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New Calvinism, Diversity, and Race: Thoughts on Piper’s Lecture (Matthew Barrett)

I was greatly benefitted by John Piper’s recent lecture at Westminster Theological Seminary for the Richard B. Gaffin Jr. Lecture on Theology. His lecture was titled: “New Calvinism and the New Community.” This lecture deserves a wide hearing for many reasons. But I want to mention just two.

First, I appreciated the historical insight Piper brought to the table. Some today are surprised by the wide diversity within New Calvinism, including everyone from Lecrae to the Gettys, or R. C. Sproul to Francis Chan. Piper points out that this diversity among Reformed-minded folks has always been present. All one has to do is look back at the long list of Calvinists in church history. Piper suggests comparing Augustine and Adoniram Judson, Francis Turretin and John Bunyan, John Calvin and Chapiper-writingrles Spurgeon, John Knox and J. I. Packer, Cotton Mather and R. C. Sproul, Abraham Kuyper and William Carey, Haynes and Dabney, Theodore Beza and James Boice, Isaac Backus and Martin Lloyd-Jones, etc. “If there is such a diversity in the Old,” Piper argues, “then we really cannot find dividing lines between the Old and the New.”

He goes on to say, “The Old is too diverse and the connections between Old and New too organic to claim things that are new in the New that were not present in any aspects in the Old.”  The New is too assorted to claim any “downgrade” or “upgrade” from the Old. History is too complex for “broad brush commendations of one over the other or condemnations of one under the other.” Hence, any “given issue that you try to address you can find periods and persons and movements among the Old that would outshine the New.” Piper concludes, “There is no claim, therefore, in my assessment that the New is better.” From here Piper goes on to give 12 features that define the New Calvinism.

No doubt, some will see such diversity as a negative thing. However, Piper briefly shows that such diversity has been and continues to be a positive thing (though not without certain challenges and failings), for a “Big God” theology and the glory of our sovereign God is infiltrating into parts of the world that were never even imaginable decades ago (e.g., Reformed theology in urban and African American communities).

Second, Piper demonstrates that the doctrines of grace are so very important, especially for how we understand race, ethnicity, and missions. Or to state the matter otherwise, the doctrines of grace destroy racism. The lecture is worth listening to for this point alone, and this point does occupy the bulk of his message. I am once again reminded that while some think the doctrines of grace are secondary and irrelevant, these doctrines are massively practical for everyday life and ministry, as well as our interaction with society as a whole.

Well, enough of me. Listen and watch Piper’s message yourself:

Matthew Barrett (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Assistant Professor of Christian Studies at California Baptist University, as well as the founder and executive editor of Credo Magazine. He is the author and editor of several books, including Salvation by Grace: The Case for Effectual Calling and Regeneration. You can read about Barrett’s other publications at

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