Tullian Tchividjian’s Emphasis on Grace Is Antinomian PDF Print E-mail
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News - Theology
Written by Tim Black   
Thursday, 10 October 2013 16:15

On Facebook a friend asked for my response to Tullian Tchividjian’s emphasis on our need for unconditional grace in justification and sanctification as he expressed it in an interview at http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2013/10/02/tullian-tchividjian/. I responded,

God’s grace is prior to believers’ obedience, because God is 100% sovereign (Eph. 2:8, 9—even faith is a gift). This is fundamental to the biblical doctrine of salvation, and must be emphasized, as it is in Reformed theology. But Reformed theology also rightly emphasizes the complementary biblical teaching that believers’ obedience to God’s law must flow from God’s grace through faith, because man is 100% responsible (Heb. 12:14—without sanctification no one will see the Lord, and James 2:17—faith without works is dead).

Tullian Tchividjian appears to emphasize grace, but not obedience, and the first and second uses of the law, but not the third. The third use of the law (it is a rule for believers’ obedience) is briefly stated in one paragraph at http://www.opc.org/qa.html?question_id=165, which also summarizes the other two uses, and some of the vital importance of the third use of the law is stated in the Westminster Confession 19.6, 7 http://opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_19 - this shows how God’s moral law functions now not as a covenant of works, but as a covenant of grace. Dr. David Murray carefully expresses some concerns about Tchividjian’s errors of emphasis, omission, and implication at http://headhearthand.org/blog/2012/12/11/tullian-keeps-digging/. Admittedly, errors of these sorts are difficult to perceive, admit, and correct, yet they are real, and can and do have the consequence of leading people into error, as in this case, Tchividjian rightly opposes legalism, but wrongly leads people toward antinomianism.

Another person replied to my comment, “If you got antinomianism out of that, then you and I read different articles.”

I replied: You’re right that I read other articles by Tchividjian, and about his teaching, and they influenced my opinion that his teaching leads toward antinomianism. But his teaching in this particular article does as well.

He said, “Sanctification is forgetting about yourself. As J. C. Kromsigt said, ‘The good seed cannot flourish when it is repeatedly dug up for the purpose of examining its growth.’”

However, the Bible says “First take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take out the speck that is in your brother’s eye. 43 For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit.” (Luke 6:42-44) “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.” (Acts 20:28) “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (1 Cor. 11:29) “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?- unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13:5)

How is Tchividjian’s phrase “forgetting about yourself” not contradicting (saying the opposite words of) Jesus’ words “your own eye,” “own fruit,” and Paul’s words “Pay careful attention to yourselves”? How is Tchividjian’s word (quoted from Kromsigt) “examining” not a contradiction of Paul’s use of the word “examine,” particularly in his command, “Examine yourselves”?

In the context of the quote from Kromsigt which follows it, it would appear that Tchividjian’s statement “Sanctification is forgetting about yourself” means sanctification is intentionally forgetting about examining yourself to see whether you are obeying God’s law, which sure sounds like giving up on intentional obedience to God’s law. Opposing this right use of the law is antinomianism.

If you read the rest of what Kromsigt wrote surrounding the quote (Bavinck gives a fuller quote here http://books.google.com/books?id=PP3dswxEfM8C&pg=PA118&lpg=PA118&dq=J.+C.+Kromsigt&source=bl&ots=4pnkB3h1uY&sig=q3VVYX-E4VxYJd50PnELaen4KB4&hl=en&sa=X&ei=RiJXUtuGIs6DrQH78YFY&ved=0CD4Q6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=J.%20C.%20Kromsigt&f=false ), it is plain he was rightly opposing the self-destructive self-examination of what Bavinck terms “Nomistic pietism” which wrongly grounds assurance on sanctification alone (rather than on God and His promises alone), so loses true assurance of salvation. But rightly opposing an unbiblical self-examination ought not to deny biblical self-examination, which, regrettably, Tchividjian’s quote above does.

My interlocutor replied, “In other words, you’re focusing on a single phrase without addressing his elaborating explanation. That’s called a strawman argument. I could use such tactics in what you’ve said to rather humorous ends.”

I replied,

I addressed his words in two sentences, not “a single phrase.” I did not directly quote or interact with his elaborating explanation, though I have it in view, as I indicated in my words “I read other articles by Tchividjian.” That’s not a straw man. It would be a straw man argument if I mischaracterized his view, but you give no evidence that I have done so.

Would you like me to address his words (and their meaning) in his elaborating explanation?

As I’ve thought about his article linked above, it appears to me that at points he is making the mistake of claiming every view in the church other than his is legalistic. His expressions are too absolute; they may be true as generalizations, but are not true of every Christian’s life or doctrine. I appreciate that he qualifies his statements at the beginning of the article with phrases like “too many people” and “too many churches,” but at several points, notably later in the article, he acts as if legalism is every church’s and every Christian’s problem in every part of our being, like when he says “But, ironically, grace offends us even more because it tells us that there’s nothing we can do, that everything has already been done.” The “we” here is, apparently, every Christian, without distinguishing carefully that while in our flesh we wrongly think we can, but in fact we cannot, do good without God’s grace, yet in our new heart, by the Spirit’s work, we also rightly know we can do good by God's grace. This is an error of omission due to his error of so emphasizing the unconditionality of God's sovereign administration of grace that he does not give proper expression to the subsequent conditionality of its responsible reception by man. So a further problem in what Tchividjian said here is this: Is it really true that grace “tells us that there’s nothing we can do”? No. I’m sure that elsewhere Tchividjian proclaims Paul’s teaching, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” But he doesn’t do so here, in the words “it tells us that there’s nothing we can do.” He should be more fully biblical than this, to avoid leading people into antinomianism. Grace tells us there is nothing we can do to cause or add to the sovereign, saving work of God the Father, Son, and Spirit. Grace does not tell us there’s nothing we can do, absolutely considered. But Tchividjian’s statement was absolute. That is the problem. I would be delighted to learn that Tchividjian’s books and preaching express the fuller biblical teaching which I see lacking in his articles online, but what I’ve read by him shows a consistent pattern of absolute statements of an antinomian and Lutheran sort. As a pastor under whom I did an internship taught me to do in my sermons, the problem needs to be corrected in those statements themselves, not only in qualifications and explanations added after the fact. Otherwise, people follow the error, and go even further into error as they misinterpret what you said.

Another example of his tendency to overgeneralize: while Kromsigt and Tchividjian both focus on one particular kind of self-examination, Tchividjian claims this unbiblical kind of self-examination which he terms “spiritual performancism” is the only kind of self-examination by identifying it as not just one variety of, but simply identical to, works-righteousness, and the one in which whole church is engaged. This is to commit the fallacy of the excluded middle, by ignoring the third, middle option (between legalism and antinomianism) of the full teaching about the third use of the law found in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms, to which he subscribes as a minister in the PCA. Tchividjian also uses such exclusive language in the following quote: “So, it doesn’t surprise me at all when I hear people react to grace with suspicion and doubt. It doesn’t surprise me that when people talk about grace, I hear lots of ‘buts and brakes’, conditions and qualifications. That’s just the flesh fighting for its life, after all.” I recognize that by the word “grace” he both 1) rightly means God’s sovereign administration of grace is not conditioned on the merit of man's works in justification and is not conditioned on man's works as its first cause in sanctification, and I regret that he 2) wrongly (apparently--and we could explore whether his words actually substantiate my claim here) means man’s responsible reception of grace is not conditioned (in regard to secondary, not primary, causes) on man’s works as part of that reception in sanctification (as expressed in the Westminster Confession 19.6, quoted below). I react to his error in point 2) above by saying Tchividjian ought, but fails, to affirm there is a conditionality in man's reception of God’s grace in sanctification (as well as in justification, as the Westminster Larger Catechism Q&A 32 says, “The grace of God is manifested in the second covenant, in that he freely provideth and offereth to sinners a mediator, and life and salvation by him; and requiring faith as the condition to interest them in him....”) The problem with his saying “That’s just the flesh fighting for its life” is that the word “just” excludes the possibility that there is a third view, such as the “condition” in LC 32, and the qualification expressed in the word “yet” in the Westminster Confession 11.2, which reads, “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and his righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification: yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.” Such a qualification is also expressed in the word “although” in the Westminster Confession 19.6, “It is likewise of use to the regenerate, to restrain their corruptions, in that it forbids sin: and the threatenings of it serve to show what even their sins deserve; and what afflictions, in this life, they may expect for them, although freed from the curse thereof threatened in the law. The promises of it, in like manner, show them God’s approbation of obedience, and what blessings they may expect upon the performance thereof: although not as due to them by the law as a covenant of works.”

Tchividjian is rightly fighting a battle against legalism, but wrongly, and I would expect mostly accidentally, fighting a battle with the third use of the law as it is expressed in scripture, the Westminster Standards, and the churches which subscribe to them, including his own. As such, though he attempts to lay the blame for his battle wholly on legalists within the church, part of the blame is also Tchividjian’s antinomian tendencies.

Last Updated on Thursday, 10 October 2013 20:25
Advice to Someone Going into Multilevel Marketing PDF Print E-mail
News - Life
Written by Tim Black   
Friday, 09 August 2013 15:38

I am opposed to multilevel marketing as a business practice, for the reasons given by Bill Ackman here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbalife#Criticism, in summary: “the majority of distributors lose money, that the chance of making the testimonial-implied headline income is approximately one in five thousand, and that the company materially overstates its distributors’ retail sales and understates their recruiting rewards....Herbalife distributors ‘primarily obtain their monetary benefits from recruitment rather than the sale of goods and services to consumers.’”

If you still want to get into multilevel marketing, I strongly recommend you treat it like a real business--make a business plan, which includes a budget containing fact-based estimates of how much time and money you will have to invest into each part of the business, and of the business's resulting income, and your final profit (the difference between those last two numbers), and a timeline-style plan for what stages the business will move through (research, planning, purchasing, networking, advertising, hiring, growing, when to fire, when to sell, when to quit). Read what the critics say, find out what pitfalls to avoid. Track your progress relative to someone who has succeeded in the business to see whether you are following the same trajectory, and if you are not progressing well, decide how much failure is acceptable (how much time or money are you willing to lose before you should quit?)

Brief comparisons of Dave Ramsey & Crown Financial Ministries PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Tim Black   
Friday, 09 August 2013 13:40

Here are some brief comparisons of Dave Ramsey & Crown Financial Ministries:

both the 'Baby Steps' and the 'Money Map', both have the same goal in mind, but both go about it in different ways. 'Baby Steps' is more structured, and gives you a detailed plan and tools on how to go about your goals in the quickest way possible. In the 'Money Map', it seems to be more up to you on how you want to go about it. If you need more structure, and would like to see results quickly, I would opt for the 'Baby Steps'. I did enjoy the fact that the 'Money Map' was more God centered, although Dave Ramsey also mentions God quite a bit. Also, you do have the safety net of a bigger savings than you do with the 'Baby Steps'."

Both are more similar than different.  Crown's mission & methods sound more comprehensive and biblical; Dave Ramsey more focused.  Both involve significant costs - FPU is $93/family for a lifetime membership, $299 for a church leadership kit.  CFM is $25 for 4-week intro kit, $2.50 per member handbook, $125 (single) or $150 (couple) for Crown Money Map course.  Both have nearly the same 7-step plan.  "Crown’s Money Map design allows you to start multiple initiatives at once (example save for retirement and college in the same steps)."  Crown mostly targets church members; FPU targets both members and non-members.

Ramsey gives saving for retirement priority over saving for other major future expenses, like a home, car and children's education.

A somewhat unclear, but significant warning:  don't store up treasures on earth; money is meant (not only to be saved, but finally) to be spent for the Lord.

I'm pleasantly surprised that it appears Becky and I are pretty much following the 7 steps, though we have not yet finished them; they seem to be an outline of the financial progress you should try to make by the time you retire, if not earlier (maybe that is only because I'm interpreting them through lower-middle-class eyes.)  It could be that we are not as aggressive about getting out of debt as we should be.

Do you know any reason why our church should NOT use Dave Ramsey's materials?

Biblical vs. Emergent Church Practice PDF Print E-mail
News - Theology
Written by Tim Black   
Thursday, 03 January 2013 13:58

Comments on a New York Times article titled “New Churches Focus on Building a Community Life:  Building Congregations Around Art Galleries and Cafes as Spirituality Wanes,” accessed on 1/3/2013 at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/30/us/new-churches-focus-on-building-a-community-life.html.

If I had someone who could watch the church building enough hours to do it (which I don’t), I’d be in favor of opening our fellowship hall to Caney residents wanting free wireless internet access and maybe a little coffee (but not as a coffee shop), because it would help our church make contact with more people in Caney, and there is no free wireless hotspot in Caney so far as I’m aware. I agree to a certain extent with the article that it is important to build a Christian community within the church--bonds formed through corporate worship, mutual edification in Bible teaching and study, Christian fellowship, and mutual service, and corporate gospel witness (OPC FG II.4http://opc.org/BCO/FG.html#Chapter_II). But I don’t mean I’m on board with what the churches in the article are doing. The article’s focus on the outward ways these churches are attempting to be “relevant” or otherwise pander to what unbelievers want other than the gospel leaves me with the sense that these churches, or at least the article’s author, cares more about these outward means than about the truly effectual means of grace--the word, sacraments, and prayer (WSC 88 http://opc.org/sc.html), used in public, family, and private worship, in preaching, catechizing, counseling, visiting, witnessing, maintained under the presbyterian form of government, and with biblical discipline (as described in the OPC Book of Church Order http://opc.org/order.html). These latter means are essential to the true life of the church; buildings, instruments, and lighting are circumstantial (WCF 1.6 http://opc.org/wcf.html#Chapter_01, OPC DPW I.B.6.bhttp://opc.org/BCO/DPW.html#Chapter_I); coffee shops, art galleries, and business incubators are good works for Christians and Christian communities, but are not “the work of the church” (OPC FG II.4 http://opc.org/BCO/FG.html#Chapter_II).

Doug Pagitt is one of the thought-leaders of the Emergent Church movement, which DeYoung & Kluck's book “Why We’re Not Emergent (by Two Guys Who Should Be)” (http://www.amazon.com/Why-Were-Not-Emergent-Should/dp/0802458343) rightly labels as a new liberal theology and ecclesiology. Its difference from classical liberal theology is that it is founded on postmodern, rather than modern, philosophy. Considering this connection, I believe it is appropriate to say that this NYT article attempts to portray American churches’ decline from 1) drawing people through spiritual worship through the means of grace, to 2) megachurches’ drawing people by means of the circumstances of worship, to 3) Emergent churches drawing people by that which is not worship and not the work of the church. While the article perhaps tries not to tip its hat too far toward praising or condemning the activities of Emergent churches, yet it sounds a note of condemnation softly by including the phrase “as Spirituality Wanes” in its subtitle.

Last Updated on Friday, 13 September 2013 09:53
How I'm Feeling About Our Election PDF Print E-mail
News - Theology
Written by Tim Black   
Monday, 05 November 2012 12:21

A Canadian relative of mine asked,

How are you feeling about your election ;-(

I replied with the following.

I don't know if hope is a feeling, but I'm hoping Christians recognize they should not "approve of those who practice" (Romans 1:32) homosexuality, murder, and the other sins listed in Romans 1, and that the Democratic platform explicitly approves of the practice of homosexuality and murder.

I'm hoping Christians realize that when the Democratic platform says "Abortion is an intensely personal decision between a woman, her family, her doctor, and her clergy; there is no place for politicians or government to get in the way," it contradicts Exodus 21:23, which says the man who kills a baby in the womb has committed murder, and so should die at the hand of the government, "life for life."

In context, that passage reads,

22 "When men strive together and hit a pregnant woman, so that her children come out, but there is no harm, the one who hit her shall surely be fined, as the woman's husband shall impose on him, and he shall pay as the judges determine.
23 But if there is harm, then you shall pay life for life,
24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot,
25 burn for burn, wound for wound, stripe for stripe.

Last Updated on Monday, 05 November 2012 12:26
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