Our friend Joe Carter posted this week a very interesting and helpful piece on the Gospel Coalition blog explaining the difference between Neo-Calvinists (also known as Neo-puritans) and NeoCalvinists. It's inside baseball for sure, but as I've mentioned previously, a little intramural baseball can be helpful. It can help clarify logical weaknesses and strengths of different approaches to faith and public life. This, in turn, can either bridge seemingly insurmountable differences or show clearly the distance that remains between two positions.
First, for those who are scratching their heads about what, other than a small hyphen, separates the two schools, let me quote my colleague Ray Pennings, who is in turn quoted by Joe Carter:
. . . while both movements affirm similar truths and appeal to the same sources regarding the application of the entire range of biblical data in the contemporary context, neopuritanism is slanted more towards individual piety and churchly revival, and neocalvinism is slanted more towards corporate activism and cultural renewal.
These differences are quite apparent in an article on racial reconciliation published by Comment two weeks ago. Mark Mulder, a professor at the neocalvinist institution Calvin College, criticizes a book by John Piper—a leading Neopuritan voice—for being pious at the price of forgetting the structural character of racism:
[Piper] argues that the answer to racism "is not government help or self-help, but the gospel of Jesus Christ" and that "what is needed is a miracle." In essence, Piper asserts that conversion to Christianity is the only hope for the race problem. Such an attitude demonstrates an extreme obliviousness to the insidious nature of modern racism.
The difference in emphasis is between the renewal of hearts and the renewal of structures; conversion of hearts vs. the conversion of culture.
This, of course, is a false dichotomy. Neopuritans can afford to be more like Neocalvinists, and vice-versa. There can be no true conversion of culture without the conversion of hearts. We can work all we want on creating more just economic structures, more just political structures, more just relations between races, but without hearts willing to exhibit love, these changes will either fail, or will exist as the products of coercion. And even the most staunch Neocalvinists recognize that this is not the way it is meant to be. As Alissa and I note in our editorial for last fall's print edition of Comment, the good society—the just society—has its loves in order.
Likewise, those who are converted, but fail to show that love in the various structures and institutions in which they find themselves, must admit that their conversion is incomplete. To suggest otherwise is to profoundly misunderstand how the Lord made us.
Structural change is about love; it requires people whose hearts have been changed by love. And love must be shown in action in the places we were made to act.
Can there be a Neopuritan and Neocalvinist dialogue? We need more than a dialogue, we need a marriage!