30 April 2013

Acting unwisely that "grace" may abound?

by Dan Phillips

At CBC the Sunday School class has been a series titled The Bible, Marriage and You. Having Biblically laid the foundation of the meaning of marriage, we turned to focus for several lessons on how singles should approach marriage. As long-time Pyro readers would expect, I made a very impassioned case that Christians should not even toy with becoming romantically involved with non-believers.

Last Sunday we capped that portion of the series, and turned to address marrieds. But before we left our focus on singles, I wanted to deal with one last issue. A great believer in prevention, I wanted to head off a pernicious thought: the person who might say, "But ______ dated an unbeliever, and he got saved!" or even "But ____ married an unbeliever, and she got saved/was a great lady/whatever." In other words, "Sure, maybe it's foolish, maybe it's even sinful, but other people did it and it worked out okay... so what's the big deal, Pastor?"

This is course-charting by anecdote, and it is (to say the very least) a foolish way to live.

As you can imagine, I had some thoughts about this, and I shared them with characteristic daintiness and nuance. Which is to say I fired up the grill and barbecued away, driven by passion and conviction and a lot of care and concern for my dear ones here, as well as intrawebbers. My conclusion was that this whole line of thinking amounted to asking "Why not just continue in sin, that grace might abound?"

And then Monday, I read this, and its (at present) unanimously positive, emotional accolades. Ah, me.

Tullian Tchividjian, now a pastor, admits to having been such an incorrigible 16yo that his father actually booted him out of the house. But Tchividjian continued on a rebellious, ruinous path... and his father fully subsidized it. At one point, after Tchividjian had screwed up a job and lied to his father about what had happened, dad gave him a blank check, no questions asked. Though Tchividjian took advantage of that check, it didn't stop there. Tullian snuck into the family home and committed repeated acts of theft and felony, stealing dad's checks and forging his signature. Dad (a clinical psychologist, or so I read) was aware of his son's crimes, and let him go on (you'll pardon me) unchecked and unconfronted.

But see: it had a happy ending. By all accounts, Tchividjian's now converted, is a good guy and a celebrated and well-positioned preacher of wide renown. So we know it was the right thing to do. Right?

In proof and as a capper, Tchividjian quotes a bunch of directly-relevant Scriptures counseling Christian parents to handle rebellious, criminal dependents in just exactly this manner.

No, I'm kidding. Tchividjian doesn't do anything like that. What he does instead is quote Steve Brown, whose rather appalling teachings about "grace" I've examined at great length elsewhere (here, here, and here).

But it's a feel-good story, and anyone who disagrees can only be cast as a legalist and anti-grace and a hater and a good-story-spoiler and all those awful things. Besides, it's at The Gospel Coalition, so it has to be all right, right? They're all sound there. Right?

Tchividjian's book Jesus + Nothing = Everything received a fair bit of friendly critical pushback, most of which centered around accusations that it fell short of Biblically relating the indicative to the imperative.

Unfortunately, none of the critics I read seemed to know of a single book that presents the Gospel Biblically, highlighting God's saving grace in such a way as to frame the place of God's commands within a grace-fueled walk — a book that does some kind of justice both to both indicative and imperative. It sounded as if they really, really wished that some book Biblically preached up God's sovereign, saving grace, and equally clearly set forth the distinctively sanctifying power of grace. Some book that dealt extensively with Scripture, exalted God and His word, and was broadly accessible. But none of the critics I read could really recommend a single book that did all that. Sadder still, none of the commenters on those reviews seemed to know of such a book, either. Alas.

It is tough critiquing an article like this, as the critics of Tchividjian's book clearly struggled in their criticisms. How do you criticize such a piece, without sounding as if you're criticizing grace — even though it may be a "you keep using that word" situation. If writers or speakers can just say words like "grace" and "love," and let our imaginations roam free, this is what we're likely to come up with. Then particularly if we append the uniquely modern modifier unconditional, and the uniquely modern equation of such love with unconditional enabling and approval, we're well on our way. Add a few heart-tugging anecdotes and a lot of sentiment, and the deal's sealed and on its way to the publisher/conference circuit.

So then when someone tries to point out that the book of Proverbs is still in the Bible, is still breathed out by the God who knows everything about grace and love, and is still profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness; and that Proverbs (to say the least) doesn't lend itself to such amorphous sentimentality and funding of folly and crime... well, he's really asking for it.

And yet.

The call to us is, "If you love Me, you will keep My commandments" (John 14:15) — not "you will figure out what strikes you as the most gracious, loving thing to do, then pray for it all to work out." Love for God is still, in this church age, to keep His commandments (1 Jn 5:3) — not to pursue what we hope will work, especially if it suits our standards of grace and love, and leave it to God to bring on the happy ending.

And it falls to us who are elders to keep speaking things that befit sound doctrine (Titus 2:1), and insistently to urge our hearers to be eager to do them (Titus 2:15).

Not to do what fits the content our imaginations supply to a Bibley theme, bereft of the Bible's own working out of that theme.

Dan Phillips's signature


Anonymous said...


I am a Lutheran and so I, naturally, like the emphasis on grace. We argue that the Gospel is not something needed just at the beginning of the Christian life - at conversion, but is needed throughout the Christian life.

We live and breath from forgiveness, life and salvation, which we are in perpetual need of throughout our redeemed lives which still end in us dying (evidence of the effects of sin which remain).

Now Tullian has been clear that some of the biggest influences on him were Lutherans who emphasized the radical grace of God. He notes the novel Hammer of God, by the deceased Swedish Lutheran bishop Bo Giertz, which really is a masterpiece. He also notes the works of Gerhard Forde, a conservative ELCA (who are very liberal in their denomination's theology) Lutheran.

The thing is that men like Forde and those like him (who have influenced many of the very smart people in the conservative LC-MS, Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, as well) do not realize that Luther was quite different from Forde when it came to preaching to Christians.

This recent post I did attempts to popularize some of the recent scholarship that has been done in this area - how did Luther say we should use grace and the law together in our preaching.

It is possible that a lot of what's in that post might be kind of hard for non-Lutherans to get, but I can try and help persons out if they ask questions.

Best regards,
Nathan Rinne

FX Turk said...

DJP makes a fantastic point here today.

You will understand how exactly fantastic it is tomorrow when I post a book review of a book which has gotten a lot of attention lately.

DJP said...

Infant Theology -- any actual interaction with the actual post, above? Besides noting that it was about Tullian and grace?

Michael Coughlin said...

At the risk of just sounding like a cheerleader, AMEN. It seems that very little is as powerful in even a Christian's mind as his own perception.

Catpchta: netofic again

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Whenever we do like Tullian tells us to do, aren't we responsible for giving place to what they're doing? I mean, if I know that someone is actively stealing from me and I don't do anything about it, I can't say it's out of grace.

In fact, I only see this happening for two reasons: You're secretly OK with their theft (in this case; but really name your sin) and confronting it confronts you; or you are afraid that if you confront the crime that you'll lose a relationship with the criminal, and in that case, it isn't about grace at all, but rather selfishness.

So far as I know from Scripture, grace confronts sin and calls it what it is, calling the sinner to repent before they reap what they've sown (that goes for person to person sin too) - it's how God operates, so who are we to do differently?

DJP said...

Yeah, Web. Doesn't sound very Ephesians 5:11-y, does it?

Anonymous said...


Sorry - "Amen!".

I can agree with the post above in full as it is written. Sorry I didn't say that. I meant to affirm that and take things to the next level, emphasizing that the Lutheranism Tullian has imbibed is an aberrant form (and then showing why from Luther himself)

"This recent post" - I guess others linking to their own posts is not encouraged here (or did I forget to put in that link? : ) ).... in which case, I will try to remember that.


Anonymous said...

For any who are interested in the post, it is called "Silent no more: Luther lays down the law on how to preach the law (200 proof version)"

Should be able to Google it.


DJP said...

I didn't do anything to your comment, Nathan. It's just that we encourage (require, really) commenters on our posts to comment on our posts, and not merely to point to other posts.

So it's A-OK with me that you disagree with me, if that's what you're saying. I'd just like to know how and where, specifically, beyond saying you're Lutheran and I'm not. (c:

Anonymous said...


No, I don't disagree with your post at all. Basically, I could use all your words as my own!


Marla said...

The first thing that occurred to me when I read Tullian's original post is this: His dad must've been loaded, otherwise the stolen money would've really caused problems (like most of us average joe's), like paying bills, etc.

The other thought I had was: that's not grace, it's enabling bad behavior. If you are going to make a mess of your life, do it with your own money. Sooner (rather than later) the person will hit bottom and come to their senses (a la Luke 15:17).

It's clear Tullian loved his dad, but would T really want to practice this same kind of 'grace' with his own kids?

Kerry James Allen said...

Dan is the go to Greek guy here, but I notice a great divide between Titus 2:11-12 with this "make nice grace" thinking. Verse 11 mentions grace. Verse 12 begins with the same Greek word translated "chastening" and "scourging" in Hebrews 12:6. The word is also used of the beating of Jesus in Luke 23:16. Since when is grace all coddling and no chastening? Great post, Dan.

DJP said...

Yes, Marla, I had that same thought. So when I read that he was a clinical psychologist, I figured I had the answer.

And thank you for the rest. I'm glad TT came to love his dad, and nothing I say should be construed as meaning to defame his late father; I'm challenging TT's holding this up as if it is the very model and example of grace and love. That's where I have problems... as noted.

DJP said...

Yes, Kerry. I would think that anyone writing a book on the Gospel and the saving grace of God would do well to devote a whole section to that portion of Titus and what it says about God's grace — maybe, say, oh I don't know, starting on page 199 of that book.

Kerry James Allen said...

Hmmmm...I have that book, methinks. And since the Proverbs guy will want to let another man praise him, I'll just say that if you don't have the book you should get it, not that the


will ever recommend that you do so.

Robert said...

I instantly thought of GWiP when I read this. And also, the following came to mind:

"He who withholds his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently." (Proverbs 13:24)

"Discipline your son while there is hope, and do not desire his death." (Proverbs 19:18)

"Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; The rod of disipline will remove it far from him." (Proverbs 22:15)

"Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed." (Proverbs 27:5)

What Tullian is teaching in his blog post here clearly goes against the teaching of Scripture. In essence he is teaching people to hate their children by withholding discipline from them when they are actively sinning.

The other thing that came to mind is that we need to teach people some logic so that they can identify fallacies in arguments like this. This is clearly an example of the post hoc ergo propter hoc (after this, therefore because of this) fallacy. Basically Tullian is arguing that since his father didn't discipline him over this issue, he was saved through this example of grace by his father. He then says that others should follow this example and they should see the same results.

Let me plead with you other parents to take some time to teach your children logic and about different fallacies that people use to support their arguments. It makes a difference and helps them to realyl think about what they hear.

trogdor said...

That view of 'grace' would blend spectacularly with church discipline. Confront him about sin privately, then with one or two others, and if he refuses to repent, tell it to the church - as you install him as an elder. You know, to model grace and so he'll love you and all that.

trogdor said...

That article was sickening. Let me put it this way - his self-description is a lot like my little brother (except for the eventual repentance). If my mom's pastor told her to just give him all the money he wanted to win him over through 'grace', he'd be lucky if we only exchanged words.

I just can't get over how pastorally irresponsible this garbage is. There are no doubt many people struggling with wayward children or spouses. And the best he can come up with is to pander to their sin, give them whatever they want (no questions asked!), and pretend it's grace? Disgusting.

Michael Coughlin said...

Love all the comments. One minor edit to Robert's:

"Basically Tullian is arguing that since his father didn't discipline him over this issue, he was saved in spite of this example [] by his father.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Also another point: There's an underlying idea, especially in the comments, that the law can never be used lovingly - you can only use grace. But those are two sides of the same coin, aren't they? You can't define grace outside of the context of the law. And the ultimate end of the law is the show the righteousness of God and the sinfulness of man so that by grace we might see our wretchedness and repent, right?

Maybe we've fallen off the other side of the horse, trying to prevent being legalists and begun to border on antinomians...

DJP said...

Substitute "what God tells His blood-bought, grace-saved children that He wants them to do and not do" for "law," and see how that works.

Michael Coughlin said...

My favorite thing about being called a legalist is asking the person if that is wrong and if I should have to stop.

Usually, the irony is reserved for me and my blog buddies like you guys.

Anonymous said...

"...relating the indicative to the imperative...". Hey pastor Dan, could you please unpack that in a sentence or two?

Solameanie said...

Great post, Dan. I have struggled a long time with the "grace" issue and how best to communicate it in a biblical way. I remember Mike Huckabee saying once that he was a "grace" Christian and not a "law" Christian. Then we have Ray Comfort etc. who say you need to preach both "law" and "grace."

To me, the standout issue in all of this discussion is "love." As you pointed out, the Lord Himself said "If you love Me, keep my commandments." Obedience is not salvific, but proof that salvation has taken place if you love the Lord and desire to obey Him.

When we bob, weave, and dodge around sin issues under the guise of showing grace, how is that loving God and loving the individual caught up in sinful behavior? I rather think it's the most unloving, ungracious thing one can do. But try to get that point across in our therapeutic age. Sometimes it gets really discouraging.

DJP said...

Sure, J.E. The indicate meaning the statement for what God has done for us in Christ; the imperative meaning what God tells us to do now, as His blood-bought, grace-saved children.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

*and I meant in the comment section at Tullian's blog, not this one...

Robert said...

This just came to mind, too...

"He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me." (Matthew 10:37)

Aaron said...

I left a few comments on Facebook the other day about this but I'll repeat them here.

First, I can forgive the guy's father. I think what he did out of "grace" was foolish, but I understand it. Parents do foolish things for their children with the best of intentions. Fathers would be wise to remember that we too, should seek wise counsel from others.

What struck me is two things. First, I didn't see any mention of the father's presentation of the Gospel or Tchividjian's recognition that what he needed at the time was God's grace. He needed to be told of his need for salvation. This irritates me. Tchividjian says "it was his unconditional, reckless, one-way love for me at my most arrogant and worst that God used to eventually bring me back." Bring him back where? How can he be saved if he hasn't heard the gospel? Did hear it from his father? Forgiving each others' sins is great, but you can't be saved unless you hear the gospel.

Second, and perhaps only slightly less disconcerting, is the seeming lack of repentance on the part of Tchividjian for stealing from his father. Perhaps he is repentant, but it sure doesn't come across in that post.

Chris H said...

Had Tullian been my brother and I discovered he was stealing from our parents, he would have learned that it's difficult to forge signatures with broken fingers.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Dan. As an employee at a Christian substance abuse program I get to see first-hand what (I believe) is the collateral damage that free-grace theology causes.

Joel Knight said...

Clearly Tullian's Father didn't even believe what Tullian is advocating in that blog post since he threw him out of the house in the first place. I assume that counts as a Father's discipline?

candy said...

Having worked with at risk teens for several years, Tullian's post was appalling to me. The comments after his post were surprising in their accolades for his version of "grace". It is the enabling and entitlement mindset that hurts us in this country so much, and his post is, in my opinion, irresponsible.

DJP said...

...and last I checked, the adulation was unanimous.

But just now I'm remembering some who told me they offered disagreement on other metas and were deleted. So, who knows?

Michael Coughlin said...

Look, I'm so glad that so many people are on board with Dan's post.

Whoever speaks first seems right. I'm sure many well meaning but blown by the latest wind of every doctrine Xians were swayed by Tullian's stuff. I almost was.

When these ideas were presented to me like some kind of new discovery by a friend of mine a couple years ago, my initial reaction was, wow, what a great story of redemption and then basically forgot about it.

Then this person continued to pressure me to understand these things better - all the while BASHing me because it was perceived that I thought I was this person's spiritual mentor - because I offered biblical correction. UGH.

Now, this person converted to - Lutheranism (refer back to infanttheology's first comment), got a divorce because, well, she's forgiven and she doesn't have to try to please God, got remarried and began to really hurt a lot of people who cared for her. My wife has spent days of sadness and pain over all this and it has caused her to even question all the good she did for this person.

In conclusion, the point is that ALL false doctrine hurts people. It may not kill a baby or give someone AIDS, but eating a little piece of fruit doesn't seem like much either, does it? Sin hurts and permeates and devastates and has consequences whether Christ paid for the wrath of God for it or not.

Anyway, that's my perspective and why I cannot recommend Tullian for the same reason I won't recommend Warren - even when they say something good, I can find someone else who says it too, but I won't be afraid will lead my friend down a wrong path in another area.

Michael Coughlin said...

And pyro readers ought to be ashamed because this post should have a WHOLE BUNCH of 5 star votes.

Captcha: necessarily doxtrem

Eric said...


Ashamed? Not in the least. Get outa here with your star-rating legalism! ;)


Very much agreed, and in this case I think you might have actually been a bit (too) nuanced in your desire to be gracious. How does a pastor (Tullian) rise to such heights with such a wrong understanding of grace and such a lack of pastoral sensitivity/wisdom? Wow. Grace has now been reduced to a license to sin.

Anonymous said...

Heh, I put this on the other post...

The whole article from Tullian felt like a Dad trying to make up for perceived failings.
As if he felt like Tullian's rebellion was his fault.

Maybe it was, maybe it wasn't. But either way it was Tullian's choice and validating a sinful choice is a dangerous game.

Gilbert said...

Chris H,

I couldn't help but laugh...but my feelings ranged from that to "this guy is a fool".

To everyone: There is a place for grace, law and love to be perfectly mingled. It's hard, very hard sometime to get it right. But post-event, it's worth looking at to see what did go wrong and right.

First: You shall not steal: Exodus 20:15. There's not "But..." "However," after it. Sin is sin. With his dad continuing to let him steal, it was a sin, not telling him that it was wrong to do so, and to demand the money back. Note: I didn't say call the police, throw him in jail, or whatnot. If he continued to steal, however...I absolutely would have called the police. Theft is theft, and when gentleness fails to yield repentance as God does for us, there are consequences.Jesus rebuked Peter "Get behind me Satan!" in Matthew 16:23. Jesus knew when to give a ton of grace, but also lay down the truth in a powerful way when it was necessary.
(And to be honest, if Jesus said that to me, I'd be shaken to my core). But that's what happens when you act unwisely and foolishly. Been there, done that more times than I want to admit, unfortunately.

Eric said...

Could we say that grace is being Clintoned?

Anonymous said...

And no dissenting comments allowed. I posted my comment from here to there, and was rejected.

I don't get that. Why avoid dissenters. Is it wrong to have another viewpoint?

One of the many reasons I appreciate this blog.

DJP said...

Oh really, Daryl? You posted in disagreement with Tchividjian, and it was rejected, deleted?

Anonymous said...

Heh. Clearly I ought not to have been surprised...

I suppose I'm still a bit naive, but I truly don't get it.
I don't like disagreement with what I think is a great point any more than the next guy, but holy cow, is it not possible to be wrong? Or at least to consider a different point of view?


Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Hmm I thought it was odd that I never received an email about my comment over at TT's blog.... I asked a serious question concerning his view of grace and even cited how God was with Israel, that he didn't wink at their sin, but apparently it didn't get posted...

Rhology said...

none of the critics I read seemed to know of a single book that presents the Gospel Biblically, highlighting God's saving grace in such a way as to frame the place of God's commands within a grace-fueled walk

I know of one...

DJP said...

Oh, surely not, Roh. It'd be all the talk.

Rachael Starke said...


Do you have any verification that it was outright rejected? I know that they've started moderating comments in some areas because of, well, the same kind of crazy you guys get at times. I thought the relative lack of pushback was unusual, but 1 Cor. 13 compels me to hope for the best and not presume the worst until it's verified. I've noticed that they do approve comments in "chunks", so it is possible that it's simply still queued. Just a thought.

DJP said...

Good point, RS; but if it's deleted apparently simply for demurral, it wouldn't be the first I'd heard of.

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Rachel, I posted my comment about 3 hours ago, and comments have been posted after mine since then.

Anonymous said...


I suppose it's possible, but I saw it sitting there in moderation (it comes up on my screen in the comment section with a note "awaiting moderation") and then it simply disappeared.
I added an additional comment asking why that might happen, but no response.
That was a couple hours ago.

Even now, there isn't a single comment that even questions the post, which doesn't seem realistic to me.

I'll retract my comment if the dissenters appear, but it seems unlikely.

My "non-robotness" code is "thesirth contained". Perhaps I'm a sirth-lord. I am contained.

Kerry James Allen said...


Michael Coughlin said...

sirth lord's cannot be contained.

there ovacywi

Webster Hunt (Parts Man) said...

Daryl, a sith lord with a lisp...

and whatever "nglotors" are they were "postponed"... maybe that has to do with the comment moderation at TGC.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of demurral...dan I would interested to know if you believe the sort of "looking the other way" that TT's dad practiced during that particular season in his life is always unwise?

I completely agree with the warning you have raised, especially in regards to the idea that discipline and correction are somehow lacking in grace, which is a backwards way of thinking.

However, it seems to me that there is a time and place for the sort of love that gives your son his inheritance too early, knowing full well the ruin it leads to if not intercepted by the gift of repentance. (Not a perfect example of course.) I can think of times when my own parents, who were quite consistent in their discipline and correction, surprised me with things they knew and did not correct immediately, which demonstrated to me an incredible patience and trust in God and willingness to prayerfully trust him to produce change in me through means other than themselves at times. Now, again, these were specific occasions, not their usual pattern etc etc...I am just curious if you would think a parent should always correct and instruct upon seeing sin. I am father of a little girl and I am starting to work through these issues in earnest :)

DJP said...

Parenting isn't simple, Joey. The extremely censorious spirit that keeps a 24/7 vigil for the punishment of the least infraction is indeed lacking in wisdom, grace and mercy, and is likely to fall under the condemnation of Col. 3:21. But what TT describes is well, well beyond that. What can it possibly say to say "Your behavior is so atrocious that I'm kicking you out — yet I'll continue to bankroll it"?

Michael Coughlin said...

I offered a comment at the other site. We'll see what happens. See my comment

best Captcha ever: point rantsfun

threegirldad said...

Whatever may be the case with Daryl's comment, I've seen comments disappear from TGC metas in the past--and some of those comments were from well-known bloggers. As memory serves, it would be a stretch to characterize those comments as trollish or violating rules of propriety. I found it hard at the time to come to any other conclusion that "Dissenting Opinions Prohibited."

Tom Chantry said...

I believe Tullian’s one-sidedness has become a problem. What is troubling about this post is that it appears to be meant as a picture of God’s grace. There is something to that; when God has determined to save He does not hold against us the sins we commit against Him. But of course it is only one side. Taken in context of all else that Tullian has written, this analogy is dangerous - it gives rise to the idea of an antinomian Deity presiding over a church of blessed libertines.

That said, I think this comment thread needs some perspective. Was the father’s behavior ideal? Actually, we have roughly one page of information on what sort of a father he was. He had, by Tullian’s statement, “tried everything.” Having tried everything, and having failed, what he did was this: he put the young man out of the house, presumably so that he could not influence the character of the rest of the family. He considered his money something insignificant, and chose rather to be robbed than to pursue his son legally. Should he have had him arrested? I don’t think I would hold this up as a great picture of grace, but on the other hand, I don’t think it’s entirely awful. The father put the son out of the house, saying in effect, “This is unacceptable.” Then he chose to allow himself to be defrauded, saying in effect, “I can absorb this offense without retribution.” Was it the best he could have done? Maybe not, but it wasn’t the worst, either.

As for the censoring of dissent, The Glorious Consortium has a history and a problem. I wouldn’t fault them on this one, though. I, too, have a father. Someday he will die, and I might blog about him after he’s gone. If anyone wants to post criticism of him in that context, guess what’s going to happen?

To go back to what I think were Dan’s original points, we need to be much more careful and much more biblical in how we communicate the grace of God. Anecdotal theology usually goes off the rails sooner rather than later. The story of an imperfect man dealing imperfectly with an imperfect situation is probably not the best way to go about defining grace, or even illustrating it.

Anonymous said...

@TChantry: Well done, sir.

DJP said...

Bobby McCreery in Facebook says his comment was deleted.

Aaron said...

Chantry, I do believe it is perfectly acceptable to forgive somebody and remove the consequences (in this case, absorb the loss). I don't think what the father did is terrible. But here's the point. Most of us could probably point to many instances in our lives where our parent(s) showed us grace and mercy when we deserved punishment. And indeed, it may be a beautiful picture of love. But how does this story explain how the author was pointed to Christ? After all, the author says it was this act by his father that led to his conversion (or rather back to his Christian walk). So how was that? Lifestyle envangelism?

Or am I the only one who thinks that in order to be saved one must actually be told the gospel?

DJP said...

Well, I may have mentioned that at some point, Aaron. Possibly even in your hearing.


Tom Chantry said...

Aaron, agreed. As I said, anecdotal theology tends to go off the rails.

FX Turk said...

Aaron -- check with your pastor before you start talking like that.


yankeegospelgirl said...

Got a friend who teaches (well, used to teach) at a classical Christian school where the headmaster was full of this junk. Any time my friend tried to exercise discipline in the classroom, the headmaster would reprimand him and say he needed to learn more about "grace." It was really, really bad.

Peter said...

What's the difference between the approach of Tullian's father and that of the father in the parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32).

DJP said...

You tell us, Peter. No need for an advanced degree on that one.

Rachael Starke said...

Leave it to the Chantry to rerail the meta. :)

FWIW, I don't recall the story of the prodigal son involving a lot of people stopping the rebel as he lay abandoned and covered in filth to preach repentance to him. Luke very specifically says "he came to himself". And that should actually be a comfort to those of us who have, as we should, done all we can to persuade, warn, protect, etc. In the end, God is the one who grants repentance. And sometimes He has to remind us of that by doing it through exceptional means, after we've exhausted all the usual and wise ones.

But yes, to Dan's and especially Tom's point, the problem is when we make our experience of the exception the prescribed norm. "Anecdotal theology" is exactly the right term for it. I was just thinking yesterday about another recent example - of Piper waxing rhapsodic about his remarkable mother who, for three weeks out of four, mowed lawns, fought critters, and did all other manner of superhuman feats while her husband was off hither and yon "doing ministry", then welcomed him with joy as the paterfamilia for the rare week he was home. Admirable tribute to a no doubt remarkable woman? Yes. Prescriptive norm for Christian families. Oh, heck no (I hope!).

Rachael Starke said...

FWIW, I posted my comment before I saw Peter's question. :)

DJP said...

We'll all revise our narratives, Rachael.


Rachael Starke said...

I prefer "conversation", please. Narrative is just so .....linear.


Sonja said...

I dunno, the whole story reminded me more of Micah from Judges 17 than the prodigal son. But it's TT's story and experience (anecdotal theology is a phrase I'll remember)and he misses his dad greatly. Pastor Chantry's caution changed my perspective on the post entirely, so thanks for that.

OTOH, it wasn't a "typical" TGC post, and comments should have been closed, just like the atypical post by Carson/Keller regarding ERII.

Tom Chantry said...

Regarding the Prodigal Son:

It is perhaps the most complicated of the Parables, coming at the end of a set of three which must be understood in a set. Remember, the context was the anger of the Pharisees at Jesus' decision to go out among the sinners and minister to them.

In the first two stories - of the shepherd and the woman - Jesus illustrates His own ministry as one who goes seeking that which is valuable. The Father's love for sinners is put into action by the Son.

But the third, in this context, illustrates the failure of the Pharisees. In it we see more clearly than in the others the love of God for sinners, but we also see the failure of the Younger Brother. Jesus does not write Himself into this story - somehow going and seeking the lost son. Rather He writes in the Pharisees, who would rather the son never came home. That is the real reason no one goes seeking the Prodigal.

It really won't do to make it into a story about how we need to let people go their own way without preaching the gospel to them. Its point is certainly not to establish a method for dealing with our own prodigals.

I'm not sure what, if anything, it says about Tullian's story.

yankeegospelgirl said...

Oh yes, and mind if I join the ranks of the "mysteriously deleted negative commentators?" Here's my offensive contribution:

"Pardon me for throwing a wet blanket over things, but this doesn’t sound like “grace” to me. This is what’s known as enabling. Your father was reinforcing consequenceless, ongoing sinful behavior. That’s not grace, in fact that’s a terrible message to send a child. You were completely unrepentant. God offers no favors to those who refuse to repent."

Tom Chantry said...

YGG, I'm sorry, but that rather makes my point. Dan addressed the theological consequences in his post quite well, but...you posted that? About the man's dead father? On his blog, on a post that was a tribute to his dad? Do you really think you're being mistreated by not having those words made public? Perspective, please.

Michael Coughlin said...

I made it!


They must have certain quality standards. ;)

yankeegospelgirl said...

Chantry, this isn't just a nice anecdote about Tullian's dad, and he knows it too. He's trying to make a Point, with a capital "P," and he wants the reader to nod and say "Ohhhhhh, I get it. File this one away under '1001 things the church is getting wrong right now,' Tullian subfolder." He knew exactly where he was going with the post and the message he was sending, which is consistent with his overall perspective on "grace." It was his choice to do it, he can't blame people for criticizing the Point.

Tom Chantry said...


And it isn't possible to address the point without saying, "Hey, your dad, the guy who taught you the gospel and loved you who's gone and whom you honor while missing - he's a bad dude"?

If you can't figure out how to do that, reread Dan's OP.

This was a good, necessary post and an atrocious meta. I'm not Dan (even if folks have started telling me I look like him), but if I were, I'd close comments and delete every comment. The whole thing is turning unseemly.

Michael Coughlin said...

Chantry - I apologize if I offended you with any of my comments. I commented on Dan's post and the teaching that I oppose. It was much later that I actually clicked the link and read the post and the exact words of TT. I then left a comment on TGC which was accepted, and I hope you would find tasteful.

I don't have a problem with TT's story he told; but I agree with Dan's post entirely as well and am not sure that TT's story is a model for godly, wise behavior.

Sonja said...

An anecdotal piece of theology. My dad died a long time ago and he died an atheist. When he died I was an atheist as were my mother and brother. Dead was dead. Little did I know what that meant to my horror. Anyway, my dad was a great earthly dad, from when I was a tiny girl to the day he died. I treasure our last conversation as much as I treasure my first prayer (as awkward as it was) to my heavenly Father. By His grace He gave me to a father who allowed me to trust and love Him when He saved me.

I know too many women who had Christian fathers yet cannot fully trust the Lord because of the treatment those men gave them. For what that's worth.

Part of WV: chantroids

Tom Chantry said...

Michael, sorry, "the whole meta" was hyperbole on my part.

yankeegospelgirl said...

Geez Chantry, sorry if I offended you (but not really since I don't particularly care what strangers think). I guess I'm just a bit puzzled by your reaction. I didn't say the father was a bad dude, I just indicated he made a really lousy choice. The harm Tullian's doing with this post is a lot worse than any "offense" that might be generated by a concerned comment.

Rachael Starke said...

I agree that this was a disheartening thread, except for dear Tom Chantry's pastoral admonition and help. Tom, I need to go and reread your comment on the whole parable after my kids are in bed, as it offers a lot to ponder. Thanks.

Rachael Starke said...

YGG - your profile doesn't list an email address. Care to put it on there? Wanted to ask you about something. :)

Bethel said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
yankeegospelgirl said...

Sorry Rachael---I don't keep up my profile like I should. I've got a ton of e-mail addresses, but there's one I use a lot. It's newsogofan[at]gmail[dot]com. I got it when I started my blog at Southern Gospel Yankee (short for "new southern gospel fan"). It kind of stuck and now it's one of two I check regularly. Feel free to e-mail, though I can't promise a long dialogue...

Michael Coughlin said...

No apology necessary. I'm just sensitive and I respect your viewpoint and biblical discernment.

YGG - I love your passion.

yankeegospelgirl said...

Thanks much Mike. Have I seen you around my site?

Michael Coughlin said...

YGG - Yes, I recently posted a comment to you to check out Kari Atalla. Have a great night everyone!

yankeegospelgirl said...

Ah, that's it! And I did check her out, and really like her! Thanks for the rec.

Michael Coughlin said...

If you're not too far away, she will be at Ohio Fire (OhioFire.org) in late may for our conference. (it's free)

David A. Carlson said...

"I'm not sure what, if anything, it says about Tullian's story."

Mmmm, unmerited grace? That you can't earn that? That it is not the rule makers that God loves, but the broken and repentant, and that he extends that love unconditionally to us who deserve it not? That we to are called to live that way?

90 comments, and all we get are pharasee's

Tom Chantry said...

Oh good grief! This thread really wasn't complete without DAC completely misconstruing everything anyone said! Thank you!

donsands said...

"If you love Me, you will keep My commandments"

And when we keep our Lord's commandments we love Him.

A new commandment He gave us, to love each other as He loves us.
No greater love than to lay down one's life for his friends.

Wow, what a chapter in the Word.

It does come down to love and obeying, doesn't it.

If we love someone, we will tell them the truth, as our Lord Jesus does.
That is genuine love. It is very difficult to do at times; especially for us who are more timid. It begins with knowing we are helpless; and telling our Lord we are.

Thanks for the great post. Good word again. Thanks for your hard work in the Scriptures.

DJP said...

YGG — to be clear, I agree with Chantry completely about this: to turn this into a sort of post-mortem on TT's father is light-years from my intent. My dad died in 1993 and it still hurts. If TT's dad died in 2010...ouch. Last thing I want to do is add pain.

My focus is on his words, on a person who has sought and accepted a position of high visibility and prominence teaching that this way of dealing with a rebellious, criminal child is the very model of God's grace and love. My focus is the unavoidably corollary that this pastor's counsel to other parents in similar situations is to go and do likewise.

DJP said...

David Carlson: you have one chance to do what you seldom if ever seem to do. Read the post you're supposedly commenting on. It anticipates and refutes your slander.

Then read the comments preceding yours.

Then apologize for and retract your slander that every last commenter is a stranger to God's saving grace, and is going to Hell under His judgment.

Fail to do that, or do something else, and we will bid you farewell. We will set you free to find another blog, one whose posts you actually read, whose posts you enjoy and accept instruction from, on whose posts — if you feel you must comment at all — you will comment on-topic and constructively.

Anonymous said...

I was one of the insensitive commenters.

After Chantry said his bit, I went back and re-read Tullian's post and was thankful that my comment wasn't posted.

Thanks for the great post Dan.
Thanks for the admonition Tom.

Excellent and carefully worded (read - wise) comment over there M.C.

If there's one thing I know about myself, that I was reminded about again in this thread, it's this:
I tend to react too quickly.

Anything worth saying is worth thinking about and getting right. Even if it takes a few hours or days to sort out first.

Robert said...

@Tom Chantry,

I ask this in all sincerity in hopes that everybody might learn...how should we react? Consider his audience and the website where his blog is listed. And then look at that last paragraph where he has the quote from Steve Brown. I agree we shouldn't just try to blast his father, but can we not say that he is laying out a poor example for many parents who struggle with rebellious children (Especially in light of the comments that are shown on the post)?

I know you say that your comment about the whole meta was hyperbole, but I'm just trying to figure out where the line should be. I think that if we can all figure that out, it would be of great benefit to everybody.

Kerry James Allen said...

I happen to know that Tom Chantry's father is a godly Christian, and I envy Tom and could only wish I had had the same. My father died as a godless, unsaved drunk.

I suppose our feelings and thoughts about this issue to a large degree stem from our view of our fathers whether we care to admit that or not. Putting our feelings and blinders aside is the hard part here, I think. It may be easier for some of us here who did not have a good father to be a little harsh. It may also be easier for those of you and Tullian who had godly Christian fathers to allow that to color your theology. The razor's edge is a difficult one to walk.

DJP said...

That, Kerry, and more.

As I said, it's difficult to criticize a post like this because you sound to some as if you're criticizing grace.

The rest of it is that one can also sound like one's criticizing TT's late father.

But is that our fault entirely? It is if we uncautiously do that ourselves; we've got to watch it.

But it was TT himself who told the story, and positioned it as "a picture of God’s unconditional love" and set it up as a blanket embodiment of grace vs. law.

Plus, his position. He's not just some schmoe.

Tom Chantry said...


I know I've said this already, but I think Dan's OP is a great example. It is obvious to me in reading it that he wrote it already thinking what he later put in a comment: "I'm glad TT came to love his dad, and nothing I say should be construed as meaning to defame his late father; I'm challenging TT's holding this up as if it is the very model and example of grace and love. That's where I have problems... as noted." I don't think that was an afterthought.

It's possible to go after the doctrine without going after the person. To do so requires thought, and in the first place it requires a sensitivity to the human aspect of Tullian's post.

This is where metas present us all with a real challenge. I have a pretty good idea that neither Dan nor Frank rip off their posts in the heat of the moment; they are considered, written, edited, prayed over, etc. But then we all read and say whatever comes to our minds, because that's easy to do. I've said some things in comment threads I never would have said in a post. It's a good reminder to guard our commenting much as we would guard our speech. I suspect if you were sitting across a table from Tullian and he told you this story in exactly the same way, you would naturally respect his grief for his father and craft your response in such a way as to communicate that respect - even while disagreeing with the theological conclusions. It just takes more discipline to do the same in the faceless, bloodless realm of the internet.

Kerry James Allen said...


Michael Coughlin said...

I would agree that there is a certain level of sensitivity that needs to be used, especially given the context of the anecdote. For example, you can disagree with TT's father's actions and the communicated ideas without essentially attacking the man or calling his actions wicked or using any number of hyperbolic words.

But let us all remember this, we have offended God far more than TT ever offended his father, but God did not actually turn a blind eye, did he? He didn't just show us grace by ignoring the situation and letting it go, hoping that would lead to repentance. He didn't simply take the offense and stuff it assuming that would lead to repentance.

He took all his righteous jealous anger out on His innocent Son. He displayed the ultimate justice when He became sin who knew no sin.

We can't truly create a picture of this. We can't impute righteousness or sin from one to another. Maybe we are better off simply letting the picture of a suffering servant savior tell the story and letting anecdotes encourage and paint partial pictures.

Robert said...

Well, it turns out that the meta is quite good. If I put together all the comments from other people after 6 AM (along with some from earlier), there is plenty to chew on along with the post itself. Thanks for the post and comments, Dan. And thanks for your response, Tom. And thanks to everybody else for the dialogue. It's good to see this stuff fleshed out amongst people with different perspectives.

Unknown said...

This may be winding down, but 1 Samuel 1-4, the account of Eli and his sons, is particularly alarming in this regard. Eli would not restrain his sons, and God brought his house down.

1 Samuel 2:29-30, “Why do you kick at My sacrifice and My offering which I have commanded in My dwelling place, and honor your sons more than Me, to make yourselves fat with the best of all the offerings of Israel My people?' 30 Therefore the LORD God of Israel says: ‘I said indeed that your house and the house of your father would walk before Me forever.’ But now the LORD says: ‘Far be it from Me; for those who honor Me I will honor, and those who despise Me shall be lightly esteemed.’”

God then tells this to Samuel: 1 Samuel 3:13, "For I have told him [Eli] that I will judge his house forever for the iniquity which he knows, because his sons made themselves vile, and he did not restrain them."

DJP said...

Very apposite, Jason. Eli chews out and warns his sons... and God doesn't even count that as being worth anything. He needed to do more.

And I don't think "increase their salary" is what God had in mind.

Kerry James Allen said...

And what of Adonijah, of whom it was said in 1 Kings 1:6 that his father had not displeased him at any time with either discipline or examination? And David's happy ending? A rebel attempting to steal the kingdom as David lay on his deathbed. So much for "nice makes right!"

Michael Coughlin said...

Maybe this is irrelevant, but I've been wondering: If this post had been made by Benny Hinn or Joel Osteen, or the pope would we have, or should we have reacted any differently? Why?

I mean, there is a sense that if I wrote this post - it wouldn't have even been on anyone's radar (except Rho's :) and no one would have bothered to examine it, let alone refute it.

Just wondering what you all think of that hypothetical.

Bobby Blakey said...

Hey Dan! If you are looking for a critique of Tullian's book Jesus + Nothing = Everything then I recommend this blog which my pastor, Mike Fabarez, has written:


It is a thorough critique of the work not of the man and I would encourage everyone here to read it!

Kim Tchividjian said...

Hi Dan!

Thanks for your article. I never comment on blogs but due to the sensitive nature of this testimony about my dad and some of the comments here about him specifically, I thought I'd post a quick clarification that I gave over at my TGC blog to a gentlemen named Michael who asked a very good question in a very gracious and respectful way. So let me reiterate what I told him.

1. My mom and dad literally tried everything: private school, public school, home-school, counseling, etc. I was properly disciplined as a child in their home (I’m one of seven kids) and they eventually kicked me out. Just the kind of “tough love” I both needed and deserved.

2. After I had been out of the house for a while and was no longer a “threat” to the family, my dad decided (on this occasion) to give and show such a degree of undeserved kindness in the hopes that his kindness would communicate something of God’s kindness and eventually lead me to repentance. It worked.

I’m definitely not saying this is THE pattern every time for every child in every situation. My dad himself handled me very differently in a variety of situations. But on this occasion at this particular time on my life (knowing me the way only a father can know his son) he did something that I'm sure was scary for him but God used it. And that unwarranted, ill-deserved act of undomesticated grace is, I think, a picture of God’s love for us: “While we were yet sinners (far worse than check thieves), Christ died for us.” It was this kindness that eventually led all of us to repentance. The gospel simply put is that God gave us his best while we were at our most arrogant worst.

My now deceased father showed me that and God used it to show me something of his heart-melting, repentance-producing love.

I hope this helps. That’s the problem with blog posts: you can only say so much.

Blessings, Dan! I appreciate your ministry.


DJP said...

Thanks for taking the time, Tullian, and for the kind words.

I have to say, when I saw "Kim Tchividjian," the adorable profile picture, and the words "my dad," I moaned a bit inwardly. I figured it meant that, having already appeared to criticize grace and a man's loving deceased father's choices, NOW I might have to look like I was arguing with his daughter (?) as well! Then your signature cleared it up for me. Maybe you have a family laptop, like we do.

Your backstory information is helpful, thanks for giving it.

I'll ponder further. My initial thoughts, beyond sincere gratitude for your sharing this with us, is that perhaps some of that tempering info would have been helpful in the original post.

Parenting has degrees both of science and of art, doesn't it?

As it is, I have to prepare for and do church tonight, which is a joy and privilege, but means that further response will have to wait.

Thanks again.

Tom Chantry said...

...the adorable profile picture...

If I had anyone that adorable in my family, I'd steal her profile. I'm sure TT would agree: she's better looking than her dad!


DJP said...

Yeah. If he thinks he can use that profile, and hide behind that picture and just basically say anything...

Well, okay. In that case, he'd be right.

Now to church.

donsands said...

"The gospel simply put is that God gave us his best while we were at our most arrogant worst."-Tullian

Thanks for coming and sharing pastor, with another pastor.

This is good stuff, and I'm sure our Lord is pleased when His pastors do these kinds of things.

And I am blessed to see two pastors I glean from love each other in Christ, and fulfill our savior's command of loving one another.

Nate Paschall said...

Joel Knight throws your whole post under the bus when he writes:

" he threw him out of the house in the first place. I assume that counts as a Father's discipline?"

I wonder if you just discarded the first paragraph of Tullian's post:

"When I was 16, my parents kicked me out of the house. They had tried everything. Nothing worked. And it got to the point where my lifestyle had become so disruptive to the rest of the household, that they were left with no choice but to painfully say, “We love you but you can’t continue to live this way and live under our roof.”"

And then when Tullian is trying to pull a fast one on his dad, his dad presses him on why he has no money "What happened to your job"? I'm guessing his dad is not ingnorant to think his son is fully forthright (which I believe is implied in Tullian's post).

Your accusation of "unanimously positive, emotional accolades" is unwarranted.

For a Dad that has the courage to confront his son about his aberrant behavior, and kick him out of the house (you know, kind of like how the Church sends it's disobedient members out as well), I'm left scratching my head.

Basically it feels like you drew up this big straw-man of who you supposed his father to be and the fact that when a Father hears a rebellion son ask for help (albeit deceptively) what father among us would refuse?

"Dad, I can't pay my bills."

"Tough luck son - enjoy living on the street"

The comments pointing to the Prodigal Son parable are quite fitting. Except that what the prodigal son did is far worse than what Tullian did (a little lying and stealing is not as bad as telling your dad you wish he was dead).

It's an issue of wisdom. And as far as Tullian presents it, his dad seemed to be a good and loving father who was pained to see his rebellious son ruining his life. I'm thankful that there are some fathers out there willing to become poor for the sake of rebellious children. You know, kind of like what Jesus did: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich."

DJP said...

Nate, thanks for your thoughts, but you seem to misunderstand a number of things.

For instance: Your accusation of "unanimously positive, emotional accolades" is unwarranted.

The four words before your quotation refer to the post "and its (at present) unanimously positive, emotional accolades." Not "unwarranted," but beyond all argument exactly correct. The post only much later featured one mild demurral, and only then because of this post.

As to the rest: I dealt with no straw man. I simply dealt with what was in the post. If the author left something out (and he himself notes that he did), that's not my fault.

For instance: Tom Schreiner said wonderfully positive things about my book, but faulted me for not treating the theme of the Kingdom of God. Now, I could say that I've studied that theme. I could say I've preached and taught and written about it. I could even say (which is true) that the book was already longer than what Kregel had in mind.

But none of that would change the fact that professor Schreiner was exactly right. It is missing from the book. If I rewrote it, I would correct that lacuna. It was a fair and appropriate criticism.

I stand by what I wrote about the post as it stands. It was not at all intended as a condemnation of pastor Tchividjian's late father. It registered the troubling impression that post made on, I think, a fair reading, that this is grace, and models what parents should do. The closing quotation from the winsome yet harmful Steve Brown capped that for me.

The rest of what you said is, I think, anticipated and answered already in the post.