Book Review: “A Different Kind of Poison – How Legalism Destroys Grace” by Kevin Pendergrass

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This book is a journey from legalism to grace through the life of Kevin Pendergrass. I was unaware of Kevin’s story and his transformation until I read his book and I would like to make you aware of this resource.

Kevin group up as many of us did – contending for the faith (which meant contending for the 1950s Church of Christ). He was a fighter…a debater. He knew who was right and wrong and what verses to proof text to prove it. He is very open about the hypocrisy that was in his life during those years as he struggled with various things all the while calling on others to perfection.

He was an insider…speaking all over the country and working with ministries that had high visibility in our fellowship. He was an active participant in correcting and reproving various people and groups on a regular basis in a very public way. He openly admits he was dogmatic and self-centered. Something needed to change.

This book is engaging. Kevin is a great storyteller and kept me interested the whole way. Not only is he a good storyteller, he is a good thinker. This is what got him as far as he did in his previous way of thinking. I am glad God changed his mind to re-engage his thoughts and gifts into a healthier, more biblical approach to things. We are blessed and benefited from the strength of his mind and ability to think through doctrine and inconsistencies on the path to a better way that some never find

His journey is something many of us can relate to but fewer find a path to something healthier. He talks about what changed his mind and how he came to a better understanding of the grace of God. This takes up the first 36 chapters of the book.

He makes a turn at chapter 37 through the end of the book to move from autobiography to instruction. From that point on he does a biblical exposition of the topics that helped him move to a better place in his life and theology:

  • Chapter 37 – Understanding God’s Holiness and Love
  • Chapter 38 – The Gospel
  • Chapter 39 – Is Heaven Really that Small?
  • Chapter 40 – Using the Law Lawfully
  • Chapter 41 – Not Enough Points
  • Chapter 42 – Accessing God’s Grace
  • Chapter 43 – But What About Works?
  • etc

He not only desconstructs legalism, he reconstructs a more biblical theology that still has room for obedience but puts it in its proper context with an emphasis on grace and the love of God for us.

Chapter 49 is his “Aha” moment that I won’t spoil for you but mention it to say that I believe this book will set off some “aha” moments for those who read it.

Here is why this book is important – Churches of Christ have had some identity issues. Once we figure out that legalism is poisonous we struggle to know what to replace it with. This book helps illustrate an answer to that problem that I found helpful and I think you will too.

Thanks to Kevin for being vulnerable and I am sure this puts him in an awkward position with some people but what he has done will prove helpful for many people.

4 Responses

  1. Romans 6:1-2, 15 will have to be read in context. There are so many verses that say “All have sinned” and “G-d will forgive”. I have heard Romans 6 taken out of context and used as the permission to not extend grace because, as many were told, you will sin if you think there is grace. This is similar to what the Pharisees did, that Jesus called them down for doing, when they ring-fenced the laws in the Torah.

  2. I have had my own journey from legalism to grace that has made me an outsider looking in while still on the inside, but I have found others that are the same.
    My father was a conservative coC preacher and I was raised thinking that we were correct and it took me a long time to realize that we are only correct in our eyes and by our own thinking.
    Now what I have found in the coC is a shift towards grace, but this is a modified grace, as it is a “deserved grace”, which is a grace that others aren’t able to access, because they aren’t deserving of it.
    Now we understand what grace is and can define it, but that doesn’t mean we can allow others access to it due to legalistic requirements that even we fail at.
    The book “Muscle and Shovel” was a book that pushed this concept of deserved grace.
    I think I will have to pony up and buy this book.

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