As my readers know, I have made it a point to comment on various things regarding Tullian Tchividjian in the past. Every time he makes the news, and I comment on it, controversy ensues. The most common question I get asked is “Why do you even care?” I figured that it might be a good idea to answer that question in some detail.
This post is entirely free of sarcasm. I am going to attempt to be as clear as possible, and I am saying exactly what I mean.
I Care about the Gospel
In the grand scheme of things, this is the most important of all my reasons for taking notice of Tullian and his teaching. I originally started following him because of the controversy surrounding his book One Way Love and his dismissal from the Gospel Coalition. Tullian is not a heretic, he is not an antinomian (at least not explicitly), and I have no doubt that he is a brother in Christ. However, I think that the message he preaches is a defective Gospel. He is absolutely right that our standing before God is not determined by our acts. We do not earn our righteousness, we do not gain God’s approval or blessing, and we do not grow in holiness because of our own effort. Those things happen because of Christ’s effort. Those things are ours because of what Christ did on our behalf. Nothing we can ever do, or fail to do, changes our legal standing before God.
However, that does not mean that our works are unimportant or that they are not expected of us. The Bible is clear everywhere that holy living and striving for righteousness is expected of Christians, and a failure to grow in holiness is a cause for great concern regarding salvation.
Furthermore, there are consequences in this life for our sin. Sometimes these consequences never go away. If a man cheats on his wife and divorces her, that man will face repercussions for the rest of his life. The Gospel is not “There are no temporal consequences for our sin.” The Gospel is “Those things cannot separate us from the love of God because of what Christ did on the cross.” When we act as though the Gospel removes this reality, we confuse what the Gospel is in a way that is not altogether different from the Prosperity Gospel.
I believe that one of the repercussions of Tullian’s actions in committing adultery is that he faces an indefinite, and perhaps permanent, restriction from formally teaching and preaching the Gospel. And the fact that he is now doing that, in my view, is a perversion of what the Gospel is. He is preaching a Gospel that says “You are free to fail, even if that failure is a sin, and the Gospel is that when you do fail and fall into sin you can just go back to what you were doing before.” This is something that I, and others, have always thought was an implication of his teaching (particularly in One Way Love), and now it has become explicit by means of example.
I Care about the Bible
The Bible is extremely clear about the qualifications for those who would teach the Church. While it is true that Tullian’s job at Willow Creek, his appearance as a panel member at Christ Hold Fast, and his teaching engagement at Spring Hills probably do not violate the restriction against him of acting in the office of Elder, as defined by the Presbyterian Church in America, the principles of what Scripture says regarding elders and deacons most certainly applies.
If anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (Titus 1:6-9, ESV)
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7, ESV)
Tullian has caused himself to be disqualified, and as of yet the group who disqualified him has not said that they have reversed that position. Specifically, Tullian has violated the intent behind the command that an elder is to be the husband of one wife by committing adultery. He has violated the command to manage his household well by shattering it with divorce. He demonstrated, to his own admission, after being dismissed from the Gospel Coalition that he has a quick temper. His adultery has demonstrated that he lacks self-control. Finally, because of his adultery, even the world looks upon him with just moral indignation.
While there are differing opinions as to whether or not a disqualified pastor can be returned to ministry, the simple fact is that Tullian publicly disqualified himself less than a year ago. I cannot see how a reasonable argument can be made that in this short of a time he has come to a place where he is no longer disqualified to teach.
His most recent teaching engagement was to teach ministry staff about Gospel ministry. As I said above, this is not something that should be restricted to the office of Elder… how can someone who is not qualified to preach the Gospel in the Church be qualified to teach those who do?
I Care about Tullian’s Family
I cannot imagine the pain that Tullian’s children, extended family, and ex-wife are going through. Less than a year has gone by, and Tullian is ostensibly going back to his book tour. Rather than spending the whole weekend with his children, rather than spending the time seeking reconciliation with his ex-wife, rather than reaching out to his extended family to seek forgiveness… he is in California teaching. Tullian should not be devoting his time to teaching right now. He should not be spending time traveling around the country. He should be devoting his time to working to bring about healing and reconciliation in his family.
Beyond that, I’m sure there are many at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (Tullian’s former congregation) who are hurting because of this. They didn’t just lose a beloved pastor, they lost him in the worst way possible. I’m sure they feel betrayed by not only his adultery and resignation but by the fact that after doing this he left to be disciplined in another congregation. What must they be thinking as they watch him go right back to teaching after a short 8-month break?
I Care about Tullian
There are two people that I pray for by name every day who are not in my immediate family. Tullian is one of those people. As I have said in the past, I do not consider myself to be a “discernment blogger.” I am a theologian who cares about the purity of the Gospel and the Church. However, I have made it a practice to never mention someone in a blog without praying for them. Tullian’s announcement of his adultery broke my heart. I have shed tears for his family, and for him. This is not some dispassionate exercise for me.
Let me say this as bluntly as I can. It is not healthy for Tullian for him to be in the spotlight again. It is not healthy for him to be seeking to teach. It is not healthy for him to be speaking on panels. It is not healthy for him to be leading a Bible study. What Tullian needs to do is quietly serve the Church, out of the spotlight, and submit to wise discipline who will advocate for his best interest. Right now, Kevin Labby is not doing that. Pastor Labby is allowing Tullian to violate the scriptural prohibitions I talked about above. Pastor Labby is allowing Tullian (a man who in the very recent past has lacked sexual self-control) to spend time in a hotel in California. Pastor Labby is allowing a man who desperately needs to be out of the spotlight to work his way back into the spotlight. Tullian is in a dangerous place right now.
The Scriptures tell us that those who teach will be held to a stricter judgment (James 3:1) and right now Tullian does not need a stricter judgment. Not only will God be stricter on those who teach, but those who are in public teaching capacities are under greater scrutiny. I would not be writing this post if Tullian was quietly sitting under the teaching of his local church. We would not still be seeing news articles about Tullian were he to be away from social media and conferences.
Tullian, I know that you probably don’t have warm feelings for me. I know that you probably read posts like this and boil with anger. I am pained by that fact. However, I really do write these because I love you. You are a brother in Christ, and you’re hurting yourself. You’re hurting your family. You’re hurting your church. You’re hurting people who care about you. You’re hurting those who you teach. Please… stop. Just take time to heal and be disciplined. Take time to let the Gospel do what it is actually supposed to do… to restore you… to empower you to live a holy life that is pleasing to God… to bring about increasing reconciliation between you and your family. Take time to let the Law do what it is actually supposed to do… to kill sin in you… to reveal to you the ways that you are not perfect… to show you what it means to not fail (even though failure doesn’t change your status before God)… and to understand better who God is.
Kevin, step up brother. Step up to the plate and do the unpopular thing you were called to do. Put a stop to this before more harm is done. Do your job. You and I both know that Tullian should not be teaching. You and I both know that allowing him to teach at Spring Hills (assuming you were aware of it) or to speak at CHF may not violate the PCA definition of teaching elder… but absolutely violates the intent behind removing him from office. Your job is to protect him, and in this case is to protect him from himself. The reason that the Good Shepherd has to carry the wayward sheep back to the ninety-nine… is because the Good Shepherd usually has to break that sheep’s leg to teach it not to stray. As a minister of the Gospel, you are at times tasked with breaking one of your sheep’s legs with the iron rod of the Law. Do your job. You are accountable to God for watching over Tullian’s soul (Hebrews 13:7), and right now I think you know that by allowing him to do something he should not be doing that you are derelict in your duties.
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.