Book Snapshots Cruciform Press Edition: Killing Calvinism by Greg Dutcher, Friends and Lovers by Joel Beeke, But God... by Casey Lute, & Who Am I? by Jerry Bridges

Killing Calvinism: How to Destroy a Perfectly Good Theology from the Inside by Greg Dutcher

4.5 out of 5 Stars
Publisher: Cruciform Press
Buy Killing Calvinism
Reading Level: Easy

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 Hybles 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.

Friends and Lovers: Cultivating Companionship and Intimacy in Marriage by Joel Beeke

5 out of 5 Stars
Publisher: Cruciform Press
Buy Friends and Lovers by Joel Beeke
Reading Level: Easy

Joel Beeke is quickly becoming one of my favorite pastors to read because the books I’ve read are saturated in the gospel, full of quotations from the Puritans, and his tone is pastoral. But most importantly he handles the word of God with the skill of a physician. Listen to the tone from the outset,

May the Spirit of God blow upon your marriage through the Word of Christ so that smoldering coals of love may burst once more into flame, and may the fire of love be refueled to produce marriages that blaze with love to the glory of God! (Kindle Locations 207-209).

I wish all of the books I’ve read approached discipleship and Christian growth with that love and focus.

Recently another book was released that approached marriage from the perspective of friendship and sex but with far less tact in my opinion. Beeke tackles friendship first rooting it in the gospel. The entire first section can be summed up when he says, ‘true marital friendship is the personal bond of shared life in Christ’ (287-288). In developing friendship, he stresses time and time again the importance of finding someone who loves Christ and is committed to growing in Christ with you (see 337 & 428). He also has the most balanced conversation about submission in the home I have found. He recommends for husbands and wives that when the other spouse has stronger feelings about non-spiritual things we should frequently “yield” (513).

Finally, he ends Friends and Lovers with a candid and careful discussion about sex. I recently wrote about how the Scripture is not afraid to talk about sex but it’s also not lurid. Beeke demonstrates this balance well. He starts by putting the ax to the root

In some ways this [negative view of sex] dysfunction is much like what someone might say about a piece of double chocolate cake: “It tastes so good, it must be sinful.” Do you sense how perverse the statement is—that good things are sinful? (703-705).

and then reminds that sex is not marriage itself but “the fruit of a good marriage” (767). He also reminds us that “women [are not required to] do whatever her husband wants” nor “should [we] engage in every form of sexual practice” (910). He emphasizes service in the bedroom. He ends with one of the most helpful paragraphs on marriage I’ve read.

your marriage, as all of life, with a God-centered perspective shaped by the five great solas (or “alones”) of the Reformation: Scripture alone, grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone, and the glory of God alone. Reject any ambition to use marriage as a means to glorify a mere human, and live for the glory of God alone. Do not rely on your own understanding but follow Scripture alone as the rule of life. Do not be self-righteous or trust in the merit of your own works, but humbly receive and rest in God’s gift of justification by faith alone. After committing to change and grow, do not depend on your own strength, but labor with prayer for sanctification by grace alone. And seek all blessings by looking to Christ alone. He is the mediator of all grace and the friend of sinners. (1326-1334).

If you plan on purchasing this book, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by purchasing from here.

“But God...”: The Two Words at the Heart of the Gospel by Casey Lute

4 out of 5 Stars
Publisher: Cruciform Press
Buy: “But God...” by Casey Lute
Reading Level: Easy

I bought this book because Ephesians 2 is one of my favorite passages and my Christian life has thrived because of that single “But God...” Lute sums my feelings on that passage, “To the left of ‘But God’ is hopelessness, darkness, and death. But to its right, following ‘But God,’ readers of Scripture will find hope, light, and life” (pp. 5-6). Kindle Edition.

Before reading this book, I had no idea what the structure would be. I assumed because of how much I loved Ephesians 2 that the entire book would an exposition of that passage. Lute does explain Ephesians 2 but he follows this larger theme of God’s necessary work in the affairs of men throughout the entire Bible. He starts with Noah, moves to Israel, then Nehemiah, into the Psalms, and ending in the New Testament with Romans 5:8, Acts 13:30, 1 Corinthians 1:27, Ephesians 2:4, and 2 Timothy 2:19. Before starting he lays out his cards on the table,

“But God” marks God’s relentless, merciful interventions in human history. It teaches us that God does not wait for us to bring ourselves to him, but that he acts first to bring about our good. (p. 6). Cruciform Press.

These passages are examined carefully and simply. His exposition could be easily understood by the newest Christians. The chiastic structure of the “But God” is demonstrated throughout the Bible. He points out,

The Hebrew Bible is unlike other ancient documents—it does not shy away from recording the sins of its people because it is not ultimately about the people. (p. 40). Kindle Edition.

My wife and I recently discussed this very point while reading through Genesis together. These people are shady. None of them are commendable outside of the grace of God. That gives us hope as we plead for God to intervene in our daily lives.

If you plan on purchasing this book, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by purchasing from here.

Who Am I? Identity in Christ by Jerry Bridges

4.5 out of 5 Stars
Publisher: Cruciform Press
Buy Who Am I?: Identity in Christ by Jerry Bridges
Reading Level: Easy

I received a paperback of Who Am I? while attending Together for the Gospel and have been sitting on it since. I’m going to start with my only complaint. The mannequin on the cover freaks me out. It reminds of one of those faceless robots from that cheesy Will Smith movie iRobot. Otherwise, I have no substantial critiques.

He starts by discussing our common identity with humanity in creation. Foundationally we are creatures but then he zeros in on the Christian's unique identity in Christ as justified, adopted sons of God, new creations, saints, servants of Christ, and not yet perfect.

He also handles deftly the differences between initial sanctification and justification versus progressive sanctification and our effort.

Each of these topics could take over the party but they are clearly and accurately explained. His writing is approachable yet profound (the topics demand it).

Who Am I? should be a book that pastors look at giving all new Christians they minister to. The topics addressed are so foundational to Christian living and our understanding of salvation. The format lends itself to discussion and discipleship. Each chapter handles one of these topics carefully and accurately. They each build on each other and the entire book exudes a sense of hope and longing for the finality of our salvation.

If you plan on purchasing this book, consider supporting Grace for Sinners by purchasing from here.