Antinomianism Series: Tullian Tchividjian on Active and Passive Righteousness

AntinomianismI have been working my way through the body of Tullian’s teaching that is available on the Liberate website. One sermon particular has caught my attention as something that I have concerns about. He engaged in a teaching series in which he wanted to teach about the theological distinctives that he sees as having made substantial differences in his life. One of these sermons centered around the difference between our Active and Passive Righteousness. You can listen to his sermon online through the Liberate Podcast.

Now, I want to be really clear, I don’t have any particular issue with the Lutheran understanding of Passive and Active righteousness. Essentially speaking, Tchavidjian characterizes it accurately when he notes that Passive Righteousness is the righteousness that we passively receive from God in justification. Active Righteousness is the righteousness we receive in the eyes of our neighbors when we do good works horizontally. This is codified in Luther’s famous statement “God does not need our good works, but our neighbor does”[1]

However, what concerns me is that Tchavidjian seems to leave no room open for the concept that what Christians do for their neighbors, or when Christians succeed at not sinning, that it brings pleasure to God. Furthermore it seems to me that there are a class of commands that are not related to our horizontal relationships. When I am commanded to study God’s word, or to pray without ceasing, that does not seem to have a necessarily horizontal component. Where do these commands fall in Tchavidjian’s theology?

Furthermore, it seem to me that this use of Luther is somewhat suspect. Although not written by Luther himself, the Solid Declaration of the Formula of Concord seems to acknowledge that our works are pleasing (or displeasing) to God. Tchavidjian argues in this sermon that the good works that we are commanded to do after justification in no way are related to our standing before God. Now, I fully affirm that they in no way are related to our standing as justified or not justified. However it seems to me that if we affirm -as the Formula of Concord and the Scots Confession, among others, does- that God can be pleased or displeased by our actions, then it is plainly false that our standing before God is unaffected by our works (good or wicked).

This again seems to me to be another case of a confusion between Justification and Sanctification.

[1] Wingren, Gustaf (19 February 2004), Rasmussen, Carl C., trans., Luther on Vocation, Wipf and Stock Publishers, p. 10.