The New Calvinist View of Scripture Part I

The Holy Scripture is the foundation of the Christian’s faith. For a beneficial study of theology,
one must believe that the 66 books of the Bible is the infallible and inerrant Word of God, and
that it is our sole authority of faith and practice (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). Therefore, Christians
ought to have the highest view of Scripture, “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the
righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3)

The New Calvinists purport to hold to a high view of Scripture. John Piper, for example, claims
that New Calvinists have a firm “allegiance to the inerrancy of the Bible.”Josh Buice, another
from the New Calvinist camp, goes even further to state that a person has not embraced the
Reformed faith merely by being Calvinistic in his soteriology, “but because he has embraced
the doctrine of sola Scriptura and is seeking to apply it to every aspect of his faith and
practice.” This is a statement which all Bible-believing Christians can affirm.

However, a closer examination of the representative literature and practices of the New
Calvinists reveal a slippery downgrade in commitment to the Holy Scripture. The three areas of
downgrade are (1) a subjective concept of truth, (2) the support for modern textual criticism
and (3) the use of modern versions and especially the English Standard Version (ESV).

A Subjective Concept of Truth

One recent attack on Christianity comes from the post-modernist movement. Post-modernists
deny that there is such a thing as absolute truth. Reality is purely subjective and created by
individuals. What may be truth to one individual may not be truth to another individual. The
Gospel Coalition (TGC), who have New Calvinists as members and leaders, is one such group
who have attempted to answer this challenge of post-modernism. However, is their response in
line with the Scripture?

A definition of truth is offered in TGC’s Theological Vision of Ministry (TVM),

We affirm that truth is correspondence of life to God. Truth is not only a
theoretical correspondence but also a covenantal relationship. The biblical
revelation is not just to be known, but to be lived (Deut 29:29). The purpose of
the Bible is to produce wisdom in us—a life wholly submitted to God’s reality.
Truth, then, is correspondence between our entire lives and God’s heart,
words and actions, through the mediation of the Word and Spirit. To
eliminate the propositional nature of biblical truth seriously weakens our
ability to hold, defend, and explain the gospel. But to speak of truth only as
propositions weakens our appreciation of the incarnate Son as the Way, the
Truth, and the Life, and the communicative power of narrative and story, and
the importance of truth as living truly in correspondence to God. (TVM 1.3 –
Emphasis editor’s)

The problem with this statement lies in the bold portions. Truth is defined as a correspondence
of life to God. In other words, truth here is defined as “a subjective experience formed by the
sensory interactions of our lives with God, but ultimately rooted in the subject, that is in man
himself. Therefore, truth grows out of experience.” (Cope). In other words, if there is no
experience, there is no truth. Truth is subjective and not objective. This is no different in spirit
from Neo-Orthodoxy which teaches that the Bible only becomes the Word of God when we
receive it. Such a subjective definition of truth allows for post-modernism to creep in rather than
reject it.

What doth the Scripture say concerning the nature of truth.? In John 17:17, Christ Himself
affirms, “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.” See also Psalm 119:142 and 151.
These portions of Scripture do not teach that our interactions with God is the truth. Rather, they
affirm that God’s Word is truth itself. Consider, also the testimony of 2 Timothy 2:13 which
says, “If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself.” The Bible remains
the truth even if we do not believe it to be the truth. The reason for this is that the Bible is truth,
and truth is objective, not subjective.

The nebulous affirmations of the New Calvinists that God’s Word is objective truth, brings to
mind the teachings of an elderly visiting professor for a Daily Vacation Bible College organised
by the Far Eastern Bible College. There was a common saying among the churches in those days
that goes, “God says it. I believe it. That settles it.” Having learnt of that statement, this elderly
professor gently corrected the students. “This is a wrong statement. It should be this – God says
it. That settles it. I believe it.” The professor was right because the first statement allows for a
definition of subjective truth. It is as if everything is settled when one believes in it. However, 2
Timothy 2:13 and John 17:17 teaches us that God’s Word is settled objective truth. Our duty is
to believe in it. However, if we don’t, the Scripture still remains as objective truth.

What then are the implications of the New Calvinist’s view on the subjective nature of truth?
Cole rightly observes, “The most significant impact of TGC’s view is the deconstruction of any
objective meaning communicated through the words of Scripture. And if one thing becomes
immediately clear regarding the foundation documents of TGC, it is this: these men do not
subscribe to the historical, orthodox, and Biblical declarations regarding the Bible as the
inspired, infallible, and inerrant Word of God.”

In summary, the New Calvinists view of Scripture is “God says it. I believe it. That settles it.”
However, the Biblical view is “God says it. That settles it. I believe it.” Which do you believe
in? May it be the latter!

Preaching Must Be Doctrinal

With the growing propensity for itching ears in Christianity comes the demand that preaching
should not be doctrinal. “Give me more illustrations! Give me more applications! But cut down
on the doctrines.” This spirit soon results in a situation where doctrinal preaching is regarded as
meaty and not understandable. What a sad state of affairs for the church!

Once again, we appeal to the Scripture. In his charge to Timothy, Paul declares, “Preach the
word; be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and
doctrine.” (2 Tim. 4:2) Furthermore, Paul commands Titus, “But speak thou the things which
become sound doctrine” (Tit. 2:1). Lastly, we have the example par excellence of Christ. “And
they were astonished at his doctrine: for he taught them as one that had authority, and not as the
scribes.” (Mk. 1:22) Clearly, Jesus’ preaching was doctrinal. Thus, we conclude emphatically
that true and faithful preaching must be doctrinal.

The itching ear may like to hear many illustrations. However, illustrations that are not rooted
with a proper exposition and explanation of the text lacks authority. While it may be pleasing to
the ear, such illustrations are mere declarations of man’s thoughts and opinions, and not
God’s. Applications that are based on these illustrations, and not doctrine have no
firm foundation because they are not formed on Biblical truth. Therefore, beware of
sermons that are full of illustrations but lack faithful exposition of the passage.
For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their
own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears.” (2 Tim. 4:3)
Christians must guard against such a spirit.

This is not to say that illustrations do not have their place. Illustrations are “like
windows letting in light to brighten up.” (Timothy Tow) Similarly, a sermon with no
application is no sermon at all, but mere fireworks with no value. Nevertheless, all
illustrations and applications must be based on good doctrine, or they can lead men
away from the truth.

Lastly, while every sermon preached must be doctrinal, it must also be soaked with
prayer. This is the reason the pastor spends much time in private before the service
begins. “The hour before you go up the pulpit should be spent in meditation,
reviewing, praying and memorising in your closet until the Church bell is about to
ring. This was John Sung’s practice. To stand at the Church Door to greet
parishioners coming in before ascending the pulpit would be dissipating your spirit
and energy to say the least. Trying to please men, you miss pleasing God!” (Timothy

Yours affectionately,
Pastor Clement Chew

“Every sermon with its theme must be derived from a suitable Scripture text, in
as much as beef stew can only be prepared from beef, omelette from egg,
Kopi-O from coffee powder.”
Timothy Tow. The Homiletic Swimming Pool