Thursday, June 21, 2012

Review of Killing Calvinism by Greg Dutcher

Calvinism is on the upswing.  So much so that it made Time Magazines list of 10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.  Calvinism has become a great point of discussion—and even concern—for those within the SBC.  Calvinism is a big deal in the current climate of evangelicalism, whether you are for it or against it.

Greg Dutcher, is for it.  Yet, he also warns that Calvinists could easily destroy this good theology from the inside.  In his book, Killing Calvinism, Dutcher gives eight ways that Calvinists can throw on the brakes to this resurgence and kill a perfectly good theology.  Here are his eight ways that Calvinists can destroy Calvinism

  1. By loving Calvinism as an end in itself
  2. By becoming theologians instead of disciples
  3. By loving God’s sovereignty more than God himself
  4. By losing an urgency in evangelism
  5. By refusing to learn from non-Calvinists
  6. By tidying up the Bible’s “loose ends”
  7. By being a bunch of arrogant know-it-alls
  8. By scoffing at the emotional hang-ups others have with Calvinism

These eight points serve as the eight chapters and fill the 120 pages of this little book.  Dutcher argues each point forcefully and yet graciously.  He writes as a former “caged-Calvinists” that has been re-captured by the sovereign grace that he adopted theologically. 

My Take:

Honestly, I did not anticipate being deeply challenged by this book.  Not that I’m not a Calvinist and not that I did not expect to agree with the book.  Problem is I assumed that I would just nod my head with everything Dutcher said, promote it to a few newer Calvinists I know, and move on. 

You see I too was once a caged-Calvinist but the Lord has mightily worked in my heart to humble me and help me to live and proclaim the sovereign grace that I theologically affirm.  So, I’ve already been through the fire and I don’t struggle with being a bad Calvinist anymore. 

At least I thought I didn’t. 

Reading through Dutcher’s work exposed a few vestiges of both pride and inconsistency in my walk with Christ.  There were a few moments in the book where I found myself soundly rebuked.  Funny thing is I think I had even taught some of these points myself, but the way that Dutcher worded them and proclaimed them brought conviction to my soul. 

Here is a helpful sample for you to see how Dutcher is passionate, forceful, and yet very gracious:

A disciple is a student of Christ—someone who spends time with the Savior in order to come to know him better and resemble him more closely.  As a pastor, I have found that many Christians simply assume that learning more and more about the Bible and theology—Reformed theology in particular—is the same thing as growing as a disciple.  It isn’t.  Robust theology can be a powerful catalyst in this process, but like anything else, we can turn it into an idol.  The danger is that, while we may begin with Reformed theology as the framework by which we more coherently understand and appreciate our faith, over time it can become the substance of our faith.  At that point, daily living is more about mastering Reformed doctrine than being mastered by Jesus and his total claim over every area of life. 

Should You Buy It?

Every Calvinist needs to read this book, whether you’re a new member to club Calvin or you’ve been a Calvinist longer than Charlton Heston has been Moses.  Even those that are non-Calvinist ought to read this book and see the heart of many within the Reformed/Calvinistic movement.  We truly do want to live out the doctrines of grace as Greg Dutcher describes in this book.  When we don’t it’s not a fault of the “system” but of our own hearts. 

You can pick up this book for your Kindle or a hard copy


  1. I owe a debt to Calvinism for showing me that Christianity is false and I should become a Jew. I mean I was a happy Christian who loved Jesus and went to church every Sunday. Then the Calvinist came and oppressed me with their never-ending wrangling about Romans 3,4,5,7,9 (the only bit of scripture that believe) and demonstrated to me plainly that Paul was a horrible twister of the Old Testament and that his view of the Law was warped (i.e. the Law is the strength of sin, the Law makes morality worse [yeah right!]). They showed me that the New Testament is a lie, and for that I am grateful. Thank you Calvinists!

  2. "We truly do want to live out the doctrines of grace as Greg Dutcher describes in this book. When we don’t it’s not a fault of the “system” but of our own hearts."

    I don't buy this. Calvinism has demonstrated to me that there is a taint not just in Calvinism but in all of Christianity (from Romans 3,4,5,7,9, the only scripture Calvinists believe). All Christians have bits of this in their heads, that its impossible to avoid to sin, impossible to be righteous, oh no the good I will to do I can't do, I was born a vile sinner, so now since I can't do anything right all I have to do is believe in Jesus and poof I'm saved. Christians don't live right because they are brainwashed into beleiving they can't. Homosexuality is taking over America precisely because of this sort of doctrine. If only people took Msoes' attitude from Deut 30 we'd be in better shape: "What do you mean the Law is too hard? Its not in heaven that you have to send somebody up to get it. Its not under the sea that you have to send somebody down. Its in your hands, in your heart, in your mouth--so do it already." Instead its "Paul says we can't do it. Paul says its impossible. Paul says we were born that way." Oh, please somebody shoot me now! If we took Moses' attitude society would be in better shape. BTW, Deut 30 is one passage Paul twists in Romans 10--he claims that when Moses says "Its not in heaven that you have to send somebody up to get it" he is talking about Jesus! Yet clearly Moses is talking about the Law as anyone who can read can see.

  3. Anon,

    Thanks for your comment. I will offer a brief response, as I am never certain if anonymous commenters will ever return.

    I think that you have misread Paul and misunderstood the claims of Christianity. Having said that I don't doubt that there may be some Christians that believe just as you have described. And so I echo your frustration in that regard.

    Consider this statement from Paul in Romans 3:31, "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law." Paul was not anti-law. But what Paul believed--and this came from the teachings of Jesus and of a reading of the OT is that we cannot do the Law. The fact of a Day of Atonement proves that, does it not? What needs to take place is the new birth (Ezekiel 36). And once that happens when the Spirit is given and poured out upon humanity then we will be able to obey the Law. So, Paul's argument in many places throughout Romans is that while the Jew claims to uphold the Law it is really the one who has faith in Christ that upholds the Law b/c he/she has the Spirit and a new heart that is able to actually follow God's Law.

    So, I think you have grossly mischaracterized not only Calvinism but also Christianity and the New Testament. I'm available to discuss this further if you would like.
    (Romans 3:31 ESV)

  4. Even those that are non-Calvinist ought to read this book and see the heart of many within the Reformed/Calvinistic movement.

    I really have to wonder where these "many" are -- I don't even have to take off my shoes to count all the ones that I've encountered -- and I was a Calvinist for a decade. On the contrary, the vast majority of Calvinists that I have encountered are in obscene violation of 7 of Dutcher's 8 points. (I had always thought the evangelism issue to be a straw-man concocted by the virulent anti-Calvinists. The fact that Dutcher, a Calvinist, sees it as a legitimate concern is very frightening.)

    When we don’t [live out the doctrines of grace] it’s not a fault of the “system” but of our own hearts.

    I used to believe this. But there comes a point where, when nearly everyone within a given system has the same problem, you have to wonder if the issue is the system. And that the few who don't have the problem just don't really get the system completely.

    Personally, I bailed on Calvinism totally independent of the way that it's generally practiced today. But the practice sure was a nice confirmation.

  5. Some folks should begin to question themselves on why they want to impute to others a quest for perfect understanding when all the other people ever talked about was one thing.

    Yes or no, did Jesus die for all sins and for sinners?

    Not complicated, but your theology is so complicated that you want to say “not that simple”

    How much do you need to know is the question you need to answer for yourself. Not the perfect thing, but the “what is the gospel” thing. If they say the name Jesus but they grew up Mormon, are you going to rush in with your “legalism” and say but a,b,c?

    I understand that a lot of people who call themselves Calvinists believe in election but also believe that Christ did a “propitiation” for the non-elect (that does not work). You believe in election, but you also believe in real faith. Well, so do I, but the question is the object of faith, before we talk about how real the faith is.

    If I have faith in a false gospel, then it doesn’t matter how strong my faith is. It means squat.

    If my faith is in the false gospel, then my faith is not from the holy Spirit who does not use lies but from Satan (ordained by God to my destruction).

    John 6:44–Nobody can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him

    John 10:26 you do not believe me because you are not part of my sheep

    Rom 8:8 the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law; indeed it cannot.

    To say that Christ’s death depends on what the Spirit causes you to decide to do with it, that is flesh…

    1. Mark,

      I have to be honest. Your comment makes no sense. It almost reads like something cut and pasted from other arguments. I have no idea what these missles are aimed at.

      If this is more than just a drive-by I'd be happy to discuss any of this further. But at present I'm not even sure what I'm responding to.



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