But as I read more of their story, often in their own words, I'm struck most of all by their indefatigable pursuit of credibility—whether credibility in the academic sphere or in the public square. They believed that they needed better scholarship to win a hearing from apostate academics, and better cultural engagement to win a hearing from unbelieving society. I can't get past an irony I sense—that many of them understood themselves to be textbook Calvinists. I don't mean mischaracterize them, but their strategies seem to imply that unconditional election and irresistible grace needed a little turbo boost.
Today's Neo-Calvinists seem to be cut from much the same cloth. Granted, they don't have the same optimism for the mainline denominations. In large part, they're non-denominational—often detached from and pessimistic towards denominations, whether liberal or conservative. And they're not particularly interested in academic credibility.
What they do share in common with the old Neo-Evangelicals is a commitment to cultural engagement. They call it a missional mindset, or a missional life. To many, "missional" means not just a life committed to proclaiming the gospel, but meeting the needs of society in a way that demands a hearing for the gospel and enhances its credibility. Ultimately, this all cultivates a transformed or "redeemed" culture.
I'm sure I'm oversimplifying, and I'm not suggesting that acts of mercy are the pathway to gospel compromise. I'm simply arguing here that we should see a crucial point of continuity between two prominent movements in two different generations. Darryl Hart's concerns expressed in this essay aren't exactly identical to my point, but I think they're relevant:
I have said many times that the prefix “neo” is more important for understanding neo-Calvinism than the noun. But the more I read neo-Calvinists, I wonder if they actually read Calvin or simply make up what they contend to be the Reformed faith. [and later] Charles Finney and John Calvin have joined sides.