Jimmy Swaggart (kids: Google) got in trouble because he couldn’t keep his pants up while passing cheap motels on Airline.
Apparently, neither could Tullian Tchividjian.
Tchividjian, the grandson of Billy Graham with the funny name, admitted a few days ago to having an extramarital affair. Tchividjian had been pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in the Miami area; he resigned immediately upon admitting the affair.
Tchividjian took over as pastor of Coral Ridge back in 2009, when he succeeded the late James Kennedy. Kennedy had been a very influential figure in the Religious Right, a founding board member of Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority, and author of the Evangelism Explosion curriculum.
Tchividjian had a wild youth, moving out of his home and living a life of hedonism as an adolescent. He later came back home, came back to faith, and eventually found his way into the ministry.
Tchividjian’s uncle Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse, went through a similarly rebellious phase early in life. (Preacher’s kid. What did you expect?) But now he is back in the fold and all about politics and the culture war.
Tchividjian, however, took a different path. From the outset, he resolved that Coral Ridge would become a different kind of church than what it had been in the past, by his own admission, a church “widely known for what it was against much more than what it was for”. Instead:
I wanted the city of Ft. Lauderdale (my hometown) to know that we were going to become a church in the city, for the city. I made it very clear from the outset that we were going to be a church that rolled up our sleeves and got our hands dirty in service to our city. I said that if our ministry was not attracting the same kinds of people that Jesus attracted, then we were not preaching the same message that Jesus preached. Most people loved that!
But some did not. This led to a contentious split in which several hundred members left and started their own church, which would maintain the commitment to culture-war evangelical Christianity at Coral Ridge prior to Tchividjian.
Tchividjian went on to become a rising star in evangelicalism. With a dynamic personality, a huge church, a blog, an active Twitter feed, a successful writing career, crazy good looks, and scads upon scads of hipster cred, what was not to like? His quasi-Lutheran teachings with a heavy emphasis on law, gospel, and the proper distinction thereof, one of the key emphases of Lutheran teaching and belief, were a word which thousands upon thousands of evangelicals were dying to hear.
Tchividjian was part of The Gospel Coalition, a network and speaking/conference/blogging circuit consisting of many of the leading names in Neo-Reformed Calvinism, including Tim Keller, Don Carson, and Russell Moore. His quasi-Lutheran writings attracted huge amounts of vitriol from the other TGC members, but got them to basically expose themselves as crypto-Papists in the process. That didn’t sit too well with them, and eventually he was forced out. So he took his blog and started his own coalition called Liberate, which invited several prominent Lutherans to participate. Obviously that is now shut down in light of current events.
And now, here we are, with the Tchividjian family joining the list of those that will be having an extremely awkward Thanksgiving dinner this year.
This would be a prime opportunity for all the TGC types who had their noses tweaked by Tchividjian’s writings to come flying out of the woodwork, basically saying, “See? We told you this guy was weak on sanctification, and look where it got him.” Hasn’t happened yet. Perhaps they’re otherwise occupied with the conservative clown show over last week’s Supreme Court ruling, and they managed to let this one slip by them. But there’s still time.
If anything, this affirms the doctrine of total depravity, which is one of the key elements of the Christian faith. Most of the TGC guys come from confessional churches, where week in and week out the congregation confesses in some form or fashion that they are all wretched sinners in need of grace. While most of megachurch evangelicalism is generally resistant to such liturgical flourishes, we still affirm the doctrine of total depravity, which holds that all people are corrupt and sinful and on a path which will, if not for the grace of God, end in eternal separation from God.
So don’t be surprised to see people acting like sinners. Even big-time pastors.
When Tchividjian took over at Coral Ridge, he said in an interview that “I learned that God’s capacity to clean things up is infinitely greater than our human capacity to mess things up.” We can only hope that those words prove true in this situation.
And Pastor Tullian, whatever you do, please please please do not pull a Mark Driscoll. At least give us a chance to miss you before you get back into the ministry saddle.
For an insightful look at what Tchividjian looked like to a real Lutheran and why some of his emphases made real Lutherans uncomfortable even as they envied his success and appreciated all he did to get the law-gospel message out there, read this piece by Lutheran layperson Levi Nunnink.