On Monday, several pastors and other prominent figures— who have been involved in events surrounding Tullian Tchividjian— issued a call to repentance. This statement has been received with —from what I can tell— three basic responses.
- Approval – There are those who see this and applaud it. They believe this to be an appropriate step taken by men and women who were involved in counseling and disciplining Tullian.
- Dissatisfaction – There are those who do not think the statement is strong enough, are disappointed that certain names are missing, or are frustrated that this statement did not come sooner.
- Disapproval – There are those who think this is an inappropriate thing to do, and view it as a kind of public shaming and think that it should be handled privately under the auspices of the local church.
I think, upon reflection, that I probably hover somewhere between Approval and Dissatisfaction, leaning heavily on the Approval side. As one might surmise from my call to excommunicate him, that I think things are further along on the Matthew 18 process than the words of the letter indicate. As I understand it, the signatories of the letter appear to be at step three, publicly calling for repentance in the presence of the whole Church. Since I have been doing that for over a year now it is understandable that we’re at different places on the path, and I think that’s just fine.
I wanted to highlight a few reasons why I think that those in the third category are wrong, and a few things that those in the second category should consider.
First, when this all broke, there were a group of men and women who rallied behind Tullian. The defended him against claims (like the ones that I made) that he did not appear to be adequately repentant. They cited his willingness to submit to church discipline, his general avoidance of the spotlight, and their personal interactions with him as the evidence that he was truly repentant. Many of those people (although not all) are signatories of this letter. This is a very public statement which clearly says that their conclusions were wrong. Now, we can go back and forth about whether or not they should have been able to see through Tullian’s lies, and that may be a worthwhile discussion. However, the fact of the matter is that at this point, they are saying in no uncertain terms that Tullian was not repentant, and that he is in danger of damnation if he does not repent. Phrases like “impenitently used his public platform,” “for the sake of his eternal soul,” and “repent of his wickedness” are strong phrases that were intentionally and carefully selected.
Second, related to the first, Tullian has continued to forward the narrative that he has a group of advisers who are working with him, and know everything. Tullian recently stated
I am very grateful for the small group of wise and godly people who are (and have been) walking through this meticulously with me. I am fully accountable to them and there is nothing that they do not know.
Now, for some of us who have been attentive, and have had communications with people directly involved in the situation, it was clear that the original group which stood behind him was falling away as the realized the reality represented in the letter published on Monday. However, many people reading Tullian’s statement assumed that figures like Kevin Labby, Chris Rosebrough, and Elyse Fitzpatrick were among that group. That is simply not the case, and this letter makes that clear. In fact, no one that I have talked to who is close to the situation has any idea who Tullian is talking about, and given his past track record of deception, partial disclosure, and narrative management… I doubt that there is a group of people to whom he is fully accountable to, or who know everything about Tullian’s past and present.
Third, this is a clear and appropriate instance of men and women taking Matthew 18 seriously. These people went to Tullian privately, and he refused to repent. They are now bringing it before the whole Church publicly. Tullian, from what anyone can tell, has not submitted himself to a local church, and thus there is no local church court to which these people can go. A public call to repentance, with a clear statement of what the first step toward repentance looks like, and a clear implication of what the consequences of refusal are is exactly what step three in the Matthew 18 process should look like.
Finally, these men and women are saying in no uncertain terms that they no longer consider Tullian to be repentant, and no longer are willing to publicly —or ostensibly privately— support him without repentance. They are saying that Tullian is not accountable to them, nor are they accountable for Tullian. Rather, they are publicly stating that Tullian is accountable to the local church in which he retains membership (which has been verified by multiple sources in a position to know is a congregation in Miami under the jurisdiction of the South Florida Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America), and directing him to go there for discipline and accountability. One of the criticisms that some leveled in the beginning of all this is that Tullian had an accountability group from all over the country, rather than the God ordained accountability of the local Church. This is an affirmation of that fact.
Ultimately, as I said, I resonate with those who would like to see more. A stronger statement, more names, more rebuke, more… however, I would also point to the strengths of this statement and ask those who are in the Dissatisfied group to consider what I’ve said. The people who signed this list, although not explicitly in the letter, have come to terms that they erred in their judgement. When I make a mistake, I really hate to publicize that mistake… but that is what they have done here. They have done it not to save face… this actually does the opposite and reveals that they were wrong about Tullian. Instead, they have voluntarily revealed that fact in the most public of ways… because they care about Tullian and want to see him repent and be reconciled to the Church, and to God in Christ, through the Holy Spirit. You may wish they made a stronger statement, but you can’t argue with their intentions.
For a thorough timeline of events regarding Tullian Tchividjian’s history, please see Resource Bibliography on System Issues Related to the Tullian Tchividjian Situation. By linking to this site I am not endorsing the site as a whole, nor testifying to the veracity of the information present. However, the timeline presented does appear to be accurate to the best of my knowledge and research.