Theology

Learning from the Failure of a Leader (Tullian Tchividjian)

TTullianhe fallout of Tullian Tchividjian’s admission of an “inappropriate relationship” will sweep broadly through the Christian community.First, how does it impact the message of Free Grace? I’ll call Tchividjian “Free-Grace-ish,” as he seems to have moved substantially towards a free grace position, but may not be fully free-grace. His views recently led to a separation between him and the Gospel Coalition, as explained by Tim Keller and Don Carson:

It was obvious to observers that for some time there has been an increasingly strident debate going on around the issue of sanctification. The differences were doctrinal and probably even more matters of pastoral practice and wisdom.[1]

So, reformed theologians already have their eyes on him. As I write this, I have yet to see any article by a prominent reformed writer which connects his fall with “antinomianism” or his free-grace-ish views. I hope that trend continues. But it would not surprise me if rocks are thrown connecting his doctrinal convictions and this issue. A well-known Lordship author wrote some years ago when a Free-Grace pastor he knew fell to sexual immorality:

Was his theology an accommodation to his sinful lifestyle? It surely might have been. This much is certain: No-lordship theology [aka, Free Grace] would have a soothing effect on a professing Christian trying to rationalize their long-term immorality… Certainly preaching that constantly touts ‘grace’ but never features law could help someone like that find comfort while sinning.[2]

Such thinking has no room in the free-grace position. The issue is not faulty theology but faulty obedience (aka, yielding to sin). No theology prevents sinful choices; only faithful obedience relying on the power of the Spirit prevents it. No matter what system one accepts. For those of us in the Free-Grace camp, two issues: (1) Be alert to those who use faulty logic (the fallacy that correlation implies causation) to incorrectly conclude that the systemlead to the actions, and (2) teach and practice the truth that Free Grace theology should motivate towards righteousness, not lawlessness and licentiousness. Paul addresses this very issue:

1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:1-2) 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? (Rom 6:15-16)

Second, this situation should remind Christian leaders of two important truths: (1) The failure of a leader causes greater repercussions than the failure of a “person in the pew.” The sin is not worse (infidelity is horrible no matter who is involved), however, because of the influence held by a leader, the ripple effects of his failure significantly harm the ministry he serves and those who choose to follow him. Leaders who fail cause greater damage to the cause of Christ and provide great fodder for critics precisely because they areleaders. (2) We are neither immune to temptation nor beyond its power. We must guard our walk and our lives carefully.

Third, when anyone falls, whether or not someone in our camp, all of us (not just leaders) should remember the warning Paul gave the Corinthians: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall (1 Cor 10:12).” None of us can completely avoid temptation, however, we have the ability in Christ to resist it. We can look for “the way of escape” promised in 10:13; we can recognize the truth that we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6:6); we can “walk by the Spirit and not carry out the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16).

I don’t know what lies ahead for Tullian Tchividjian, his wife, his church, his future ministry. I do know it will not be easy. We can and should learn from this situation, but at the same time, pray for him, pray for his wife, pray for his family, pray for his church, pray for other who looked up to him as a leader. Pray that God will be glorified in the long haul through this trial, because “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom 8:28).


     [1]http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2014/may/tim-keller-don-carson-explain-why-tullian-tchividjian-tgc.html, accessed June 25, 2105, emphasis added.
     [2]John F. MacArthur, Jr., Faith Works: The Gospel According to the Apostles, (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993), 124.

Member Update - August 2014

FromthePresidentGood news... and a headache or two!

Good news #1: The Free Grace message seems to be gaining some momentum. I think this in part because we are getting some "push back." For example, one of the sessions at the next Evangelical Theological Society is called "Salvation without Repentance from Sin? A Critique of the 'Free Grace' Gospel." Why do I consider this good news? Because a prominent, globally known reformed theologian thinks the Free Grace message is worth critiquing at the ETS meeting, and thus sees it as more than just an inconsequential viewpoint! I'll say a bit more about this workshop below.

Good news #2: We see the message going around the globe. I recently returned from Ghana, where we  trained church leaders, focusing on a strong emphasis on grace. I know of a number of other "free gracers" who have traveled or will soon travel. And I know of many around the globe, such as a friend of mine in Nepal, who receives grace-based theological training via the internet. Incidentally, in most of the places I've been outside the U.S., the predominant issue has not been reformed theology but rather eternal security.

Good news #3: "The mission of the Free Grace Alliance is to connect, encourage, equip and lead the body of Christ to advance the grace message throughout the world." In order to better connect with one another, we will soon be unveiling a "members only" page on our website. One link on this site goes to a new database we are using that will allow up-to-the-minute access to other members of the FGA. It will function like a "live" version of a member directory. And, there are some helpful tools for individual members. More information will be coming soon.

Good news #4: The 2014 Annual Conference is shaping up well! Don't forget to enroll by September 10 and receive a free coffee cup. As an avid coffee drinker, I am thinking about enrolling twice!

Good news #5: This year marks the tenth anniversary of the FGA!

Of course good news does not preclude a headache or two. It is no surprise that the Free Grace movement in general and the Free Grace Alliance in particular has its detractors. Recently, a well known reformed theologian publicly criticized both in two separate settings. And, as mentioned above, he is scheduled to critique the "problem" of Free Grace Theology at the Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meeting in November. Unfortunately, some of his critique misrepresented Free Grace thinking. And he's not alone - others have also criticized us while painting an inaccurate picture of our position. Equally unfortunately, ETS declined an FGA member the opportunity to present a workshop defining and defending Free Grace theology. Of course this theologian is free to disagree with Free Grace thinking. But we hope that he would critique an accurate picture of Free Grace theology, not a caricature of it. We wrote a paper which we sent him (and also made available to FGA members) to clarify and explain our position. Only time will tell whether he represents a more accurate picture of Free Grace in the ETS session.

While our primary focus should be teaching and promoting grace positively, we sometimes do need to address our critics. When we do so, we need to do so graciously and accurately.  And in all we do, let's "share grace graciously!"

Walking with you in grace,
Roger Fankhauser, D.Min. FGA President

Fight Fair!

 FromthePresidentFight Fair!

"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment,so that it will give grace to those who hear." (Eph. 4:29, NASB)
2“But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” (Romans 12:20, NASB95)
In any theological debate - whether face-to-face, in writing (journals or books) or even on Facebook, the debaters can easily slide into "the ways of the world" in their approach. This last week, I read or heard two different attacks against free grace in general and, included in the attacks, each criticized the Free Grace Alliance. Such attacks are nothing new. And, like most attacks, the attackers did not "fight fair". Both attacks made incorrect statements about free grace theology, both employed emotional arguments to make their position sound stronger, both used weak logic in some of their arguments.
What they said isn't important here, we address that elsewhere. What I do want to address is, how do we fight the fight? We will face theological challenges, some significant, some less so. But no matter how serious the issue, I hope this principle rises to the top:
Practice grace when talking about grace (or any other topic, for that matter).
I know when I am attacked my initial response is to fight back. The trick is learning to respond differently; to "give grace to those who hear."  I'm not saying harsh words are never necessary, but usually I jump to such words far too quickly. How can we "give grace" and "heap burning coals on their head?
  1. Know your opponents viewpoint. Too often I am too busy defending my view without understanding the other's view. I get irritated when they misrepresent me; it is no longer a "fair fight" if I misrepresent them. If you are really brave, summarize to the other person what you understand their view to be. You might be surprised by their response!
  2. Avoid pejorative terms. In the Lordship / Free Grace debates, those we call "lordship" often refer to our position as "no Lordship" or "cheap grace".  Some labeled the position of Zane Hodge's, et al, as "the crossless gospel". Such terms do not promote discussion; they denigrate both the position and the person who holds it. Granted, the position may be untenable, but we still need to avoid pejoratives!
  3. Avoid bad logic! I've had people say, "If you hold the FGA position, then you believe x, y, z". They then knock down x, y, and z. The problem with their conclusion?  I don't believe x, y, or z! For example,  "If you hold the FGA position, then you believe you can do anything you want"! That's only partially true - I do believe I can do anything I want without fear of hell, but I do not believe I can do anything I want with no consequences, perhaps including severe discipline from God (Heb. 12). Be careful to avoid bad logic when debating someone else's view.
I hope those outside the FGA, will see us differently. I want us to be known as people who believe in free grace (whether or not the person agrees with that view) and practice grace when addressing people and issues. I've heard far too many people shy away from the Free Grace Movement because they perceive too much in-fighting. Let's not be legalistic about grace; let's practice what we preach. We do need to take a stand on certain issues; we need to takes such stands graciously.

"Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a wordas is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear."

"Just make sure it's your ideas that offend and not you, that your beliefs cause the dispute and not your behavior." (Gregory Koukl, "Tactics"). *

Walking with you in grace, Roger Fankhauser, D.Min. President, FGA
* I highly recommend this book to challenge our thinking about how we address those with whom we disagree, Christian and non-Christian alike. Greg Koukl, Tactics, (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2009).

 

What Does It Take To Lose Salvation?

By Dr. Roger Fankhauser
Some people have heard the sad words, "we're disowning you" or "we're writing you out of the will". Some think something comparable can happen to the believer; God can "disown us" under certain circumstances. Have you ever thought carefully about what must happen for us to lose our salvation? I started making a list in my mind. To lose my salvation for any reason, including for "losing faith", would require God to:
  • Unjustify us
  • Unadopt us
  • Unredeem us
  • Unreconcile us
  • Unregenerate us
  • Unforgive us
  • Unsanctify us (positional sanctification)
  • Remove eternal life from us
  • Uncircumcise our circumcised heart
  • Disinherit us (remove our birth inheritance)
  • Unbaptize us (Spirit baptism, 1 Cor. 12:13)
  • Unseal us (take away the Holy Spirit)
  • Make both Father and Son release their hold of us (John 10:28-29)
  • Make the New Creature old again
  • Transfer us out of the Kingdom of light and place us back in the kingdom of darkness
  • And most importantly, it would require the faithful, promise-keeping God to be unfaithful (2 Tim. 2:13)

You get the idea. And I suspect there is more we could list. So, "losing my salvation" isn't as "simple" as it sounds. It forces God to undo so much that he has done and so much that he has promised us. 

I'm grateful I'm held by His grace.