Tullian Tchividjian Refutes Tim Keller, D.A. Carson's Statement on His Gospel Coalition Exit

( [email protected] ) May 24, 2014 12:32 PM EDT
Billy Graham's Grandson Exits TGC
Tullian Tchividjian believes he was ''Bullied'' into removing his blog content from TGC's website. (AP)

Tullian Tchividjian says that the statement published by founders Keller and Carson on The Gospel Coalition's website concerning a meeting in Florida between him and TGC Executive Director Ben Peays is "misleading."

"The way the statement read, it was as if [Peays] came down to Fort Lauderdale to talk with me on behalf of the coalition regarding the theological issue that they were having with me. That is categorically false," Tchividjian, who is the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida, told The Christian Post.

According to Tchividjian, Peays flew down to Florida to help with his new ministry, Liberate. While the two dialogued about removing Tchividjian's content from TGC's website, "it was never ever insinuated that that's what The Gospel Coalition wanted."

"To cover themselves so they would not look like bullies, they took a trip that Ben took two months ago, turned that trip and made it look like The Gospel Coalition sent him down to cover these concerns - and that's just a flat-out lie. That's a lie," said Tchividjian. "It just calls into question their integrity. Why would they spin it that way? Why did they say it that way?"

Tchividjian had announced on Tuesday that while he had hoped to keep his content on TGC's website until August, the organization insisted on its immediate removal.  He stated that he was "shocked and disappointed" by the news, citing he believed the decision was due to "some theological, some personal" reasons on the part of several staff members at TGC.

Tim Keller, senior pastor of New York City's Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and Canadian Reformed theologian D. A. Carson released a statement regarding Tchividjian's departure, saying that the decision was purely theological.

"It was obvious to observers that for some time there has been an increasingly strident debate going on around the issue of sanctification," the pastors wrote.

"The differences were doctrinal and probably even more matters of pastoral practice and wisdom. Recently it became clear that the dispute was becoming increasingly sharp and divisive rather than moving toward greater unity. Earlier in the year, our executive director spent two days with Tullian in Florida. Coming out of that meeting, it was decided that Tullian would move his blog. Finally, the Council at its meeting last week decided that Tullian should move his blog immediately, and we communicated this conclusion to Tullian," the leaders continued.

However, Tchividjian insists no one ever approached him with concerns about the content of his posts.

"No one ever said anything to me from the Gospel Coalition staff, not Don Carson, Tim Keller, the president, the vice president, no one from the Gospel Coalition ever even uttered a word about concern, which is why, when I was told 'You need to go immediately,' I was shocked."

Peays relays the situation this way:

"While we were [in Florida] he told me he wanted to move his blog away from TGC. I agreed this was a good idea knowing the various tensions within the Council regarding his blog... The decision to leave the TGC platform was Tullian's, but the timing of his exit was the Council's on account of, as Tim and Don indicated, the 'doctrinal and probably even more matters of pastoral practice and wisdom. Recently it became clear that the dispute was becoming increasingly sharp and divisive rather than moving toward greater unity.'

Tchividjian says TGC is "critical, very, very quick to point out what's theologically wrong out there, very slow to pick apart what's theologically wrong in here in terms of their own position."

While the Coral Ridge pastor acknowledges there may have been some theological differences between himself and the other pastors, he does not believe such differences excuse the "divisive" handling of the situation.

"Theology is not to blame here. You can't blame theology for the way that you handle it. It's good theology in the hand of bad sinners. That becomes dangerous," said Tchividjian. "When the Christian faith becomes little more than theological propositions and categories, you're not actually thinking about how theology serves people, it can become divisive."

Tchividjian's theological differences with other pastors at TGC came to light earlier this year following a blog post by Jen Wilkins titled "Failure Is Not a Virtue."

Wilkins writes that "celebratory failurism asserts that all our attempts to obey will fail, thereby making us the recipients of greater grace. But God does not exhort us to obey just to teach us that we cannot hope to obey. He exhorts us to obey to teach us that, by grace, we can obey, and therein lies hope."

Tchividjian's responded in a post disagreeing with Wilkin's argument, writing that he had "never encountered a Christian who 'celebrates failure.'"

"Don't get me wrong, I see moral laxity in everyone, everywhere. But I don't see real Christians reveling in it or bragging about it. Anyway, it's not just the diagnosis that I question. It's her proposed solution to this 'celebratory failurism' which reveals some pretty deep theological confusion. Things get very confusing when you don't properly distinguish God's law from God's gospel," he wrote.

Tchividjian's response concerned other members at TGC, including Pastor Kevin DeYoung and Dr. Rick Phillips.

Phillips, who is the pastor of Second Presbyterian Church in Florida, writes Friday on the Reformation 21 blog that Tchividjian's "constant" theological divergences from reformed doctrine were "very serious" and warranted his content's removal.  

"The issue simply is not personal.  In fact, great restraint has been exercised over more than two years as numerous Reformed scholars and pastors have expressed concerns over Tullian's teaching...what he is saying about sanctification involves serious error," Phillips writes. "For this reason, I suggested that his material did not fit will on The Gospel Coalition blog, a decision that had already been made by the whole council.  My appeal to Tullian would be to listen to the criticism without primarily interpreting it as a personal attack and to respond to the substantive matters that have been laid out, representing the sincere concern of many well-meaning men who are burdened for the church."

However, Billy Graham's grandson Tullian had an interview with Fighting for the Faith that was aired on Thursday night where he refuted claims on his theology that he was leaning toward antinomianism, or that his beliefs about grace suggested that Christians are under no obligation to obey the laws of ethics or morality.