Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and the grandson of the Rev. Billy Graham, says he believes the Christian Church has gone off course, and that he is praying for a new reformation.
Calling 16th century German theologian Martin Luther one of his heroes, Tchividjian recently told The Christian Post that he believes the church has been placing an unbiblical, and burdensome, emphasis on "performancism," instead of sticking to "Sola gratia," or as he puts it, "one way love."
"Church is the one place where people who are weary and heavy-laden should be able to come and find rest, so that when they leave they feel lighter that the pressure's off. They're reminded that everything you need, God has done for you in Jesus and given to you," said Tchividjian. "Oftentimes, people don't leave worship services feeling like that. They feel more burdened, because they've been given a to-do list. They've been given a checklist of things they must do if they're gonna be a good Christian, a checklist of things they must do if they want God to really love them and even like them. I'm trying through this book to maybe help the church make some sort of a paradigm shift."
The Florida pastor's new book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, is "about God's grace, specifically the radical nature of God's grace and how that grace transforms our relationships on the ground, how it transforms our perspectives on life, on work, everything," Tchividjian explained.
Like Luther, a catalyst of the Protestant Reformation, Tchividjian wants to shake up the status quo and draw the faithful's attention back to what the Bible declares: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:8-9)."
"When we come to terms with the fact that before God, because of what Jesus has done, we are forever loved, forever approved, forever accepted, [and that] meaning, worth, value, security, all of those things have been secured for us by Jesus and given to us for free, that sets us free on the ground of life, to live without needing to get from people. So now you're free to give to people," Tchividjian told CP.
Writing from personal experience, Tchividjian, whose full name is William Graham Tullian Tchividjian, shares in One Way Love how as a teen he was rebellious to authority to the point of dropping out of school and being kicked out of his home — only to find himself years later when he was drawn back to Christ, a slave to the law. He was especially zealous about tying those same burdens onto his wife, whom he married when they were both 21.
In addition to insisting on hour-long prayers, detailed journaling and daily three-chapter Scripture readings, Tchividjian would criticize her for "(wanting) to go out and do something as innocuous as planting flowers" on a Sunday, (instead of resting), he confesses in One Way Love.
"As a young Christian, I was bound and determined not to go back to the way that I had been living, so I put in place all kinds of rules and regulations and boundaries and stipulations, and man I was gonna keep to those rules," he explained to CP of his early 20s after returning to his family's faith.
"Our actions may have looked holy to an outsider observer, but underneath, we were operating out of fear and guilt rather than faith and grace," Tchividjian, 41, writes in One Way Love.
According to the father of three, there was no singular event that led to the realization that he had things all wrong, but instead it was simply a culmination of events that led to his "aha moment."
"You get older … you suffer enough, enough people in your life die, you fail enough, you come to deeper and deeper terms with your own brokenness and the brokenness of those around you and by God's grace, youthful idealism fades into the background and realism sets in," said Tchividjian.
"You feel like the Apostle Paul at the end of Romans 7 where he goes 'O wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?' And he says, 'Thank God for Jesus.'
"I tell people all the time — when I was 25 years old, I was gonna change the world… at 41 now, I'm going, I can't change my wife, I can't change my kids, I can't my church, much less the world. Thank God for Jesus! And there's real freedom in that, in knowing your smallness."
It is that same source of freedom that Tchividjian wants to proclaim to Christians who are captive to the idea that if they do enough, they can please God — which, according to him, is a very human-oriented idea that feeds into the ego.
"It feeds their sense of control — 'I can manage my life if you just tell me what to do, then I can just go out and do it.' But this is very counter-intuitive," he explained.
"If you're a Christian, you live under a banner that reads 'It is finished,'" added Tchividjian.
"You don't have to pay God back for anything. The focus of the Christian faith is not our performance for God, but God's performance for us in Jesus. It's not the sacrifices we make for God, but it's the sacrifice God made for us in Jesus. It's not first and foremost about our work, but God's work for us in Jesus."
The tone, according to Tchividjian, is often set in the pulpit, with "try harder" messages that don't cause people to do more and try harder. "It eventually causes them to give up and to quit," he said.
He added, "I think there needs to be a seismic shift, first in pulpits. I think preachers need to get back to preaching the focus of the Christian faith, which has always been Jesus' work for sinners, not what we must do to get better."
Tchividjian does not suggest emphasizing grace over law, or even that one can "balance" the two. Instead, he believes in law then grace, with both having two distinct purposes.
Pointing to passages like Matthew 5:17 in which Jesus declares he came to "fulfill the law" and not abolish it, the minister insisted, "You need 100 percent law and 100 percent of grace. It's law then grace, not law or grace."
"The law shows us what a sanctified life looks like, but only grace sanctifies. The law shows us what godliness looks like, but it's grace that actually makes us godly," he stated, adding that "love inspires what the law demands."
Tchividjian said that, so far, his message of One Way Love has been well-received by everyday people, whom he called "the masses." It is the "religious gatekeepers," he suggested, that are usually the ones to challenge his message on getting back to grace, a message also being trumpeted by other recent and popular titles.
"One of the concerns, one of the push-backs I always get from other Christian leaders is that if you preach grace full-throat, people are gonna go nuts, people are gonna go off the deep end," said Tchividjian. "But Paul faced the same question. He preached the radicality of God's grace in Romans 4 and 5, and then Romans 6 opens with this anticipated question: 'I know what you're thinking — should we sin more so that grace may abound?' And he says, 'Of course not!' And he doesn't then say, 'Now let me balance out this grace that I've given you with law.' He actually presses the message of grace in the Gospel deeper."
If someone hears the message of grace and considers it "license to sin to your heart's content without consequence, (then) that demonstrates not that you don't get grace too much, but that you don't get it deep enough," he said.
In addition to people embracing the message, Tchividjian said that he sees "almost a robust, growing awakening" and signs similar to the setting that drove men like Martin Luther into action. And like Luther faced push-back from authorities of the Roman Catholic Church, the gatekeeper of the Christian faith at the time, Tchividjian insists it is the same kind of people who he feels are "some of the loudest detractors" to this modern-day grace revival.
"The masses are going, 'Oh my gosh, I've been in church my whole life and I've never heard that. This is amazing.' And the religious gatekeepers going, 'Hm, this kind of poses a threat to our kingdom because this puts everybody on the same playing field. It kind of wrestles control out of our hands'. That was one of the big controversies of the Reformation, the priesthood of all believers, that every member is a minister. That there's not this hierarchy," said Tchividjian, suggesting that the Western Christian Church has its own modern-day hierarchy.
"In our sort of celebrity-laden evangelical world, there's a hierarchy of superstars and there are certain guys who can say something, depending on what circle you run in because there are numerous tribes within the evangelical community, but depending on who the chief of your tribe is, that guy can say something and it's gospel," he said. "You don't' have to check it, you don't have to go back to the Bible and verify it, it's gospel. And they've got kingdoms, these guys have kingdoms, institutions."
When asked if he was prepared to sacrifice and suffer like his predecessors who challenged the Roman Catholic Church, Tchividjian said, "My life would be much easier if I just toed the party line and really gave people spiritual checklists and came out and said the real problem with the church today is that we're not doing enough, we're not sacrificing enough."
He added, "There have been books written in the last few years that have just hammered home the need to sacrifice more, the need to give more, the need to be more radical, the need to be more this, more that, and these books sell millions of copies. The reason is it plays right into our natural tendency to believe that this whole thing's riding on us. It's easier for me to say that. I could probably sell more books, if I gave five ways to raise happy healthy children or six ways to ensure you have a better marriage. I'd probably have a bigger church."
And if more Christian leaders hammered this "one way love" instead?
"I think we would experience reformation and revival on a scale like we haven't seen in hundreds of years," he said. "The Bible gives great witness to the fact that the Christian faith is not good people making their way up to God. It's God making His way down to bad people, that's the Christian faith."
Tchividjian added, "It's been 500 years since the last reformation and the church desperately needs a new one, and this...message is the answer. Let's get back to preaching Christ and him crucified and get away from the message of humanity and it improved."
Tullian Tchividjian is pastor of the 2,000-plus-member Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, founder of the Librate resource ministry, and, as he states on his Twitter bio, "learning everyday that Jesus + Nothing = Everything." Learn more about One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World online: http://liberate.org.