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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!”
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.