Deceptive Dust – A Response to Paul Zahl

For anyone who has followed my writing for any amount of time, it is clear that my blog is intimately tied up with the saga of Tullian Tchividjian. Things have been relatively quiet over the past year or so on this front, but it seems like Tullian has finally decided to restore himself to Christian ministry. He has recently launched Tullian.net, which so far has been more of the same antinomian drivel from Tullian, and features a couple of articles which amount to stroking Tullian on the back and pretending everything is going to be okay.

Paul Zahl (Which come on, that’s just fun to say), recently added to the mix with an article called Dust became Mercy: A Word about my friend Tullian. Zahl opens with a discussion of a Twilight Zone in which a condemned criminal magically spreads a handful of dust through the town which acts as a contagion and spreads forgiveness. He likens Tullian’s downfall and life to that dust, with the implication that Tullian will now spread forgiveness.

I’m not going to respond to the article point by point, but let me take my own example from popular culture. Spoiler Alert.

Who is the Better Doctor?

On April 23, 1997 the Episode Real Life aired on Star Trek: Voyager. The episode centers around the holographic Doctor. This doctor serves a common Star Trek trope of the character learning how to be human (compare with Mister Spock from the Original Series, Lt. Commander Data from the Next Generation, and in some ways Constable Odo from Deep Space Nine. We don’t talk about Star Trek: Enterprise on this blog… if I pretend it never happened, my childhood can’t be ruined). In an attempt to further understand what it is like to be human, the Doctor creates a fictional family on the ship’s holodeck (a three-dimensional holographic simulation). He invites some of his friends over for dinner, and they note that his family is too perfect. After some adjustments, the Doctor returns to a family full of conflict, difficulty, and pain. Toward the end of the scene, the Doctor’s holographic daughter suffers an injury which will ultimately prove fatal. Another common trope is that when someone is dying, you tell them that everything is going to be fine. Reversing the expectation, when his now blind daughter with irreparable brain hemorrhages asks “Daddy, am I going to die?” In what I think is the climax of the episode, and one that causes me to cry real tears which match the Doctor’s holographic ones, chokes out “You’re too sick to get better.”

Let me put this bluntly. Paul Zahl is lying to everyone around him, to himself, and most destructively… to Tullian and his family. He is the lying doctor telling the patient who is moments from death that it is going to be just fine.

Ask yourself, who is the better doctor? The one who lies to the dying patient, or the one who comforts them with the truth? The one who tells the patient the cancer isn’t a big deal, or the one who cuts the cancer out?

I have said it before, I would rejoice with the angels in heaven at the repentance of Tullian Tchividjian. I would welcome him as a brother with open arms. But contrary to whatever Paul Zahl claims, I love Tullian too much to lie to him about something much more harmful than a head injury.

Tullian Tchividjian is, by all outward appearances, an unrepentant and recalcitrant sinner who is still attempting to paint himself as the humble prodigal son. Let me provide three points of evidence to establish that claim.

Ongoing Adultery

Tullian is living in unrepentant adultery due to his remarriage to Stacie Phillips. I would not advocate further compounding his sin (or hers) by divorcing her, but I cannot believe that Tullian is repentant for a sin that he will not even acknowledge was a sin. Furthermore, as a husband, he is supposed to love his wife as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25). What did that look like in the case of Kim? Tullian sinned against her, and then when he got caught he threw her out to the crowd as a distraction. Fathers are to love their children and not provoke them to wrath (Ephesians 6:4). Cheating on their mother, publicly humiliating her and them, and then moving on with life as though it didn’t happen is the opposite of that.

Abandoning Church Discipline

Tullian is, despite Zahl’s words to the contrary, a fugitive from Church Discipline. Zahl claims that Tullian has “been ‘under supervision’ (and I mean, pastorally) the whole time.” This is demonstrably untrue. When Tullian resigned from Coral Ridge, he almost immediately began a relationship with Willow Creek. For a few months he was on staff, and when the news broke that he had hidden additional affairs prior to Kim’s affair, his employment was terminated. From that point forward, Tullian dropped off the map. Having spoken with Kevin Labby (pastor at Willow Creek), and the Stated Clerk of the South Florida Presbytery, neither of them was aware of any congregational affiliation on Tullian’s part. In fact, Tullian was assigned membership under a session in the South Florida Presbytery, who after a year of trying to reach Tullian (unsuccessfully) removed him from their membership roles. Even Tullian’s new Pastor indicates that Tullian, after his adulterous remarriage, lived in Texas “under the supervision of a few seasoned saints.” A repentant sinner flees to the Church, not away from it. I’ve said it before, opting out of Church Discipline is opting out of the Church.

Failure to Seek Reconciliation

This is the one I want to spend the most time with. I reached out to Kevin this morning when I read this and I asked him a very specific question. I asked Kevin (who has become a dear friend through all of this) “Has [Tullian] ever reached out to you to seek to repent and reconcile with you or your congregation?” Sadly, his response was “We haven’t heard from him.” Take a look at Matthew Chapter 5.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (23-26, ESV)

This is a passage that is often misinterpreted. Tullian is quick to flash his “I hurt a lot of people” card. He uses it as a way to appear repentant, to divert from the fact that he is clinging to his public platform for dear life. But let’s take a look. Christ here says that if you are on your way to worship God, and you remember that your brother has something against you, that you should stop what you are doing and go be reconciled to your brother. Kevin got dragged through the mud, and I think that lots of the concerns regarding Kevin’s course of action with Tullian were warranted, but he and his whole congregation were used by Tullian. Willow Creek is a pretty big church, there are lots of brothers and sisters in that congregation that have something against Tullian. Legitimate harm was done to them, and Tullian acknowledges this. But he has not, since he was terminated, attempted to reconcile with Kevin or the other saints at Willow Creek. This is yet another way that Tullian has revealed the callousness of his own soul. He has, self-admittedly, left a trail of emotional carnage everywhere he has gone. He talks about how sorry he is, but at least in this one very concrete way… he has opted to do nothing about it. Every week when he brings his gift to the altar of God’s grace, he is doing so in disobedience. Every time he takes communion, he fails to properly discern the body because he refuses to seek reconciliation with it.

A Plea to Tullian

Tullian, you know how to get ahold of me. Please, seek reconciliation and true repentance, not this saccharine substitute of your own making. The good news is that it isn’t too late for you. You can still be reconciled to God and to his people, but not if you continue to live apart from God’s covenant promises by justifying your self with your pithy turns of phrase. I said long ago that I pray for you daily, and I still do. Please reach out to me, or Kevin, or Chris Rosebrough. Seek the actual reconciliation that comes through God’s people and his discipline. Shut your website down today, and seek to be restored to real genuine fellowship with God and his family.

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