Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Six Things You Need to Know about the Grace and Obedience Boys

Tullian, Rick, and the Boys

Tullian Tchividjian
Rick Phillips

Who knows what really transpired during the untapped phone calls (NSA, if you do have recordings, please send them) among the big boys of the Gospel Coalition? You can bet that there is neither a paper nor an email trail. What we know is the Tullian Tchividjian was dismissed from the Coalition and his blog removed from the Coalition website, that Donald Carson and Tim Keller issued a statement regarding the events, and that Tullian was offended and has since gone on the offensive. I have a few thoughts:

1. Being on the corpulent side myself I prefer a minister who is stocky to one who is skinny. I just don't trust ministers who have the lean and hungry look. Having not been a cool kid in high school, I am never too comforable with ministers who make me think they are cool. And, while I now wear a cassock and surplice, I prefer a Presbyterian minister who preaches in a proper Geneva gown to one who dresses like a biker. If I were one of those unspiritual people who judges by externals, Rick would be my man. 

2. The captains of evangelical ships throw overboard whom they perceive to be Jonahs, not waiting for the Jonahs to suggest the possibility.  It seems to me that TT got hurled into the sea, though apparently he had prepared a great fish to take him to dry land where he can resume his blogging. If you stir too much of a hurricane, and the captains of the ship get too nervous, they will toss you to save the ship. Same old same old.

3. Politics continue to make strange bedfellows. I wondered aloud last week how long it will before someone at the Coalition tries to oust Keller. It was pointed out to me that it is unlikely to happen as Keller is both a coalition founder and big. It also strikes me he is a smoother politician than TT. But, as Matt Redmond also pointed out, there is a fault line in the Coalition that could produce a big earthquake. That fault line is the doctrine of Creation. Keller is, perhaps to understate it, friendly toward Biolgos. On the other hand both Al Mohler and Rick Phillips hold to young earth, 6 ordinary (24 hour) days creationism. How long till somebody has to put somebody else out - either for the sake of maintaining liberty (Keller) or upholding truth (Mohler, Phillips)? While the Coalition has obviously downplayed baptism and spiritual gifts sufficiently to allow Presbyterians, Baptists, and Charismatics to coalesce around experimental halfway Calvinism, it may be that issues such as Creation will make some uncomfortable enough in the Coalition bed to try to force others to take their pillows and sleep elsewhere.

4. By what followed TT's dismissal the Coalition could hardly have said more clearly, "Don't let the screen door hit you in the rear end on your way out." No sooner was TT and his radical grace message out than the Coalition published Rick Phillips' Where the Sanctification Controversy Lies which had appeared a few days before at Reformation 21. That's brutal. Kick a guy out whose views of the law and sanctification are being criticized, and then have his bete noire give an "objective" overview of the controversy.

5. I got quite a good chuckle this morning when I read Todd Pruitt on Reformation 21 asking whether TT wanted to be a pastor or lead a movement: "What is it these days with pastors feeling the need to lead movements? In seeing the Liberate site today, a friend asked me what sadly seems to be an increasingly unthinkable question: 'Why can't we just serve our denominations?' Silly man." Excuse me for raising my hand over here in the back of the room, but I have to ask, "What is the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals? The Gospel Coalition? Together for the Gospel?" Are these not trans-denominational movements led by ministers who are pastors and/or leaders of denominations? Yet they have a vision of something bigger than their denominations. Modesty prevents my identifying him but a certain blogger had in mind just such movements when he wrote:
Think about the expenditure of energy, the numbers of hours, and the amount of money that are directed to para-church organizations. These all could be devoted to the visible church in its local, regional, and national (and perhaps someday international) expressions. That is, every ounce of energy, every hour of time, and every dollar that go to sustain para-church ministries could be devoted to the visible church. That means that all these that could be focused on the visible church are presently lost to the para- church.
After noting some of the problems of the denomination of which he was then a member, he commented: 
All this while some of our most gifted ministers, some of the best of their gifts, hours, and energy, and a great amount of financial resources of the kingdom are devoted to the organizations to which Christ has not committed the ministry, oracles, and ordinances, and which he has not called to gather and perfect the saints.
Perhaps the day will come when there will be room for quasi-ecclesiastical bodies to promote cooperation and even union among those who hold to Reformed theology and Presbyterian polity. Until then it seems to this writer that the persons, gifts, time, energy, and dollars would be better devoted the organization for which Christ shed the blood of God.
Liberate is just one more trans- denominational coalition of churches. Such movements are legion.

6. D.G. Hart, commenting on the TT - Phillips debate, says, "Everyone is claiming grace." (And a Lutheran Shall Lead Them). It's true that all Christians say that salvation is by grace. Roman Catholics believe that salvation is by grace that is infused at baptism and must be maintained by faith, obedience, and sacramental participation in Christ. Roman Catholics conflate and confuse the grace that justifies and the grace that sanctifies. Lutherans believe salvation is by grace that puts a sinner right before God on the basis of Christ's merits. Lutherans clearly distinguish justification and sanctification, some think to the denigration of sanctification because of the denial or diminishment of the third use of the Law. The Reformed view is more complicated. Salvation is by grace. But Rick Phillips contends that TT's teaching on grace does not magnify but diminishes saving grace: "... 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)." Saving grace includes not just the grace of putting a sinner right with God but also an infusion of grace into the sinner. But when? If I understand Phillips, it is before and perhaps also after justifying faith. According to the Reformed ordo salutis the new birth ("are born again") precedes faith and justification. But then there is the "power of Christ to lead new lives" which seems to refer to sanctification which in the Reformed ordo follows justification. We still are left with the question: Why am I going to heaven? Is it because of what Christ did for me outside of me? Or is it that plus what Christ does to me inside of me? That it seems to me is one of the major reasons the question stays balled up in a knot.

It's all enough to make an Anglican of me. But then I'd have to deal N.T. Wright and his followers who have done their own special part to muddy the waters.


Steve Boyett said...

Interesting read! I have thouroughly enjoyed listening to TT over the years and having grown up at CRPC and having good friends who were in both of the churches that merged (messy) a few years ago (New City Presby and CRPC), I have heard more than my share of blame and un-christlike bashing (in the name of Christ). I am not well studied enough to give commentary on all of TT's teaching, but found his Big Law message at Liberate 2014 to be a fantastic message. I am thankful that God has given us His word in such a way that we can't become complacent in our own understanding, and we are driven to learn more through study. As Pastor Paul once told me "greater minds then yours and mine have devoted their whole lives to studying the scripture and can't agree, so there is always something to be learning!"

Curt Day said...

Part of the stir at the Gospel Coalition was Tullian's response to a Jen Wilkin Gospel Coalition blogpost on our need to obey rather than fail. And here we saw the makings of a perfect storm. While much of Tullian's writings that touch on sanctification are a focussed attack against perfectionism, Wilkin's blogpost seemed, at least to me, to be ambiguous on perfectionism.

We should also note that there is reminiscent parallel conflict between Tullian's emphasis on grace vs the view of many Reformed theologians' regarding the use of the law in sanctification and the correction that Frederick Dale Bruner's A Theology Of The Holy Spirit offered to the Pentacostal/Charismatic view of holiness.

It seems that both Tullian and his critics have something to learn from the other. While Tullian could be more missional and not reduce the world's problems to performance exhaustion, his critics need to realize that their emphasis on the law doesn't follow Paul's views on sanctification as written in Galatians and Colossians. In addition, their emphasis on the law possibly causes them to live a contradiction. For how can we now obey a law that, for as long as we live, will remind us of our failures and need for grace simply because we have received that grace?