The Scandal of One Way Love

While there are very few things I find myself reposting, this one is a no-brainer. But, before you read the post from David Zahl at here is a link that might help you with the history of Tullian at Coral Ridge Church.

The Scandal of One Way Love: A Few Thoughts About My Friend Tullian

by DAVID ZAHL on Jun 29, 2015 5:08 pm

What a week to be away. I was on the road to Kanuga when I got the news of Tullian Tchividjian’s resignation from Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church and the shuttering of doors at Liberate.

As long-time readers know, Tullian has been one of Mockingbird’s most ardent fans for many years, as well as a dear personal friend. He’s spoken at a couple of our conferences, and we have worked together closely on a number of projects. So the news about this sudden reversal is saddening on several levels, predominantly because I/we know so many of the people involved, and none of us like to see our friends in pain. I’m talking about Kim and the kids, the Coral Ridge crew, Liberate’s cadre of loyal Mockcontributors, just to name a few. These are real people, and it’s upsetting to see their ordeal turned into a topic of public comment–something that we feel the need to interpret immediately, etc—especially when no one can possibly have all the facts.

Rest assured that Tullian, the Tchividjian family, Coral Ridge, and the Liberate community remain in the prayers of the writers (and readers too!) here at Mockingbird. I’m not sure how helpful it is to join the fray, but given our connection, perhaps a few reflections might be of use. To me if not others.

Obviously I can’t speak to the incidents themselves, nor would I want to. Like fire and knives, infidelity teaches its own lessons, and there but for the grace of God go all of us. Nor do I really feel like critiquing celebrity culture—its drawbacks and contradictions are as self-evident as they are damaging, particularly in a Christian context. I can only speak about the response to “the scandal”, which has been disheartening to say the least. In the course of a week, the guy has gone from being a respected if controversial voice, to basically, well, a dead man. An object lesson. Sayonara.

I’m particularly perturbed by concerns that this turn of events somehow undermines the Gospel. That the message itself has somehow lost credibility. Come again? I understand that church scandals naturally invite questions of integrity. If someone preaches regularly about the sanctity of family, the importance of fidelity, or the horrors of divorce, an affair rightly calls into question both the messenger and the message. The same skepticism might be leveled at the politician who runs on a platform of social justice but is caught misappropriating funds meant to go to the homeless.

That said, if we evaluate the legitimacy of a school of thought (or church) by the integrity of its messengers, none would be left standing. The question ultimately has to do with whether a particular brand of theology or philosophy can account for ongoing sin in the life of its proponents or not.THE SCANDAL OF ONE-WAY LOVE Page 2

Perhaps I’m being overly idealistic, but what I thought would make this situation different from your garden-variety church scandal is the content of Tullian’s message. In his books, in his blogging, in his preaching, he has stuck to a single theme: the Good News of God’s one way

love for people who cannot measure up to Who They Should Be. What makes his voice so accessible has been his repeated insistence that he be counted among the sinners, not aside from them. It is not a message of the moralist who fails to live up to their ideals, nor is it the message of the activist who was secretly part of the problem. It is the message of a self-deprecating pastor who, like the people he ministered to, couldn’t save himself despite years of trying.

That probably sounds like I’m trying to justify the man. I’m not. Clearly something was amiss–maybe a crisis needed to happen, I don’t know. I’m simply trying to advocate for him. Because if there’s no mercy afforded to Tullian by his fellow sinners, then there won’t be any for you or me, either–not this side of the pearly gates.

Sin is not theoretical. It happens in real time with real people and real consequences that must be dealt with (time off is always wise!). But if God is who we say he is, then real sin is also met with real forgiveness. In fact, if what we know about the Gospel has any bearing on actual life, then pardon—not censure—should be our first recourse. It is the only thing that has a shot of making any difference, or bringing about genuine healing. Not that it has to.

It bears repeating at a time like this: the grace of God is not reserved for the righteous. Or those who respond righteously when confronted with their transgressions. Yet that is the message we send every time the word “fall” is used in reference to someone who is by nature already fallen. Tullian is a sinner, just like the rest of us. He has said so himself, repeatedly. That doesn’t exonerate his behavior, of course not, but neither does it invalidate his ministry, which belongs to God. As he resigns from his position, he does not discredit the proclamation of the Gospel or the post of pastor. If anything, his stepping down proves a point: we never graduate from our need for a savior. If we’re only okay with preaching grace in theory–but not when someone is actually in need of it–then perhaps we the peanut gallery are the ones who need to take a sabbatical.

I can understand why other branches of the church might punt to 1 Timothy, or invoke canons, or pontificate about the first use of the law, or resort to any number of rationalizations for discipline and/or distancing. But why, at least to the outside eye, hasn’t a community of supposedly grace-obsessed Christians been gracious? A perfect opportunity to witness to the hope of one-way love–in practical terms–and it seems to have passed them/us by. Again, we don’t have all the details, outside of the fact that there are sinners on every side of the equation.

I suspect that the real issue is transference. By transference, I’m referring to the way we project or transfer the attributes onto a pastor or leader that we need to be there. We turn them into repositories of our feelings about God, or our parents (or both). They become a stand-in, consciously or not. At times, the transference is helpful, maybe even necessary. A minister tells you your sins are forgiven, and you hear their word as Gospel. Alas, such transference, especially when amplified by celebrity, seems to turn the messenger into the message — no matter what they are saying. Thus, someone like Tullian, who has never claimed to be anything but a “moral failure”, incites ire when he proves to be just that. Doubtless there are other factors at work, but the point stands.

Sadness, grief, and prayer are understandable responses to a scandal in the pastorate, but surprise or shock is another matter. (What grates above all is the Told-You-So, which smacks of THE SCANDAL OF ONE-WAY LOVE Page 3

the most deplorable and unregenerate kind of self-satisfaction.) The language of “moral failing” belies a purity impulse that, to my mind, opposes what we were trying to say in Ft. Lauderdale these past four Februarys.

A friend of mine in ministry once suggested that all human beings are three bad days in a row away from becoming a tabloid headline, and most of us are already on day two. All have fallen short, as the Good Book reminds us, even our clergy. That goes for every denomination and theological persuasion under the sun.

And yet, our shared identity as sinners seldom seems to curb what one might call the “scorched earth” destruction of a “fallen” pastor’s public influence. Cancel the book deals, erase the sermons, update the reading lists to exclude said pastor, hide the Facebook posts, delete the tweets, etc. Pastors in this situation become pariahs, they can be stripped of their titles, and they’re forced to reenter the workforce in some other vocation. Cue the “fade to black.”

For the record, we at Mockingbird believe the content of Tullian’s message remains accurate and urgent. It was never his message after all. The fruit of our past partnership with him and the Liberate community–video and audio, book reviews, blog posts–will remain on our site for public access. One Way Love and Glorious Ruin will still appear on our book tables. If we culled every post or resource composed by a moral failure, we would have nothing left. He will join the ranks of some of our other favorite sinner-pastors, like alcoholic Brennan Manning, philanderer Robert Capon, anti-Semite Martin Luther. The list goes on.

The timing of all this is downright uncanny. One could hardly imagine a greater discrepancy between the response to Tullian and what we saw in that Charleston courthouse last week. The world stood slack-jawed as members of the Emanuel AME church lined up to speak forgiveness to the white man who murdered nine of their fellow black church members in cold blood. And not just lip service forgiveness either: people were speaking both law and gospel to the killer. As Nadine Collier, daughter of Ethel Lance who was gunned down, said, “You hurt me, you have hurt a lot of people. But I forgive you.” If you get a chance to watch the video, prepare for goosebumps. The Holy Spirit is tangibly at work.

You’ll notice that these ladies didn’t wait for a display of repentance or sorrow to issue their statement. Grace came first. Unconditional love doesn’t wait for the correct response, it produces it.

One way love continues to be a counter-cultural witness that offends, inspires, and shocks, just as it always has. We don’t need less of Tullian’s message–we need more of it. In fact, I’ll give him the final word here. This comes from chapter 5 of One Way Love, where Tullian describes the interaction between the risen Christ and Peter on the beach in John 21:

Instead of stripping [Peter] of his “post,” Jesus did the opposite: he gave him more responsibility. Peter had been spectacularly unreliable, and yet Jesus reinstated him as “rock.” Irrational, inscrutable, the opposite of a good idea—this is how Christ chooses to work in the world. The wonderful truth is that Jesus doesn’t need perfect vessels to accomplish his will. He needs broken ones—men and women who have been slain, humiliated, disillusioned..

Peter was an utter failure on every level, but Jesus commissioned and used him anyway. Why? Because the success of the church doesn’t rest on Peter’s good—albeit deluded—confessions. It does not rest on us, on our collective abilities or progress at all…

I remember being asked, “What was it about God that was finally so attractive to you? That drew you back to Him?” The answer is a simple yet radical one: God had given me so much—a loving family, a remarkable heritage. I had squandered it all, and He had continued to come THE SCANDAL OF ONE-WAY LOVE Page 4

after me. His forbearance and His kindness, in the midst of my open rebellion, was just too magnetic in the long haul. It is, after all, the kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance (Rom. 2:4). I didn’t deserve it then, and I don’t deserve it now.