— Tullian Tchividjian (@PastorTullian) May 19, 2014
I've got a sinking feeling about this.
People sometimes ask me where I stand with Tullian. My genuine first reaction is that I really like him. And every now and again his preaching lands with me. He speaks of Christ's finished work with relentless passion and I admire that.
At times though his preaching (and writing) leaves me a bit more disappointed than I'd expect to feel with a guy so keen to preach the gospel. Partly it's that thing of obsessing over "grace" like she's the fourth member of the Trinity. Partly also it's because "grace" can all too often be used as an inspirational carrot. The Liberate guys are keen to secure "grace alone" against all potential legalisms. That's a laudable aim. But sometimes it seems like the point of these battles is to ensure that my Christian motivation is one of pure grace/gratitude. So often I wanna say "Pah, motivation schmotivation. Trust Jesus, love people. And yeah I phrased that as an imperative. So sue me."
If we start policing all our motivations and evacuating our speech of improper imperatives we might just find that we're the grace Pharisees. Let me say, we definitely need to ensure that Christ is offered apart from law and apart from any deservingness of our own. In other words, there is a right distinction between law and gospel and I'm grateful to Tullian and the Liberate guys for highlighting it. But in the rough and tumble of the Christian life, imperatives and indicatives, duty and joy are going to get jumbled up. That's just the way it is in Scripture and in life. When we insist on certain motivations and configurations of commands and promises an irony comes into play: we can get unhelpfully scrupulous in the name of free grace.
But that's no reason to censor the guy. I'm really grateful for Tullian and at times he's preached into my life in powerful ways.
The fact that he points out legalism around him does not, in my opinion, make him a divisive figure. There is legalism around him. And while "grace" and "the gospel" can wear thin as terms on his lips - "sanctification" and "obedience" can wear just as thin on the other side.
If Tullian preaches that we ought to love God and neighbour (and he does, all the time), then we can take issue with some of the ways that he does it (see the crits above). But he does preach the good life of love - imperfectly but still genuinely. Therefore I'd say he preaches the only kind of "sanctification" we should concern ourselves with.
Honestly, if you want a "sanctification" that is not precisely and without remainder loving God and neighbour (because this is the good life of Christ freely given to you) then you are pursuing a proud and idolatrous spiritual status of your own. Such sanctification is not holy but utterly profane. The fact that people care so very much about "sanctification" when loving God and neighbour does not entirely satisfy this craving really worries me.
So whatever happens with Tullian and TGC, here's what I wish for both sides. Let's remember:
Grace is not a psychological motivation - it's Christ's life for us
Sanctification is not a religious status we seek - it's Christ's life in us
Grace is not mainly inspiration for the heart.
And grace is not mainly fuel for the will.
Grace is Jesus, freely given to us sinners. So let's hear less about the bad-guy legalists/liberals/licentious over there, let's hear less about the motivations of our hearts, let's hear less about our striving for some kind of holiness quotient and let's hear about Jesus.
The thing is, I do hear about Jesus from Tullian. I hear a lot about Jesus. And I'm grateful. Whatever happens I'll gladly continue listening to his preaching. His is an important voice to hear. TGC would be much the weaker without him.