Tullian Tchividjian, The Gospel Coalition, and a (rather obvious) theology problem

Over the last few days, a public airing of differences is taking place between members of The Gospel Coalition (TGC). (The two key posts seem to be here and here, for those interested.)

Apparently, one of the bloggers at TGC, Tullian Tchividjian (pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church), has had a season of disagreement with those who run the organization, which led to him being asked to leave the coalition. Tchividjian’s departure seems related to how TGC’s leaders handled allegations of child abuse among two other former members of TGC, C. J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris of Sovereign Grace Ministries.

In any event, Tchvidijian is apparently both hurt and angered at the circumstances surrounding his “departure,” enough to accuse publicly TGC and its founders D. A. Carson (NT professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School outside of Chicago) and Tim Keller (pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in NYC) of “flat out” lying about it.

If true, this wouldn’t be the first time those in power have spun the truth to protect themselves. It’s happened before, and it will happen again, and Christian organizations are unfortunately not immune for such maneuverings.

As for me, on a certain level, I don’t really care about this specific issue.

I am not interested in ferreting out who did what, as if I have personally something at stake in the outcome or that it’s any of my business. We all have our own issues to deal with, and as Aslan told Jill Pole in The Silver Chairher only responsibility is for her story not for Eustace Scrubb’s.

“But Pete, the world is watching and the name of Christ is being maligned as a result!”

No, the world isn’t watching. Most of the world hasn’t heard of TGC, Tchividjian, Carson, Keller, etc. A few people are watching, and I’d be willing to bet most are looking on more in a voyeuristic manner, rooting for their side, but otherwise not missing a beat in the daily lives. Souls are not being won or lost here.

So why am I posting on this bickering?

The story posted on The Christian Post, which covered Tchividjian’s response to the Carson/Keller explanation/spin/lie (whatever), included a train of thought that struck me as exhibiting a remarkable lack of self-awareness by Tchividjian (emphasis mine):

Tchividjian believes that some at TGC have adopted a very critical tone. “I think that’s their tone. That has become their tone. That’s not the tone of everybody there but that is the tone of some prominent voices there: critical, very, very quick to point out what’s theologically wrong out there, very slow to pick apart what’s theologically wrong in here in terms of their own position … and I think people pick up on that,” he said.

Tchividjian, who considers himself Reformed, noted that just because these voices also considered themselves Reformed, one should not see their behavior as the fruits of their doctrine.

Theology is not to blame here. You can’t blame theology for the way that you handle it. It’s good theology in the hand of bad sinners. That becomes dangerous,” said Tchividjian. “When the Christian faith becomes little more than theological propositions and categories, you’re not actually thinking about how theology serves people, it can become divisive.

“Anytime you associate yourself with a movement, you think that is at the center of the universe, and there is a much larger Christian and Evangelical world out there that is now looking at The Gospel Coalition, which seemed to start out as a positive movement that was for Gospel centrality and cultural engagement,” continued Tchividjian. “And now the tone from all the people I hear and my opinion is very much what we’re against. People just aren’t attracted to that.”

Though I agree with Tchividjian’s take on the “center-of-the-universe-what-we’re-against-the other-guy-is-the-problem” vibe TGC is known for, Tchividjian misses a more central–and I feel rather obvious–point.

“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.

If that’s your God, you have full permission–in fact, you are commanded– to fight a lot, especially with other Christians–a modern day Phinehas weeding out the covenant breakers among us (Numbers 25), God’s instrument of retribution.

Whether or not we are even aware of it, how we act reflects what we deeply believe. In fact, as Christians, there is no truer measure of what we really believe God is like, deep down, the God that really drives us and energizes us, our life source, than how quickly we feel the need to erect walls and continually narrow the boarders of who is in and who is out.

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.

 


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