Antinomianism Series: Initial Assessment

AntinomianismI have had the opportunity over the past few days to sample a few sermons from Tullian Tchividjian, as well as to listen to his interview on Fighting for the Faith with Chris Rosebrough. I wanted to reflect on a few of the thoughts I had while listening, as this is my first direct interaction with Tchividjian and I wanted my initial assessment to be a matter of public record.

First, I want to say a few positive things about Tchividjian

  • Tchividjian is an excellent orator who can turn a phrase
  • He also has an excellent ability to call Scripture to mind
  • He is charming, funny, and well spoken
  • He is direct and unashamed regarding what he believes

Now, this should not be thought of as a full-blown assessment of Tchividjian’s theology, only an initial reaction to what I’ve heard. There are specific phrases that caught my attention, but as I will probably be reviewing these two interactions directly I will paraphrase rather than quote. It is not my intention to overly dissect these statements, nor is it my attention to misconstrue what he is saying due to lack of context.

God’s Two Words – Sermon Delivered at Liberate Conference in 2013

This sermon served as the plenary address at the Liberate Conference. While this was an engaging sermon that I enjoyed listening to, I picked up on what I suspect will be a recurring theme. Throughout the sermon Tchividjian seems to be confusing the topics of sanctification and justification.  In addition, I can understand now why there is criticism regarding Tchividjian’s  understanding of the so-called Third Use of the Law.

The overall purpose of the sermon was to explain that God has two words, Law and Gospel. He said on more than one occasion, and it is attested in other writing and various locations, that there is an order to which these two words ought to be preached. First you preach Law, then you preach Gospel. Essentially, for Tchividjian, the Law serves to convict us of sin and condemn us. The Gospel then serves to free us from the condemnation of the Law. Law, then Gospel. However, the problem that comes into this is that the Third Use then would demand that we preach Law again. This may not be his intention, but the framework that he hammers in on of Law THEN Gospel certainly seems to pose problems, if not outright exclude the Third Use.

A particular statement stood out in which it seemed most clear that he was confusing Justification and Sanctification. He remarked that he had interacted with someone who claimed that Jesus fully satisfied him. He responded by saying “not he doesn’t” and continued to explain that no one is fully satisfied by Jesus. His point seemed to be something akin to “we still have more sanctification to go, we haven’t reached perfection.” However, he then continued and said “I’m not fully satisfied by Jesus, but Jesus fully satisfied the Father for me.” This sentence certainly seems to be regarding Justification rather than sanctification. Similar kinds of statements, in which he appears to be speaking of sanctification but then makes a clear statement that only applies to justification persist throughout the sermon. I won’t belabor the point, but suffice it to say, in this sermon this confusion (which is a common critique) is a clear problem, and it doesn’t take a deep analysis to reveal them.

Fighting For the Faith Interview

Now, while the same kind of confusion is present in the interview with Chris Rosebrough, and to be honest I’m a little disappointed in Rosebrough for not picking up on it, more strikingly present in this interview was an apparent confusion regarding what Tchividjian is being critiqued for. On several occasions Tchividjian remarked that he didn’t understand what was controversial about his assertion that “the Law does not produce that which it demands.” He said this on multiple occasions, and acted as though this was the primary critique that has been leveled against him. The problem with this is that in so far as I have seen, no one anywhere has ever 1) critiqued Tchividjian for saying this or 2) has ever argued that the Law does this. Tchividjian seems to seriously think that this is what people are objecting to, which reveals a stunning disconnect from what people are actually objecting to.

In addition, the same kind of confusion between justification and sanctification was present throughout the interview. He repeatedly said things like “The Law can only tell me what God demands, but cannot supply me the power to fulfill those requirements.” However, when he would then explain what the import of that was, he would make clear statements regarding justification. He would talk about being acceptable to God, he would speak about becoming righteous, or other statements that seem to refer to our standing before God rather than our personal growth in holiness. No one is saying anything about the Law giving us the power to fulfill God’s righteous demands and become acceptable and righteous.

Finally, Tchividjian was explicit regarding the Third Use of the Law. He said more than once that the Law, although not giving us the power to, tells us how to love our neighbor.  He was able to explain that Christians are to be preached the Law both to convict them of their remaining sin as well as to guide them in the process of growing in holiness. However, what seems to be at odds with his explicit remarks on Fighting for the Faith is that one of the primary hallmarks of his teaching is the aforementioned commends regarding God’s two words and the specific order in which they are to be preached. If Law, roughly speaking, is there to show us our condemned state in order to prepare us for repentance, and Gospel is there to show us that Christ has paid the price for us and call us to repentance… where then does the preaching of the Law land for Christians? If we preach Law, then Gospel… where does the Third Use fit?

One last note, something that just rubs me the wrong way. As I have commented in various places in the past… It drives me nuts when people preemptively head off criticism by disregarding anyone who might comment. In this case, Tchividjian pulled the classic “I’m sure this conversation is going to be parsed and picked apart” line, effectively undercutting anyone who would comment. The irony of this is that this was on an interview on Fighting for the Faith which is a radio show that is almost exclusively there to parse and pick apart bad preaching. It struck me as kind of humorous, humorous in the way that makes you want to cry, that Tchividjian sounded a lot like the Steven Furtick Haters satire that Rosebrough often plays between his segments.