A Steadfast Lutheran Interview With Pastor Tullian Tchividjian (Part 2 of 2)


A South Florida native, Tullian Tchividjian is the grandson of Ruth and Billy Graham. He is a graduate of Columbia International University, where he earned a degree in philosophy, and Reformed Theological Seminary, where he earned his Master of Divinity. Tullian was the founding pastor of the former New City Church, which merged with Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in 2009, where he is now Senior Pastor.

In part one of the Steadfast Lutheran Interview with Presbyterian Pastor, Tullian Tchividjian, I interviewed Tchividjian about his background and explored his various interactions with Confessional Lutheranism.

In this second part of the Steadfast Lutheran Interview, Pr. Tchividjian discusses the reformation that is occurring within American Evangelicalism, as well as some of his thoughts on the ongoing challenges of American Evangelicals discerning and understanding Law and Gospel.


Pr. Richard:  Let us shift gears a bit.  What is the difference between your Grandfather’s ministry and your ministry?  In other words, what is the difference between Billy Graham’s pastoral focus and Tullian Tchividjian’s pastoral focus?

Pr. Tchividjian:  “Daddy Bill” (that’s what we call him) was called to preach the Gospel to those primarily (though not exclusively) ‘outside’ the church.  I see that I’ve been called to preach the Gospel to those primarily (though not exclusively) ‘inside’ the church.  I didn’t grow up in the church hearing that the Gospel was for Christians.  I understood that the Gospel was what Non-Christians needed to hear in order to be saved but that once God saved us he moved us beyond the gospel. But what I came to realize is that once God saves us he doesn’t then move us beyond the gospel, but rather more deeply into the gospel. The gospel, in other words, is just as necessary for me now as it was the day God saved me. So, in many ways I feel like an evangelist to those inside the church—helping the church rediscover what I call “the now power” of the gospel. Whenever the church rediscovers the gospel for Christians, it’s called a reformation. One could say that when masses of Non-Christians believe the gospel it’s called a revival. When masses of Christians believe the gospel it’s called a reformation. I’m primarily, though not exclusively, called to be a reformer.

Pr. Richard:  So, do you think that there is a modern reformation happening among American Evangelicalism today?  If so, where are they reforming to?

Pr. Tchividjian:  Yeah, great question.  It is like Charles Dickens once said, “It is the best of times and the worst of times.”  On the one hand, I see a remarkable response to the Gospel from those in the church.  There seems to be a real awakening taking place with regard to the gospel being necessary for Christians too. People are starting to hear that the gospel doesn’t just ignite the Christian life, it’s also the fuel that keeps Christians going. I believe that the idea that the Gospel is only for nonbelievers is dying.  This is good.

Pr. Richard:  Yes, it is good.  I too believe that there is a reformation occurring in many Evangelical churches in North America.  With that said, do you have any concerns regarding the current movement within Evangelicalism of “gospel-centeredness”?

Pr. Tchividjian:  Well, like I said, it is the best of times and the worst of times.  While the Gospel is being received among many in the church, I believe that many do not have a proper understanding of Law and Gospel which then doesn’t allow them to understand the Gospel properly.

Pr. Richard:  What do you mean by that?

Pr. Tchividjian:  As Gerhard Ebeling wrote, “The failure to distinguish the law and the gospel always means the abandonment of the gospel.” What he meant was that a confusion of law and gospel (trying to “balance” them) is the main contributor to moralism in the church because the law gets softened into “helpful tips for practical living” instead of God’s unwavering demand for absolute perfection, while the gospel gets hardened into a set of moral and social demands we “must live out” instead of God’s unconditional declaration that “God justifies the ungodly.” As my friend and New Testament scholar Jono Linebaugh,says, “God doesn’t serve mixed drinks. The divine cocktail is not law mixed with gospel. God serves two separate shots: law then gospel.” I think that there is a lot of mixed drinks being served in Evangelical and Reformed churches and if this is not corrected, it will usher in another generation of confusion as to what the gospel truly is.

Pr. Richard:  As we conclude this interview, is there anything else that you would like to mention?

Pr. Tchividjian:  Yeah, I would just like to express how much I appreciate the Lutheran tradition.  I greatly appreciate the wise support that I receive from Confessional Lutherans.  When I get criticized by individuals, it is typically the Lutherans who come to my defense.  I am very grateful for the way that I have been treated, taught, and the friendship that I have with many Lutherans.  As I have shared before, if we Reformed trace our heritage back to the reformation and not simply take all our cues from the sixteenth and seventeenth-century Puritans, we will find that we have a lot in common with Lutherans.

Pr. Richard:  Thank you Pr. Tchividjian for your time and willingness to do this interview for Steadfast Lutherans.  Grace and peace to you.

Pr. Tchividjian:  No problem; blessings to you as well.


Some concluding thoughts.

I hope you enjoyed the previous conversations as much as I did; I rejoice hearing that Lutheranism is impacting people far and wide, especially its apparent reach into Evangelicalism.  Indeed, it is encouraging to hear of American Evangelicals eagerly reading and encountering Lutheran tenets for the first time, especially when we have witnessed some within Lutheranism being ashamed of our theology and regrettably exchanging our tenets for Evangelical fads.

While we Lutherans certainly have our disagreements with Presbyterians, as well as many of those within American Evangelicalism, I am thoroughly convinced that the Lutheran’s Christo-centric, Sacramental, Law-Gospel message is exactly what is needed for American Evangelicalism, as well as for our own churches in this next generation.  May we indeed, by God’s grace, hold steadfast to the precious truths that we have been given in the Word and articulated by our Lutheran forefathers.

To learn more about Pastor Tullian Tchividjian visit his conference initiative “Liberate,” his blog at “The Gospel Coalition,” or one of his many books.


About Pastor Matt Richard

Rev. Dr. Matthew Richard is the pastor at Zion Lutheran Church of Gwinner, ND. He was previously a Senior Pastor in Sidney, Montana, an Associate Pastor of Spiritual Care and Youth Ministries in Williston, North Dakota, and an Associate Pastor of Children and Youth in Rancho Cucamonga, California. He received his undergraduate degree from Minot State University, ND and his M.Div. from Lutheran Brethren Seminary, MN. His doctor of ministry thesis, from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, MO, was on exploring the journey of American Evangelicals into Confessional Lutheran thought. Pastor Richard is married to Serenity and they have two children. He enjoys fishing, pheasant hunting, watching movies, blogging, golfing, spending time with his family and a good book with a warm latte! To check out more articles by Pastor Matt you can visit his personal blog at: www.pastormattrichard.com.


A Steadfast Lutheran Interview With Pastor Tullian Tchividjian (Part 2 of 2) — 35 Comments

  1. Interesting interview. I applaud Pastor Matt for reaching out to the Reformed and Evangelicals to engage them in discussion regarding the truths of our Faith. We as Lutherans need to do more of that. We have been sitting on the “jewel” of Lutheran theology for far too long. Let’s start sharing it.

    If possible, I would be interested in reading an interview with Pastor T on where exactly he agrees with orthodox Lutheran theology (other than Law and Gospel) and where he still disagrees. We will then see just how extensively he has really been influenced by Lutheranism.

  2. @Gary #1
    I’ve said this here before, but Lutherans need to have an equivalent of R.C. Sproul’s “Renewing your Mind” put out there, as RYM has been VERY influential in turning people on to the Reformed faith.

  3. @J. Dean #2

    I believe that we Lutherans have the greatest “Gospel tract” ever written…the Book of Concord!

    We just need to push the Reformed and especially, Baptists and evangelicals to read it. I believe that the BOC is the best tool we Lutherans have to convert these Christians to the truths of Lutheranism. Debating Scripture with them rarely works. Pointing out the fact that all early Christians believed in Baptismal Regeneration, doesn’t matter to them. Pointing out the fact that their views on the purpose of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper cannot be found in the first 1,000-1,500 years of Christianity, also does not matter to them.

    So let’s give them one of the greatest preachers and theologians of all time—Martin Luther (along with the other Lutheran fathers)—and pray that he can convince them of their errors.

    Let’s start sending a copy of the BOC to every Reformed, Baptist, and evangelical pastor in America! (And let’s jazz it up a bit with a new, colorful, cover while we are at). 🙂

  4. @Gary #1 CFW Walther would probably ask the question, does Pastor T believe the gospel only applies to the chosen, and does he believe in a god who would damn most humans to show his sovereignty?

  5. @JerryT #4
    @Gary #1

    Jerry T and Gary,

    In order to eliminate speculation and to grant clarity to Pr. Tchividjian’s theology, I recommend that you compare the writings of the Westminster Confession of Faith (http://www.pcaac.org/resources/wcf/) and the Book of Concord (http://www.bookofconcord.org). In reading these two documents you will be able to see where he exactly agrees with orthodox Lutheran theology and where he disagrees. Keep in mind that Pr. Tchividjian is an ordained pastor of the PCA, thus I believe his confession/beliefs are tied to the Westminster Confession of Faith. It is the same with us as Confessional Lutherans; our beliefs, material principle, practices, etc… are expressed in the Book of Concord.


    Pr. Richard

  6. Do not confessional documents typically have a different standing in Reformed churches than it does with us, so that the beliefs and practices of any individual Presbyterian minister can not immediately be identified with or described by pointing to the Westminster Confession – as opposed to the way it can be assumed that no LCMS Pastor would ever practice open Communion or anything remotely resembling it, nor take part in the A Prayer for America interfaith worship at Yankee Stadium in September 2001, or the similar prayer service conducted in Newtown in December 2012?

  7. @Pastor Matt Richard #5

    When speaking to a Calvinist, especially a Calvinist who grew up in Arminianism (Billy Graham’s theology) as Pastor T., I show them this statement from the WCF:

    From the Westminster Directory for the Public Worship of God: “Of the Administration of the Sacraments: And First, Of Baptism.”

    “That children . . . are Christians, and federally holy before baptism, and therefore are they baptized.”

    Regardless of what linguistic gymnastics that the Reformed use to try and explain this shocking statement, such as “Well, there is the visible Church and the invisible Church”, anyone who believes that babies are BORN Christians, is WAY outside of apostolic teaching.

    I would be curious how Pastor T would explain this statement. I will bet that it sends shudders through every bit of DNA that he inherited from his grandfather.

  8. @Pastor Matt Richard #5 I made the comment because CFW was always rather adamant about the difference; you can see his point when you realize the Reform ran him out of Germany. It’s a major aspect of LCMS history.

    However, I also made the comment because while we can talk about shared appreciation on law and gospel and how it applies to us personally, when you examine to whom it applies, the gulf is huge. Pastor T makes the point his outreach is those inside the church. What does that mean?

  9. @JerryT #9

    And I would counter Pastor T’s argument that his grandfather Billy Graham’s ministry was primarily to the Lost.

    I would bet that the majority of those people walking down the aisles to pray the Sinner’s Prayer in those packed stadium’s were non-church going Lutherans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, Presbyterians and other baptized Christians who were so moved by the evangelist’s powerful preaching, that instead of repenting and renewing their faith given to them by God in infant Baptism, they were told that THEY needed to do something to be saved. Pastor Graham convinced them that that “something” was coming forward and praying a prayer to “really” be saved.

    I applaud evangelist Graham for preaching the Gospel to the Lost, but I think he wrecked havoc in the Church Catholic by turning God’s gift of faith given in baptism into a “work”, despised and almost eliminated from evangelical theology and practice.

  10. As to what Pastor T means by reaching those within the church with the gospel . . . I think that he understands the suffocating grip that moralism has upon Reformed and Evangelical (particularly Baptists) congregants, and how the weekly message from pulpits across the Reformed spectrum is a steady diet of the third use of the law, but very rarely gospel for the Christian.

    As one who was raised in an Arminian Baptist church that underwent Reformation (in the Reformed Baptist tradition), I believe that Tullian is spot-on in his assessment among the Reformed – both Presbyterian and Baptist, and I am thankful that guys like Tullian are addressing the problem. Pray for them…they are taking A LOT of flak for their effort from the “Young, Restless, Reformed” crowd. I haven’t personally journeyed all the way into Confessional Lutheranism . . . but I resonate with Tullian’s influences. Love my Lutheran friends. 🙂

  11. Isn’t emotionalism a much stronger trend in modern Evangelicalism that moralism – when it is taught, directly or indirectly, that what it takes for you to be saved, or at least to be certain of your salvation, is not that you do this or that, or live this way or that, and certainly not that you believe in the promises of God, but rather that you feel that you love Jesus (exactly how much you have to feel that you love Him is, of course, for yourself to worry about), and so feel good about yourself?

  12. @Gary #10 On the other hand, if anyone has not read Dr. Don Johnson’s book, Broken Parts. Missing Pieces, they may not know he was called by the Lord at the Bill Graham crusade held at the 1962 world’s fair. An ELS pastor just happened to knock on his door shortly thereafter. However, the LCMS reaped the benefit after Dr. Johnson would not deny that was a part of the Lord’s work, and the ELS showed him the door.

  13. @Jais Tinglund #12- I think that it depends on which stream of “Evangelicalism” we are talking about in terms of where their emphasis lies, and I would agree that there are elements of emotionalism that are evident across the board in Evangelicalism.

    I can only really speak of the Reformed from personal experience, in which case I would stick to my guns and declare that the chief problem is, in fact, moralism. In Reformed churches moralism comes in through the “back door” so to speak. The gospel is presented well to non-Christians, but once you are “in” then the focus becomes moral and ethical “transformation,” not the Gospel. Everything is then based on the 3rd use of the law and based on how well one measures up and the evident progress made in personal holiness / sanctification…then one can be sure of their election. On the flip side, if one’s progressive sanctification is questionable, then they are probably an unregenerate hypocrite. For a popular example of what I am talking about see the ministry of John Piper (Desiring God Ministries).

  14. Paul :
    I would stick to my guns

    O, I am not doubting you, just asking.
    And yes, it would make sense that classical Calvinists would be less interested in the emotional experiences associated with the faith than with the observance of the Law, which has to be obeyed because it is God’s will, period, and for no other reason, and your salvation does not really come into how you should live, and what you should do, and what you should believe, since your salvation is really not all that important anyway, and all you have to worry about is God’s sovereign will being fulfilled.

  15. I think that your understanding of the functionality of Calvinism, as expressed above, is pretty good. I have to be honest…I don’t see how I am pulling off biblical ethics and morals very well…in fact, I know that I am not. And the only answer that I get in my Reformed Baptist church is, “try harder, pray more, etc., etc.” thus I am presently absolutely miserable in the current setting. The social fallout of changing churches is going to be huge for my family and they are resisting the idea . . . I’ve become friends with a wonderful LCMS pastor, and I have visited the church where he serves a couple of times. I like it. My wife and a couple of my kids, however, do not.

  16. @Paul #16

    Paul, I have a suggestion.

    Since your wife is opposed to converting to orthodox Lutheranism, I would encourage you to do this:

    Instead of demanding that you leave your Reformed church immediately because you do not like the “try harder” mentality, ask your wife to start studying the Book of Concord with you. As you go through the BOC with her, discusses the doctrines addressed by Luther and other Lutheran fathers. Does the plain, simple interpretation of Scripture agree with Luther and the Lutherans or with the Reformed? Also, is the Lutheran position or the Reformed position consistent with the teachings of the Early Church?

    If you do this, hopefully, when you both have finished reading the BOC, she will agree with you…it is time to leave; it is time to attend worship where the true doctrines of the Faith are taught, not just where our sentimentality and social connections lie.

  17. @Gary #17
    Thank you for your suggestion, Gary. I have studied the differences somewhat thoroughly, and I believe that I’ve learned enough so far to personally make an informed decision based on my convictions about the truth confessed in the BOC. I’ve read the BOC, listened to lecture after lecture from Rod Rosenbladt and other Lutherans, and read much of Martin Chemnitz’ work on the Two Natures. In my journey at this point I am “Lutheran” in my view of justification, law & gospel, absolution, and the Lord’s Supper. Struggling a little with Baptism, but, I can work on that. My wife enjoys Rod Rosenbladt’s teaching & preaching, and she likes my LCMS pastor friend. Now, I have not asked her to read through the BOC with me…that may be a productive thing to do. Her issues, I am quite certain are more fundamentally about social / fellowship issues and connections after spending 19 years in our current church. Anyway . . . this thread is supposed to be about Tullian T…sorry to all for deviating from the topic.

  18. Paul :
     . . this thread is supposed to be about Tullian T…sorry to all for deviating from the topic.

    A conversation is a living thing; it goes where it goes.
    No moderator has intervened. And if your comments had appeared irrelevant or off topic to everybody else, most probably nobody would have responded. So I wouldn’t lose any sleep over it if I were you …

  19. @Jais Tinglund #20

    Asking questions to better understand Lutheranism is never irrelevant.

    I’m sure the overwhelming majority of Lutherans on this site will agree with that. Our focus as Christians, and specifically as orthodox Lutheran Christians, should always be sharing the true Gospel with the Lost and with our errant brethren of other Christian traditions. We are happy that you have “seen the light”, brother.

  20. @Jais Tinglund #20

    Reverend Tinglund,

    As always, right on target! Your comment really hits home. The more I dig into scripture and the Book of Concord the more I realize how much I don’t know. Therefore, a thirst is developed to know more, which results in more questions & conversation. AND, I was born into a confessional Lutheran family (I owe my parents more than they could ever know!).

    So, let this post serve as a reminder that we, the laity, REQUIRE a confessional pastor who can teach and lead us………..

  21. What separates Tullian’s theology from most “confessional” Lutheranism is over what he calls “Cheap Law.” Tullian for example has said the Sermon on the Mount is the literal expectations of God for our lives, a condition of salvation (if you want to get or stay saved on the basis of your own merits). Modern Lutheranism, in contrast, seems caught in the 60’s cultural divide, where Cheap Law reigns, even on the “confessional” side. We react to charges of wrongdoing with the indignation of someone who’s just read Ayn Rand and FoxNews. By making our sins small, we make Christ small.

  22. Greg M. Johnson : We react to charges of wrongdoing with the indignation of someone who’s just read Ayn Rand and FoxNews. By making our sins small, we make Christ small.

    Or Karl Marx and the Communist Manifesto, on the flipside.

  23. People are starting to hear that the gospel doesn’t just ignite the Christian life, it’s also the fuel that keeps Christians going. I believe that the idea that the Gospel is only for nonbelievers is dying. This is good.

    I hope you are right! Perhaps life long Lutherans will be welcome in their own churches, instead of told to hit the road “because they are baptized” and the preacher’s enthusiasm is for the ‘lost’… which ignores the undoubted truth that many of the ‘lost’ are baptized but displaced by some other preacher’s pet project.

    Jesus didn’t say “Baptize and discard”; He said “Baptize and teach them to observe all things that I’ve commanded you.”, which is a life long job for pastors who don’t find it just too boring. And for their parishioners, too.

  24. @helen #25

    Excellent points Helen. Too often the focus of the non-liturgical/non-confessional crowd is putting butts in pews and little effort is spent on the never ending process of Christian education. The “identity crisis” that the LCMS is going through is actually understandable to me. Many Lutherans actually have no clue about Law, Gospel, the Confessions, justification through Faith, etc………

    I said this once before and will repeat it here: If you ask a Lutheran what the Book of Concord is many will look at you with a tilted head like the RCA dog and say, “Never heard of it. Is it a grape jelly recipe book?”

    Staying grounded in faith requires a great pastor and some self-discipline to actually LEARN. Too often the flock is willing to “eat whatever [email protected]” is being dished out by the non-confessional crowd. They say, “You are what you eat……….”

  25. @Randy #26
    Doesn’t that say something about pastors not emphasizing study of the BoC in the congregation at large?

    I’ve noticed that when a church as a whole starts pursuing sound doctrine through formal study, congregations are far less likely to start running after each and every “trend,” Christianized or not.

  26. My dad grew up Baptist. The verse that compares baptism to circumcision is what really helped him to accept the scriptural basis for infant baptism because, of course, 8-day-old infants were circumcised. @Paul #18

  27. @J. Dean #27

    Yes, exactly. If the pastor pursues sound doctrine, the flock will generally follow (with some exceptions in CGM leaning churches that attempt to starve out their good pastors if they don’t produce numbers – what a travesty). I have witnessed three types of Lutheran churches – and these are my descriptions only: Confessional/Liturgical, Liturgical, and CoWo/CGM.

    The Confessional/Liturgical church is one in which the pastor adheres to sound doctrine, follows the liturgy, and makes every effort to teach his flock what is important and why.

    The Liturgical church is one that uses the LSB, TLH, or LW for the divine service, but does little to teach doctrine. These churches are in a precarious position. Without sound doctrine to fall back on in times of change or hardship they can easily swing to CoWo/CGM.

    CoWo/CGM churches do their own thing to fill seats.

    However, I do add one additional factor – complacent laity. By that I mean, just as some pastors ignore the BoC or rarely emphasize how important it is to understand what being a Lutheran (Christian) means, many of the laity are often also complacent and don’t really care anyway. Put the two together and you have a breeding ground for false doctrine, no doctrine, doctrine lite, and/or “Lutherans” who just don’t really care and will just “go with the flow.”

  28. @Randy #31

    If you’re going to check it out I’d rather wait and see what you might have to say over there. You might be able to fit it in better than I. I hope you do!

    The conversation has slowed down now since this was a Friday posting. But maybe you can get some more going again over Sunday!

    The thing that happens over there is when you reply to someone, they are notified and you will most likely hear from them.

    We need another confessional Lutheran voice on the subject!

  29. @Randy #31

    I forgot to mention, that I think you have to register to use the site. But others have also posted as “guest” if you would not want to do that. So, I’m not sure about that. I’ve been there for awhile so I don’t remember exactly what I did.

  30. In the WCF standards, as with Baptist and most reformed they may demur from certain parts of the confession. What one objects to in the confession has historically wobbled. Theoretically it can only be non-essential items. However, over time and in modern times it goes as far as objecting to even their own confessions on the sacraments (or ordinances in the Baptist realm). This is why you see for example on the Gospel coalition web site yet another crafted confession of faith that’s says just enough of not enough that a Baptist can sign on as can a Presbyterian, as if there is a “minimal gospel” that can be achieved. So it is not at all as simple as going to say the WCF and finding out what X pastor under that believes, preaches, teaches and confesses. One has to remember the fundamental of all the sects is unity first then as much as we are in unity doctrine. Not doctrine culminating in unity. Thus instead of building the church on the doctrine and confession once received they build a union then see where they can agree. Where they cannot, they fuzz over the language to make it all work. Hence, they slowly move FROM the church as the congregation to these unions and coalitions as if that is the church.

    It is rather odd to not have church confession driving everything, but a coalition, which then promotes a confession. This can be seen even in the Baptist realm. Several years ago an issue erupted in John Piper’s church, I was still then a Baptist and highly in tune with that ministry. He had a crisis of could he communion his infant baptized heros like Augustine, Luther and Calvin, not to mention modern friends like RC Sproul. His elders called him on it and said, rightly, no, this is our confession of faith. Well now he’s found away around it and is pseudo communing like so many others via the gospel coalition which is complete with its own confession of faith. Now if that does not confuse any flock I don’t know what would. Even Baptist preacher CH Spurgeon called such “flying under false colors”.

  31. He preaches the gospel to the church he says? Well it’s too bad that he actually preaches gospel reductionism / hyper grace and lives by that lawless message too. He has learned a lot from his “sis” Nadia.

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