Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Killing Calvinism

When I first heard the title of the book, Killing Calvinism, I assumed it was another attempt to repudiate the doctrines of grace. Then I read the subtitle: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside. Fortunately, withing a few days the author, Greg Dutcher, offered to send me a copy. Within 15 minutes I knew it was a book that I would be recommending for a long time. It is a book that is desperately needed, full of biblical wisdom and easily accessible.

Dutcher is a gifted writer. As my late friend, Ernie Reisinger, loved to say, he puts the cookies on the lower shelf. That doesn't mean that the book is simplistic or insignificant. On the contrary, it is profound in its insights and applications. Furthermore, it could not be more timely.

It is indisputable that we are in the midst of a reformation and recovery of the doctrines of grace, or what has historically been called, "Calvinism." Both statistical and anecdotal evidence of this fact continues to mount. I believe that this is a movement of God and that it is even more widespread than recent studies indicate. As is true with any of work of God, the devil always keeps pace and seeks to steal, kill and destroy. If he cannot keep us from truth then he will do what he can to cause us to hold the truth in imbalanced and ungodly ways.

Dutcher rightly understands this and writes with the conviction that one of the greatest (if not the greatest) threats to Calvinism is ungodly Calvinists. "That is," as he puts it, "if we don't live our Calvinism we might just kill it" (10). "We." Dutcher writes as an insider. It is this perspective that gives the book much of its appeal. He uses plenty of personal examples of his own failures in mishandling the truth of God's grace. As I am sure will be the case with others, most of them sadly resonated with my own testimony.

It has been rightly noted that when the good goes bad it becomes the worst. That is certainly true with those doctrinal truths that are nicknamed Calvinism. The sovereignty of God's grace in salvation is one of the most breathtaking, soul-enrapturing, mind-expanding, faith-building truths revealed in Scripture. Yet, when held arrogantly or used as an excuse to ignore other biblical truths or to justify blatant sin, it becomes distorted and misrepresented as one of the most wicked lies imaginable. As I type this I received the following comment on twitter: "I am repulsed by Calvinism because of Calvinists. I would rather be wrong than think I had to be like so many I have encountered." Such comments ought to make those of us who believe and love the doctrines of grace weep. We are called to adorn the doctrine of God by the way that we live. It is bad enough when we fail to do this. But when our lives actually make our doctrine repulsive to those who know us, we should be full of shame and sorrow.

In eight brief chapters Dutcher shows how Calvinists can kill Calvinism:
  1. By Loving Calvinism as an End in Itself
  2. By Becoming a Theologian Instead of a Disciple
  3. By Loving God's Sovereignty More than God Himself
  4. By Losing an Urgency in Evangelism
  5. By Learning Only From Other Calvinists
  6. By Tidying Up the Bible's "Loose Ends"
  7. By Being an Arrogant Know-It-All
  8. By Scoffing at the Hang-ups Others Have with Calvinism
The book is 100 pages of text with 55 footnotes and a one page Appendix on the acrostic, TULIP. It is filled with pithy statements that illuminate key points ("My three-year-old daughter knows things about me that my cardiologist does not, but I don't think I will cancel my annual heart checkup anytime soon" [85]) as well as great quotes from esteemed reformed leaders, past and present (Calvin, Spurgeon, Edwards, Whitefield, Packer, Sproul, Piper, et al). The writing is engaging and easy to follow. It is the kind of book that can be put into the hands of anyone who wants to grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ.

I have recommended that this book become required reading for all of our church's leaders. I wish I could somehow require that it be read before a person leaves a comment on my blog or Facebook wall. I encourage all of my Calvinist friends to read it and pass it around. We who claim to understand much of God's grace ought then to be the most gracious of all people. A proud, belligerent, unloving, thoughtless Calvinist is a spiritual freak who denies by his actions and attitudes what he professes in his creed. None of us is immune to such sins, but by the grace of God we need not be satisfied to let them live, unmolested, in our lives.

Greg Dutcher reminds us of this and writes so as to help us access the means by which God grants the very grace that we extol. I highly recommend this book.


Tony Miano said...

Now I'm REALLY looking forward to reading the book.

T.A. Ragsdale said...

Me too. I'm ordering it now.

sbcissues said...

Dr. Ascol,

You wrote, "If he cannot keep us from truth then he will do what he can to cause us to hold the truth in imbalanced and ungodly ways."

While you and I will disagree on a lot of things, this is absolutely accurate and our priority ought to always be to communicate our differences in such a way that God is still glorified in the process.

"But when our lives actually make our doctrine repulsive to those who know us, we should be full of shame and sorrow." Regardless of where our theological perspective lies, this statement needs to dictate the tone of our our declarations.

May God bless us all in our pursuit of truth and our proclamation of it.


Jim Pemberton said...

A book like this is needed additionally because there is an element that judges Calvinists as mean-spirited simply for advocating Calvinism. And so even if one is not particularly vocal about one's Calvinistic theology, there is value in being able to respond to people wisely so that they are less likely to mistake Calvinistic conviction as hatred against them.

The thing some may note is this: I've seen at least as much vitriol from non-Calvinists. Now specific incidents have been pointed out and discussed by some, but the charge doesn't seem to stick like it does on Calvinists as an overarching reputation. Nevertheless, it should be seen as a spiritually mature quality to not return harsh judgment with harsh judgment where being theologically correct means gagging someone with meaty truth when they haven't been weened off milk yet.

SJ Camp said...

Great word Tom.

I downloaded this book a few weeks ago and read it cover to cover over a few late night cups of Joe. Impacted me greatly.

Simple, profound, biblical and practical.

It's a must read for all Caged Calvinists especially. Young guns who know a little theology by cut and pasting a few lines from reformed divines and then presenting them with an arrogant authority will be offended initially, but hopefully changed deeply!

Cruciform Press is to be thanked for publishing such a much needed tome.

SJ Camp
The Cross Church
Acts 20:24

jbboren said...

"If he cannot keep us from truth then he will do what he can to cause us to hold the truth in imbalanced and ungodly ways."

I really don't think we need the devil's help to pull this one off. At least, I don't. I'm good enough at imbalance on my own.

strangebaptistfire said...

Has anybody written a good book about killing it from the outside? As I look over the last several decades, and at entities like the SBC, that scenario seems much more prevalent. Often I think the Reformed community spokesmen's self-deprecating perspectives are a bit overdone, especially considering all that is coming at us from the Christian church at large, and that not due to our behavior.

Josh said...

I've been a Calvinist for approx 15 years now, I've fellowshiped with Calvinistic brothers, and I've attended and graduated from the SBC's flagship seminary, which is known for its commitment to the doctrines of grace. And though I've met many humble, godly Christians among my fellow Calvinists, and I hope by God's good grace that I too have made progress in humility and godliness, It seems obvious to me that often we fail in both. I think the fact that some Calvinists are hesitant to admit this reveals some of the pride Dutcher's book warns against. Jesus himself warned us against such lack of self-awareness in terms of focusing on a speck in our brother's eye, while being oblivious to the beam protruding from ours. The beam is there, brothers. Its time for us to look at the real enemy square in the eye (Indwelling sin in our hearts) and repent. It's time we took serious the call to adorn our doctrine with lives of holy love and humility.

strangebaptistfire said...

It could be pride, or it could be a different perspective on their part, and presumption on yours.
Perhaps the arrogance is more obvious in the seminaries, where the typical depth of academic debate can prove competitive and bring out pride when one feels he has the advantage theologically. But for many of us away from that, out in the churches - it just isn't tilted that way. The Reformed folks are more often simply ready to graciously defend their beliefs as biblical, while often ungraciously attacked by anti-Calvinists.
I also note this irony: The common criticism is that Calvinists are arrogantly saying to the church that they are superior in doctrine than the rest. This criticism is being made by spokesmen who are essentially saying they are more humble than the rest! The fact is, few of those who embrace the doctrines of grace are marked by the pride they are accused of, at least in the real world (away from your seminaries). It just seems the fashionable thing to claim today. All men struggle with pride. We can be proud in our knowledge, proud in our ignorance, even proud of our humility. I just think enough space has been spent on this particular "threat".

Josh said...

There's no doubt we Calvinists do not have a corner on pride (nor do folks who have attended seminary, by the way). Neither is every accusation of pride made against Calvinists true. But my heart is prone to pride, even while I'm embracing what ought to be a very heart humbling theology. And because of that, I need the warning Dutcher's book provides, and I don't think I'm alone in that. Admitting such is not equivalent to bowing to unfair criticisms of anti-Calvinists. It's being honest about ourselves before God.

strangebaptistfire said...

Btw, I expect the book itself could prove excellent and be very beneficial. I don't mean to decry the author or downplay the truth he conveys. My comments have really been motivated more by trends I see on Reformed blogs and elsewhere over the last year or so. In my personal experience, pride is not the result of seeing others opposing the doctrines, but rather a sorrow that they have not been taught, and a desire to help explain. And sometimes anger that they have been deceived so long, and hold so tenaciously to a system that exalts man and detracts from God's credit so wickedly. As I read John Owen and others, I think they also felt these things, and I believe their sharp words and criticisms were fitting for the issue at hand, though more politically incorrect today. (And the culture's political correctness does strongly affect the church, sadly.)
But I don't think Owen, for example, was writing out of pride. Yet I can see, particularly in young immature college types just coming to grips with the doctrines, that a strong temptation to pride could be present. Again, not that others don't struggle as well. (Note my words "all men" previously.)
At any rate, I am led to hopefully show the dangers and problems of Wesleyanism to more in my circles, as this by far is a more prevalent issue today. It hurts people, hurts churches, and worse, detracts from the glory due to God. And while we do that, others are certainly free to keep telling us that we really need to be humble. But we already got that messsage long ago.

donsands said...

"But I don't think Owen, for example, was writing out of pride."

But would Owen say he was humble?

strangebaptistfire said...

donsands: Sure, in fact he was quite proud of it. :p

Josh: Btw I don't disagree with anything in your last comment. I just thought I'd try to clarify mine a bit.

May you all have a blessed weekend.

Unknown said...

As a Reformed SBC pastor, I must be honest about my own beliefs and theology when preaching to the Church. I do preach with certitude, confidence, and passion about those things I clearly understand but with tolerance for those who disagree or are in the midst of the journey to forming their own theology. Most of the church I serve are not Reformed, are Dispensational,and premillennial, while I preach Baptist Covenant theology, inaugurated millennialsm, and the doctrines of grace. I am growing in ways I could not have imagined!Confidence can be mistaken for arrogance,

Lauren C said...

Ive passed your blog link onto tons of people, and this book sounds fantastic and desperately needed!!! awesome, thanks for writing this review! :)