The Meerkat Family Group
Zach Hoag wrote a post recently that might serve as a perspective to one of the reasons for the firing" of Tullian Tchividjian from The Gospel Coalition blog. Keep this true scenario in mind as you read this post.
The senior pastor pulled me aside and, in his infamous dramatic baritone, directed me on how to lead the small group.
“I need you to emphasize reprobation,” he said. “I believe it’s essential to understanding the gospel. And these people are way too soft when it comes to the absolute sovereignty of God. I’m a supralapsarian, you know.”
The rigid small group structure of this Reformed Baptist church was such that each group had one leader and at least one assistant leader. Every fall, in a ritual mildly resembling the papal conclave, the elders would meet privately to assign every leader, assistant, and small group member in every group, all according to criteria about leadership qualifications and the state of people’s souls. Since there were a good number of folks in the church who believed in Jesus but were deemed “unconverted” by the elders (because the evidence of regeneration – Calvinism’s “irresistible grace” – was not convincing enough for them), many of the groups were set up as experiments in sovereign election.
Basically: Let’s put Suzy Q in Joe Johnson’s small group because Joe will bring strong teaching about the wrath of God, and Lord knows the Holy Spirit needs to show Suzy the depths of her sin before she can truly come to faith. (Suzy, in this case, being the lifelong Christian who had a season of “backsliding” and was therefore deemed never-saved-in-the-first-place.)
Analyzing the response of The Gospel™ Coalition to Tullian Tchividjian (hereafter known as TT): Smart or Stupid?
I learned one of the most important lessons of my life in the first week of my MBA program. The professor said that hot shot business graduates like to invade a corporation and tell them what they are doing wrong. Instead, he said, we should look at the corporation and figure out what they are doing right. If the company has existed for awhile, is making money and business majors want to work for them, then they must be doing some things right. So taking that approach, let's look at TGC's "firing" of TT.
1. Why this move might have been stupid and poorly handled.
Let's assume TGC is telling their version of the truth. Keller and Carson released a statement in which they claimed that they had already expressed concern to TT about his doctrine.
Earlier in the year our executive director spent two days with Tullian in Florida. Coming out of that meeting, it was decided that Tullian would move his blog.
TT said that he had already decided to move his blog in August 2014 and had informed TGC of his intentions. TGC claimed that they had sent a TGC director, Ben Peays, to address theological concerns. TT disagreed and said he had asked Peays to come and help him launch a new website and that TT had paid for the visit. He claimed that The Gospel Coalition lied in their statement.
"I told Ben Peays this last night. I called him and I told him, 'That statement's misleading and you know it,'" said Tchividjian, "… The way the statement read, it was as if he came down to Fort Lauderdale to talk with me on behalf of the coalition regarding the theological issue that they were having with me. That is categorically false."
Tchividjian explained that Peays flew down to Florida as a consultant for the pastor's new ministry, Liberate, which also picked up the bill for his flight. He added that he (Tullian) initiated a conversation about moving his blog content off the coalition's website and that "it was never ever insinuated that that's what The Gospel Coalition wanted."
"To cover themselves so they would not look like bullies, they took a trip that Ben took two months ago, turned that trip and made it look like The Gospel Coalition sent him down to cover these concerns — and that's just a flat-out lie. That's a lie," said Tchividjian.
Last week, Keller and Carson, speaking for TGC, claimed they had a doctrinal disagreement with TT which was so serious that it warranted the immediate removal of TT's blog from the TGC site. They also implied that TT lacked wisdom. Huh? What was that about the splinter in your neighbor's eye?
The differences were doctrinal and probably even more matters of pastoral practice and wisdom.
Assuming that this was merely a serious doctrinal split, the move by TGC was, to use their term, seriously lacking in "wisdom."
- TT had agreed to remove his blog in August. They merely had to hold their collective gospel™ breaths for a couple of months and he would have faded into the sunset.
- The explanation that they had created a new website and this was a "logical" time to remove his blog is silly. Take a look at the many contributors to the TGC site. It is quite easy to create, and then, delete a new page. We know, we do it .
I respect the intelligence of some contributors to TGC too much to think they are this stupid so let's look for an alternative solution.
Why getting rid of TT's blog was of the utmost urgency and, therefore, a smart move for TGC.
It is obvious to most people that TGC sent out the big guns to defend this "theological" hardball response. It is ridiculous to assume this was simply a theological spat. Something else was going on in the background that made this a matter of urgency. Recently, TT added an important piece of information that might give some insight into the response.
"Give me a break. These people, they're family. Of course he knew," Tchividjian told The Christian Post. "C. J. was, for many years, the micro-managing head of the organization and nothing happened under the umbrella of Sovereign Grace that he wasn't made aware of, so for anyone to say, 'Well he didn't know,' that's totally naive."
Tchividjian added that he was "pretty disturbed" when Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor published astatement on TGC website in May 2013 which defended Mahaney, saying that it looked "like the good-old boys club covering their own."
"I thought it was premature. I thought it was insensitive. I communicated with the guys who wrote this statement that I was disappointed, that I thought it was unwise and premature and that they needed to clarify that their statement was not a statement from The Gospel Coalition, per se, but was their own personal statement," Tchividjian explained.
"There were some of us on the coalition, or who were associated with it, who didn't want to be associated with their defense of C. J.," he continued. "I've just been sort of disgusted by the whole thing."
Speaking about his departure from The Gospel Coalition, Tchividjian said his departure came with little warning, though he explained that he made the decision eight or nine months ago to leave in August.
Now this has play. Look at the time frame. TT said he made a decision to leave TGC about 9 months ago. The infamous statement by DeYoung, Carson, and Taylor defending Mahaney was published on TGC's website about one year ago. Oh yeah, look who signed onto that statement along with Tim Keller…Don Carson. Is it just a coincidence that he played a role in addressing the reasons for TT's removal from TGC? TT appears to have criticized the wrong people within TGC.
Adding more fuel to the fire, TT's brother, Boz Tchvidjian, began speaking out about the SGM scandal over a year ago. I decided to check out TGC's website to see if they have published anything by Boz Tchividjian who is getting wide spread coverage in the national media for his work in exposing the problems of child sex abuse in today's evangelical churches. I would think that they would be interested in his expertise. So, I entered Boz Tchividjian's name into the search engine at TGC and this is what I got as of 11:30 AM today. Fascinating…
Boz Tchividjian is rapidly becoming the go to expert for dealing with child sex abuse in today's evangelical churches. He has drawn the ire of certain religious, celebrity leaders because he firmly believes that the evangelical church has a problem.
First, when I made that statement, it was in response to a specific question. The question was, "Why doesn't it seem like the Protestant world has learned from two decades of Catholic abuse scandal?" And my response was that in many ways I think the Protestant world is worse in responding to sexual abuse within our own churches.
…And it is our experience that the abuse of children often thrives where there is minimal accountability and limited transparency. Also, in the Protestant Evangelical world we put a great degree of authority on Scripture and, therefore, those who abuse often distort Scripture in order to gain access, control, and silence over victims and their families.
TT pushed back hard on the same issue of response to child sex abuse in the church, suggesting an appropriate response by a Christian group which has had more than their share of child abuse reports link.
"If I was the head of an organization where this kind of behavior had been taking place for years, even though if I didn't actually perform this kind of behavior, even if I didn't even know about the behavior, the only thing I would say is 'I'm sick. I'm sorry. I will do whatever I need to do to help the victims and their families,'" Tchividjian added. "… If The Gospel Coalition would have said that, instead of Don Carson and Kevin DeYoung and Just Taylor, basically writing in the middle of the trial, a defense of C. J. That's a major blemish."
So, what in the world happened? Sometime around 5/18, both Joshua Harris and CJ Mahaney's names dropped off the TGC Council. When this was brought up, Joe Carter, executive editor of TGC claimed that had not been members of the council for a long time. Confronted with the evidence that their names had been listed the day before, Carter then said they had resigned. The Keller/Carson statement implied that they had gone of their own free will unlike Tchividjian.
Both Joshua Harris and C. J. Mahaney were Council members who resigned their position, but though they came at the same time, it would be mistaken to think the reasons and processes for these decisions were the same. C. J. had been considering stepping out for a good while—both a year ago and a month ago he offered to do so for a variety of reasons, including a major move and change in his role, the responsibilities of a new church plant, and other issues. Joshua has spoken publicly about his reasons for resigning. In light of the ongoing civil suit against his church he felt it best for TGC if he stepped down.
Carter began a full court press on Twitter, vigorously defending CJ Mahaney. Carter, author of the book How to Argue Like Jesus, demonstrated to members of the Twitterverse how to apply the gospel principles elucidated in his book. He continued that defense even today at Scot McKnight's blog, Jesus Creed. Here is another exchange at a different blog.
A couple of days after that exchange, we learned about Tullian's left boot of fellowship from TGC. Both Keller and Carson made their statement and quickly departed the country for Calvin's Geneva where they could be drinking beer and bemoaning the fact that beheadings are frowned upon in the US.
Note: The narrative seems to be that Mahaney and Harris were good guys who simply resigned. TT was such a bad guy that the Council told his to get lost, pronto. Something seems a bit amiss in the scenario as described by Keller and Carson.
Finally the Council at its meeting last week decided that Tullian should move his blog immediately, and we communicated this conclusion to Tullian.
Carson and Keller are currently in Geneva, Switzerland and unavailable for comment.
So, I am left with a conundrum. Was it smart or was it stupid? I tend to believe the former. I think this had everything to do with the SGM scandal and TGC's consistent support of CJ Mahaney. For example, on the very day that abuse victims were testifying in the Nate Morales trial (for which he was convicted) TGC showed disregard for the feeling of those victims by publishing a puff piece on Carolyn Mahaney's new book True Beauty.
As an aside, it is interesting to note that Jen Wilkin is now listed as an editorial contributor for TGC here. You can read my analysis of the TT versus Jen Wilkin dustup here. I wrote this just before TT was removed from TGC so the post is worth a second look.
Either TGC is dull-witted or they are asking those of us looking in from the outside to overlook what appears to be a unbelievable, coincidental connection to SGM and CJ Mahaney. Apparently, others agree. Today at Slacktivist in a piece titled I have never seen 'sanctification' used as a euphemism for that before, Fred Clark says:
But, no, no, no, The Gospel Coalition’s Tim Keller and Don Carson explain. It had nothing to do with Tchividjian’s appropriate disgust over the good-old boys covering up for criminal child abuse. It was actually a high-minded, but of course eminently civil, disagreement over lofty matters of doctrine
…Nothing to do with defending the defenders of child abusers. Nothing to do with that at all.
By booting out Tchividjian, it appears that TGC has sadly demonstrated what some have long suspected. They are not a coalition of those who love the gospel but a rigid faction of those who believe in a a certain gospel which is tied to a certain view on sanctification which is further linked to a certain view of the SGM debacle.
What is the debate about?
Any good excuse to cover up true motives must have its basis in fact. There is no question that there is an ongoing debate about the law, grace and sanctification. Here are some links to those who do a better job at explaining this than I do.
Wade Burleson wrote a post on the matter. Tullian Tchividjian, the GOSPEL Standard, the Sanctification Controversy and What It All Means. In it, he boils down the issue to these question.
1). Is God 'angry' with the Christian when he or she sins?
(2). Does the pleasure of God abide upon His people because of their spiritual performance?
(3). Does God 'see' sin in His people in terms of His judicial wrath and 'punishment'?
(4). When does the believer enter into 'union with Christ' from God's perspective?
(5). What is the evangelical motivation for doing good works?
Wade goes on to go into the history of this debate and concludes with the following.
I have never met Tullian Tchividjian. One of these days I hope to be able to fellowship with him. I know some of the Gospel Coalition men by reputation and am friends on Facebook with a few of them. I do hope that they understand by kicking Tullian out of their fellowship they have gone down the same path some Law-oriented evangelicals went in the 1700's when they booted from fellowship some amazing 'grace' men (see above). The 'downgrade' of the gospel began occurring about that very same time in those Law-oriented churches in England and Europe.
For a view from the hardcore supporters of Neo-Puritanism, look no further than a post at Reformation 21 Where the Sanctification Controversy Lies by Rick Phillips.
I hope these comments show where the controversy lies. The matter is not about legalists claiming that the law provides the power to obey God's commands. Neither is this a fight between Tullian's defense of the radical grace of the gospel versus those who are afraid of grace. Quite to the contrary, it is precisely the grace of God that is being denigrated, since it is by God's amazing grace that Christians are not only justified through faith alone but are born again and given the power of Christ to lead new lives (Eph. 1:18-20). Moreover, this is not a small number of angry men who are "attacking" Tullian. Rather, a large body of Reformed scholars and leaders, including The Gospel Coalition but extending far beyond it, are gravely concerned that Christians are being told that they cannot pursue holiness and that their pastors should not tell them to do so.
At Hip and Thigh, Fred Butler adds to the debate in a post Resources on the Neo "Antinomianism." Butler provides some resources that would buttress the points of view expressed by TGC.
Peter Toon’s The Emergence of Hyper-Calvinism in English Non-Comformity 1689-1765. His third chapter goes into detail regarding antinomianism.
Jerry Wragg’s Shepherd’s Conference 2014 message, The New Antinomianism. Goes into more detail regarding TT and pastoral concerns as this teaching impacts the church.
Here is a chart outlining the differences between Neo-Calvinism and Neo-Puritanism.
Here is a piece critiquing Neo-Calvinism
I think these New Calvinists should not be called “Neo-Calvinists,” but rather “Neo-Puriatans.”
Back in 2009, in response to Time Magazine misusing the term Neo-Calvinism, I wrote a series of posts at my blog Vanguard Church on the nuanced differences between Neo-Puritanism and Neo-Calvinism
Peter Enns posted his point of view at his blog, Rethinking Biblical Christianity. In his post, Tullian Tchivdjian, the Gospel Coalition and a Rather Obvious Theological Problem he states:
“Theology is not to blame here.” Yes it is Tullian. Yes it most definitely is. On two related levels.
First, the resurgence of Reformed theology in American evangelicalism and fundamentalism–commonly referred to as the Neo-Reformed movement–is a belligerent movement. This is why it exists–to correct others, not to turn the spotlight inward. There are exceptions within, of course, and I am by no means suggesting everyone who sees him or herself as part of this movement exhibits this tendency. But the “system” is set up to fight. It’s what they do.
So don’t be shocked, Tullian, if it happens to you. Yesterday’s heroes can quickly become tomorrow’s vanquished foes. When “contending for the gospel” is your center of gravity, there’s always a foe. There has to be.
Second, theology proper is to blame here–”theology” as in how we understand God.
Christians who can’t seem to walk away from a fight–who seem uncomfortable in a peace vacuum, who feel the gospel is at stake with nearly every perceived errant thought or difference of opinion, and who feel they need to group together and found organizations to protect the truth against all ungodly attacks–are showing us what their God is like.
If you are a fighter, chances are the God you imagine is:
fundamentally hacked off, retributive, touchy, demanding of theological precision, uncompromising, takes-no-prisoners-and-gives-no-quarter, whose wrath needs to be appeased so watch your step.
…Tullian, whatever is going on at TGC, you can bet your bottom dollar it has everything to do with theology. It is, in fact, a right, proper, and wholly consistent expression of that theology. I’m a bit surprised you don’t see that, but maybe your departure is a blessing.
Dee's point of view on the matter.
Since the day I was confronted with the reality that the God of the universe loved me, I have been overwhelmed by His grace. Each day I wake up with the determination that I want to serve Him to the best of my ability. Let me state this loud and clear:
I do not want to sin. I really, really do not want to sin but the fact is, I do.
And I do not ever rejoice in the matter. I am being transparent here. I have a tendency to berate myself for my shortcomings. There are many times I hold onto my failure instead of turning them over to a Savior who forgives me. I am reminded of a poor woman who admitted, on Neo-Puritan blog, that she realizes each and every day what a lowly worm she is. I cried for her and am sad that no one jumped into remind her that she is a dearly loved child of Christ.
If truth be told, I have never met a Christian who was not aware of their sin. In fact, the vast majority of Christians that I know beat themselves up on a daily basis and have a hard time letting it go into the arms of an infinitely forgiving Savior.
I read my Bible. I know what God has to say about each and every sin-both in the Old Testament and the New Testament. Trust me, I get it. And that is why I need sermons on grace and more grace.
I am about to say something that will irritate a number of Neo- Puritans. Remember, this is the crowd that Jen Wilkin runs with. She has told us that we know have the freedom to obey, so we should.
Well, guess what? I would love to put the folks on both sides of this argument up against one another in a room, give them truth serum, and get them to honestly confess their sins. I would guess that the "freedom to obey by being beat over the head with the law" folks would be found just as wanting in the sin department as the ones, like me, on the grace side.
In fact, those in the "freedom to obey" department appear to spend much of their time pointing the fingers at the world because they do not want the fingers to be pointing at them. A pastor I know calls this "cooking the books." We make ourselves look better by focusing on the things with which we do not struggle.
We hear lots and lots of discussion from this group on irrestible grace but very little on the Holy Spirit who comforts, convicts and strengthens us. That Spirit is given to each of us who believe and is more than capable of assisting us as we walk this planet. TT quoted J. Gresham Machen link.
J. Gresham Machen counterintutively noted, “A low view of law always produces legalism; a high view of law makes a person a seeker after grace.” The reason this seems so counterintuitive is because most people think those who talk a lot about grace have a low view of God’s law (hence, the regular charge of antinomianism). Others think those with a high view of the law are the legalists. But Machen makes the compelling point that it’s a low view of the law that produces legalism, since a low view of the law causes us to conclude we can do it—the bar is low enough for us to jump over. A low view of the law makes us think the standards are attainable, the goals reachable, the demands doable. This means, contrary to what some Christians would have you believe, the biggest problem facing the church today is not “cheap grace” but “cheap law”—the idea that God accepts anything less than the perfect righteousness of Jesus.
To quote myself:
Believing in God's freeing and glorious grace does not lead us into sin. It will lead us, day in and day out, to pick ourselves up, repent, not dwell in our failures and to travel on through this life, free to love and care for one another.
I think this quote from Boz Tchividjian is a perfect note to end on. It goes out to those who have been abused and left to pick up the pieces for themselves while a self absorbed church overlooks the lost, the let down and the looking.
Nothing is safe when Aslan is on the move. But rest assured, that is good news. As stated best by Mr. Beaver in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe when describing Aslan: “Safe?” said Mr. Beaver. “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course He isn’t safe, but He’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.” A sleeping church will never be safe from the roaming Aslan. He loves it too much to allow it to continue in slumber as so many freeze inside its walls.
Yes, there are days I grieve. But that grief is only overshadowed by the hope I still have in Jesus – the King who turns everything upside down, and who is very good.
TWW thanks the Tchvidjian brothers for their tirelesss work in exposing the pain of child sexual abuse and cover-up in todays evangelical churches.
Lydia's Corner: Ezekiel 40:28-41:26 James 4:1-17 Psalm 118:19-29 Proverbs 28:3-5