Pastoral Reflections on Tullian Tchividjian’s Pastoral Tragedy

Until recently, Tullian Tchividjian served as Lead Pastor for Coral Ridge PCA in Ft. Lauderdale. He also founded Liberate, a ministry that existed to connect God’s inexhaustible grace to an exhausted world. On Sunday it was announced to Coral Ridge that he and his wife had succumbed to extramarital affairs and that he had resigned as pastor. Subsequently and additionally, the Liberate ministry was closed.  Since Creekstone Church has been influenced by the kind of grace emphasis proclaimed by Tullian and others, I thought I would take some time to offer some pastoral reflections for our church.

How should we respond to such a pastoral tragedy? Here is my personal response.

  1. I am filled with a profound sadness. For Tullian. For his wife, Kim. For his three children. For Coral Ridge as well as the broader church.
  2. All sins are equally condemning, but not all are equally damaging. If I were to play a video of all my private actions and secret thoughts, I’d probably have to resign, too. But that is true for all of us. At least in our honest moments. I suppose Tullian could have punched the guy with whom his wife had an affair and maybe have been disciplined (or cheered?!). But to have an affair with another woman… All sins are equally condemning, but not all are equally damaging.
  3. I feel like I’ve had a glass of ice-cold water thrown in my face. If something like this can happen to him, it can happen to me. It’s like, “Wake up, idiot!” After all, his theology of justification and sanctification is solidly biblical, historic, and orthodox. His theology of grace is not to blame here. Actually, I think we could say that he was not believing his theology of grace enough when this occurred, or else he would not have needed to find his comfort in another woman (who in that moment served as his idol of choice, and he, hers). No, his theology of grace didn’t cause or even contribute to his fall. I think my theology is pretty sound, and I do stupid stuff all of the time. So did David, Peter, Paul, etc.  From what I heard and read, Tullian wasn’t light on law and heavy on grace. He actually was heavy on law so that he could be heavy on grace. But there are times when we are all vulnerable and let our guard down, or believe the lies of the enemy, regardless of how orthodox our theology (even our theology of sanctification). Now, I don’t know the back story. Did he neglect Kim and focus work-a-holicly/idolatrously on his ministry and travel too much? Was his neglect a contributing factor in her infidelity? Did hers contribute to his? I don’t know, and neither contribution justifies the sinful actions. What I do know is that I have been that guy who poured so much emotional energy into my job that I have neglected my wife. Thankfully, she hasn’t followed Kim’s path and I haven’t followed Tullian’s, but we both can see how this kind of tragedy could take place. More than throw stones, we want to be mindful of our own flesh, and need for the presence and power of the Spirit in our lives and marriage. Yes, pride goes before a fall. Thus, the glass of cold water to wake me up.
  4. The lesson for me is this: prioritize my marriage relationship as second only to that of my union with Jesus. Seriously. This has made me want to rather fail in ministry than to lose my marriage. I’m sure Tullian would say the same thing, and I’m sorry his experience has to serve as a lesson for the rest of us. But preaching the gospel is such a thrill, that it can become an idolatrous need—to be identified as a grace preacher. When I feel in my soul that my core identity is not who I am in Christ, but what I do for Christ, I need to heed the warning of the late Steve Irwin (aka, the Crocodile Hunter), who when approaching a particularly dangerous snake or gator, would say, “Danguh, danguh, danguh!”
  5. I am reminded to pray more not only for my marriage (as a potential pastoral target of the enemy), but for all of our marriages—that we would learn what it is to repent deeply and forgive fully, as we extend the grace to each other that is agape love.
  6. Failure is not final. God is not through with Tullian or his family. In fact, I expect this painful experience to be used for good in some way that I can’t see right now (and he probably can’t see either). Grace abounds at the low places, where we are weak, broken and helpless. I don’t know what restoration will look like for the Tchividjian family. But I know that grace grows amidst the ruins of sin. The cross gets the final word in our failure. I never want to forget that for Tullian or for myself.
  7. As much as I long to be conformed more and more to the image of Jesus in real-time, the gospel is not proved by my personal holiness or anyone else’s. It is proved by the outside-of-me, historic, substitutionary atonement of Jesus for the sins of his people, imputing to them/us/me his perfect righteousness (holiness) that is not earned or deserved, but only received though faith as a gift, or as we say, as grace.

9 thoughts on “Pastoral Reflections on Tullian Tchividjian’s Pastoral Tragedy

  1. Thank you my brother for your most thoughtful comment on this tragic fall of a great teacher. I am glad you crafted the words that we are struggling to compose in a broken hearted mind and sorrowful soul. Grace covers all sin and restores that which is broken. Let that be our prayer for Tullian and his family.

  2. I love everything you’ve written here McKay. It’s insightful, helpful, and wise. This is just an observation about something that has bothered me immensely in Tullian’s statement.

    The thing that stood out to me was the subtle (or non-so-subtle) blame shifting. I was most troubled by the fact that he played victim and publicly (and ungraciously) threw his wife under the bus, portraying himself as the totally innocent (and shocked?) husband who came home from a trip a few months ago and “discovered” that she was having an affair. Confessing her sin was not his responsibility nor should he have implied—like Adam—that it was a mitigating factor in his own sin. Apparently, he also didn’t acknowledge the possibility that his relationship with his wife could have been a contributing factor in the difficulties of their relationship. And, per her short public statement to the “Washington Post,” she “disagrees with his version of events,” in some way. Of course, there is infinite grace for Tullian Tchividjian, but based solely on his own statements, I’d say he still has considerable responsibility taking to do, including toward and to his wife (who has to deal with her own sin as well). And, in my opinion, he’d be wise to lay off Twitter for awhile.

    Perhaps this is another lesson to us all—the taking of full responsibility for our own sin.

  3. Thank you McKay, for speaking the truth so clearly, strongly and lovingly here. May the Lord indeed bless our marriages with not only faithfulness, but with contentment, mutual affection, and even joy. He is able. – Debbie Barnes

    1. Jim, I could not disagree with the article more. The problem with Tullian is not that he believed the Gospel of Grace to much but that he believed it to little at a critical time in his life. The Gospel of Grace does not give guilt free response to sin, it cries out “IT IS FINISHED” so the Christian does not waller in condemnation. The article promotes guilt as a deterrent and that is exactly where the accuser wants us. It’s the lone bullet in his gun. No, as for me I will not return to the bondage of guilt and condemnation. Obedience generated by not wanting to feel guilty or have you legs cut out from under you is DEAD WORKS and is worship that God does not honor. Only worship to God’s goodness is honorable. You might find it hard to believe but the Gospel of Grace as taught by Tullian has saved my life. God Bless

  4. Well said. It is damaging and final in the sense that he should not be an ‘overseer’ again in my opinion. “Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach,…” 1 Tim 3:2

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