Defending Tullian Tchividjian
July 20, 2015
As most of our readers know, Tullian Tchividjian resigned from his ministry in a PCA church because he committed the sin of adultery. Many were quick to comment, either defending him or attacking him. Based on my own pastoral experience (and the fact that I'm a Presbyterian), I tend to think that the sin of adultery is a highly complex issue and we should let his church, elders, and Presbytery deal with the situation. There are likely many facts that we are still unaware of, and for that reason I don't think it is wise to say too much about a situation of which we have so little information.
Today I came across an article at First Things by a Lutheran named Christopher Jackson, where he makes a connection between Tchividjian and Gerhard Forde. Jackson writes:
"What Tchividjian promoted was a peculiar school of Lutheranism: the "Radical Lutheranism" of the late theologian Gerhard Forde."
I have not hidden the fact that I have serious reservations about Tchividjian's theology. However, I think this was a misleading article that committed several logical fallacies. Most readers would likely come away from the article thinking that Tchvidjian promoted the radical Lutheranism of Forde on the atonement.
Jackson's point is such a serious criticism that I think he should actually prove his case, rather than assert it or imply it without any real evidence. And there really isn't a shred of evidence provided.
It needs to be said that Tchividjian has not only promoted Forde, but he has also vigorously promoted Luther (and others), albeit an interpretation of Luther that may need to be critiqued for a lack of historical contextualization.
Nonetheless, I doubt Tchividjian would disagree with the quote by Luther, which was offered by Jackson in the article - a quote that stands in juxtaposition to Forde's atonement theology.
In fact, I don't doubt that Tchividjian holds to penal substitution. But most readers would come away from the article thinking perhaps that Tullian basically shares the same atonement theology as Forde. And, from my perspective, that's a case that the author needs to make a lot better for us to take it seriously.
Those who disagree with Tchividjian are probably tempted to read Jackson's article uncritically. But if ever there is a time to read an article critically, it is when someone else is championing our case. Typically, when someone "takes down" someone we disagree with, we can become very uncritical.
What I think may perhaps be the case is this:
There is an idea promoted by some scholars (e.g., "Utrecht School") that theologians can quote older theologians without caring much for the original meaning of the words. To provide an example, some have suggested that William Twisse quoted Aquinas in his debate with Thomas Jackson, but only cared for the words without an appropriate awareness of what Aquinas meant. Twisse and Aquinas did not in fact agree on divine willing, so some have argued that Twisse just quotes Augustine and Aquinas because the literal reading of their texts expresses truth regardless of the intentions of the original authors. This is called "reverent exposition." Thus theologians, using this model, supposedly looked for truth in their sources without interpreting them historically. I am not actually suggesting that Twisse didn't care for the historical context when he quoted Aquinas; but this example may help us to understand that Tchividjian may simply quote Forde's words (and Luther's) because the literal words seem to express something that enforces Tchividjian's theological agenda.
I have little doubt that Tchividjian may need to be a bit more careful with Luther. But, at the same time, I also think it is probably a big stretch to imply that Tchividjian held to the atonement theology that drove Forde's own view of the Christian life. It may be that it is merely a case of "reverent exposition", and nothing more.
Whatever the case, when we critique someone, we have to be very careful about the connections we draw. At the very least, there should be some evidence presented. In this case, believe it or not, I find myself defending Tchividjian.