Paul M. Dohse, Sr. The Truth About New Calvinism: Its History, Doctrine, and Character, Vol. 1. Xenia, Ohio: TANC Publishing, 2011. 146 pp. Spiral-bound. $14.95
Ready or not, “new” Calvinism is spreading like wildfire, likely to a church near you. What may have had small beginnings has now blossomed into a movement complete with conferences (T4G) and a book about its beginnings (Young, Restless, and Reformed, by Colin Hansen).
As one who is a self-identified “Old Calvinist,” I have an interest in this movement, especially as it has castigated its theological forebearers in ways that I believe violate the 9th commandment. So when I saw that a gentleman had taken it upon himself to write a work about the “New Calvinists,” I thought it would be wise to purchase a copy and see what he had to say. After reading the work, I thought it would be even wiser to publish a review here at Southern Reformation, since reading this book left me with a good bit to say. In fact, there was enough information in this book to make it necessary to publish my review in three parts.
Since were going to publish this review in three parts, let me begin by saying that one thing that is clear from reading Mr. Dohse’s work The Truth About New Calvinism (hereafter TANC) is that he is concerned that there are those within the “New Calvinist” camp that are bent towards antinomianism. A goodly portion of the book is a sustained polemic against the perceived antinomianism of Michael Horton, David Powlinson, and Paul David Tripp, amongst others.
This perceived antinomian tendency, particularly in Dr. Horton’s work at The White Horse Inn and Modern Reformation, has not been overlooked by his fellow Reformed and Presbyterian theologians. On the one hand, it’s fairly easy to fling the accusation of antinomianism at him because he has focused so much on the Law/Gospel distinction, which belongs to the first use of the law. Historically, Reformed theologians have spoken of three uses of the moral law:
- The first use is the law’s evangelical use in exposing sin and driving the sinner to Christ.
- The second use is the law’s civil use as a restraint to the wicked and a rewarder of the good.
- The third use of the law is its didactic use in teaching the regenerate what a good work is, and acting as a rule of life for the believer, as he receives the law at the hands of Christ. (For more on this use of the moral law, I highly recommend reading The Marrow of Modern Divinity.)
Dr. Horton has regularly left himself open to the charge of antinomianism by neglecting the third use of the law in his White Horse Inn broadcasts and emphasizing the Law/Gospel distinction so strongly.
On the other hand, actually proving that Dr. Horton is an antinomian is far more difficult. He subscribes the Westminster Standards (as a professor at Westminster Seminary, California) and also subscribes the Three Forms of Unity (as a minister in the United Reformed Churches of North America), and he has yet to be charged with deviating from those subordinate standards by any church body. And let’s be clear: antinomianism would be a massive deviation from both, and would rise to the level of being chargeable offenses.
I should say that I’m sympathetic to Mr. Dohse at this point; I also think that antinomianism is a very real danger facing the church. However, while I am sympathetic, I also am unconvinced that Dr. Horton is actually an antinomian. I certainly don’t think that he’s helped himself avoid the charge, but I regard such an accusation as still needing to be proved.
I think one of the most commendable features of this work is its concern with antinomianism. That being said, I also think there is much in this book that is absolutely condemnable, and it is to those portions that we must turn next.