Tullian Tchividjian is Billy Graham’s grandson and the successor to D. James Kennedy as the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. As we’ve been blogging about, Rev. Tchividjian has been studying Lutheranism and is bringing such concepts as the distinction between Law & Gospel, active and passive righteousness, and the Theology of the Cross vs. the Theology of Glory into evangelical circles.
Pastor Matt Richard has conducted a revealing interview with him for Steadfast Lutherans. After the jump, links to the two part interview and some sample questions and answers.
Pr. Richard: Tullian, within Lutheran circles I have heard people refer to you as a ‘closet Lutheran.’ This is obviously a tremendous complement from my perspective. What are your thoughts about this and is it true?
Pr. Tchividjian: [Laughing] I’ve heard that too. People who know me, however, know that I’m not a closet anything. I’m pretty outspoken and unashamed about what I believe and why. I wish I had the kind of personality that was subtle, but I don’t. I have some theological differences with my Lutheran friends which is why I am a Presbyterian. But I will joyfully admit that few theologians have helped me more than Lutheran theologians. They tend to be much more down-to-earth and realistic, with little tolerance for theoretical descriptions of the human condition. They are existential realists, rather than idealists. They’ve helped me better understand my sin, God’s grace, and the distinction between the law and the gospel. They’ve guided me through deep and wide pastoral challenges and, I think, made me a better preacher, pastor, and counselor.
Pr. Richard: In what ways has Lutheranism and these Lutheran theologians helped you?
Pr. Tchividjian: I have found great benefit from the Lutheran writings on three primary distinctions: law and Gospel, active and passive righteousness, and the theology of cross vs. the theology of glory. Plus, as I mention above, they understand and diagnose the human condition realistically which makes their riffs on the gospel experientially real. Luther’s famous phrase simul iustus et peccator gave me language when I was a budding theology student which greatly helped me understand what I was feeling and experiencing as a young Christian. The personal and pastoral payoff here is that it enabled me to affirm (without crossing my fingers) that in Christ—at the level of identity—I was 100% righteous before God while at the same time recognizing the persistence of my sin. If we don’t speak in terms of two total states (100% righteous in Christ and 100% sinful in ourselves) corresponding to the co-existence of two times (the old age and the new creation) then the undeniable reality of ongoing sin leads to the qualification of our identity in Christ: the existence of some sin must mean that one is not totally righteous. This is acid at the very foundation of the peace we have with God on the other side of justification. To say simul iustus et peccator is therefore not to say that “sinner” is our identity; it is to say that while we remain sinful in ourselves we are, in Christ, totally righteous.
Pr. Richard: Let us shift gears a bit. What is the difference between your Grandfather’s ministry and your ministry? In other words, what is the difference between Billy Graham’s pastoral focus and Tullian Tchividjian’s pastoral focus?
Pr. Tchividjian: “Daddy Bill” (that’s what we call him) was called to preach the Gospel to those primarily (though not exclusively) ‘outside’ the church. I see that I’ve been called to preach the Gospel to those primarily (though not exclusively) ‘inside’ the church. I didn’t grow up in the church hearing that the Gospel was for Christians. I understood that the Gospel was what Non-Christians needed to hear in order to be saved but that once God saved us he moved us beyond the gospel. But what I came to realize is that once God saves us he doesn’t then move us beyond the gospel, but rather more deeply into the gospel. The gospel, in other words, is just as necessary for me now as it was the day God saved me. So, in many ways I feel like an evangelist to those inside the church—helping the church rediscover what I call “the now power” of the gospel. Whenever the church rediscovers the gospel for Christians, it’s called a reformation. One could say that when masses of Non-Christians believe the gospel it’s called a revival. When masses of Christians believe the gospel it’s called a reformation. I’m primarily, though not exclusively, called to be a reformer.
Pr. Richard: So, do you think that there is a modern reformation happening among American Evangelicalism today? If so, where are they reforming to?
Pr. Tchividjian: Yeah, great question. It is like Charles Dickens once said, “It is the best of times and the worst of times.” On the one hand, I see a remarkable response to the Gospel from those in the church. There seems to be a real awakening taking place with regard to the gospel being necessary for Christians too. People are starting to hear that the gospel doesn’t just ignite the Christian life, it’s also the fuel that keeps Christians going. I believe that the idea that the Gospel is only for nonbelievers is dying. This is good.
Pr. Richard: Yes, it is good. I too believe that there is a reformation occurring in many Evangelical churches in North America. With that said, do you have any concerns regarding the current movement within Evangelicalism of “gospel-centeredness”?
Pr. Tchividjian: Well, like I said, it is the best of times and the worst of times. While the Gospel is being received among many in the church, I believe that many do not have a proper understanding of Law and Gospel which then doesn’t allow them to understand the Gospel properly.
Pr. Richard: What do you mean by that?
Pr. Tchividjian: As Gerhard Ebeling wrote, “The failure to distinguish the law and the gospel always means the abandonment of the gospel.” What he meant was that a confusion of law and gospel (trying to “balance” them) is the main contributor to moralism in the church because the law gets softened into “helpful tips for practical living” instead of God’s unwavering demand for absolute perfection, while the gospel gets hardened into a set of moral and social demands we “must live out” instead of God’s unconditional declaration that “God justifies the ungodly.” As my friend and New Testament scholar Jono Linebaugh,says, “God doesn’t serve mixed drinks. The divine cocktail is not law mixed with gospel. God serves two separate shots: law then gospel.” I think that there is a lot of mixed drinks being served in Evangelical and Reformed churches and if this is not corrected, it will usher in another generation of confusion as to what the gospel truly is.