How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside
“When this kind of critique and warning come from within a movement, it is a sign of health.”
– John Piper, Desiring God
“This book blew me away!“
– Thabiti Anyabwile, Council Member, The Gospel Coalition
“An absolute must-read for every YRR—older Calvinists, too!”
– Lydia Brownback, author and speaker
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Description & Excerpts..SHARE..
Something wonderful is happening in Western Evangelicalism. A resurgence of Calvinism is changing lives, transforming churches, and spreading the gospel. The books are great, the sermons are life-changing, the music is inspirational, and the conferences are astonishing. Will this continue or will we, who are part of it all, end up destroying it?
That depends on how we live the message.
As “insiders” of the Calvinist resurgence, there are at least eight ways we can mess everything up.
-By loving calvinism as an end in itself
-By becoming theologians instead of disciples
-By loving God’s sovereignty more than God himself
-By losing an urgency in evangelism
-By refusing to learn from non-Calvinists
-By tidying up the Bible’s “loose ends”
-By being a bunch of arrogant know-it-alls
-By scoffing at the emotional hang-ups others have with Calvinism
About the Author
Greg Dutcher (M.Div., Biblical Theological Seminary) pastored an Evangelical Free Church in Catonsville, Maryland for six years before sensing a call to plant Christ Fellowship Church in Harford County, Maryland. He has served as Senior Minister of Christ Fellowship since its inception in 2003. He is the author of two recent books with Discovery House publishers, You Are the Treasure That I Seek: But There’s a Lot of Cool Stuff Out There, Lord (2009), and Living Free in Enemy Territory: Christ’s Triumph over Satan (2011). Greg and his wife, Lisa, have four children.
Author Greg Dutcher comments on three of the chapters from his book.
endorsements & reviews..SHARE..
“This book blew me away! Greg Dutcher skillfully diagnosed how I kill the very truth I love by my hypocrisy, pride, anger, and judgmental attitude. This book will serve a young generation of Calvinists. But the older generation had better heed it, too. There’s medicine here for all our hearts, and taking this medicine will make us more joyful and more humble when making our glorious God known.”
Thabiti Anyabwile, Author; Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church, Grand Cayman; Council Member, The Gospel Coalition
“Many Calvinists will find reading this book to be a painful experience. But medicine is like that. The good news is that a healthy dose of Dutcher’s wisdom will go a long way in bringing spiritual health to the young, restless, and reformed.”
Sam Storms, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City
“An absolute must-read for every YRR—and older Calvinists too! With wit, compassion, and candor, Greg Dutcher exposes how sin taints our theological convictions and undermines our witness. But he doesn’t leave us there; through biblical and historical examples he shows us Calvinism done right to the glory of God.”
Lydia Brownback, author and speaker
“When this kind of critique and warning come from within a movement, it is a sign of health.”
John Piper, Desiring God, in a tweet
“Every Calvinist needs to read this book.”
Calvinism is on the upswing. So much so that it made Time magazine’s 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.
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.
Mike Lake, Borrowed Light
“I wish a book like this was written 15 years ago.”
I am not a seminary student, deacon, or pastor. I haven’t even read The Institutes of the Christian Religion by Calvin himself. I am in fact a stay-at-home mom with four children and I love to read. As a relatively young Christian almost 20 years ago, through personal study of the book of Romans and after just a few chapters into my little purple hardback copy of Sproul’s Chosen By God, I embraced what is known as Calvinism.
While I have read and enjoyed all of Greg Dutcher’s books, Killing Calvinism is my favorite.
Dutcher has a personal style of writing; an unusual style that makes you feel as if you are sitting across from him sharing a conversation at a local Starbucks. Deeply immersed in Scripture, yet filled with personal examples of his own sinful responses towards others, Killing Calvinism forced me to evaluate my own attitude (outward and inward) toward others who love Jesus but hold to different views than my own. I particularly appreciated the prayers at the end of each chapter and found myself using them as a tool to take the first step to put into practice the very truth I was being confronted with. I prayed the words of the author and continued beyond with words that formed in my own heart, enjoying the freedom and renewed hope that comes through repentance.
The only disappointment I have is that I wish a book like this was written 15 years ago. It certainly would have been a great help to me and my zealous comrades, who out of pride and ignorance, killed Calvinism for several years.
But the temptation is still there.
That’s why this is such an important work. If you identify with the “young, restless, and reformed” crowd or if you’re an old-timer who has swam in reformed circles for years, please do your own soul (& others around you) a favor and take the time to prayerfully read Killing Calvinism. If you totally disagree with Calvinism and hold to an Arminian view, this little book might surprise you in the best of ways. Seriously.
I thank God for this book because it will serve as an excellent resource for my children, hopefully providing practical help so they can avoid the pitfalls that so many of us have fallen into, head first. Dutcher ends his book with a prayer for our children, but I used it as a prayer for all those who see my life up close and personal.
“I pray that they will be able to use your life as a model for Calvinism well lived and well applied.” (p.105)
Tracy Smith, 5-star Amazon review
“A great service to Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike.”
I should probably start this review by mentioning that I’m not a Calvinist. However, I don’t land in the Arminian camp either, though that often seems to be the catch-all category for non-Calvinists in the Calvinist mind. I do believe that God is solely responsible for any man’s salvation, but I also believe that man is solely responsible for his own condemnation by rejecting Christ. If I had to describe my theological position, I agree with about 90% of what Dr. Kenneth Keathley has to say in his book, Salvation and Sovereignty. All that is really to say that I read Killing Calvinism by Greg Dutcher as a non-Calvinist who cares deeply about the interaction between Calvinists and non-Calvinists and the picture of God that is portrayed to a world that desperately needs him.
Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside is a call for Calvinists to examine the common temptations that Calvinists can fall into that might cause people to be shut off to Calvinism. What I love about this book is that it was written by a Calvinist who was humble enough to acknowledge the shortcomings that those in the Calvinist camp often fall into. The specific ways that Dutcher mentions that Calvinists often kill their theological system were no surprise to me because I’ve witnessed every one of them in Calvinists I’ve known. But what’s great about Killing Calvinism is that Dutcher, as a Calvinist, has a heart to help other Calvinists be aware of the temptations they may face as Calvinists who are also fallen human beings, and his heart for this is about making sure the gospel is communicated freely and beautifully to a lost world without a theological system acting as a stumbling block on the path toward faith in Jesus. Let’s face it, it would be really hard for a non-Calvinist to convince a Calvinist that these things are often true of them, and therefore need to be changed. We’re much more prone to listen to someone within our own camp, so Dutcher has done a great service to Calvinists and non-Calvinists alike with this book.
Dutcher spends eight chapters…calling Calvinists to a humble, loving, and God-glorifying way of life.
Non-Calvinists reading this book need to be able to accept that Dutcher is a Calvinist and believes that non-Calvinists are wrong, but Dutcher is graciously calling Calvinists to act in love toward non-Calvinists and to even learn from them, even if they don’t agree on issues related to soteriology.
My hope for this book is that it will get into the hands of the many Calvinists who struggle with the temptations that Dutcher to describes. My hope is that it will change lives and that believers, whether Calvinist or non-Calvinist, will be able to love one another as fellow members of the body of Christ, as well as share the goal of reaching people for Christ, even if they don’t agree on exactly how Salvation is worked out.
Tom Farr’s blog
“I needed to hear that it was ok to struggle with some of these things.”
Each person who reads this book will experience it differently, based on his own history with Calvinism. This is the benefit of having eight unique ways [chapters] to kill Calvinism; each way will affect each person differently. For example, I was a Calvinist before I had ever heard the word. I grew up relatively unchurched, but desperately aware of my need for Christ and dedicated to studying the Bible. I had to ask what Calvinism and Arminianism were before someone else pronounced me as Calvinist.
Because of this, I found myself responding most to the chapters “By Losing an Urgency in Evangelism” and “By Scoffing at the Hang-ups Others Have with Calvinism.”
About evangelism, Dutcher says,
“I do remember a few times when fellow Calvinists and I encouraged each other to evangelize lost people knowing that God’s sovereign power to save should embody our efforts…’God may have elected this person, and I may be the chosen means of introducing him to Christ’. Sadly though, such experiences have been rare.”
And he drops a hard truth from his Arminian friend,
“Is it just me, or are some of you guys more passionate about Arminians becoming Calvinists than you are about unbelievers become believers?”
Revelation 5:9 means what it says when it declares that Christ has ransomed people “from every tribe and language and people and nation.” It is powerful and humbling to know that God has chosen to use us in His great commission, and to be caught in this lie about evangelism being futile is to downplay the very sovereignty of God we claim to hold so dear.
The last point, though, on the hang-ups others have with Calvinism, was most convicting for me. As someone who never considered anything other than what I eventually learned was Calvinism, I can become frustrated with those who don’t draw the same conclusions I do from the Bible. But Dutcher uses examples from non-Calvinist friends to show that they want to hear us say that these doctrines are hard to accept. And Dutcher says we should be ready to do so:
“Hell is in no danger of disappearing if I admit I have moments of emotional and intellectual discomfort with it. Such an admission is not a denial of faith or a rejection of the gospel. To acknowledge that damnation is beyond awful is to agree with Jesus’ assessment of it”
I needed to hear that it was ok to struggle with some of these things. Because ultimately, the struggle will reveal a deeper awe for God. In this case, the more we see hell as a terrible, real place, the better we are able to understand the depth of God’s grace in Jesus’ rescue of our souls.
Why You Should Read It
Overall, I really enjoyed this book, and would recommend it to fellow Calvinists; I’m not sure what a non-Calvinist would get out of reading it except perhaps (hopefully) a reason to jump ship. As I mentioned earlier, I am fairly certain that each person who reads this will learn something different from it, so I would encourage you to pick it up for yourself.
Ultimately, Dutcher gets down to the fact that theology is nothing but a means in which we can more clearly see the glory of the Gospel of Christ, which is as good of a reason as any to check this one out.
Excerpts from a 4.5 star review review by Kate Finman at The127Project
“A clarion call for a Calvinism that ignited the hearts of a Calvin, of a Spurgeon, and of a Bunyan”
I have been reading a new book for a change. Generally I read books that were written many years ago, often several centuries ago, so this was a bit unusual for me. It was however the title of the book, along with a review that I had read somewhere, that drew my attention to it and so I decided to buy it at Amazon in Kindle format.
So reading the book I quickly discovered that it was a very easy book to read, even though it dealt with a subject that was indeed crucial, timely and weighty. Calvinism is the behemoth of Christian theology, being a system of truth that epitomises the teaching of Scripture. It has produced great works of theology, some very technical and verbose in nature. Yet here was a book looking at this system of truth that was easy to read and speaking straight to the heart with great warmth and even humour (yes humour).
However, it would be a mistake to think that this book dealt with Calvinism in a detached manner, somehow separated from the adherent to it. Indeed, this book seeks to penetrate the hearts of the adherents of Calvinism and to strike at the heart of the matter. This is not a book that somehow produces a barren formalism, rather it smashes through formalism and seeks the real Calvinism, one that comes from the inner person regenerated by the spirit of God and transforms the lives of those that profess it. It is a living Calvinism that this book seeks and challenges everything else that claims to be Calvinism, but yet has nothing of its soul. This book is a clarion call for a Calvinism that ignited the hearts of a Calvin, of a Spurgeon and of a Bunyan and desires a turning away from all that is not. I love Calvinism – it leads me to God and the way of life he wishes me to lead and live. This book reminds me of this and for that I am thankful to Him for allowing me to read it. It is as Dutcher describes it, the windscreen of truth that allows me to see God and how he wants me to live for Him.
Kevin, At the Bookshelf
“A stirring reminder to live what we say we believe.”
Dutcher writes from the perspective of one who slowly came to embrace Calvinism, and then began to beat people over the head with it. As one who has embraced Calvinism my whole life, and yet also struggled with the desire to provide a 16th century theological walloping to those who didn’t embrace it, his concern in this book resonated quite strongly. No, seriously, the reason that this book is so important is because there does seem to be a high percentage of self-professing Calvinists who struggle with all of these things.
And what Dutcher points out very carefully in the book is what Calvinists must hear repeatedly: the very truths that the doctrines of grace seek to articulate ought to drive us to fight against these Calvinism-killing issues in our lives. The reality of our total depravity and dependence on God’s electing, redemptive, regenerating, glorifying grace ought to drive us to our knees in prayer, to our neighbors in evangelism, and ultimately to Christ as our Savior. That is the beauty of this book: a stirring reminder to live what we say we believe.
This is not to say this a perfect book. I’m sure that people can find some things to quibble with. My main quibble would be the way that “Calvinism” is used. Now, everybody uses it this way (even me, to be consistent with the book here). Dutcher uses it to narrowly refer to the doctrines of grace usually encompassed by the favorite Reformed flower, TULIP. He also uses “Reformed theology” as a term for this too. While I know that this is how the words are commonly used today, I find that a bit unfortunate. That is, Calvin would certainly have not accepted the limitation of his important views to those on soteriology. “Reformed theology” certainly doesn’t just refer to views on soteriology. Both encompass views on worship, ecclesiology, the sacraments, and more.
But his point still stands. If we do believe in the teachings summarized in TULIP, regardless of the name we give them, we ought to be disciples, not just theologians, evangelists, not just thinkers, and people of humility, regardless of how much insight the Holy Spirit may have seen fit to give us.
Joel S, Joelws
“Did not expect it to rock me to the core as it did.”
I did not know what to expect really when I started to read this book. From the praise of the endorsers I figured it would be good, but did not expect it to rock me to the core as it did. Dutcher writes as one from inside the movement of Reformed theology. He has a heart for the doctrines of Grace and is concerned about some troubling trends he and others see affecting Calvinism. I share many of these concerns and was moved deeply by Dutcher’s ways of addressing them.
He says we need to view Calvinism for what it is. It is a system and a lens with which to understand and see the beauty and wonder of the Gospel. It is not the primary thing, rather a pathway to the primary thing. We need to constantly be reminded of this truth. All of the 7 other ways of killing Calvinism from within really stem from this one of loving Calvinism for itself. When we use Calvinism as a tool to understand the Gospel more clearly, then we will not be a theologian instead of a disciple; we will love God more than sovereignty; we will have a sense of urgency in Evangelism; and we will be humble and willing to learn from all.
I recommend this book to all of my reformed brothers, read it and then read it again.
I received this book in Kindle form for free from Cruciform press for the purpose of reviewing it.
Todd Gragg, PastorTodd78
“Almost like Solomon giving his son final instructions.”
Overall I was encouraged and admonished by what I read in Killing Calvinism. We reformed folk need this kind of prodding. Honestly, all Christians every where need books like this. The idea would make a compelling series—Killing Arminianism, Killing the Gifts, etc. Just a thought Cruciform. No patent pending.
I found an insider’s critique refreshing. Dutcher is one of us. I found his admonition fatherly. Almost like Solomon giving his son final instructions. For instance, Dutcher admonishes,
I sometimes fear that if we all just stay holed up in our bunkers, we will end up killing the revival of Calvinism in our midst… . We must not give current and future generations plausible reasons to reject the very essence of Christianity that we believe Calvinism represents.
That is, if we don’t live our Calvinism, we might just kill it. (Kindle Locations 129-135)
If I could sum up the book in one sentence it would be this: “But we cross a line when we are more focused on mastering theology than on being mastered by Christ” (Kindle Location 302). Yes! We must be mastered by Christ.
I heartily amened all eight points but I found some of his illustrations unhelpful which in some instances lessened the impact of the point. Two examples. First, he argues we should learn from other theological traditions (amen! Count me as a Calvinist who loves the Wesley’s). He tells a story about hearing an interview with Bill Hybles on the radio and feeling encouraged by something he said. This idea is great but we need to develop it more. Just because its good to learn from others does necessitate that I should read every Hybels book to fish for the pearl amongst the mud.
Or for instance I won’t waste my time reading Charles Finney just because I’m sure he has said something right. However, I will gladly read the Wesley’s and Fred Sanders, who are Arminians. Reformed theology has a robust doctrine of common grace which acknowledges that all truth is God’s truth. Dutcher actually has some helpful clarifications on his blog “How Essential Is Calvinism in Our Unity with Other Christians?”
One other example worth noting was the story he told in chapter six (“By Tidying Up the Bible’s Loose Ends”). He retells the story of a small group discussion which focused on 2 Peter 2:1 where Peter talks about false teachers and says “denying the Master who bought them.” He contrasts a few people who expressed puzzlement and the one who says, “[I]t doesn’t matter because we know that Jesus died only for the elect” (Kindle Locations 946-947). Granted it does matter but this example is poor.
Outside of the “it doesn’t matter” because it does, his general interpretation is right. Good exegesis interprets the unclear by the clear and single passages in light of all the bible. So while the guy’s answer is certainly flippant it’s right to argue that we know Jesus died for only the elect so that rules out x interpretation. Also, we know people make false professions where they claim Christ but do not possess saving faith. In the OT, many Israelites were within the covenant community who was redeemed out Egypt and it rightly could have been said of them that they denied the Lord who bought them. A better example in my opinion might be the lapsarianism debate.
Just two example where clarification and a better example might have proved helpful in making a stronger case. I’m nitpicking here but those were my only two concerns (if you can even call it that).
The meat of the book is USDA prime. For a group of elders who are seeking to preach and minister within the reformed faith Killing Calvinism would be fantastic read. It might also provide a loving kick in the pants for that recovering in-your-face Calvinist in your life. The chapters are concise and to the point. Each chapter offers one main thought and moves the argument along without losing focus. And at the end of each chapter Dutcher offers a prayer. I loved this feature and prayed these prayers. It’s really a devotional styled book.
If you plan on purchasing Killing Calvinism, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by purchasing from here.
Mathew Sims, Grace for Sinners
“I want you to go and buy Greg Dutcher’s book.”
A few weeks ago I promised that today I would do a book recommendation for a new book which works over a topic which is near and dear to my heart. The book is Killing Calvinism by Greg Dutcher, published by CruciformPress.
Cruciform is an interesting business case…I don’t think any of the authors are trying to produce a work which will light up a generation, and I don’t think Cruciform is looking to create best-sellers. It’s looking to produce timely features with enough depth to satisfy the popular reader, and to keep the content inside the four walls of orthodoxy without turning over anyone’s apple cart.
Dutcher’s book is already raising a few eyebrows because, by golly, it’s taking a hard look at the ways in which Calvinists shoot themselves in the foot. And before I get to my angry eyebrows on this subject, let me say that if you are new to the movement, or are just now realizing that your will compared to God’s will is a little puny and selfish and God’s will is the only thing keeping you between the ditches of works righteousness and works frat party, you should read this book. At less than $9, I have to admit that I wish that someone had given me one of these when I e-mailed James White for the first time after reading The Potter’s Freedom — it would have saved me a couple of years of trying to get myself on the right side of God’s love and sovereignty.
The laundry list is simple: Calvinists sometimes love a system rather than a savior; we love books more than discipleship; we love the position of God more than the person of God; we forget how to evangelize; we live in a small circle; we know it all; we demean those who aren’t (yet) Calvinists. And to his credit, Dutcher doesn’t turn this book into an organ to run down his fellow Calvinists for, frankly, walking the path all of us walk to get to our adolescence in the faith. Dutcher’s prose is serviceable and readable, and his points are pragmatic — immediately actionable.
Except for the 3-5 pages he spends defending Bill Hybels in his chapter about living in too small a circle, I commend the book to you as utterly worth your time, especially if you are yourself discipling someone new to our team in the Christian theology league.
I want you to go and buy Greg Dutcher’s book. I think there are a lot of people reading this blog who need it not to find out what is wrong with other people, but what is wrong with the way they are personally doing Calvinism. This booklet is absolutely the friendly audit of the movement, and in its analysis it covers the obvious bases.
What? This book is only about 100 pages, and you can read it in about an hour if you mark it up really good. You could have read through to chapter two by now if you had bought the book already.
Oh: I see. You came for the fireworks today. It’s Wednesday, and I promised to “light up one of my favorite topics” when I came to this book review. You’re one of those people.
Listen: the biggest problem with the so-called Young-Restless-Reformed movement is how allegedly self-aware we all are. Hipsters run around hash-tagging themselves as having #FirstWorldProblems and wearing plaid and drinking PBR in some kind of meta-ironic way — the YRR are always rolling their eyes at how theologically-wonky they are while at the same time assembling reading lists of out-of-print books and marking up lists of their own rudimentary engagement errors while at the same time not really having any lost people they know to tell about the amazing Jesus they have 1343 uses for in soteriology and sanctification alone. Or on the other side of the team bench they find themselves hypnotized by how close to antinomianism they can ride their motorcycles up to on the way to the MMA PPV, rattling on about Christ being bigger than sin but not so big as to actually conquer any sin in them personally.
Dutcher’s book is a fine piece of work to start with for someone in cage-stage Calvinism to present to them as utterly-friendly to the movement so that they don’t make the grade-school errors so many of us (note the pronoun) have made — but let’s be honest with ourselves: we have much worse problems than the ones Greg notices here.
Joe Thorn’s Note to Self scratched the surface of those problems, and I credit him for that. Note to Self is probably the second book you should read in this category of theological self-help — right after Killing Calvinism. But that said, I think at some point the navel-gazing has to stop and we have to live a little and take our licks to grow up. The way that Calvinism really becomes a way to worship God and not just a kind of seminary education is to live a little, and then die a little, and then maybe die a little more, until there is less of you and more of the Jesus you ought to be leaning on left to do the things you say you believe.
So fine: read the books. Sort of read them once and hide them away for a year or 3 so that you are forewarned about the kind of person you really are. Then, after you have tried to live inside the warning, go back and read them a second time and see how well you did. It will sting a little, but it will be worth it. Every one of you needs it, and it’ll be OK if you don’t take my word for it.
It won’t be OK, however, if you don’t figure these things out on your own.
Grace and peace to you, Centurion.
Frank Turk, Pyromaniacs