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.