In this, the third part of a 14 part series, I want to point out three things that I greatly appreciated about Kevin Pedergrass’s book entitled, “A Different Kind of Poison: How Legalism Destroys Grace”.
You can read the earlier parts here:
The Fascinating Story of Kevin Pendergrass (Legalism, Part 1 of 14)
Admitting My Bias (Legalism, Part 2 of 14)
First of all, this book was a wonderfully written book. This is one of those books that you don’t want to put down. After a brief introduction (chapters 1-4), Kevin tells his personal story (chapters 5-33). Kevin begins with his upbringing, and describes how he grew to becoming legalistic without realizing it, questions he wrestled with, mistakes he made, relationships he struggled with, and how he finally came to develop a deeper appreciation for God’s grace. I have always respected Kevin, but after reading his story, I grew to develop a deep appreciation of his courage and his sincere desire to stand for the truth. There were times where I struggled to hold back tears, felt his frustrations, and felt his excitement as he grew closer to God.
Beginning with chapter 34, the tone shifts as Kevin systematically walks the reader through how and why his thinking shifted. This section reflects the depth of Kevin’s thinking, and yet it is communicated in a very simple and easy to follow style. Kevin has an incredible talent as a writer, a storyteller, and a teacher. In this respect, the book was thoroughly enjoyable.
Secondly, I was pleasantly surprised to find that this book on legalism was not written to discourage our commitment to obedience and teaching the truth. As I stated in part 1, this was one of my biggest concerns going into the book. But right off the bat in chapter two Kevin writes:
Please understand that obedience to God is not legalism (Heb. 5.8-9; 1 Jn. 5.3). Teaching that the Bible is the objective standard of right and wrong is not legalism (2 Tim. 3.16-17; Jn. 8.32). Teaching against sin is not legalism (2 Tim. 4.3). Holding other Christians accountable is not legalism (Heb. 3.12-13). Emphasizing the whole counsel of God is not legalism (Acts 20.20, 27). (p.8)
And he doesn’t stop there. At multiple points throughout the book, Kevin pauses to make sure that his readers understand that he is not suggesting that obedience doesn’t matter. Kevin recognizes that “a true faith is a trust in Jesus that will produce works” (p. 168; cf. Ja. 2.19). Now perhaps Kevin is lying, or perhaps he’s a lunatic, but I really think we should give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he really isn’t trying to downplay the important of teaching and obeying the truth.
Thirdly, this is not a “church bashing” book. Yes, the book offers some critiques for the church, but critique can be healthy. Paul warned Christians never to think of themselves above self-examination. “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith” (2 Cor. 13.5). But there can sometimes be a very fine line between self-examination and bitter church-bashing. There are far too many self-appointed “church critics” out there, eager to vomit bitter accusations against the church every chance they get. But Kevin chose a different path.
Kevin does an excellent job offering his critiques in a loving way. In fact, Kevin seems to go out of way not to name any specific churches with which he has been associated. He has obviously taken great care to avoid painting the church in a negative light. The worst villain of the book is none other than Kevin himself.
In chapter 52, Kevin writes a passionate appeal to those who, like him, have grown frustrated and discouraged with legalism, in which he urges them to “show mercy and grace to those around you” (p. 240). But even more importantly, Kevin practices what he preaches. It seems evident to me that Kevin loves the church, even those within the church who have mistreated him.
If other Christians desire to write a book which critiques the church, I highly recommend Kevin’s book as a model and an example of how this should be done. I am deeply appreciative to Kevin for this aspect of the book.
In short, I respected Kevin Pendergrass before reading this book (that’s part of the reason I was excited to read it). But after reading this book, I’ve grown to appreciate and respect Kevin even more. If every Christians shared Kevin’s passion, Kevin’s willingness to grow, Kevin’s courage to follow what he understands to be true regardless of the consequences, the church would be much stronger in knowledge. If every Christians learned to navigate differences of opinion with the kindness, mercy, and love that Kevin has worked to develop, the church would quickly grow in their reputation of graciousness. Yes, I have disagreements with Kevin, several of them significant. But these disagreements have nothing to do with a lack of respect, admiration, or love for Kevin Pendergrass.
Continue reading Part 4 here:
An Overview of Kevin’s Argument (Legalism, Part 4 of 14)