Neo-Calvinism: A Theological Introduction by Cory C. Brock and N. Gray Sutanto (published by Lexham Academic) has been one of the most anticipated theological books of 2023. I pre-ordered mine in July of 2022 and it has not disappointed. In fact, it has far exceeded my lofty expectations. The book is well crafted and the pages will absorb heavy highlighting. It has a beautiful green hardcover with gold indented lettering and design.
What is Neo-Calvinism
Interest in Neo-Calvinism has awakened in recent years due to the publications of Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics, The Wonderful Works of God, and Dr. James Eglinton’s Bavinck: A Critical Biography. Herman Bavinck, and his mentor, Abraham Kuyper, are known as the chief architects of Neo-Calvinism.
There are so many mis-caricatures of Neo-Calvinism floating around on the internet and social media. I was curious if it was synonymous with Rushdoony or the Christian Reconstruction movement. I found this book to refreshingly affirm Neo-Calvinism is not synonymous with Transformationalism, Theonomy or Christian Nationalism.
Whereas classical Calvinism focused on individual predestination and unconditional election; Neo-Calvinism maintains these beliefs but also has a holistic worldview: the absolute sovereignty of God, the unity of humanity as God’s image bearers, the radicality of sin, the retraining power of common grace, the church’s mission to engage in every sphere of life, and the kingdom of God as a kingdom of renewal.
Grace restores nature is the key theme of Neo-Calvinism. God in his grace doesn’t abandon his creation, but restores it. Recreation is creation’s original purpose: that God would make his dwelling place with humanity in Christ. Eschatology truly precedes soteriology. Most importantly, our efforts do not bring about the eschaton, but it is something brought about by divine power alone when Christ returns.
Neo-Calvinism seeks to take Reformed confessional theology and make it modern, meaning it desires to articulate it to our current age. It is not content to remain a relic of the 16th century. This is what makes it catholic. Neo-Calvinism values the past, it’s committed to Reformed orthodoxy, but it presses on to bring Christianity into the present with an eye to the future. Since Neo-Calvinism views Christianity as an organic leavening agent, it can fit in to any culture and will have positive implications for the family, ethics, politics, art, science, and other contemporary issues.
This book is organized in the same way Bavinck organized his Reformed Dogmatics: Prolegomena, Creation, Salvation, and Ecclesiology. It includes chapters on Calvinism and Neo-Calvinism, Catholic and Modern, Revelation and Reason, Scripture and Organism, Creation and Re-creation, Image and Fall, Common Grace and the Gospel, the Church and the World, and—what I valued the most—16 Theses on Neo-Calvinism. I don’t want to give them all away, but here are 5 that explain what Neo-Calvinism is and what its goal are:
- Neo-Calvinism rejects theological conservatism and progressivism. Instead it applies historical creedal and confessional theology to the concerns of the contemporary world (Theses 3).
- By the Spirit’s work in common grace, God, restrains sin and gifts fallen humanity with moral, epistemic, and life-giving goods to enjoy, for the sake of redemption in Christ (Theses 9).
- Humans are wise to pursue a Christian worldview: Christian theology should discipline the insights of both philosophy in the various sciences and Christian should conform their whole selves to the lordship of Christ (Theses 13).
- Re-creation’s end is brought about by divine agency alone and brings creation to its original goal: that God would make his dwelling place with humankind, in a consummated and sanctified cosmos (Theses 14).
- The visible church exists as institute and organism: as an institute to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments, and as an organism of individuals bound together by the Spirit to witness to new creation (Theses 16).
The most important question a book review should answer is whether you should buy this book? My answer is an emphatic YES! Especially if you have already enjoyed the works of Herman Bavinck. As Gray Sutanto has said, you can’t like Herman Bavinck and hate Neo-Calvinism!
The authors have done an excellent job of taking what could be perceived as a mere academic work and making it digestible for the common Calvinist. I can truly envision 21st and 22nd century Neo-Calvinists looking back on this book and seeing it had a similar historical impact that Abraham Kuyper’s “Lectures on Calvinism” had on 20th century Calvinism.