Antinomianism Series: One Way Love – An Exhausted World

AntinomianismToday I was able to carve out some time to get back to One Way Love. In the midst of preparation for various lectures, an upcoming vacation, small group, full-time employment, and other responsibilities, I could definitely feel what Tchividjian was referring to when he speaks of exhaustion. However, my resonance with the chapter ends there.
1wLThe first full chapter of the book launches on a goal of establishing that the performance and achievement based rhythm of the world – which Tchividjian wants to argue has made inroads into the Church – has left us all in a place of exhaustion. He then establishes that the remainder of the book will be his proposal for how we might cure that exhaustion. The cure, he claims, is the idea that God’s uni-directional and un-conditional (which in his definition are synonymous terms) love and grace (which again are roughly synonymous) will lead us to a place of rest from our weary lives.

While this is a laudable goal, and – as seems often to be the case – if this was all he said, we would have no disagreement. However, he continues to write. A common word that I have had pop into my head as I think through what Tchividjian is saying is “confusion.” Not my confusion, but a confusion that seems to be present in various ways throughout his work. One needs only to look at my post regarding the introduction, or at my post regarding my initial assessment, to see that I think he has confused justification and sanctification. However, in this chapter, there seems to be another confusion that is taking root.

Consequences vs. Punishment

The beginning of this chapter starts by trying to establish the pattern that happens in the world. “If you do this, then you will get this.” This ranges from simple examples like “If you eat your broccoli, you can have some desert”[1] and expands to longer and more specific examples. Some of these appear to be “If you X, you will be rewarded with Y” such as the broccoli example above. Others appear to be more a statement of consequence. “If you do X, the result will be Y.” Yet there seems to be a third category at times which is that of punishment. “If you do or don’t do X, I’m going to do Y to you.” Now, it doesn’t take an advanced degree to realize that these are not the same thing. Promising a reward for achievement is not the same thing as promising a punishment for lack of achievement. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. Furthermore, stating that there is a consequence for something is not the same as either of those. However, in Tchividjian’s schema, there is no third category. There is reward, and there is punishment.

This “if X, then Y” situation is what Tchividjian is defining as “two-way love” in an obvious contrast to the title of the book. However, the lack of clear delineation between Punishment and Consequence is concerning. For example, he states “If you hurt her feelings […] you’ll have to say your sorry.”[2] This is obviously not a matter of reward… so that only leaves the context of punishment in Tchividjian’s unfortunate dichotomy. Are we to believe that asking forgiveness is a punishment? Where does this leave us as far as Repentance goes? While Repentance is certainly more than asking forgiveness… but it is certainly not less. Another example that seems to fall in the area of consequence rather than punishment is one he gives regarding exercise. He says “If you don’t exercise regularly and eat well, you will gain weight.”[3] Are we to believe that weight gain is a punishment for not eating healthy? If so, that is ridiculous! The simple fact is that God has ordered the universe such that certain actions are accompanied in most cases with certain results. This is neither a punishment nor a reward, it simply is what it is.

Why This Matters

Now, this may seem like a small thing. But consider the consequences (forgive the pun) of this confusion. If I hurt my wife, does it constitute a lack of agape love on her part to expect me to apologize? If I fall into repeated unrepentant sin, does it constitute a breach in the free offer of God’s grace to sinners for the local church to place me under church discipline and bar me from the table? Of course not. God has simply ordained that some things are the way they are, and that is both for his glory and for our good. He has given us bodies that respond to foods such that when we abuse them it is bad for us. He has given us relationships such that when we do not cultivate and care for them, they do not function correctly. Rather than imply that this is somehow a defect, we ought to be recognizing that sometimes in order to obtain a desired result we need to put forward the prerequisite effort. If I want to lose weight, I need to stop buying donuts… not lament the fact that weight gain is a by-product of performancism.

What Grace Provides, What Grace Demands

Tchividjian, after a reflection on how grace justifies us unconditionally, continues to progress by offering a definition of grace. He quotes Paul Zahl who gives the common definition that grace is unmerited and unconditional. Tchividjian then makes a bold statement that I think bears some analysis.

Grace doesn’t make demands. It just gives.[4]

Is this accurate? Does God by grace simply declare us justified and demand nothing in return? I think that you can probably guess that I think the answer is no.

Again, Tchividjian has a penchant for examples, and he gives several that I think demonstrate the fault in his thinking. The primary one I want to give is that of an insensitive spouse.

You said something insensitive to your spouse, and instead of retaliating, she kept quiet and somehow didn’t hold it against you the next day.[5]

Yes, this is grace. However, he question is this: Does that spouse issue grace without expectations or demands? I get that they may not be explicit commands, but having been a spouse on both sides of this equation… there is always the expectation that the offending spouse attempts to refrain from saying offensive or insensitive things in the future… and rightfully so. If a woman was being emotionally abused by her husband and she walked into Tullian’s office and said “I just keep quiet, I know he loves me, but I want to show grace. That is why I can’t ask him to stop,” I would hope that he would not say “Good for you, showing that godlike one way love.” I would hope, and I would assume, that he would tell her that she is not obligated to continue to be abused, and even though forgiveness is present and should not have to be earned by her spouse… that there ought to be an expectation for him to stop abusing her. This may be dismissed as a silly example, just as Carl Trueman’s examples were, but I think it is a legitimate concern.

This is where the provision of grace comes in.

Grace certainly has demands. But grace also enables us to meet, albeit imperfectly, those demands. When my wife overlooks the fact that I left my belt on the floor… again, and simply quietly picks it up and puts it away… again, it is not only a gentle and graceful (read: grace filled) reminder that she loves me and is willing to sacrifice for me and for our marriage… but it also increases my love for her and motivates me not only to put my belt away, but also helps me remember to do so (and therefore enables me to do it).

God’s grace operates in a similar way… only infinitely better. He actually changes us at the very core of who we are. Before my justification I was incapable of fulfilling the demands of the Law on any level. After justification, I’m not just a forgiven version of myself… I am an entirely new type of being.[6] This new type of being is the kind of being who is empowered by the presence of the Holy Spirit to accomplish that which is demanded of it. Because Christ is with me in his Spirit, I can obey the Law. Now in part… someday in full.

Grace provides that which it demands… which is why it is Gospel and not Law.

The Law and Tchividjian’s Subtle Rejection Of It

Now, I don’t want to belabor this point too much. However, I am a firm believer that the analogies we often employ, even if we explicitly state that we don’t believe some of the logical conclusions of that analogy, reveal what we see to be acceptable gray areas. For example, if I tell you that the Trinity is like a three-headed dog… I may not actually think that God is a single being with three faces… but I don’t think it is terribly dangerous to say that he is.

This applies to Tchividjian because of an analogy that he uses as he closes the chapter. He states

Grace is a bit like a roller coaster; it makes us scream in terror and laugh uncontrollably at the same time. But there aren’t any harnesses on this ride. We are not in the driver’s seed, and we did not design the twists and turns. We just get on board. We laugh as the binding law of gravity is suspended…[7]

Now, as I said, I don’t want to belabor this point… however Tullian is not a dumb man. He is quite sharp, and being that he has acknowledged (in the introduction of this book, in speaking engagements prior to the publication of this book, and in speaking engagements after the publication of this book) that what he is saying skirts the edge of the Antinomian/Orthodox border… I find it hard to believe that the word “Law” is misplaced in this sentence. Tchividjian literally just made an analogy in which there is nothing regulating our behavior (no harness) and there is no law which binds us. Had I never read anything else which he has said, or if I had never heard anything else that he has said… I might chalk this up to a simple poor choice of words… but the fact is that in the opinion of this author it seems like this is an intentional way of saying that the law is not binding on those who have been justified. That my friends, is simply not true.

[1] Tchividjian, Tullian (1 October 2013), One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, David C Cook, p. 27.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid, 29.
[4] Ibid, 33.
[5] Ibid, 34.
[6] 1 Corinthians 5:17
[7] Tchividjian, (1 October 2013), One Way Love, p. 37.