Learning from the Failure of a Leader (Tullian Tchividjian)
By Dr. Roger Fankhauser, FGA President
The fallout of Tullian Tchividjian's admission of an "inappropriate relationship" will sweep broadly through the Christian community.
First, how does it impact the message of Free Grace? I'll call Tchividjian "Free-Grace-ish," as he seems to have moved substantially towards a free grace position, but may not be fully free-grace. His views recently led to a separation between him and the Gospel Coalition, as explained by Tim Keller and Don Carson:
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.
So, reformed theologians already have their eyes on him. As I write this, I have yet to see any article by a prominent reformed writer which connects his fall with "antinomianism" or his free-grace-ish views. I hope that trend continues. But it would not surprise me if rocks are thrown connecting his doctrinal convictions and this issue. A well-known Lordship author wrote some years ago when a Free-Grace pastor he knew fell to sexual immorality:
Was his theology an accommodation to his sinful lifestyle? It surely might have been. This much is certain: No-lordship theology [aka, Free Grace] would have a soothing effect on a professing Christian trying to rationalize their long-term immorality... Certainly preaching that constantly touts 'grace' but never features law could help someone like that find comfort while sinning.
Such thinking has no room in the free-grace position. The issue is not faulty theology but faulty obedience (aka, yielding to sin). No theology prevents sinful choices; only faithful obedience relying on the power of the Spirit prevents it. No matter what system one accepts.
For those of us in the Free-Grace camp, two issues: (1) Be alert to those who use faulty logic (the fallacy that correlation implies causation) to incorrectly conclude that the system lead to the actions, and (2) teach and practice the truth that Free Grace theology should motivate towards righteousness, not lawlessness and licentiousness. Paul addresses this very issue:
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? 2 May it never be! How shall we who died to sin still live in it? (Rom 6:1-2)
15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! 16 Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? (Rom 6:15-16)
Second, this situation should remind Christian leaders of two important truths: (1) The failure of a leader causes greater repercussions than the failure of a "person in the pew." The sin is not worse (infidelity is horrible no matter who is involved), however, because of the influence held by a leader, the ripple effects of his failure significantly harm the ministry he serves and those who choose to follow him. Leaders who fail cause greater damage to the cause of Christ and provide great fodder for critics precisely because they are leaders. (2) We are neither immune to temptation nor beyond its power. We must guard our walk and our lives carefully.
Third, when anyone falls, whether or not someone in our camp, all of us (not just leaders) should remember the warning Paul gave the Corinthians: "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed that he does not fall (1 Cor 10:12)." None of us can completely avoid temptation, however, we have the ability in Christ to resist it. We can look for "the way of escape" promised in 10:13; we can recognize the truth that we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom 6:6); we can "walk by the Spirit and not carry out the desires of the flesh (Gal 5:16).
I don't know what lies ahead for Tullian Tchividjian, his wife, his church, his future ministry. I do know it will not be easy. We can and should learn from this situation, but at the same time, pray for him, pray for his wife, pray for his family, pray for his church, pray for other who looked up to him as a leader. Pray that God will be glorified in the long haul through this trial, because "we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose" (Rom 8:28).