Tullian Tchividjian’s a troublemaker—but that’s not a bad thing.
He’s taken a lot of heat for the radical picture of grace he paints Jesus + Nothing = Everything and Glorious Ruin. He’s been accused of blurring the lines of justification (our position before God) and sanctification (the process of growing in holiness). It’s even been suggested that the kind of grace he preaches is the kind that leads to license…
Wherever you land on Tchividjian’s teaching, you can’t deny one thing: he is totally captivated by the grace of God, and he wants you to be, too. If that’s what you take away from his new book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, then you’ll be in good shape because, clearly, we’ve got a problem getting a grip on grace.
Grace: the cure to performancism
Too many Christians are running themselves ragged trying to please God—as if our faith is primarily concerned with our behavior modification rather than the good news of what’s already been done for us. And so we work ourselves silly, seemingly in an attempt to pay God back for saving us (even if we don’t realize it). “We conclude that it was God’s blood, sweat, and tears that got us in, but it’s our blood, sweat, and tears that keep us in” (24). We burn ourselves out and then wonder why Christianity isn’t “working” for us.
This is what Tchividjian combats in One Way Love, the idol of performancism; he wants to kill that cruel mistress dead as he reminds readers again and again that, “grace is a gift, pure and simple. We might insist on try on to pay, but the balance has been settled (and our money’s no good!).” (29)
In many ways, this book is the completion of a thought begun in Jesus + Nothing = Everything with its running theme of performancism—by which Tchividjian means trying to obey the Law (whether big-L or little-l as he describes it) under our own steam. This is a challenge for both those who grew up in the church and those who didn’t. We all have our own little-l laws that we either put upon ourselves or are foisted upon us—”make sure you have at least an hour of time in the Bible and prayer before you start your day” is a common one—and when we fail to meet even the basic standard, we’re crushed. Worse, if we succeed in whatever that thing is, we crush others with our performance and expectations, as Tchividjian confesses he did to his wife in the early years of their marriage (pp. 71-75).
This is not the way the Christian life is to work. Tchividjian’s point throughout this book is simple: yes, we should absolutely be active in our walk with Christ—grace-fueled, Spirit-filled effort is involved, as another author puts it—but we need to remember the good news that Jesus tells us: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11-28).
Rest from what? The heavy burden of performancism. Of trying to obey the Law (or the law) on your own. You cannot possibly be good enough to meet God’s standards, nor can you be good enough to meet your own. Fortunately, Jesus’ performance, and Jesus’ grace, is more than enough to overcome both—and His grace is sufficient.
What the Law does
One of the difficulties of trying to distinguish between the work of the Law and the work of the gospel is we like to create simple categories. Works bad, grace good. That kind of thing. Tchividjian’s particular emphasis on grace can risk people coming to the conclusion that the Law itself is bad. When discussing the Law and it’s impact on the rich young ruler, he writes:
The Law has exposed him as the sinner he is, a man unwilling to give up control over his life and soul, and this is not happy news…. it prompts him to walk away with his head hanging Charlie Brown-style, to distance himself from the Lawgiver. (81)
This is true, certainly. And in fact, it’s what the Law does: it exposes our sinfulness. It searches every dark corner of our soul and condemns us under its just judgment. The difficulty I can see some readers having is that Tchividjian describes the Law as not being able to produce its intended effect, as if the Law were meant to produce righteousness. But every time the Law comes onto the scene, it “does not lead to life but to disobedience and death.”
Now, I want to be careful here because what Tchividjian is combating here is conventional teaching—that the Law does produce righteousness. And this is why he writes that “the giving of the Law to Israel did not lead to a newfound obedience but began a history of rebellion that [Paul] can even see in himself.” From the beginning, he says, Law produces rebellion, including in the garden of Eden. “The command to eat from the Tree of Good and Evil prompts Adam and Eve to disobey rather than follow it,” he writes.
While I know what he’s getting at (keep reading) I’m not certain this is the best way to put it. It wasn’t the command of God that prompted disobedience in this instance; it was the twisting of the command by the serpent that did.
We have to be really careful when we talk about the Law because we need to remember one important truth, one Tchividjian (sometimes counterintuitively) brings us to: The Law is good.
The Law is a good gift from God. It was never intended to promote righteousness, anymore than it was intended to paradoxically cause rebelliousness; instead, it reveals the disobedience already at work within us. And this, too, is God’s grace at work.
It’s why we see every saint in the Old Testament wither under the heat of its light. It’s entire purpose was never to bring about righteousness of our own merit, but to produce repentance and see us fall down at the feet of the One who fulfills the Law.
Until we realize that self-salvation is impossible, we will not be interested in the One with home all things are possible. In its mirrorlike fashion, the Law reveals our helplessness before the devastation and comprehensiveness of divine expectation, and that helplessness creates the space for God’s amazing grace and the freedom it produces. (88)
Inexhaustible grace for all of life
Tullian Tchividjian’s a troublemaker—but, thankfully, it’s for the right reasons. Grace isn’t popular among people who fear it. And we all fear it, at least a little. It’s scary to think that God’s really freed us from needing to pay Him back. It’s terrifying to think that we don’t need to do something to secure God’s love and acceptance. It means we don’t have control. But this is what the gospel does. This is what Christ wants. And if Tchivijdian’s going to keep being a troublemaker, I’m glad it’s because of a message like this.
Title: One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World
Author: Tullian Tchividjian
Publisher: David C Cook (2013)
Buy it at: Amazon