18 July 2012

Killing Calvinism

by Frank Turk

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 subscription e-publisher CruciformPress.

Cruciform is an interesting business case as it is (almost exclusively) an e-publisher, and it generates long pamphlets on a pretty tight schedule on topics of general interest.  So in approaching its titles, 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 to 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 long, 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.


Mark Lussier said...

Just to be sure, this is what you are referring to, right?

Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:10-11)

James Scott Bell said...

Thanks for bringing this up in-house, Frank. Even for those of us out on the lawn, Dutcher's list seems like an apt agenda for a meeting:

-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

With a little tweaking, this could become a checklist for any theological persuasion. Dutcher's little book seems in the spirit of Piper, my favorite Calvinist. Hmm, "My Favorite Calvinists." Now there's a title just waiting for a book...Frank, I think you'll make it into the same chapter as Phil, but only if you promise to come to the launch party.

danny2 said...

Finished it last week and agree completely Frank!

DJP said...

So... are you bovvered?

Paula said...

I just finished it yesterday (and subscribed to Cruciform - books by subscription, love it). I am a fairly new DOG woman - after a few years of learning, just came to Reformed church a little over two years ago. I was in the cage-stage and didn't even know what it was. But I almost destroyed a beautiful friendship with my Charismatic sister in Christ. I wish I had this book then. I am too old to be YRR, but I got so much from this - my husband is reading it now, and I am hoping our church will get some copies to put on our book table. Thanks for featuring this book.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I wonder if Cruciform would publish the Calvinist Joke Book, on the heels of Killing Calvinism? The pitch would be to help Calvinists get some of the starch out of their shorts, now that the cage-stage is out on the table for all to see!

Luke Wolford said...


Eddie Eddings does the Calvinist humor online for free. :)

Aaron said...

Ok, I'll bite. I'll download for Kindle app tonight. But only because of you Frank.

FX Turk said...

I'm not bovvered.

Robert Warren said...

Would that other streams of theology go through such frequent introspections as Calvinists do.

donsands said...

Nice review Cent. Thanks. Greg used to be my pastor many Moons ago. He is a fine pastor, and he can really preach the Word.

It's great when the Body encoures one another to focus on Christ, and yet not in a mamby-pamby way, but through the Word of God, the truth.

Solameanie said...

It would be nice if their order form would take your bank card and not reject it for no reason. Grrrr.

Nonna said...

Is this a good book for non-Calvinists? A ditto to Johnny Dialectic.

Nonna said...

"Would that other streams of theology go through such frequent introspections as Calvinists do."


They do - you just aren't aware of it apparently.

Nash Equilibrium said...

I wonder if the sterotype of Angry Young Calvinists was partially brought about by the imagery of Phil hitting bin Laden over the head with a Costco frozen meat chub?

Nonna said...


I daresay you have a healthy dose of humor today!

daniel vance said...

small world, donsands. I used to know Greg when I was a child. He was friends with my parents and part of the nascent college ministry at the church we attended here in Baltimore, Calvary Tabernacle. We moved away and lost touch and now I am back in MD for a season. Odd--or providential--to come across his name on pyro's site here, as well as another person who knew him.

Fred Butler said...

At the risk of derailing the comments, one of the killers for Calvinists I have heard is their insistence that one must become a Covenant Theologian, confirm the WCF or the LBCF, and adopt the squirrel=Jesus in order to be a genuine Calvinist.

I know more than a few folks who have a problem with the CT than they do "Calvinism" per se.

Nash Equilibrium said...

FB - So you're saying that an insistence that Jesus can be found in the OT is a bad thing?

DJP said...

Nash, I think you (A) should quote what punctuation-mark in Fred's comment has any possible hint in that direction, (B) tell him you were joking, or (C) apologize.

His comment wasn't that long and, coupled with a linked article, wasn't that hard to understand.

Nash Equilibrium said...

(A) I'm not joking, but maybe I'm misunderstanding.
(B) I read the reference he linked and it refers to a boy who doesn't see Jesus in the OT, but says he does because he wants candy.
(C) He seems to be saying that one has to be willing to see Jesus in the OT to be a Calvinist, and that that is a killer for Calvinism.
(D) Can you point to why his comment doesn't say that?

DJP said...

Yes, easily, in the same way that the comment doesn't say that beef is eleven.

That is, in that it in no way says it.

Nash Equilibrium said...

Dan, maybe Fred will show up and more clearly explain what he meant. I'm not trying to make any trouble here or malign Fred, I'm simply trying to understand what he did mean, which thanks to your help, I see may be far, far different than the way I interpreted it.
Clearly you feel you somehow know what Fred meant. I just saying that I don't know because I don't know Fred, I only know what he wrote here. And it isn't very clear in my opinion.

DJP said...

He may if he likes, but he needn't, since he didn't say anything like that Jesus can't "be found in the OT," any more than he said anything like that it's good to wallop your mother every now and then.

Fred Butler said...

Nash wrote,
So you're saying that an insistence that Jesus can be found in the OT is a bad thing?

It is when your hermeneutic totally over rides an OT passage that isn't talking about Jesus. Generally this is done with certain prophetic passages, say for example Ezekiel 40-48. I don't mean to raise that example for discussion, just as an illustration of what I mean.

(C) He seems to be saying that one has to be willing to see Jesus in the OT to be a Calvinist, and that that is a killer for Calvinism.

Allow me to clarify: Within the last decade or more with the resurgence of "Calvinism" among younger evangelical (and I don't mean just the YRR), the discussion I hear from them is if a person doesn't abandon his Dispensational Premillennialism, embrace a Covenant Theology frame work to reading the Bible which includes an historical redemptive hermeneutic, and become either amill or postmill, he can't be a true Calvinist. Lots of folks don't like Calvinist for the very reason they find such conclusions odious. Make sense?


Nash Equilibrium said...

Fred - yes, it does. I can't honestly say I understand everything you're saying, but what I do understand makes sense. I think you are saying: (a) there are Calvinists who insist on reading Jesus into the OT where He isn't actually being talked about, and (b) there are certain folks who believe you must be either become a postmillennialist or an amillennialist in order to legitimately be a Calvinist.

That makes total sense to me, although I didn't know that such a sect existed, before reading this.

I don't really understand why there would necessarily be a conflict between believing in the Covenant and believing in Dispensationalism, but that's probably because I'm just a Christian with Calvinist leanings but not (also) a Theologian! lol

Nash Equilibrium said...

PS: Thank you for the answer!

Fred Butler said...

I don't really understand why there would necessarily be a conflict between believing in the Covenant and believing in Dispensationalism, but that's probably because I'm just a Christian with Calvinist leanings but not (also) a Theologian!

I know, it seems odd, but I've gone hammer and tongs with a bunch of them on this subject. Counseled with individuals who had been "accosted" by them. I could tell you stories...

The Damer said...

I had a wacky A29 guy tell me that I should daily meditate on "Note to Self." That alone turned me off to it.

Nash Equilibrium said...

(Smiles to self that there is at least one wacky sect he hasn't yet had to deal with!)

Thanks Fred! I learned something new today!

Unknown said...

Good post bro!