I hope this isn’t just linkbait. I do want to take a minute and throw out some thoughts about recent events involving grace preacher Tullian Tchividjian being asked to remove his blog from The Gospel Coalition’s web site. There has been a lot of heated rhetoric on all sides in the blogosphere about this. I don’t pretend to be above the fray; I have often been the most incendiary blogger I know. I do actually have a few thoughts.
- Tullian probably was somewhat to blame for some of this. I love the guy a lot. He is really preaching the gospel and that is rare. But he is not Jesus, which means he is not perfect. I’m sure he can be loud-mouthed, brash, and abrasive. God forbid a popular preacher should prove to be actually imperfect. That means we should not be shocked that in some way he really was divisive and difficult in a sinful way. Why in the world would we expect perfection from anyone except Jesus? Tullian preaches grace because he knows how much he needs it. There is no reason to saddle him with such unreasonable expectations. Jesus is our savior, and the rest of us are just passing on the good news. If you hear some news that Tullian really did have some blame in this, just say, “you’re kidding! TULLIAN isn’t perfect? But — he is Billy Graham’s grandson!”
- The Gospel Coalition is an easy target right now. All of that C.J. Mahaney business with the word “pedophile” and “coverup” being tossed around is very serious and I’m not going to get into it. However, I think we need to understand that these are difficult waters indeed for TGC members, and we need to give some members space to make mistakes. I am sure that even with the Mahaney business the path of truth and justice has remained unclear. There are still some gospel advocates at the site, for instance Tim Keller. We don’t need to quarantine everyone who remains part of the organization or demand or expect that they should take some dramatic action that we would approve of. I am still going to quote Tim Keller and read his books. I hope Scotty Smith still speaks at liberate even if he hangs on at TGC. We do not need to hold their feet to the fire; that would be ungracious. They are in a difficult place and we need to give them space to ride this out. Grace doesn’t demand blood or justice; Jesus took care of that.
- There was a reason for Tullian’s divisiveness. There really are people on the site, perhaps even a preponderance of people, who advocate for what has been called a “mixed-grace” message. Mixed grace means no grace. As my pastor Dax Swanson says, there needs to be unity on essentials, if not unanimity on peripherals. I think many of us would agree that this is a division on essentials. I’m glad he was divisive. I think he was trying to be gracious without compromising the message, and some people can’t hear that as anything but divisiveness. Let’s also be clear, many people on the site really are divisive and can tend to be mean-spirited. When accusations of “celebratory failurism” are being thrown around with little thought to the real message being asserted, the site is tending towards a toxic environment. It is difficult to understand how a person could respond to that without being divisive; one begins to wonder what exactly TGC represents at all. If both of these camps represent a unifying theological distinctive, what distinctive could embrace both of these perspectives? There comes a time to throw out the scoffer so contention will go out. From my perspective, TGC is being thrown out. I would imagine that it will coast along for a while, but as it becomes a more and more bland and unchallenged instrument of mixed-grace “try-harder” sanctification messages, many people really will look afield.
- The real fallout will be with local churches that are part of TGC. The local churches fall along these same lines, and are aligned along these same divisions. It is likely that more grace-oriented churches will ousted from the coalition at the local level. This is not necessarily bad. There will no longer be as much confusion about what membership in TGC actually means. It will mean it is a mixed-grace church. Churches which are not mixed grace might want to consider proactively leaving the coalition on account of this action by the mother ship, to give them the freedom to pursue their mixed-grace agenda unhindered.
- This begs the question: if someone in Pennsylvania or St. Louis or Dallas or Seattle or anywhere wants to find a real “gospel of grace” church, where do they turn? How do they find it? I get emails all the time asking for this information, and frankly I usually have no idea. Obviously they can’t turn to TGC. We need a coalition of truly gospel-centered churches, with a clearly defined and simple outline of what that entails. What do we call these churches? “New reformation”? “Hyper-grace”? “Actually Gospel Centered”? “Liberated Churches”? This really is a world-wide movement of the Holy Spirit that is being done by various people who don’t even know each other but are saying very similar things about the power of radical grace to inform our Christian experience. I would like to know where these churches are, and keep in closer fellowship with them.