Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tchividjian, Sin, and the Cult of Celebrity

So by now you are probably aware of the news surrounding Tullian Tchividjian. Judging by the fact that the various attempted spellings of his name combined to be the second most numerous Google search term for a time a couple of days ago, a lot of other people are too.

Numerous discussions have already been had of Tchividjian’s soteriology and hamartiology (not to mention his associations), which sometimes appear to be staring wistfully over the border into Antinomianism (and other times go ahead and execute full-blown insurgencies therein). In the wake of the holiness fail of this very prominent proponent of this sort of strain of Reformed theology, it can be tempting to rehash it all again.

Yet I urge resistance to that temptation. The fall into sin of a proponent of a given theology does not necessarily have any connection to the propriety and truth of that theology any more than the fact that Mormons often give off a very shiny, happy, holy veneer while they hawk their gross polytheism.

Rather, let’s look at three other, different angles to this sad saga, all inter-related.


It’s hardly unique to Tchividjian to be a Big Name, and he is of course hardly the only Big Name to hang out extensively with other Big Names in places and situations in which Big Names get together to hang out.

In current evangelical culture, conferences and book deals abound, making celebrities of people who may or may not originally have sought to be celebrity. If you land one of these book deals and get booked for some conferences, it is still possible to avoid the celebrity limelight, but you have to be intentional about it.

And when your job title is “Pastor”, rather than “Itinerant and Part-Time Sunday Lecturer” (which is a more accurate descriptor of what someone like this actually does), is it not at minimum a measure of disingenuousness NOT to change that title? Why wouldn’t someone do that who is actually a partly-itinerant lecturer? I think I know why. It’s because the title “Pastor” holds a great appeal, and once one has it, one can easily become loathe to let go of it. Open your eyes – this is all around you. People afford more respect when one bears that title. When one is a “Pastor”, one gets the respectful greetings not only in the marketplace but also in the conferences. One gets the best seats, not only on stage but also at the luncheons and prayer breakfasts. That’s why one doesn’t divest oneself of the trappings though the substance is lacking.

This is the reality, really, of someone who has made The Big Time nationally and internationally as well as having an enormous congregation, one tenth of whom you could never hope to know well. But that lack of relationship is made up for in the minds of many due to the fact that they can say or think, “My pastor was on ___ show last week”, “My pastor’s book is selling ___ thousand copies per month and was on the NY Times bestseller list”, “My pastor preached to __ thousand people last week and __ people made decisions for Christ”, or something similar. It becomes an insidious thing, this kingdom that you, The Big Time Pastor, are building.


And that status can all too easily lead to thinking that you have some sort of responsibility to the general public to communicate details about your sin (especially in your most intimate interpersonal relationship[s]), should you fall into sin in a readily apparent way, that you probably shouldn’t communicate.
Tchividjian provides a sadly outstanding example thereof.
  • It is announced he has had a moral failing.
  • He says basically – I returned from a trip and found that my wife had been having an affair. (Translation: It’s her fault first.)
  • I responded badly.
  • I resign.
  • Pray for us.
But get this – his wife then contacts the Washington Post and says, quote: “The statement reflected my husband’s opinions but not my own.”

Friends, this statement and its implications terrify me more than all the rest of the sad event put together. Tchividjian went public about his marriage and its troubles without working with the woman who is still supposed to be his wife, his partner, his helpmate/meet, his closest confidante, to not only present a united front but to actually be one! And then she rebuffed him, in public, to a secular news outlet! They are now not partners but rather, at minimum, debate opponents.

This is a very, very grievous turn of events. I believe it reflects Tchividjian’s intention of retaining a protective barrier around what remains of his pastoral reputation. Hey, at least he didn’t strike the first obvious blog against his marriage. That woman God gave me – she’s the one to blame.

This is what a Big Name would do, but it’s not what a Christian should do, and it’s a horrible example to follow. Someone who pretends to be a pastor ought in all things to strive not only to say right things (i.e., to teach well) but also to set the right example, probably the latter more than the former. “Be hearers of the word, not merely doers” and “in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” says the Bible. “I can’t hear you ‘cause your actions are speaking too loud,” says conventional wisdom.


And all of that is connected to what appears to be a lack of local connectedness. Sure, the man can tweet pictures of his spacious and well-appointed office in his church building, showing that he’s physically present there at least sometimes.
And yet when trouble really crashed down on him, what do we see?
“My family and I are members at Coral Ridge Presbyterian church where the senior pastor is Tullian Tchividjian. We have many elders. A few weeks ago, the elders told the church that Pastor Tullian was going to take a sabbatical for some time in order to tend to family issues. They assured the church that this wasn’t a matter of disqualification, and they’d keep us updated. Today was that update. Apparently, Paul Tripp flew down to counsel Tullian and his wife, and Paul walked away from it finding no reason to disqualify Pastor Tullian from the preaching ministry. However, a few days later, Tullian resigned, disclosing that he had in fact had an extramarital relationship.” (Source)
I know Tripp is well-respected and all, probably a wise man. I thought he had useful things to add in a DVD series on marriage to which he contributed that I once watched, and I’ve read some of his writings. Well and good. What is he doing “flying down” to counsel with Tchividjian in the midst of this crisis? Where are the rest of the elders? Where are Tchividjian’s local friends and brothers in the faith? To whom could he pour out his heart who really knew him? Is this why he fell into that inappropriate relationship with the female friend – because he didn’t have any male friends?

Questions abound, few of them with any promising answers.

Beware fame and the praise of men. If someone in your church has it, especially your pastor, if you love him you will warn him and hold him accountable, even perhaps turning him back from a path that seems good to man but whose end is death.

“Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, for fear that they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the approval of men rather than the approval of God.”
John 12:42-43

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Pulpit & Pen blog - Why Lifeway Sells Contraband

Why is it that the big shots of the Southern Baptist Convention don’t bat an eye when clear and obvious evidence is presented to them that their publishing arm sells heresy such as JoelO and TD Jakes and Joyce Meyer? Don’t they know that these people who are presented as teachers to the evanjellyfish world are poisonous snakes and false teachers who will lead their adherents straight to Hell?

Let me venture a hypothesis on that topic. It’s not because they are ignorant. It’s not because they are fine and godly strategists. It’s not because they know better and have good reasons for what they do; how could they?
It’s because, at the heart, they don’t actually disagree with JoelO and Jakes and Meyer.

These men act the way they do because they aspire to be like Joel Osteen and TD Jakes when they grow up.

What is holding them back? It could be any number of things. The tradition in which they grew up, too far a distance from which they are loathe to wander. The daunting task of raising up a new posse of sycophants whom they might lose if they let too much of their true selves be known (though in this I might be giving said entourages too much credit). The prudence of not intruding on another man’s turf when there’s plenty of gain ripe for the taking on this side of the fence.

I know what their reasons are not.
  • A desire to be faithful to Jesus. How could it be when they not only don’t live out the examples of the apostles and prophets, but they in fact fit quite nicely the role of those who opposed them?
  • A zeal for biblical teaching. Which is easier – to hold an unpopular opinion, or to make that opinion known and to live it out consistently in the face of adversity? Yet these men don’t even try, don’t even stick up for the consistent proclamation of the correct propositions to the people for whom they claim they are spiritually responsible.
  • Loving pastoral care that the people who look up to them would know Jesus well. If it were, they would show what it means to follow Jesus. They would set an example of self-sacrifice rather than Armani suits, big time travel arrangements and conference appointments, professional photoshoots, gladhanding politicians and big shots, demanding parsonages with a swimming pool when they move from minor league churches to big league ones, and six- or seven-figure salaries. They would refuse titles like “President”, and would certainly object to being called “Mr. President” 400 times during the course of the day. They would take very seriously the fact that their “flocks” are putting them up on a pedestal and would act and speak in such a way as to disintegrate that pedestal.
  • A care that equality of all men, poor and wealthy, under the lordship of Christ be the order of the day. See above.
They have no principled reason to push back against JoelO. That’s why they don’t do it except when it makes them look good (and even then, only sometimes). That’s why what they teach half the time sounds a lot like Joel and treats the Bible in the same slipshod, loose, and obtuse way. That’s why they live like him and construct massive church campuses and buildings like he does, minus the most ostentatious outbursts (like charging admission for “Nights of Hope”) that would offend too many of their target audience. They’re just as careful for their image as Joel is.

It’s strange to me that their self-interest doesn’t extend to being very careful to remove the competition that JoelO offers to their own little kingdoms within the control that they have, but then again, perhaps Satan has learned a lesson or two in the 2000 years since Jesus said “Any kingdom divided against itself is laid waste; and any city or house divided against itself will not stand. If Satan casts out Satan, he is divided against himself; how then will his kingdom stand?” (Matthew 12:25-26). And of course, only a fool would accuse Satan of steadfast consistency.

I know that you, dear reader, probably think the preceding rant is too harsh. I urge you not to be like the listeners who heard the Messiah’s lips utter what they did in John 6 or Matthew 20 or 23, or what that Messiah inspired Jeremiah, for example, to preach from the gates of the Temple into which these men’s spiritual forebears had denied him access. Why is this “convention” taking place in such a sumptuous setting? Why the evidence of wealth all around? Why the travel expense? And then why the talk about “we can fund an increase of missions through sacrificial giving!” and suchlike, as if their very event and presence didn’t militate directly against such a thing! It is all upside down, as if the very lifestyle and salary of the fat cat saying it didn’t render it all so absurd!

When all other options are exhausted, what else are we left with? However improbable it may seem, take a really close look at what’s going on. Watch the live stream. Think about the way that the actions taken, the money spent, the priorities upheld, reflect the precise opposite of what is proclaimed on stage, the way these men talk to each other and preen before the cameras. Think about how Jesus and His apostles dressed, what they experienced, in what way their godliness was proven. Think about how these men’s so-called godliness has been allegedly proven by, again, the precise opposite of how it was in the men whom we are supposed to see as the foundational examples of our faith.
By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to endure ill-treatment with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, considering the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt; for he was looking to the reward. By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the wrath of the king; for he endured, as seeing Him who is unseen…and others experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground. And all these, having gained approval through their faith, did not receive what was promised, because God had provided something better for us, so that apart from us they would not be made perfect.
(Hebrews 11:24-27, 35-40)
You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and indeed, I wish that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor. To this present hour we are both hungry and thirsty, and are poorly clothed, and are roughly treated, and are homeless; and we toil, working with our own hands; when we are reviled, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure; when we are slandered, we try to conciliate; we have become as the scum of the world, the dregs of all things, even until now. I do not write these things to shame you, but to admonish you as my beloved children.
(1 Corinthians 4:8-14)

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Cage stage anti-abolitionists

The claim is also absurd on its face as it runs counter to all the (overwhelming!) evidence that AHA evinces a very strong "in-group / out-group" mentality in both speech and in writing.

AHA's proponents' rhetoric drips with contempt for its ideological foes both within the pro-abortion and pro-life spheres.

One wonders to what "overwhelming" evidence this CR individual refers. I've seen worse, personally, in Reformed circles like the Reformed Pub Facebook group, where in some ways if you don't homebrew your own beer you're not part of the cool kids crowd. But status as alcohol connoisseur aside, the term "cage stage Calvinist" exists for a reason, and quite a few people have gone years in that stage. Same with covenant theology, or one's preferred eschatological position, or cessationism, or pretty much anything. Does CR decry the same among the Reformed? Does that mean Reformed theology or covenant theology or amillennialism is an organisation?

Of course not. Those are ideologies. Like AHA is an ideology. There are people who adhere to amillennialism. There are people who adhere to Reformed theology. There are people who adhere to Abolish Human Abortion ideology. They're called "abolitionists (of human abortion)". This is only complex to the intentionally obtuse.

At any rate, if someone wants to show a very strong "in-group / out-group" mentality, it would be wonderful if they could
  • prove it
  • demonstrate it is relatively stronger than other comparable examples
  • show how it is inordinately strong and not just a more or less average outflow of the natural human tendency to cohere among like-minded people
I bet CR would claim his own church has an in-group/out-group mentality. He would probably say it is justifiable. I would probably agree with him. So why does he object to the same among abolitionists?

As for "dripping with contempt", I simply say: May the Lord protect us from harboring contempt for other people. That would probably be sinful, though not always; Scriptural examples could certainly be forwarded of godly people and even the Lord Jesus treating especially false professors and false religionists with contempt. I mean, God straight up laughs at the wicked in the second Psalm.
But of course, each instance needs to be judged on its own merits. If CR loves abolitionists, he ought to call us on our sin. I pray he will do that, so that if we have indeed sinned, we may repent of it and be holy as our Father in heaven is holy.
(Side note: What are the chances he'll actually do that? Yep; I agree that they're probably pretty low. Snide swipes from afar as a barely-pseudonymous [mostly anonymous] commenter are much easier than actually laboring with brothers in love, as I tried to do with Steve via email.)

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Intransigence and Steve Hays

So Steve Hays decided to post his side of our email correspondence. I wasn't going to do that, but I might as well give the full context. Notice the way Steve refuses to take correction, how he speaks so harshly, in such an unbrotherly manner. I tried to reason with the man. Sometimes he just can't be reasoned with. It's kind of sad, actually.

Also, this might help before we get into the correspondence:

I realise that I might have lacked some needed specificity in this interaction when I used the word "group" at times. In my mind, I was equating "group" with "organisation", and those are not exactly the same things, but they are close. Steve could have chosen to enter into a constructive conversation with me in an attempt to come to a common understanding that edifies everyone, but he chose not to.
Keep in mind that he and I have been acquainted via email and blogs for probably around 7 years, maybe more. I used to contribute to the Triablogue; I thought Steve was a friend. I was wrong; I don't know what he was looking for when he said I could contribute, but I guess he got what he wanted and then has dispensed with me.


It's really sad that you are doing this. Trying to point out actual flaws is one thing. You're just on a vendetta.

May the Lord help you, man.