Book Review:

Killing Calvinism, Greg Dutcher (CruciformPress, 2012)

“God does not need us to be his spin doctors.”  Now that’s a heck of a  sentence. It’s short. It’s true. And it kind of slaps you in the face. You can find it on page 74 of Killing Calvinism. I think that another good title for this book would be Confessions for the Cage-Stage Calvinist. How do you destroy a perfectly good theology? Well, it is affectionately known as the “cage stage.” This is the stage when one newly discovers the glory of the doctrines of grace, and they become so obnoxiously enamored that it might be wise to cage them up for a while.

Having come from an Arminian background myself, I know this stage all too well. I formerly held all the presuppositions that Calvinists were just a bunch of arrogant people who thought they were special. As a Baptist in my early 20’s, I began reading Jonathan Edwards and was introduced to the beauty of God’s sovereignty. When I began learning about the extent of man’s depravity and the completely undeserved election of God, I wanted to shout his grace from the roof tops.

Dutcher seems to have written this book to warn those who may be carried away more by zeal for correct doctrine than wisdom and love toward the people they are engaging. He writes from experience. Each chapter seems like another lesson learned in his own bildungsroman into the pastorate. Some of the ways you can destroy the perfectly good theology of Calvinism: By Loving Calvinism as an End in Itself, By Becoming a Theologian Instead of a Disciple, By Loving God’s Sovereignty More than God Himself, By Losing Urgency in Evangelism, By Learning Only from Other Calvinists, By Tidying Up the Bible’s Loose Ends, By Being an Arrogant Know-It-All, and By Scoffing at the Hang-Ups Others Have with Calvinism. These are indeed a good summation of the presuppositions an Arminian would hold against Calvinists. Dutcher points out that these presuppositions exist for a reason, and we all need to look in the mirror to see if we have any egg on our face.

Not every issue dealt with in this book was unique to only the cage-stagers. There were certainly lessons in there for the older Calvinist as well. I especially like the chapter encouraging us to learn even from those who don’t hold to our blessed doctrines. We have to examine what every teacher says through the lens of Scripture, but we shouldn’t be so prideful to think that other brothers and sisters in the faith have nothing to teach us.

One thing the author succeeded in doing with this book was to have me engaged in quite an imaginary conversation with him while I read. Although I was sort of kidding about the new title suggestion, I think it may have been a little more helpful to set the tone of the book. These destructive traits that Dutcher is warning against have no part in true Calvinism. While Dutcher certainly mentions this throughout the book, I found myself wanting this highlighted more in the beginning. Instead of starting with the negative distortions, I guess I would have liked the real beauty of the doctrines of grace to shine in all their glory, demonstrating even more powerfully the man-centered inadequacies of these distortions.

When I began visiting other churches that did teach Calvinism, I found myself welcomed into a mature group of believers that for the most part didn’t portray these Calvinist caricatures. They grew up on the doctrines of grace, and did not go through the cage-stage. In some ways they took them for granted, and I wanted to zealously awaken them to the world of Arminians out there that need our help. But the reformed church itself served as a sort of “cage,” that taught me the grandness of our God’s love in the drama of his Word, and his covenantal love.

That leads me to one other qualm I had. This is probably going to make me seem like I am splitting hairs, and need to drink in the correctives of this book in a second glass; but if I’m going to be authentic in my review I have to say it. I am so happy that there is such a resurgence of Baptists, and other denominations teaching the doctrines of grace. It is a great blessing to the church. But “reformed theology” is not merely the 5 points of Calvinism. I know that these terms are often used interchangeably, but I think it is very unhelpful. To quote Michael Horton from his book, Covenant and Eschatology,  “We are, as a Christian community, clear, plain, and united in our confession to the degree that we have together perceived the clarity, particularity, and unity of what we have heard” (216). Killing Calvinism is written to the larger audience of us who hold to the 5 points. I agree with much of what Dutcher said. But I found myself becoming defensive when he uses belief in the 5 points interchangeably with reformed theology, and when he refers to some as “reformed preachers” who do not teach all of reformed theology. I think that we hold a better platform for discussion and sharpening one another in love if our confessional terms and labels are more clear.

That being said, I appreciate the candid honesty from which Dutcher warns fellow 5 point Calvinists in his book. May it rebuke us all to “put all of our hope in our sovereign God” (75), not our perfect theology. “May we never dare to take it upon ourselves to help God out and close the circle on our own” (73).