Strange Bedfellows: How Tullian and N.T. Wright Are Similar on the Gospel

The social media world is still buzzing with the news that Tullian Tchividjian was asked to leave (prematurely) The Gospel Coalition blogosphere. Then today, the Christian Post had some rather uncharacteristic quotes from Tullian about the matter. Tullian also had some interesting comments about the recent Sovereign Grace Ministries scandal.
I’ve blogged before about Tullian and the controversy about his beliefs/presentation on law/grace and justification/sanctification. Needless to say, both Tullian lovers and non-lovers had some choice words for me.
None of us knows the whole story of how/why Tullian was asked to leave TGC’s blogosphere. We are pretty sure it has to do with his writing on justification and sanctification. Tullian has had his fair share of critics in the Reformed and TGC world (Kevin DeYoung, Rick Phillips, Mark Jones). Yet, Tullian is also aligned with Reformed giants like Michael Horton on these debates over soteriology and the Christian life.

One thought that occurred to me over the last 24 hours is that Tullian is very similar to another controversial figure when it comes to their presentation of the gospel: N.T. Wright!

Now, Wright and Tullian are polar opposites when it comes to many issues, including how to best present the gospel. Tullian relies on a forensic extrinsicism with an almost sole focus on justification by faith alone and the imputed righteousness of Christ. Wright focuses more on the story of Israel and the dawning of the new creation in Christ. Tullian is individually-focused, Wright is corporately and cosmically-focused.

Yet, they share a similarity. Both men are adamant that their particular articulation of the gospel is the Bible’s central focus, and they find other (even complementary) perspectives to be flawed or unfaithful.

In other words, both are monoperspectival. Yet, the Bible gives us one gospel with multiple perspectives.

The gospel is the gospel of the kingdom and the new creation. Yet, it is also the gospel for how sinners are made right with God through faith alone because of the person and work of Jesus. The gospel also is for our renewal and Christian walk.

Even within these broad categories are sub-plots and mini perspectives. For example, the gospel of the kingdom has both an Israel focus and a creational focus. Justification by grace through faith finds its full meaning in light of our union with Christ, and many other gospel ‘benefits’ such as adoption, election, glorification, redemption, etc. give a fresh taste to this gospel cuisine. The gospel is for our renewal and ongoing walk in Christ.

In other words, I want John Frame and Vern Poythress to sit down both Tullian and Wright and tell them that they each don’t need to alienate Christendom through their narrowing perspectives. We must be “as balanced as the Bible is balanced” and appreciate the multiple images, angles, and voices given to us when it comes to presenting and believing the one and only gospel.

Now, my plea for these men I’ve learned so much from to be more winsome and balanced will probably go unheard. (They both have better things to do with their time than read my blog.) They both feel as if they are on a mission to ‘correct’ the church in its understanding of the gospel. When that sort of “Martin Luther complex” (sorry N.T.) pervades you, it is difficult to listen to balanced voices.

While TGC may have gone overboard in dismissing Tullian (again, I don’t know the full story), I can understand why people are put off by Tullian’s communication style and approach. Clarity is not one of his strong suits. The same may obviously be said for Wright. Hopefully the same Spirit who has raised Jesus from the dead, made us alive in Jesus, and is testifying about Jesus will purify his church when it comes to preaching the fulness of the gospel from the entirety of God’s Word.


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