Is Tullian Tchividjian an Antinomian?

That grandson of Billy Graham who decided to have a totally different (and unpronounceable) last name, Tullian Chudzinski, has sparked controversy since he first accepted the call as Senior Pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in 2009.  Many people know of the petition from congregants raised against TT in 2009 due to him not wearing a robe (the horror), introducing contemporary hymns (double horror), and not preaching about whether George Washing was a Christian (blasphemy!).

Since that debacle, Tullian has received heavy critique from those in the contemporary Reformed world for his blog and books on gospel and the Christian life.  Tullian seems to promote something closer to a “Lutheran” understanding of salvation which sees justification by grace through faith as the center of gospel.  The “free grace” of justification, though only forensic and legal, is powerful enough to transform our inner life and obedience so that our sanctification is simply “getting used to our justification.”

Along with TT’s articulation of justification is his presentation of the Law/Gospel dichotomy, which is a major tenet of Lutheran theology.  In addition, TT doesn’t speak much about the third use of the law, mortification, or multiple modes of motivation for obedience.

What makes this an awkward scenario is that Tully’s Gospel Coalition blogging colleague, Kevin DeYoung (I really want to see him do an interview with Hughes Oliphant Old and have a generational standoff), places himself on the other side of this debate than Tully.  They have gone back and forth a bit over at TGC.  DeYoung’s well-received The Hole in Our Holiness seemed to be aimed at Tully Man’s Jesus + Nothing = Everything.  In addition, other PCA pastors (e.g. Rick Phillips) have critiqued the Boy Wonder through their own blogging.

So, cue the social media and Facebook evangelical outbursts in light of Tully T’s claim that the Parable of the Good Samaritan is about Jesus being the truer and better Neighbor…and apparently we have ourselves an “antinomian”.

Reformed and PCA folks label Billy G.Son as such, Dr. Mike Ross in Charlotte is trying to tell folks to tone down the charges of “legalist” and “antinomian” since such terms imply that the individual isn’t a Christian.

What do we make of this?  Well, I for one disagree with Tullian “I love me some Horton” Tchiendjian’s overall soteriology.  It is no secret that Tchividjian is in the Escondido camp when it comes to the relationship between union with Christ and justification. (Shhhh!  Don’t tell that guy in Orlando!)  I prefer Richard Gaffin, Sinclair Ferguson, and William Evans to Horton, but I still dig white horses.  (Wait!  Sports analogy!  Richard “Sherman” Gaffin swooping in to take down those stallions out west.)

But okay, I won’t label Horton an antinomian.  Still, is the Boy Wonder an antinomian?

One thing that confuses me about the charge of “antinomian” is what the accusers mean.  Are accusers claiming that the accused explicitly denies the third use of the law or that we should discourage Christians to pursue the imitation of Jesus?  Are accusers claiming that the accused gives an implicit denial of obeying God’s law?  Or, is the point that the accused in their tendencies and emphases don’t talk much or enough about the role of God’s law or in pursuing holiness?

I see all three “charges” in different contexts based on who is making accusations.

William B. Evans has written a thoughtful piece (as usual) on this controversy of the “Lutheran” Coral Ridge pastor.  Yet, if Evans would accuse TT of being an “antinomian” (he doesn’t in this post), it would be of the third kind described above.  Evans uses words like “emphasize” and “tendencies”.

In all my reading and listening to Grace-McLovin Tully (though I haven’t read and listened to all his words), I don’t recall any explicit or even implicit denial of the third use of the law, the goodness of God’s commands on some level, or the goodness of believers seeking to imitate Christ.  While I would balance out his views on mortification, he doesn’t deny the application of God’s law to the Christian life.

Perhaps someone will show me a (hopefully in context) quote that demonstrates that the Boy Wonder is an antinomian.  However, if(!) I was a betting man, I think Reformed folks just find Tully’s act fatiguing.

I remember always reading TT’s TGC blog whenever he would post something.  I stopped reading about three years ago (unless something he wrote caused on uproar).  His writing seemed to just repeat his main points over and over.  I would think, “Okay.  I get it.  I’ll go read Michael Horton.  Law/Gospel, Law/Gospel…Law/Freak’n Gospel!”  I don’t deny the Law/Gospel distinction (or is it a dichotomy?) on the most basic level, but it is an overplayed record.

Don’t get me wrong.  I liked Billy’s Grandkid, but sometimes you need to take a break even from your favorite pastor/teacher.  (Don’t worry, Tim Keller.  I’ll never leave you nor forsake you!)

I also think that Tullian could end some of these debates about his “Lutheranism”.  Would it be so hard to do a blog post and say, “Hey, I agree with Kevin DeYoung but I just like the way I say it better,” or “I affirm the third use of the law and I think my flock should imitate me as I imitate Christ.  Imitation can be a good thing.  Really.”  Those statements wouldn’t undermine his main gospel-Jesus-centered-everythingness point he tries to make.  J.D. Greear has a good chapter on imperatives in his book Gospel.  Tim Keller is always giving imperatives in his sermons.  I’ve heard Tullian give imperatives in his sermons that didn’t just amount to getting used to your sanctification.  (Heck, there is an imperative or two in Jack Miller’s writing.  But those were probably an accident, right?)

Maybe John Frame should sit down with Tullian and explain all that smart stuff Vern Poythress came up with on perspectivalism?  Maybe Bob Cara, Tullian’s boss in the RTS system, could give him his “be as balanced as the Bible is balanced” speech.

Perhaps the stupidest thing in all of this is that we are ignoring how Tchividjian is actually making disciples at Coral Ridge.  Do we know if he is making disciples?  What do his disciples look like?  Do they look like Jesus?  Are they loving their neighbors?  Maybe Tullian’s quasi-lame gospel speech works!  Maybe his people are following Jesus and are on mission as a result of the ministry of the Word.  If so, should Reformed folks back off?

Hear the whole conclusion of it, great or good, whate’er we call, Antinomian or Annoying, Tullian is one of those!

My pick?  He is just annoying.  However, it must be pointed out that my church plant is already annoyed with my preaching after two years.  I love you, Tullian Graham….err….Tchiejbvian.  🙂


12 thoughts on “Is Tullian Tchividjian an Antinomian?

  1. Build sanctification on forensic justification and it will eventually breed liscentious antinomianism. Build it on regeneration and it will eventually breed legalistic neonomianism. Build it on baptism and covenant belonging and it will breed faithless classism. Our life in Christ should be squarely built on nothing other than our Union with Christ. He is our life. He is our hope.

  2. Nothing I have read indicates that Tullian is antinomian, any more than the Apostle Paul was. 🙂 My take is that he doesn’t deny the place of law or good works for the Christian, but does deny that keeping the law or doing good works makes us any better or improves our standing with God. In One Way Love, good works, etc. are seen as the way we flesh out what God has done for us as we relate to others. The vertical relationship with God and the horizontal relationship with others.

    As to his constant drumbeat, how many folks have sat for years and still sit under the preaching that to be “right with God,” or a better Christian, you must do, and do, and do some more. That’s a message that is prevalent in our performance oriented world, and there needs to be a voice speaking against that. Kind of like when Luther was asked why he preached the gospel week after after week, and he answered that the people came in week after week looking like they forgot it, so the needed to be reminded of it.

  3. Perhaps this is an oversimplification (great, fun post, BTW), but wouldn’t Heidelberg QA 1 and 2 provide some healthy, common ground, here? For instance, “TT (and everyone else), does your theology agree with Heidelberg QA 1 and 2?” “Why, yes…it does.” “Excellent, then! We’re on the same team.”

  4. Interesting. I just recently read Mark Jones’ Antinomianism book. One of the main points he makes is that you can’t define the word antinomian etymologically. Nobody is literally “against the law”. Well, almost nobody. I find it interesting that your criticisms of Mr. T are similiar to Mark’s description of classic antinomians but you come down on him NOT being an antinomian. First, you say “I don’t recall any explicit or even implicit denial of the third use of the law, the goodness of God’s commands on some level, or the goodness of believers seeking to imitate Christ. While I would balance out his views on mortification, he doesn’t deny the application of God’s law to the Christian life”. This parallels what Mark says is the antinomian tendency to over emphasize certain truths and ignore others. Antinomianism is more about what goes unsaid rather than what is said. Another thing that Mark points out is that antinomian preaching is annoying. Actually, he says boring. But he says it for the same reasons you find Tullian annoying. He is always on the same hobby horse as if it were the whole counsel of God. So, I agree almost entirely with your criticisms, but I would reconsider whether or not these criticisms amount to antinomianism. If you define the word historically rather than etymologically, you may come to a different conclusion. Good post.

  5. You may be interested in listening to the Heidelcast on the subject of Nomism and Antinomianism. In Episode 58 and beyond Dr. R. Scott Clark provides a helpful historical analysis of the Marrow Controversy and interacts nicely with the Marrow of Modern Divinity. BTW, I’m with Fred above. Spent years, and years under ‘do more’, ‘try harder’, ‘this is what your life should look like…’ all frequently ignoring the person and work of Christ in history for sinners. Christ needs to be proclaimed to believers for their comfort and hope. My nearly 10 years in the PCA has seen more moralism and legalism and virtually no antinomianism.

    Also, it’s actually really sad/ironic that Westminster Seminary, et all come under fire…

    You may want to listen to/watch their conference to better understand at least their perspective.



    1. Thanks for your comment, Brad. And I enjoyed reading a couple of your blog posts.

      I respect your opinion, and I consider myself a “Marrow guy” being in the ARP Church. However, I think you should be careful throwing around words like “legalism”.

      My blog post critiqued those who carelessly through around the term “antinomian”, and I think folks on both sides of this debate need to tone down the rhetoric.

  6. Is TT a theological antinomian? No. Practical antinomian? Quite possibly. I would recommend Jones’ book, as well as Sinclair’s lectures on the Marrow Controversy. The issue traces back to Christology and a view of the Scriptures in which justification dominates everything. As our confessional standards indicate in many ways, there are significant differences between sanctification and justification though both are by grace thru faith.

  7. What some would call a ‘fun’ post, I feel uneasy…are you verging on mocking Pastor Tullian, making ‘fun’ OF him. Would you be happy with someone writing such a post about you, your style & your surname?

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