The New Romanism of New Calvinism

Having to periodically engage with New Calvinists, as unpleasant as that is, it does foist enlightenment as to their fundamental ethos. And this realization, or rather the fullness of this realization fills me with alarm, despair, and trepidation for the souls of their congregation.

I am currently reading Matt Chandler’s “The Mingling of Souls,” which as Chandler himself admits, is highly adapted from the 1991 sermons by Tommy Nelson on the Song of Solomon. I have listened to a few of Nelson’s sermons myself, and they have worth. However, as I recollect, Nelson is too coy and even too esoterically Christianese in an era, which has suffered such a dramatic decline of the mind and culture. (The only historical equivalent that comes to mind is the period from the death of Marcus Aurelius (180 AD) to that of the assassination of Severus Alexander (235 AD), after which began the Roman Empire’s Crisis of the Third Century, with one military overlord after another jostling for the Purple.)

Furthermore, the formal six point pattern that Nelson contrives bumps up against what many Puritans considered to be the most romantic couple of Scriptures; that being Isaac and Rebekeh.

Now Isaac had returned from Beer-lahai-roi and was dwelling in the Negeb. And Isaac went out to meditate in the field toward evening. And he lifted up his eyes and saw, and behold, there were camels coming. And Rebekah lifted up her eyes, and when she saw Isaac, she dismounted from the camel and said to the servant, “Who is that man, walking in the field to meet us?” The servant said, “It is my master.” So she took her veil and covered herself. And the servant told Isaac all the things that he had done. Then Isaac brought her into the tent of Sarah his mother and took Rebekah, and she became his wife, and he loved her. So Isaac was comforted after his mother’s death. (Gen 24:62–7)

Whether or not true, the God of Scriptures appear more flexible than these anthropogenic six-point plans. But to his credit, Chandler is open and frank about sexuality without devolving into the vulgarities for which Mark Driscoll is notorious. And in a conservative religious subculture, it cannot be understated how necessary and profitable it is to preach psychic liberation regarding sexuality. I had read the LaHaye’s “The Act of Marriage” in the mid-1980s. I knew that what they said was largely true; that is in my head I knew. But I could not bring my heart to fully and sustainably embrace the goodness and fullness of sex until a quarter century later; which thereupon led to a period of grieving for all the lost years. In this, a timid church proved worthless.

However, contained within that book, which on the whole, is better than most Christianese offerings concerning sex and marriage, was a few pages which have coalesced in my mind concerning the underlying philosophical attitude in New Calvinism, against which I have been compelled to remonstrate.

Submission to Authority

Is there any arguing that in our world there is an abominably low view of authority and submission? Modern society, which actually relies on the dynamic of authority and submission to survive, seems so often emotionally allergic to it![1]

There we go. There is that male propensity and Apollonian concern for ordered control and security through legal authority and hierarchy. Historical literacy and full acknowledgement of the Nuremberg psycho-social trauma to succeeding generations would appreciate the present aversion to the ordered hierarchical mindset. And it is amazing how un-American this New Calvinist ethos is.

And how ungodly! For while God is a God of order and peace (1 Cor 14:33), His kingdom is not founded upon power and legal authority, but upon righteousness and justice, elements of moral authority (Ps. 97:2, 89:14). God, in His wisdom, does not require our submission and obedience merely because He is omnipotent and legal Sovereign of the cosmos. He has chosen to require our faith and faithfulness because He is good-willed and wise, and in manner scrutable. This is a large and deep discourse, which is largely beyond the scope of this blog entry. However, when a Christian stream emphasizes submission and obedience, rather than faith and faithfulness, that stream betrays an ancient Roman ethos and ethic, not a Hebrew one.

So we have to ask, as we consider a member of the opposite sex for romantic relationship, what is his reputation as it pertains to authority and submission? Is she in glad submission to any authorities over her? Has he placed himself under the authority of a local church? Is she in covenant with other church members? Does he submit to his pastors? How does she treat older men and women? A man who cannot gladly submit to his leaders likely cannot be expected to exercise a humble authority in his home. A woman who rebels against leadership cannot be expected to practice honorable submission in her home.[2]

But herein is the alarming and salvifically dangerous disposition and maxim. Under New Calvinist thought, this submission and obedience is due to men through which, according to their ecclesiastical theory, God supposedly acts. It is as if the temple veil had never been rent, a specialized priesthood not effectively abolished, and the New Covenant never been given.

I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. (Hebrews 8:10–1)

New Calvinism becomes the very Romanism that the 16th Century Protestant Reformers remonstrated against, except in Evangelical form. Chandler notes that “Authority is not bad; abuse of authority is bad.” But the problem becomes, in an elder-led church, who defines when authority is abused? Hereby, this the potential wolf becomes judge and jury of his virtue; the potential fool, the judge and jury of his wisdom; and the potential imbecile, the judge and jury of his knowledge and orthodoxy.

Such elder-led churches may lay claim to being sola scriptura led. However, that sola scriptura, according to them, is to be defined by the Magisterium of the Spirit as it flows through the elders, rather than as a direct guidance to all Christians.

However, this is not biblical. It presumes that the specialized eldership is and always will be virtuous, let alone knowledgeable, orthodox, and wise; a lark of an expectation to any person who peruses Christian history without tinted spectacles. Enduring and accumulating heterodoxy and heresy almost always emanates from the ecclesiastical hierarchy, not from the grunts on the pew Rom 1:22–3. That is not to say that heterodoxy and heresy does not emanate from the grunts. However, in not having the cred or credentials, such heresy does not endure unless and until some seminarian also adopts it. And history has occasioned multiple times when an existing priesthood was justly pulled to the carpet.

♦                    ♦                    ♦

The philosophy of antiauthority is so pervasive.[3]

I come by my skepticism against elder-led authority quite honestly and understandably. The first church that my parents sent me to was Presbyterian, which at that time, combined the worse elements of Tradition with the worse elements of liberal Higher Criticism. After my conversion in a Baptist camp at 12, I was thereupon being taught that the first eleven chapters of Genesis were mythological and allegorical, that four or five Moses were hugging a campfire in order to add their two shekels worth of script to the Torah, each in and out of turn. You can get my drift.

In an elder-led mindset, upon what criteria could I, especially as a relatively ignorant twelve year old, reject such teachings if they were insisted upon me? And if that criteria can justify rejection in that church, why can that criteria not also be applied against a supposedly more orthodox one?

I have suffered a Bunyanesque odyssey and psychosis in my life. And I had come to a conclusion as to the proper way to over it, buttressed by counsel by Jonathan Edwards in an obscure letter to a Scottish divine. However, in a tempest, one is especially frightened of making false leaps. And I did not know the Christian pedigree of Edwards at the time. But I had some local seminarian, who was and still probably is, the wisest of pastors and preachers in that locality, tell me in his most kindly but supremely confident voice, that I was sadly mistaken.

I did not actually believe the preacher. But it caused sufficient doubt. And in this particular situation, I needed to maintain a strong and steadfast faith in the proper counsel in order to overcome. And this psychic hell, that I was suffering, was prolonged by two plus years. My reaction to that seminarian would be the equivalent of a woman being counseled to accept being gang raped by her husband and his brothers.  So. I come by my skepticism against elder-led authority quite honestly and understandably. But I am also in perpetual concern about going off the heretical deep-end, because I have no real peers that I can trust.

♦                    ♦                    ♦

The intrinsic salvific threat lies in this. In trusting the elder, or an oligarchy of elders, over the plain rendering of the Scriptures, one shows one’s trust to be ultimately, not on Christ and His counsel, but upon self-appointed priestly mediators. Pastors and elders should be handmaiden helps in understanding the Word of God. But these elders in these New Calvinist churches have effectively made themselves into the canonical Mistresses of the Magisterial Manor, blasphemously usurping the rightful role of the Spirit.

And here is where this The Journey Church scandal, or the varied travesties experienced at the so-called Vertical Church of James MacDonald (Harvest Bible Chapel), or the Mark Driscoll (Mars Hill) affair, or last year’s scandal at The Village Church of Matt Chandler, or the other scandals in other New Calvinist churches, all make sense.

There is a systemic theological failure in their understanding of complementarianism, in their ecclesiology, and ultimately in their Roman submission/obedience paradigm and ethos. But that very same theology makes these elders incorrigibly immune to repentance and reform, no matter how many times God hits them over the head by allowing their theology to naturally result in travesty, scandal, and public disgrace.


[1] Matt Chandler, The Mingling of Souls, Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 1995, p. 36.

[2] Ibid., p. 38.

[3] Ibid., p. 37.

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