Tullian in the Lions Den? (updated)

Culture, Law, The Gospel

11/4/13 UPDATE- After reading this post I’d encourage you to take a look at this review of One Way Love, which I think strikes the right balance in my larger concern for the way some in the broadly reformed world are approaching issues of grace, obedience, law, gospel etc.  HT: Ref21.

David and Goliath.  Elijah and the prophets of Baal.  Paul at Athens.  Tullian on Morning Joe.

Those of us reared on Sesame Street should be hearing the song “One of These Things is Not Like the Others” beckoning from our repressed childhood memories right about now.  Indeed, one of these things in certainly not like the others.

Pastor Tullian Tchividjian was recently on the MSNBC program Morning Joe for their “Faith on Fridays” segment.  He was there to discuss his new book “One Way Love.”  Here is the segment (I tried unsuccessfully for longer than I’d like to admit to embed the video.  If I figure it out later I’ll edit this and it will look prettier).

This segment had been viewed over 60,000 times online a few days ago.  That doesn’t count those who saw it live.  And what did they hear, exactly?

Actually, the real question is what didn’t they hear.

1. They Didn’t Hear Anything About Jesus.

Pastor Tchividjian seems like a really nice guy, and I know that being critical of this sort of thing is a lot easier when you’re not the one in the TV studio.  But I am critical.  I even slept on it for a few days while this post languished in the draft file.  How can you go on national TV and be asked multiple times about grace, even directly asked ‘how do we get grace’ and only give generalities without ever mentioning Christ?  I suppose there is some value in the fact that his answer was vaguely monergistic, but not much.  I don’t know how I’d do with cameras in my face and a live feed going out nationally, but I’d like to hope that even if it was stammering and stilted I would say something about Jesus.

2. They didn’t hear anything about repentance.

I get the whole ‘dangerous, extravagant, inexhaustible grace’ thing.  Believe me, I do.  The free grace of God to undeserving a wretch like me thrills my heart.  But it seems to me that the free offer of ‘outrageous’ grace is Biblically linked to the call to repentance, right?  I’m not the only one who has reacted this way to this particular strain of teaching on God’s grace which seems to be in vogue at the moment- see this, and this.  Wasn’t there a Lordship controversy about this a while back?

3. They heard no effort to distinguish between the way Pope Francis has talked about grace and the way the Bible talks about grace.

I counted two times in the clip that the hosts directly linked Pastor Tullian’s message in his book to the recent statements about grace made by Pope Francis.  One assumes they meant his comments about homosexuality.  Or perhaps his comments about Atheism?  Letting that comparison stand may have been the byproduct of the studio setting, or the pace, or the line of questioning, or whatever.  But ultimately, it’s hard to excuse.  In fact it’s down right depressing coming from any Christian, but especially from an ordained Minister in the PCA.

And just to show I’m not alone in this assessment, read this from a freshly minted fellow member of that particular communion.

Again, I don’t know I would have done better.  But if not then I hope that I never end up on Morning Joe, or any other such cultural soap box. And if I had conducted myself that way I hope I’d be tweeting apologies rather than links to it and thanking MSNBC.  I’m all for reasoned conversation and polite exchanges, but there does come a time to have a bit of Elijah in your blood.  Now, just to show that clarity in these venues is possible, and as a refreshing contrast I present this:

(By: Nicolas Alford)

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7 thoughts on “Tullian in the Lions Den? (updated)

  1. Nicolas, thank you for your comments and your admission of Tullian’s circumstances. I do not know that I would have fared any better, but I think your constructive criticism is needed and on target. Apart from the person and work of the Lord Jesus grace is just another esoteric term that may be twisted to fit the cultural idea of the moment. “Preach the word in season and out of season”.

    1. It certainly is a balance, isn’t it? We have no desire to turn this into a ‘watch-blog’ so we try and be measured, proportional, and selective in critical posts. I’m not saying I personally always model that very well, but it is the heart behind it. I think your comment hits it right on the head- apart from Christ grace is abstract and liable to redefinition in the image of the individual.

  2. Good critique, brother. I watched the video and was shocked – I made sure to do it before I read your post and came to many of the same conclusions. I kept thinking, “Say Jesus – Say Jesus… just say Jesus!” It was the equivalent of what Mark Dever often calls the “Synagogue Sermon” – if it could be said (preached) in a synagogue with no reaction from the hearers, than it wasn’t authentically Christian. And given the silence with regard to the gospel in relationship to the words of the Pope, indeed it was not a Christian explanation of true grace. That’s sad.

    Tullian is really on the fringes when it comes to actual Reformed and Presbyterian theology. He is much more of a Lutheran than anything, which I believe his book “Jesus + Nothing = Everything” really identified. However, the solid Lutherans I know would at least identify the exclusivity of Christ in the gospel and the need for repentance… sheesh!

    1. Agreed. And like I said above, I can see getting tongue tied or something and whiffing in the moment, but I only know about this because someone retweeted Tullian’s own tweet promoting it. Major, major disconnect there. To be fair, there was a chapter from his book posted online by MSNBC but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t up for long. And a lot more people saw the clip than either read that chapter or will ever buy One Way Love.

    1. I don’t get it. On the one hand, I can support a polite dialogue. I’m not saying a guy has to jump on the table and call the studio audience to repentance. But on the other hand, how did both these interviews, one on grace, and one on suffering, make it through without once mentioning Jesus? Couldn’t a Rabbi have said all the same things? It would seem any Christian, let alone ministers, should present at least something of the gospel when given such softball opportunities. I repeat: I just don’t get it.

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