Tullian keeps digging

In his latest blog, Tullian Tchividjian is endeavoring to sever any moral or ethical link between our works for others and our relationship with God.

By God’s grace we can do good works of Christian service to others which ALSO please God as sweet-smelling sacrifices


I’ve tried very hard to be diplomatic and restrained in my criticisms of Tullian Tchividjian’s writing (here and here). I’ve tried to communicate genuine appreciation for his books while also expressing my deep concerns. I’ve watched others gently and wisely caution him about the theological trajectory he is on, and yet he seems to just keep on digging deeper and going further. I’ve watched with growing anxiety as his imbalanced and confusing theology gains popularity. But there comes a time when we have to move from concern to alarm.

Yesterday’s blog post God doesn’t need your good works, but your neighbor does pushed me over that edge.

Using truth to eliminate truth

The headline, like much of the blog post contains truth. However Tullian uses that truth to eliminate another truth, a vitally important one. Of course God doesn’t need our good works. But Tullian uses that truth to argue that God is not interested in them, pleased by them, and nor does he respond to them.

Let’s start with this statement:

Forever freed from our need to pay God back or secure God’s love and acceptance, we are now free to love and serve others.

Yes we are freed from our need to pay God back or secure God’s love and acceptance. But please don’t use that truth as a proof that the Christian has no concern to show his love for God by worshipful and grateful service, or to deny that God’s revelation of His love to us, and our experience of it, can and does change depending on our love-stoked obedience (John 14:21, 23).

In a similar vein, he says:

Passive righteousness tells us that God does not need our good works. Active righteousness tells us that our neighbor does. The aim and direction of good works are horizontal, not vertical.

Again I don’t know who Tullian’s arguing with in the first two sentences here. But the third sentence certainly does not follow logically or biblically.

By God’s grace we can do good works of Christian service to others which ALSO please God as sweet-smelling sacrifices:

I am full, having received from Epaphroditus the things sent from you, a sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God (Phil. 4:16).

But do not forget to do good and to share, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased (Heb. 13:16).

Now may the God of peace…make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen (Heb. 13:21).

In other words our works on a horizontal level also impact our vertical relationship with God. Our creature to creature relationships influence our creature-Creator relationship.

Worrying pattern

Here’s the worrying pattern I see in Tullian’s theology.

In Jesus + Nothing = Everything, Tullian worked hard to remove any moral or ethical link between our obedience and God’s blessing.

In Glorious Ruin, Tullian labored to sever any moral or ethical link between our sin and our suffering.

In this latest blog post, Tullian is endeavoring to sever any moral or ethical link between our works for others and our relationship with God.

I keep hoping it’s simply confusion, that he’s unwittingly confusing our unchangeable legal standing with God and our changeable spiritual experience of God’s loving fellowship. But he’s a clever guy with a really sharp mind, and it’s hard to understand that after all he’s read from his concerned friends, that he still won’t accept the difference between:

(i) the believer’s unchangeable and unconditional status as God’s adopted son through justification, and

(ii) the believer’s conditional and therefore changeable experience and enjoyment of God’s fatherly love (see more on that subject here).

His confusion or conflation is really summed up in this paragraph:

Any talk of sanctification which gives the impression that our efforts secure more of God’s love, itself needs to be mortified. We must always remind Christian’s that the good works which necessarily flow from faith are not part of a transaction with God–they are for others.

Again, using words like “secure” and “transaction” create a distracting and plausible cover for the (unintentional) undermining of John 14:21 and 23, which clearly state that love-motivated obedience does result in greater revelations and experiences of God’s love. Maybe Tullian could help me see if I (and many others) have misunderstood these verses.

Brotherly correction

If I was in Tullian’s shoes, I hope by now I’d have stopped digging any deeper and say: “Look guys, you know that I’ve been motivated by a desire to exalt Christ, liberate sinners, and benefit the church. But in my passion for these great aims, I’ve sometimes allowed myself to conflate distinct truths, ignore important truths, and portray an imbalanced Christian ethic.”

And I think I know enough of Tullian’s concerned friends to be confident that they would respond: “Brother Tullian, we’ve all made mistakes in our ministries and we’ll make many more. We appreciate how you’ve helped us to get much greater passion and precision in certain areas of Gospel truth. We’re glad we’ve been able to help you in a similar way. Now let’s move forwards together, striving for biblical accuracy and balance, and serve our glorious God of grace for the eternal benefit of many, many souls.”

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog and is used with permission.