Growing in Grace, Maturing in Christ

The Grace of Sanctification
I am going to have several posts in the next few weeks on this subject. It is an important one. It is one that has been core to the ministry of Leadership ConneXtions International for many years. It is the foundation of all the work we do in spiritual formation and helping leaders develop biblically rich practices of formation.

In recent times, Tullian Tchividjian (pictured to the right), after this TT, has come under criticism from The Gospel Coalition, a Reformed group that exists to promote Calvinist theology and practice. TT was a part of that group, but was recently invited to leave... or ejected... or departed on his own...which ever version you prefer. In the end it doesn't really matter. What matters is that TT's views and practices about the life of sanctification are considered so extreme, they no longer fit in the general orbit of  Reformed-Calvinist theology. For one article on this see this link.

I agree.

When I read his book, Jesus + Nothing = Everything, I found it to be a "disturbing book." There are few books in recent years that I have filled with as much RED INK of criticism and refutation as that book. Normally I don't read books in a "critical way." I read books to learn. If there are things that I think are inaccurate, or weak, or with which I have a different view, I am fine with that. I don't feel the need to be critical. I simply read on and keep learning.

Not so with TT's book!
On almost every page, I found his biblical exposition, his theological statements and his historical understandings to be seriously flawed. (Ironically, I have not disagreed so strongly with a book since I read Rob Bell's book - Love Wins.) And perhaps worse in my view, was the pastoral guidance he was ADAMANTLY giving on every page. I see TT as an extremist on this and he is polemic (attacking and aggressive) in his view. Basically, he believes he has understood the gospel. If you don't agree with TT, then you don't understand the gospel. If you don't agree with TT, you have bought into serious compromise and you are not a Gospel-oriented Christian (i.e. most likely, not a Christian). And as I said, his biblical study, his theological conclusions and his historical alludings are "weak" at best. 

TT was presenting his view as the  Reformed-Calvinist view. And it is NOT. 

I have been reading on these issues for many years. I am basically Reformed in my theology, although I have a Generous Orthodoxy and thus a deep appreciation of and borrowing from the wider streams of living water flowing through the history of the church. 

If I have a speciality in the area of theology, it is on the subject of sanctification (its theology, spirituality and missionality). I have read hundreds of books on this from every point of view, including the practices of the spiritual life. In the last year, I have been going back and re-reading great books by Reformed theologians (past and present). What do the Reformed theologians say about sanctification and piety. Do they agree with TT on his interpretation of the Gospel. Here are four books I have just finished. Two were new for me, the other two I first read in the 1980s.

Piety and the Princeton Theologians by HoffeckerRedemption Acomplished and Applied by John MurrayLetting God by God The Reformed Tradition  Orbis

I am not recommending any of these to the general reader of this blog. They are more specialized studies (although Letting God be God is a nice overview of the Reformed Tradition). I do want to make a few brief statements after reading these four books.

1.  The Reformed-Calvinist tradition has a VERY HIGH VIEW of God, the sovereignty of God and the supremacy and priority of Christ pertaining to everything about our salvation. We are totally dependent on the "grace of sanctification" and the always essential work of Christ our Sanctifier (as well as the Holy Spirit, who makes us holy).

2.  The Reformed-Calvinist tradition has a deep PIETY to it and this piety is the wide and consistent use of the means of sanctifying grace that God has provided for His people so they may "grow in grace." These practices of piety - worship, preaching, communion, prayer, immersion in Scripture through a wide variety of means including both serious intellectual study and discerning meditation, life togther with others, etc. are responsibilities that Christians are exhorted to regularly use.

3.  When Christians do not participate in these "means of grace" then the life of piety and maturing in grace is seriously interrupted. They are still forgiven, they are in union with Christ, they are adopted as daughters and sons . . . but their experiential growth and transformation into real and actual Christ-likeness is hindered when the means of grace are practiced unbiblically and inconsistently.

4.  The best in the Reformed-Tradition avoid the "either-or" fallacy of justification or sanctification. They avoid the theological pitfalls of legalism (growing in grace by merit and earning) and antinomianism (against the law, against effort, against means of grace). As the history of the church reveals, this is a challenging and narrow path to navigate.

5.  This is a perennial challenge, as TT's position reveals. I understand (fully) his passion for Christ, for his grace, his supremacy, his Lordship and his full glory. I just do not believe TT has understood the biblical position that brings the most glory to God. Nor has he understood the most faithful way to understand the fullness of the gospel of transformation into the likeness of Jesus and the glorious image of our glorious God.

*******

6.  And the nature of these theological discussions is vital. We must find ways to speak truth in love, especially theological truth. TT and the Gospel Coalition and others who are participating in these dialogues are all commended on their passion for truth. Not everyone is equally commended for the ways they are passionately discussing truth. I value this about the books mentioned above. They are generally irenic even when passionate. 

So this is some stuff that has been on my theological front burner in recent months (years actually). But with TT and the situation with the Gospel Coalition, the heat of that burner has been turned up.

Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International

BrianRice@lcileaders.org