, Whitefield and the Wesleys (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 2003), cited by Roger Olson, Reformed and Always Reforming: The Postconservative Approach to Conservative Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2007), 47–48.
Brian Cooper is Associate Dean, Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary Canada (Associated Canadian Theological Schools) and Assistant Professor of Theology, MBBS Canada. He completed a PhD in theology at Wycliffe College in Toronto and has served in various pastoral roles. Brian and his wife Connie have two children.

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