Antinomianism Series: One Way Love – Introduction

AntinomianismI finally got my copy of One Way Love by Tullian Tchividjian and have begun my run through it. This is the primary published source that sparked most of the recent controversy and I spent a few minutes reading the introduction the other day and wanted to parse out a few thoughts I had while they were still fresh.
1wLThe introduction, as they are often intended to do, simply lays out the main intention of the book. It begins with a discussion surrounding anxiety and stress. Tchividjian then seems to correlate this increase in stress with the general decrease in religious affiliation. He then proceeds to launch into his main discussion regarding Performancism which he defines as

[T]he mindset that equates our identity and value directly to our performance and accomplishments.[1]

He isn’t limiting this to the church, and actually roots his initial examples in the secular sector. My initial thought when I observed this was that it seemed substantial given what I’ve already written regarding the clear confusion between justification and sanctification present in Tchividjian’s writing and preaching.

He then delivers the initial jab of his one-two punch. “Sadly the Christian church has not proven to be immune to performance.”[2] He connects this sad state of affairs with the a recent push, which he notes he was a part of, toward a more vibrant and pious expression of Christian sacrificial faith. The problem, says Tchividjian, is that we have lost sight of the fact that Christianity is about Christ’s accomplished work on the cross, not the work that we do for Christ or on his behalf in the world.

Up until now, I’ve been tracking with him. I couldn’t agree more with the idea’s expressed thus far. It is true that far too many in the Church find their identity in their various accomplishments rather than in their unity with the Father, in the Son, through the Spirit. It is absolutely the case that in some sectors of the Church a kind of performance driven Christianity is rampant. However, on page 22 he delivers the hook. This is where he really describes the problem.

[The Gospel] is good news for bad people coping with their failure to be good. The heart of Christian faith is Good news, not good advice, good technique, or good behavior.[3]

Now, at first blush, how could anyone disagree with that. I certainly don’t on its face. However, as he progresses he defines from a technical perspective what the problem is. He offers a curious definition on page 23 of Works Righteousness.

Works righteousness is the term the Protestant Reformation used to describe spiritual performancism.[4]

This is absolutely true, if we are talking about justification. The primary controversy in the Reformation was about the idea that we are in any way justified by works instead of exclusively by God’s grace through the instrumental means of our faith. So, while his definition is true in a sense… it also misses the whole point. He then goes on to make a stunning claim.

It might not be too much of an overstatement to say that if Jesus came to proclaim good news to the poor and release to the captives, to restore sight to the blind and give freedom for the oppressed, then Christianity has come to stand for – and in practice promulgate – the exact opposite of what its founder intended. (Luke 4:18-19)[5]

If I am to read that correctly, he is not arguing that some parts of (Protestant) Christianity (no matter how big or small) represent what he is critiquing. He is arguing that Christianity as a movement in its current iteration represents this. That is, he believes that this performancism is so widespread that it actually marks the defining feature of Christianity right now.

Hopefully he will clarify this in the following pages and chapters, because this is a flat out untenable argument that I think is demonstrably false. Beyond that, even though he claims that he doesn’t seem himself as the next Luther or Calvin… it paints a picture of Christianity that is desperately lost and a picture of Christianity that has lost the Gospel. Then Tchividjian comes along with the answer… sure sounds like Luther to me.

Tchividjian closes by preemptively shutting up his critics. I have noted in the past that this is a common tactic, to anticipate those who might object and to paint them in the worst light possible. It is like a strange kind of rhetorical judo. Paint your opponents as harsh haters, set up the image of the straw man ahead of time, and when the critique actually comes your readers will recognize the similarities between the grotesque painting you gave them and the real thing and assume you were right. You take on a prophetic air as you foretell what is coming, and your prophesy is fulfilled when it comes. This tactic comes to full force when Tchividjian applies the all too abused “religious people” label to those who might have objections to what seems at this point to be an utter breakdown between the concepts of Justification by Grace through faith alone and by the promised Sanctification by Grace through many and sundry instrumental means (Faith and Works among the primary). He writes:

Far too many professing Christians sound like ungrateful children who can’s stop biting the hand that feeds them. It amazes me that you will hear great concern from inside the church about too much grace, but rarely will you ever hear great concerns from inside the church about too many rules. Indeed, the absurdity of God’s indiscriminate compassion always gets “religious” people up in arms. Why? Because we are, by nature, glory-hoarding, self-centered control freaks – God wannabes. That’s why.[6]

Finally, Tchividjian seems to confirm all of our concerns about his confusion between Sanctification and Justification. He writes “It is high time for the Church to honor its Founder by embracing sola gratia anew.” In a book written primarily to a target audience who has already been justified by grace alone… and therefore is struggling with the performancism of the sanctification part of God’s act of salvation… the use of sola gratia is inappropriate. Don’t misread me, sanctification is accomplished by the Holy Spirit, and is inherently gracious. But the fact remains that he uses various means, including our work and effort, to accomplish that end. With this thought, we get the tag line. The Gospel is “the Word about God’s one-way love for sinners,”[7] Now, I get that this is a tag line… but it misses the point of the Gospel entirely. Sure, the Gospel is about the fact that God loves his people without consideration of their sin, but only because he is good. However, God’s love is not such that it leaves us in our sin. God’s love moves us to love him in return. The Gospel is not that God’s love is one way… the Gospel is that because of God’s love we are free to love him as he unites us with himself, in his Son, through his Spirit.


 

[1] Tchividjian, Tullian (1 October 2013), One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, David C Cook, p. 20.
[2] Ibid 21.
[3] Ibid 22.
[4] Ibid 23.
[5] Ibid 23.
[6] Ibid 24-25.
[7] Ibid 25.