Tullian Tchividjian Pushes Back Against Tim Keller, DA Carson's Gospel Coalition Statement on His Exit

[UPDATE] 5/23/14 3:11 p.m. This story has been updated to include a response by TGC Executive Director Ben Peays.

Tullian Tchividjian says D. A. Carson and Tim Keller's claims about how his departure from The Gospel Coalition transpired are misleading and a "flat-out lie."

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Tchividjian, senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida, told The Christian Post on Thursday that the statement published by founders Keller and Carson on The Gospel Coalition's website wrongly characterized a meeting in Florida between him and TGC Executive Director Ben Peays.

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"I told Ben Peays this last night. I called him and I told him, 'That statement's misleading and you know it,'" said Tchividjian, "... The way the statement read, it was as if he 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 explained that Peays flew down to Florida as a consultant for the pastor's new ministry, Liberate, which also picked up the bill for his flight. He added that he (Tullian) initiated a conversation about moving his blog content off the coalition's website and that "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 despite the August deadline to which he and The Gospel Coalition leadership had originally agreed upon for moving his blog, Thursday was his last day at the Reformed community.

On Wednesday, Keller, senior pastor of New York City's Redeemer Presbyterian Church, and Canadian Reformed theologian Carson released a statement regarding Tchividjian's departure, saying, "It was obvious to observers that for some time there has been an increasingly strident debate going on around the issue of sanctification."

"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 wrote.

Tchividjian countered, "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 offered to explain what transpired during the Florida meeting, commenting to CP on Friday, "The reason I went to Florida was to help Tullian, as a friend, with forming his new organization. While we were there 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. I spent the next day with his staff connecting them with a designer and developer to help with his new site. 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.' It should also be noted that the issues surrounding SGM were never mentioned once in any of the Council discussions regarding Tullian."

Tchividjian believes that some at TGC have adopted a very critical tone. "I think that's their tone. That has become their tone. That's not the tone of everybody there but that is the tone of some prominent voices there: 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 ... and I think people pick up on that," he said.

Tchividjian, who considers himself Reformed, noted that just because these voices also considered themselves Reformed, one should not see their behavior as the fruits of their doctrine.

"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."

"Anytime you associate yourself with a movement, you think that is at the center of the universe, and there is a much larger Christian and Evangelical world out there that is now looking at The Gospel Coalition, which seemed to start out as a positive movement that was for Gospel centrality and cultural engagement," continued Tchividjian. "And now the tone from all the people I hear and my opinion is very much 'what we're against.' People just aren't attracted to that."

Tchividjian's theological divergence with others at The Gospel Coalition surfaced earlier this month, after he responded to a post by Jen Wilkin's post "Failure Is Not a Virtue," in which she argued 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."

In turn, Tchividjian's post pushed back against Wilkin's arguments, claiming 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.

His post consequently spawned multiple responses, as summarized by TGC contributor Kevin DeYoung.

An interview on Fighting for the Faith with Tchividjian also aired on Thursday night where he refuted claims that he was leaning toward antinomianism, or that his beliefs about grace suggested that Christians owed no obligation to morality or to the law.

The Florida pastor also commented on Sovereign Grace Ministries founder C. J. Mahaney, who formerly served on The Gospel Coalition's Council, breaking his silence on the child sex abuse lawsuit.

On Thursday, Mahaney released his first statement since the first civil lawsuit was filed against his group accusing its leaders of a sex abuse cover-up. The current pastor of Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville, Kentucky, said he "never conspired to protect a child predator" and denied all claims against him. He also said he continues "to pray for justice to be served on their (abuse victims) behalf and for God's healing grace in their lives." He stressed that he could not speak to the specifics of the case because of the ongoing lawsuit.

"Why doesn't someone just come and out say 'I didn't abuse children but to the degree that it happened under my watch I'm sick to my stomach and I will apologize and I will do everything and anything I can do to cooperate with the investigation and serve the victims and their families.' Period. Signed, C. J. Mahaney," Tchividjian said.

"If I was the head of an organization where this kind of behavior had been taking place for years, even though if I didn't actually perform this kind of behavior, even if I didn't even know about the behavior, the only thing I would say is 'I'm sick. I'm sorry. I will do whatever I need to do to help the victims and their families,'" Tchividjian added. "... If The Gospel Coalition would have said that, instead of Don Carson and Kevin DeYoung and Just Taylor, basically writing in the middle of the trial, a defense of C. J. That's a major blemish."

Carson and Keller are currently in Geneva, Switzerland and unavailable for comment.

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