January 22, 2021

Riffs: 06:15:09: Dr. Peter Masters Rips The New Calvinism

puritanRead: The Merger of Calvinism With Worldliness by Peter Masters.

The current reformed and Calvinist revival loves Spurgeon, as well they should. It’s a regular feature of the most influential new-Calvinism web sites and ministries to quote Spurgeon for and against whatever the issue of the week happens to be. Spurgeon’s face is as much a brand logo of the new Calvinism as you will find.

Spurgeon’s church, The Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, is still in business, and that church has a prominent pastor, Dr. Peter Masters, who has a very influential voice for Calvinism across the pond. Dr. Masters isn’t a major voice in America, but many of the Calvinists you like, especially of the Macarthur variety, have been to the Tabernacle and preached at Dr. Master’s conferences.

His newsletter is still The Sword and Trowel, an obvious indicator that it remains the voice of Spurgeon’s kind of Christianity. It is not an exaggeration to say that Dr. Peter Masters sees himself as a successor to Spurgeon’s brand of particular Baptist Calvinism, and he writes and preaches with this responsibility frequently in view. Be careful. I am not saying Dr. Masters claims any of the authority of Spurgeon, but he does not run from representing his views on Biblical Calvinism as in line with the Calvinism and overall theology of Spurgeon.

So, if you will, please take a cold drink, follow the link to Dr. Master’s column on the current condition of American Calvinism, and when you’re done, return to this web site for a few observations.

In short, Dr. Masters calls out the new Calvinists, from A-Z, for compromise and abandonment of true, Biblical Calvinism. It’s the biggest throwdown within the current Calvinistic family I’ve ever read, and I’m stunned that no one- particularly at Challies, Between Two Worlds or Teampyro- has picked this one up. If I’ve missed it, my sincere apologies.

Who gets tagged as a compromiser? Sheesh. Who doesn’t get tagged?

Called out are……everybody. Driscoll. Piper. Mohler. People associated with Macarthur. Mahaney. T4G. Resolved.

Here’s the meat of the piece. (The “book” he references is Colin Hanson’s Young, Restless and Reformed.)

Resolved is the brainchild of a member of Dr John MacArthur’s pastoral staff, gathering thousands of young people annually, and featuring the usual mix of Calvinism and extreme charismatic-style worship. Young people are encouraged to feel the very same sensational nervous impact of loud rhythmic music on the body that they would experience in a large, worldly pop concert, complete with replicated lighting and atmosphere. At the same time they reflect on predestination and election. Worldly culture provides the bodily, emotional feelings, into which Christian thoughts are infused and floated. Biblical sentiments are harnessed to carnal entertainment. (Pictures of this conference on their website betray the totally worldly, show business atmosphere created by the organisers.)

In times of disobedience the Jews of old syncretized by going to the Temple or the synagogue on the sabbath, and to idol temples on weekdays, but the new Calvinism has found a way of uniting spiritually incompatible things at the same time, in the same meeting.

C J Mahaney is a preacher highly applauded in this book. Charismatic in belief and practice, he appears to be wholly accepted by the other big names who feature at the ‘new Calvinist’ conferences, such as John Piper, John MacArthur, Mark Dever, and Al Mohler. Evidently an extremely personable, friendly man, C J Mahaney is the founder of a group of churches blending Calvinism with charismatic ideas, and is reputed to have influenced many Calvinists to throw aside cessationist views.

It was a protégé of this preacher named Joshua Harris who started the New Attitude conference for young people. We learn that when a secular rapper named Curtis Allen was converted, his new-born Christian instinct led him to give up his past life and his singing style. But Pastor Joshua Harris evidently persuaded him not to, so that he could sing for the Lord. New Calvinists do not hesitate to override the instinctual Christian conscience, counselling people to become friends of the world.

One of the mega-churches admired in the book is the six-thousand strong Mars Hill Church at Seattle, founded and pastored by Mark Driscoll, who blends emerging church ideas (that Christians should utilise worldly culture) with Calvinistic theology.

This preacher is also much admired by some reformed men in the UK, but his church has been described (by a sympathiser) as having the most ear-splitting music of any, and he has been rebuked by other preachers for the use of very ‘edgy’ language and gravely improper humour (even on television). He is to be seen in videos preaching in a Jesus teeshirt, symbolising the new compromise with culture, while at the same time propounding Calvinistic teaching. So much for the embracing of Puritan doctrine divested of Puritan lifestyle and worship….

A final sad spectacle reported with enthusiasm in the book is the Together for the Gospel conference, running from 2006. A more adult affair convened by respected Calvinists, this nevertheless brings together cessationists and non-cessationists, traditional and contemporary worship exponents, and while maintaining sound preaching, it conditions all who attend to relax on these controversial matters, and learn to accept every point of view. In other words, the ministry of warning is killed off, so that every error of the new scene may race ahead unchecked. These are tragic days for authentic spiritual faithfulness, worship and piety.

If Masters were in the states, we’d say he’s selling fundamentalism. The call for separationism from anything not independent Baptist and fundamental; the insistence on excluding contemporary music and anything remotely Charismatic; the concern that anyone following the Puritans be…..Puritan in style and message. All of this is recognizable as fundamentalism.

Masters is upfront with his issues: Puritan theology divested of Puritan “lifestyle.” No compromise with the world means putting a host of issues, like dress and charismatic worship, into the category of essential matters.

Does the critque of someone like Peter Masters matter to American Calvinists? Probably not very much to the Young, Restless and Reformed who are listening to Piper at Resolved right now as I am typing. But Masters is raising the issue of the shape of true reformation, an issue that the eclectic, cafeteria-style new Calvinists would like to avoid.

It’s not just the issues that separate mainstream Calvinists from people in a bunker in Wyoming. It’s the issues that separate the OPC and the PCA; the issues that differentiates Mark Driscoll from Mark Dever; the issues that cause John Macarthur and John Piper to have such radically different views of Mark Driscoll.

Masters wants to be representing the “old line” of English Calvinism that culminated in Spurgeon and led to a resurgence of Calvinism in Britain under Lloyd-Jones and Banner of Truth. Instead, he comes off advocating a kind of “Calvinistic bunker;” trying to avoid any contact between the Christian and the culture.

In his day, Spurgeon had a great deal in common with Mark Driscoll. His popularity was of the superstar variety. His language was often described as “racy,” with no implication of profanity, but with a good deal of shock on the part of the religious establishment. Spurgeon’s preaching style took him out of the church and into public venues, where he became one of the few preachers to ever have someone in his audience trampled to death by a panicked crowd. Hyper-Calvinists and traditionalists found Spurgeon to be a dangerous innovator. Spurgeon might have identified more with Masters than with Driscoll, but the younger Spurgeon would have understood Driscoll.

In the future, don’t be surprised if a significant number of the young reformed follow the interpretations and style of men like Peter Masters back into the ghetto reformed theology sometimes seems to prefer, and don’t be surprised if some of today’s reformed heroes lose some of their luster in these kinds of contentions.

Reformed Christianity’s uneasy relationship with fundamentalism has been going on for a long time. At times, the reformed and their fundamentalist cousins are on the same page, but other times they couldn’t be more different. One doesn’t have to look far to find major league reformed blogs that flirt with fundamentalism one moment, then repudiate fundamentalism the next. Is it possible to detect a bit of frustration on Masters’ part toward men who he has judged as “with him” at one time, but who now seem far too tolerant of the other team.

The association of some Calvinists with fundamentalist ideas about culture and separation is nothing new, but a call-out from someone as prominent as Peter Masters is. It will be interesting to see if any of the leaders of the “new Calvinism” respond to Masters’ case.

For myself, I appreciate Dr. Masters’ zeal for a Christian community that reflects the totality of his own theological commitments. This is one of the great strengths of fundamentalism. Unfortunately, this community is not Jesus-shaped, but shaped into the image of a history of pure reformed practice. Once again, we see the tortured quest for the true church, this time identified as those who have renounced teeshirts and loud worship bands.

Those who fall into the center or the boundaries of the “truly reformed” are nervous that others are engaging culture with Christ and the Gospel rather than with the ideal of a pure, separated reformation. When Christ engages culture, there is a separation- a separation of what is essential to the Gospel from what may be engaged, appreciated and used within culture. There is a quest to put the Kingdom above any form of the church in culture and history, a quest that is never completed, but which is seen in the kinds of ecumenical Calvinism many have come to appreciate.

The question of faithfulness to the Gospel, scripture and the example of a faithful church is always relevant and needed. But not every answer is equally faithful to Jesus himself. Would Jesus stand apart from Christians with bands, tee shirts and Charismatic friends, and stand with those who confess the Puritans as model Christians? I do not think so. They would not matter as much to him as they do to some advocates of relevancy, and they would not offend him like they do Dr. Masters.

A Jesus shaped spirituality has to make these choices and live with the results. Following Jesus doesn’t take us into the bunker or make us so much like the world Christ cannot be seen. But our distinctiveness isn’t “the Puritan Lifestyle.” It’s the Gospel and the Christ-centered life it produces.


  1. Ron,
    I’m more bothered that a guy who only knows that I read IM would think its all good and proper to go telling me what’s wise and unwise. If I confessed I enjoy using women’s bathrooms to use the rest room you wouldn’t know if that were an issue, or as normal as what every other woman in the world does when she’s in public.

    You want to discuss my personal habits? Then get to be part of my life. Be my Paul, Timothy, Silas or Phoebe, but don’t be Dr. Masters lecturing large groups of Christians he’s never met about things he knows very little about.

    And that’s probably why you see so many people having so many issues when an article like this is posted. Dr. Masters has no love for any of the people he’s talking to. All he can do is make sweeping generalizations about eating meat and so everyone who he’s never met, and never loved who enjoys meat are going to blow him off as a blow hard fundamentalist who abuses the scriptures.

  2. T, once again it’s the over-reaction that perplexes me. When did I make a sweeping generalization? I’m not supporting Masters. I originally asked if the worldliness question holds any water. It’s as though how dare anyone ever make an observation.

    Here’s the deal, people broadcast all sorts of things these days about their personal life, and then if they are questioned they become indignant. How strange. By your example I could assume you are a man (otherwise why state you enjoy women’s bathrooms), that you you use women’s restrooms, and then I am to what? Ignore it because I don’t know you, and that it’s your freedom?

    And I do know it’s all about our hearts, but within that framework we should be able to discuss whether or not we’re missing something.

  3. personally I think John MacArthurs church has gone liberal

    “Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing;…” II Cor. 6:17

  4. Martha,

    I like John Rutter’s Carols, but we don’t get over dosed with them over here. And I don’t overdose myself with the CD. If anything, at Christmas, I over do Johnny Cash.

    But, we do agree on two things, Thomas Kikcade and Arvo Parte.

  5. Anna A, I do think a lot of this is down to personal taste. Now, there is a point about the worldliness, but on the other hand, if you’re someone who breaks out in hives when you hear young people’s music played way too loud, it’s easy to conflate “This is bugging the heck out of me because I don’t like the sound of this stuff” with “I don’t like the sound of this stuff because it’s not God’s way!”

    For instance, I have heard that some places use jazzy-style music in worship. My opinion on that option would be that arson is not such a bad thing sometimes 🙂

    But if people can get good out of it, good luck to them. You do have to question why you’re doing a certain thing (is this really going to work, or are we just trying to be trendy?) but yes – bad, syrupy 19th century hymns on reedy harmoniums are no better than blasting the congregation out of it with “Jesus Is My Homeboy” at jet-engine decibel levels.

  6. Perhaps if worldliness were defined in a way other than “that’s what they do” such questions wouldn’t be viewed with contempt.

  7. Perhaps if people weren’t so immune to the idea that worldiness exists they wouldn’t react with contempt when reasonable questions are asked.

  8. I doubt you’ll find many people who deny worldliness exists, the problem is so many people have turned their personal likes into holiness and their personal dislikes into worldliness ala Dr. Masters. All that text spent excoriating t-shirts, and not a line spared for the accumulation of power and wealth for personal use which is the truly, explicitly Biblically defined definition of worldliness.

    Pouring contempt on non-Biblical ideals presented as Biblical is more virtue than vice.

  9. Maybe Dr Masters can get on the staff at Slice.

  10. T, no doubt love of money is a great corrupter – you and I would agree on that topic. That being said, there is often a lurking pride in those who condemn the money maker. I’ve seen plenty of it. Trust me, I loathe the prosperity gospel, and the idea that success in this life hinges on accumulation of wealth, but within the ranks I sometimes sense a juvenile approach to freedom and false accusations against people who are wealthy, do cherish the gospel and seek to not be of the world.

    We should be open to questions. Rants against t-shirts without tempering the message against greater sins, and indignation against fair questions are both anti-gospel.

  11. We should be able to discuss with each other how we spend our time, and engage in thoughtful, humble discussions. Not every recorded sound should be shrugged at and left to each individual to discern. Some of it is vile, and if we refuse to consider the possibility, well, I personally don’t want to be part of a group that is that intellectually dense.

    I absolutely agree that we should be able to discuss these things with eachother, but too often these discussions turn into one side emotionally beating up the other side when ultimately maybe we should let the Holy Spirit deal with each individual heart. In the Society of Friends each yearly meeting has a Book of Discipline. I can’t speak for each yearly meeting, but in the Ohio Yearly an advice is read at the close of every meeting and every month we answer a querie.

    This is the Fifth Advice:

    5. Be on your guard, dear Friends, lest the love of pleasure take too strong a hold upon you. Choose such recreations as are pure and healthful. Let them be in harmony with your service to God and man; and in that service be ready at any time to lay them aside when called upon.

    That one once motivated me to get Showtime taken off my television. A lot of people in the meeting don’t even own televisions. But, notice it doesn’t make references to specific things like the music we listen to, t.v. shows, or anything – it just puts it out there and then lets us search our own conscience and the Holy Spirit to deal with us.

  12. *…which often find their genesis in the debauched paganism of ancient Egypt.*

    1.) Citation needed.

    2.) Remember what I said about the suspiciousness of the opprobrium being heaped on music by brown people?

    *There is a species of music, in many genres and all over the world, that encourages the listener to let go of “baggage”, to leave ones care’s and inhibitions at the door, to “let loose”, to let oneself be absorbed into the collective experience, to tap into the raw subconscious.*

    Yes. A species called “good” or “fun” music.

    You can keep your constipated, bleached-out, Wonder Bre[a]d parlor tunes. I’ll be over here with the ethnic sorts and medieval people and yeah, the technovikings actually, y’know, *enjoying myself*.

  13. Ooh and while we’re on the topic of unholy music, check out the music video I made of my trip to Japan.

  14. *…debauched paganism of ancient Egypt.*

    I can never get my fill of debunking this one: Pretty much our sole source for the “debauchery” of the religions of ancient Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Phoenicia, etc. is Herodotus, whom most now regard as an unreliable narrator at best. There’s the pragmatic criticism that there’s very little evidence he personally ever left Greece.

    And then there’s a number of other things that don’t line up at all. For example, the supposed carnality of Baal worship: Given that the Canaanites had pretty much the same holiness/cleanliness code as the Hebrews*, wouldn’t that have meant that all the people who had just enjoyed a vigorous evening of drinking and group sex in front of the idol would then have to be put to death by stoning? Odd, wouldn’t that be?

    Oh and that burning-babies-alive-in-bronze-bull- furnaces Christians never tire of quoting to me? Very striking image. And, correspondingly, very little evidence it ever occurred. Given the neonatal death rates in the Iron Age, you’d think the Phoenicians wouldn’t have that many babies to spare. But, y’know, never let facts get in the way of a good talking point.

    *Almost as if <a href=”http://www.amazon.com/Were-Early-Israelites-Where-They/dp/0802844162″*they were pretty much the exact same people*, huh?

  15. A large proportion of these comments are mere caricatures. For example, although McArthur and Masters have different stances on worship, they agree (in their writings) on many principles of worship. Driscoll a new Spurgeon?! Just because two men caused controversy does not mean they both had similar views! SSSSHHHH

  16. Londoner says

    Hi guys,

    Like Jon Barlett, I live about 10 miles from the Metropolitan Tabernacle.

    Joachim wrote, “When I was in London recently I visited Spurgeon’s College and there I got the impression that Dr Peter Masters was considered rather extreme and that Metropolitan Tabernacle almost was a sect, very isolated from other churches at least in London.”

    I agree with that observation. Spurgeon’s college is closely linked to the Baptist Union, our main Baptist association, and is very much part of the evangelical mainstream. I’m not connected to it, but knew the principle when he was a pastor. It has an excellent reputation. Jonathan Hunt’s claim that it is liberal would be laughed at by virtual every British evangelical christian.

    Masters and his church are independent, not part of the Baptist Union, which I’m sure they see as compromised. His church isn’t really an Independent Fundamental Baptist (that term isn’t used in the UK), but they are very much in the separatist camp.

    I mention his status simply because, like it or not, there is a diversity of opinion within the evangelical world, and the vast majority of Christians do not share the particular approach that Masters takes. He represents a tiny minority of British christians, and most churchgoers over here will not have heard of him or know what he’s written. I wasn’t aware that his article had produced such a big response – and it is telling that it’s all come from the US.

    To put this piece into context, Masters has produced a number of books and articles over the years on worship, which invariably attack contemporary worship music. He obviously has a hang-up about it, and this polemic is the latest in a long line of rants. His basic premise seems to be that contemporary music is inherently “profane” (his term) and therefore unsuitable for worship. He also takes a cessationist (non-charismatic) approach.

    I disagree with him on both these counts, but that’s not to say that I approve of all contemporary worship music, nor do I agree with many aspects of the charismatic movement. But Masters’ approach is to create stereotypes and reduce shades of grey to black and white. His analysis is woefully simplistic and it lacks credibility.

    Just on the subject of music, when singing a hymn in church last week (my church uses mostly contemporary music with typically one traditional hymn each service), I had a minor revelation. I realised (for the first time in 25 years – I’m a bit slow here) that it’s wrong to deny that hymns played on an organ create an atmosphere and provide an emotional experience. Yes, it’s a different atmosphere and experience to contemporary worship music, but an atmosphere and experience it still is. In other words, it is wrong to argue that contemporary worship music gives a “sensational nervous impact” but traditional hymns do not. That is simply not true, and all music has an emotional effect. In my view there is nothing about contemporary music to render it inherently unsuited to worship. That’s not to say I adopt an “anything goes” approach, nor do I think we should model our services on a concert, as Hillsong does.

    But, in the Masters worldview, even the contemporary hymns of Townend and Getty are thrown out because of their style (guitars, keyboards, and drums are unacceptable) and the beliefs and associations of the authors (Townend is a charismatic). The sound theology and well-crafted music/lyrics aren’t even considered.

    Here in the UK, one of the long-term influences on the church has been the Billy Graham missions from the 1950s and 1960s. Tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of people became Christians at these events. The cascade effects from this have been significant with even greater numbers reached or inspired to spread the gospel. But, of course, the likes of Masters didn’t support Billy Graham because he doesn’t fit their theology. Sorry, but I have no time for such arrogance. What matters in eternity? Protecting a doctrine or bringing people to Jesus?

    To bring this back to the subject in question, I’m not from the reformed camp so don’t share the distinctives of those that Masters condemns. But I recognise that the “New Calvinists” are sincere and devoted Christians, and I think their faith and passion should be celebrated, not bashed. As a charismatic, I’m pleased that some are questioning cessationism, and I hope that their desire for truth keeps them away from the deception that sadly is found in many charismatic and pentecostal circles. As far as styles of music and dress go, they’re non-issues.

    Just to finish, one of the things that particularly concerns me about people like Masters is their reference points. His writing constantly mentions Calvinism, the Puritans, and the Reformation. It’s as if these movements are idolised. Rather, we should be studying the Bible and applying its message afresh to each generation, rather than trying to perpetuate the past.

  17. Londoner says


    Can you fix a couple of typos in the fourth paragraph, which should read:

    I agree with that observation. Spurgeon’s college is closely linked to the Baptist Union, our main Baptist association, and is very much part of the evangelical mainstream. I’m not connected to it, but knew the principal when he was a pastor. It has an excellent reputation. Jonathan Hunt’s claim that it is liberal would be laughed at by virtually every British evangelical christian.

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