Today’s interview is with Tullian Tchividjian, senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Much like his grandfather, Billy Graham, Tchividjian is passionate about sharing God’s good news. His new book, One Way Love, provides a fresh encounter with God’s unfaltering grace. Tchividjian is also sharing this message on The Gospel Tour—an inspirational tour headlined by both him and Matt Chandler.
1. Your new book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World, says that the need for God’s good news “has never been more urgent”—why do you feel that way?
I travel a lot and meet a lot of people. I talk to people inside and outside the church and I’ve never been more convinced that the message of God’s inexhaustible grace is needed. Everywhere I go, people are exhausted. They’re exhausted relationally, emotionally, and spiritually. After talking to the spiritually exhausted people, I discovered that their exhaustion is due, in large part, to what they think they need to be doing in order to gain and maintain God’s love and favor. In theological terms, most people live their life as if their justification depends on their sanctification: if I do and become all that I must do and become, God will love me and accept me.
The message of One Way Love is that God’s love for sinners like me and you is not dependent on what we do, but on what Jesus has done for us. We are accepted and approved by God because of Christ’s work, not our work. This message desperately needs to be recovered in the twenty-first-century church. Church should be the one place in all of society where the weary and heavy laden should be able to come and find rest. But all too often they get to-do lists. This needs to change. We need a new reformation.
2. In One Way Love you said: “Too many people have walked away from the church, not because they’re walking away from Jesus, but because the church has walked away from Jesus.” What do you mean by that?
An institution theoretically devoted to providing comfort to those in need (the church) is in trouble because it has embraced the same pressure cooker we find everywhere else. In recent years, a handful of popular books have been published urging a more robust and radical expression of the Christian faith. I heartily “amen” the desire to take one’s faith seriously and demonstrate before the watching world a willingness to be more than just Sunday churchgoers. The unintended consequence of this push, however, is that we can give people the impression that Christianity is first and foremost about the sacrifices we make rather than the sacrifice Jesus made for us—our performance rather than his performance for us. The hub of Christianity is not “do something for Jesus.” The hub of Christianity is “Jesus has done everything for you.” And my fear is that too many people, both inside and outside the church, have heard our “do more, try harder” sermons and pleas for intensified devotion and concluded that the focus of the Christian faith is the work that we do instead of the work God has done for us in the person of Jesus.
Furthermore, too many churches perpetuate the impression that Christianity is primarily concerned with “getting better”—however that is defined. The fact is that Christianity is not about good people getting better. It is good news for bad people coping with their failure to be good. The heart of the Christian faith is good news—not good behavior, good technique, or good advice. So, when Sunday mornings become one more venue for performance evaluation, can you blame a person for wanting to stay at home?
3. How do you think the church should change its message?
We need to get back to preaching Christ and him crucified rather than humanity and it improved. To be sure, the gospel changes us. But when we focus on the effect before the cause—when we put the cart before the horse—we end up losing both. The focus of the Christian faith is NOT our transformation; it is Christ’s substitution.
Ever since the fall of man in Genesis 3, we’ve been obsessed with ourselves. Add to that fuel to the fire of the Enlightenment’s mantra, “Progress is inevitable,” and the “manifest destiny” DNA that has marked our country since its inception, and it’s no surprise that our man-centered culture of narcissism has seeped into the church. Whether it takes the crass form of “health, wealth, and prosperity” or the more theologically sophisticated form of an obsession with “sanctification” and “holiness,” the bottom line is, we have concluded that this whole thing is about our transformation, not Christ’s substitution. Or, to put it more accurately, Christ’s substitution is a means to an end—the end being our transformation.
I can hear the objections now: “It’s not either/or, Tullian, it’s both/and.” I’m not saying it’s “either/or” but I’m also saying that it’s not “both/and.” It’s primary/secondary, cause/effect. Those distinctions matter—a lot! Yes, the gospel does transform us. But transformation does not happen when we make transformation the warp and woof of our message. But that’s exactly what’s happened. Whether it’s “how to have a good marriage,” or “how to be more missional,” or “how to practice godliness more effectively,” people hear more about what they need to do than what Jesus has already done. We’ve taken our eyes off of Christ, “the author and finisher of our faith”, to focus on ourselves. Plain and simple.
Download One Way Love on Vyrso today, and then check back tomorrow for part 2 of our special interview with Tullian Tchividjian!
Don’t forget to enter to win an iPad mini, Logos 5, and Tchividjian’s new book by entering The Gospel Tour giveaway! There are only two days left to enter—so don’t wait!