Tuesday, April 22, 2014

FW: Thoughts on Lutheranism on the occasion of a Lutheran leaving. . .

Peters…

 

Feed: Pastoral Meanderings
Posted on: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 5:00 AM
Author: noreply@blogger.com (Pastor Peters)
Subject: Thoughts on Lutheranism on the occasion of a Lutheran leaving. . .

 

Another Lutheran has swum the Bosporus and, like most, he is a good guy, serious minded, frustrated by the great divide between theory and practice among Lutherans, and scandalized by what passes as Lutheran on Sunday morning.  Though some are quick to condemn those who leave, I am more circumspect.  They will be accountable for their own choices and that is enough for me.  That said, however, I find myself greatly sympathetic with many of their complaints while remaining unconvinced by some of justification for their decision to leave us.

It is a scandal of epidemic proportions that Lutherans, especially Confessional Lutherans, have no consistent face to their faith on Sunday morning.  The fact that in the LCMS we run the gamut from low church Protestantism to high church charistmatic to generic evangelicalism to broad church formalism to catholic liturgy on Sunday morning is nothing less than sinful.  Quite apart from the theology of it all (which I have reiterated over and over again on this blog), how can a "brand" have an inconsistent and contradictory identity -- even within the same community!  This is a dastardly diversity in which some of us are not man enough to admit we do not walk together and it is not the kind of diversity envisioned by our confessions and expected by our covenant of life together as parishes and pastors of the LCMS.  Think what it could do to McDonalds if they were like a Long John Silvers on one block, a Taco Bell on another, and a Hong Kong Wok on another?  It is ridiculous to assume that the vast spectrum of Sunday morning faces given to Lutheran doctrine is healthy for any of us (much less for a congregation which institutionalizes these preferences with an ordinary scheduled diversity for Sunday morning!).

I refuse to defend or tolerate such schizophrenia of Lutheran worship.  If it does not have the Ordo (the liturgical pattern inherent to and expected by our Confessions), it is not Lutheran.  I am not, like some, insisting upon a page number but, like pornography, you know it when you see it.  Saddleback style or Willow Creek wannabes or Joel Osteen lookalikes are not the same as any version of the Divine Service.  We all know that.  Hardly any of those using contemporary worship forms and music even pretend to have much in common with the liturgical Lutherans.  They know it.  We know it.  He is not one of us and I am not one of them.  Credible liturgical diversity of ceremony is acceptable without dividing the confession but a weekly Eucharist, the pattern of the historic mass, and music that confesses are all givens for Lutherans.

Liturgy may compensate for poor preaching and teaching but it should never be allowed to hold up the household of God without faithful confession.  In other words, the Divine Service is expected of ALL Lutherans who use the name, get money from jurisdictions, or come out of our seminaries... BUT the doctrine needs to match the practice and it is not a godly position to choose liturgy over doctrine or doctrine over liturgy.  Either they go together or the church is wounded, disabled, and hobbling along where she should be walking and running.

I love the ambiance of Orthodoxy (real smells and bells) and I love the authoritative structure of Rome (especially when faced with Lutheran supervisors who chose to hide, ignore, or condone liturgical and theological abuses).  But the liturgy (what some call the choice of a way of life over a doctrinal certainty) should not have to carry all the weight; doctrine and confession are also required.  In the same way, it is not fair to have to choose between doctrine and bishops -- the early church expected that both went together and would be shocked by those churches that today boast episcopal orders but cannot confess the creed without crossing their fingers.

Am I a dreamer?  I guess I am.  I dream of Lutherans who mean what they confess, who practice what they confess, and who refuse to allow the compromises of the past substitute for the pursuit of the fullness of all that can be.  I dream of Lutherans who walk into a Lutheran Church on Sunday morning and recognize the form, most of the words, and sing their faith in the solid text of music that confesses.  I dream of Lutheran Pastors who look like clergy all the time.  I dream of catechesis which is lifelong and flows from and back to our Confessions.  I dream of the best and brightest  being moved toward church work vocations.  I dream of people who refuse to settle for what is cheap and easy (from architecture to organs to ministry to missions) and who are relentless in their pursuit of excellence AND faithfulness.  I dream of a day when other Christian are envious of the doctrinal consistency and vibrant apologetic of Lutheran parishes, pastors, and people.  I dream of sermons that engage as well as faithfully speak Law and Gospel, rightly distinguishing them, of course.  I dream of Pastors who work so hard no one jokes about working only on Sundays and congregations who make it possible for their Pastors not to worry about having enough money to pay the bills.  I dream of a day when Lutherans tempted to leave are drawn back by the vigorous confession, the faithful doctrine, and the rich liturgical piety of parish and people.  Yeah, I am a dreamer and sometimes I live too much in my dreams but... wouldn't it be grand if that were the way all Lutherans dreamed????


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Monday, March 10, 2014

FW: Beware of nice old men who talk about new kinds of worship. . .

Peters…

 

Feed: Pastoral Meanderings
Posted on: Monday, March 10, 2014 5:00 AM
Author: noreply@blogger.com (Pastor Peters)
Subject: Beware of nice old men who talk about new kinds of worship. . .

 

The image of the liturgiologist has often been one of curious but benign oddity.  Indeed, among the Lutherans those interested in worship were generally seen as odd fellows at best.  Most of the time, however, they were also seen as people who posed little real threat to the church.  They were the nice old men whose interest lie in the peculiar arena of things indifferent (the Lutheran obsession with adiaphora).  So if they wanted to wear a surplice over their black gown (not realizing it was not a Geneva gown but really a cassock), they were snickered at by the true Lutherans but no one got all that excited.  It would never really catch on.  Then stoles and then albs and finally full eucharistic vestments.  The problem by then is that nearly everyone had exchanged Geneva's academic gown but a cassock, surplice, and stole.  The odd had become the normal.  Wait a few years and the same thing happened again -- alb and stole replacing the old fashioned cassock and surplice.  Interesting that the only people I know who still wear the white over the black ARE liturgical folk who know the difference between a choir office, daily office, and the Divine Service and dress accordingly.

In the same way also there were those who once thought the idea of a more frequent Eucharist to be an odd idea, promoted by the affected, but, nevertheless, one that would never catch on.  But it did.  My own home parish which had only quarterly the Order of Morning Worship with Communion went to monthly, twice monthly, and now even more frequently.  If it happens on the prairies of Nebraska, it happens everywhere.  It there a Lutheran congregation that retains a quarterly Communion?  I seriously doubt it.  What was once an odd idea promoted by nice old men who had an affectation for things ceremonial has become the norm or near norm in our church body.

I could go on but I will simply pick it up with my own story.  When I was in college, only liberal Bible doubting Lutherans were interested in worship.  So I felt it was my only choice to head to the newly formed Seminex and meet the folks who had opened a radical new door of liturgy and eucharistic piety to me.  Then I encountered some folks at Concordia Theological Seminary who had somehow mysteriously combined a high view of Scripture with a high view of the liturgy and ended up there.  We were then by no means a majority of the campus -- Springfield having only recently and under duress exchanged their address from a bastion of black gowns to the more alb adorned area of Northern Indiana.  But the nice old men with their curious and odd interest in things liturgical have ended up reshaping the face of the Church.

Rome had its nice old men who ended up undoing its own liturgical identity and, in a few years, turning the face of the church gathered for the Mass completely upside down. Who would have thought it from Paul VI and his crew?  Unlike the liturgiologists of Vatican II, those within Missouri combined a high view of Scripture with a high view of liturgy -- so high, in fact, that they refused, for the most part, the efforts of Rome to unhook the past from the present.  So, in Missouri at least, the Common Service remains a significant and potent force on Seminary campus and in parish alike.  The changes of the modern liturgical movement have not swept aside our liturgical connection to the past -- at least not in the wholesale manner that the Roman example did.

What no one could have foreseen in the 1960s and 1970s is that there would be a rise of those within decidedly liturgical traditions who have completely abandoned liturgical worship.  This is not merely a question of contemporary sounding music but of a radical redefinition of what happens on a Sunday morning.  Lutherans never saw it coming and if they did worry a bit, they did not expect the numbers to be so high.  Guess who the culprits were?  Nice old men who insisted that evangelism take place in worship, that those outside the church be as comfortable and at home on Sunday morning as those raised in the faith, and that modern music was merely a style change and not one of substance.  The radicals who promoted liturgical worship in my early years are now considered the raging conservatives.  Wow.

My point is this.  Be wary of nice old men talking about what's new in worship.  They may seem curious and benign, odd in their interest but hardly threatening, yet their interest in things worship has not been without significant effect in the churches.  From Rome to Wittenberg, we thought them nothing to worry about and we are still attempting to recover from their work.  Some began a disconnect with all that had come before in a vain attempt to remake the gathering of the baptized into something new, different, relevant, culture friendly.  For Lutherans these nice old men almost led us down the path of a ceremonial liturgy sung by ministers who believed almost none of the content (Anglicanism's end).  We won the battle for the Bible, so to speak, but lost it again when those fighting for inerrancy allied themselves with fundamentalists and evangelicals who they thought were headed in the same direction.  Now the nice old men strumming their guitars and singing yesterday's folk music have left us with a great divide between those who look like the Lutherans they claim to be on Sunday morning and those who look like Geneva or Saddleback or Lakewood or Willow Creek.  Now we find ourselves in the place of attempting to recover a liturgical identity which we thought was impenetrable but which disappeared in little more than a generation or two.

It happened without a vote in convention but quietly and quickly until some of us Lutherans feel strangers to our own liturgical identity. But the restoration will not happen quietly or quickly.  And probably not by the hands of nice old men either.  The new graduates are fighting the battles in parishes throughout the Missouri Synod to recapture what drifted away from us -- a uniform and common liturgical life shaped by the Divine Service.  That, my friends, is a good thing.


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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

FW: I'm Giving Away My Albums for Two Weeks!

Reviews of these albums are coming soon…

 

Feed: Zac Hicks Blog
Posted on: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 1:56 PM
Author: Zac Hicks
Subject: I'm Giving Away My Albums for Two Weeks!

 

 

My humble contribution to the worship song world, thus far, has been two LP's and a bunch of singles, pretty much all of which have been retuned hymns. I'm giving them away for free on NoiseTrade for two weeks. I'd encourage you to share the love and spread the news far and wide. The reason for this is to pre-celebrate the release of my newest project, an EP of 6 songs that have all been a part of my amazing first-year journey at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (this month marks exactly one year!). The album is called His Be the Victor's Name. I think it's my strongest work yet.

But in the meantime, enjoy the two full-length albums that have my blood and tear stains all over them. 

The Glad Sound (2009) was my first attempt at a hymns record. It was a studio recording done in a mainstream pop-rock style. I learned how to make a record through the process. I love the songs on this record, and I learned a ton about recording, songwriting, and production in the process. This album contains the first hymn I ever re-tuned and one that is probably my most sung in the world (according to CCLI)—a communion hymn called "Bread of the World in Mercy Broken."

Without Our Aid (2011) was my attempt to meld the live "arena worship" sound that was (and still is) popular (think of Hillsong and Passion) with great theology, drenched in the gospel and hymnody. It was my experiment in seeing how old hymns could interface with new waves of worship music. Without Our Aid has a big rock sound, with hints of ambient indie rock and disco. I wouldn't describe it as "artsy," but I stand behind its artistry.  I know what went into it, and I know what its influences are.

So, GO GET THEM.  And go tell everyone, please!


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Monday, February 10, 2014

FW: Can't we all just worship like Lutherans?

Barry…

 

Feed: Luther, Baptists, and Evangelicals
Posted on: Monday, February 10, 2014 8:59 AM
Author: noreply@blogger.com (Gary)
Subject: Can't we all just worship like Lutherans?

 

Copied from Pastor Matt Richard's blog, PM Notes:


Uniformity In Worship Practices Is A Blessing
   

By: A.L. Barry

As we look ahead toward the year 2000 and beyond, there is one more important question we need to ask ourselves. It is this: "What is the value of uniformity in worship practices across our Synod?" In a way, this is perhaps one of the most burning issues our church faces. There are two extremes to be avoided in answering that question. The one extreme would be the view that every congregation should simply do whatever it wishes, however it wishes, without any regard for the other congregations of our fellowship. The opposite extreme would be the view that everyone in the Synod must do precisely  the same thing every Sunday, with the same words,  the same songs, the same liturgy, on the same page, from the same order of service, without any deviation, variety or change. I believe that neither of these extremes is acceptable.

 

There are  those in our Synod who propose that every congregation  in the Synod should simply do its own thing. They  base this argument on the principle of "adiaphora."  In our Lutheran Church, the notion of "adiaphora" came up during a time when the Catholic rulers of  portions of Germany attempted to force Lutherans to do certain things in their worship services, claiming that these things were part of the very Gospel itself.  For instance, the Lutherans were told, "You must wear a certain kind of liturgical vestment or else you do not have a true worship service." The Lutherans responded, "If you tell us we must do this, then we cannot do it, for the Gospel does not depend on it." Adiaphora refers to things neither commanded nor forbidden  by God.

 

I would like to suggest to you that we have gone a bit wrong with the principle of adiaphora recently in our Synod. The principle of adiaphora has become more than a  rejection of what is being legalistically imposed on us in place of the pure Gospel. Instead, it has been turned into a license to do whatever pleases  anyone, anywhere and anytime, without due regard for the benefit of the church and the edification of the people of our Synod. It is quite clear that none of our Lutheran fathers anticipated a day when liturgical  anarchy and near chaos would be viewed as helpful  for the church. The concern has always been, and must  always be, on what best serves the need for good order in our church, so that the Gospel can have "free course and be preached to the joy and edifying of Christ's holy people."

 

Martin Chemnitz, one of the most important early theologians of our Lutheran Church, had this to say about why uniformity in worship practices is important:

...it  brings all sorts of benefits that in ceremonies, as much as possible, a uniformity be maintained, and that such ceremonies serve to maintain unity in doctrine, and the common, simple, weak consciences be all the less troubled, rather strengthened, it is therefore viewed as good, that as much as possible a uniformity  in ceremonies with neighboring reformation churches be effected and maintained. (Preus, The Second Martin  [1994], p. 21-22).

 

Our Synod has always been concerned that uniformity in liturgical practices be maintained, for the good of the church. For without uniformity in practice, as I have mentioned earlier, how long will it be before we find ourselves no longer united in doctrine?

 

Keep in mind that our first synodical founders knew all too well how dangerous a thing it was to impose ceremonies legalistically on the church. They fled Germany to come to the United States in part because the government tried to force a non-Lutheran liturgy on them. There is no way anyone can accuse our founding fathers of being liturgical legalists. They knew all too well what happens in that sort of situation. With that in mind, listen to our Synod's first president, Dr. C.F.W. Walther, as he describes the strength of our Lutheran worship practices, and the benefit of being united in these practices:

 

We refuse to be guided by those who are offended by our church customs. We adhere to them all the more firmly when someone wants to cause us to have a guilty conscience on account of them. . . . It is truly distressing that many of our fellow Christians find the difference between Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in outward things. It is a pity and dreadful cowardice when a person sacrifices the good ancient church customs to please the deluded American denominations just so they won't accuse us of being Roman Catholic! Indeed! Am I to be afraid of a Methodist, who perverts the saving Word, or be ashamed in the matter of my good cause, and not rather rejoice that they can tell by our ceremonies that I do not belong to them? We are not insisting that there be uniformity in perception or feeling or taste among all believing Christians-neither dare anyone demand that all be minded as he.

 

Nevertheless, it remains true that the Lutheran liturgy distinguishes Lutheran worship from the worship of other churches to such an extent that the houses of worship of the latter look like lecture halls in which the hearers are merely addressed or instructed, while our churches are in truth houses of prayer in which Christians serve the great God publicly before the world. . . . Someone may ask, "What would be the use of uniformity of ceremonies? We answer, "What is the use of a flag on the battlefield? Even though a soldier cannot defeat the enemy with it, he nevertheless sees by the flag where he belongs. We ought not to refuse to walk in the footsteps of our fathers." (Walther, Essays for the Church [1992], I:194).

 

Dr. Walther would want us to realize that in this country, precisely because we are surrounded by so many other churches, it is more important than ever that our Lutheran congregations strive for the greatest uniformity in practice as possible.

 

This is  an important truth for us to keep in mind as our congregations  consider changes in their worship services. Further, we would not be wise to suggest that one can never use another format for singing a portion of the liturgy  or that one must never deviate one bit from, for instance, p. 15 of The Lutheran Hymnal. But the point remains, that uniformity in worship practices is a great blessing for the Lutheran church and certainly for our Synod. We need to consider how great a blessing uniformity in practice is as we evaluate the wisdom of every parish simply "doing its own thing" in its worship services. 

 

 _________

A Presentation to the Real Life Worship Conference

Sponsored by the LCMS Commission on Worship

Denver, Colorado

February 1998

 

Lutheran Worship: 2000 and Beyond

Seven Theses on Worship 


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Saturday, February 1, 2014

FW: Confessions of a One Year Lectionary Convert

We've made the switch for 2014, too…

 

Feed: Cyberbrethren Lutheran Blog Feed
Posted on: Friday, January 31, 2014 1:08 PM
Author: Paul T. McCain
Subject: Confessions of a One Year Lectionary Convert

 

the_confession_trailer_1-1

Rev. Mark Surgburg has an excellent blog post explaining why he switched from using the three year lectionary to using the the one year lectionary. It's the best thing I've ever read on this subject and avoids some of the romanticized reasons for using the one year lectionary. My use of the one year lectionary when I was a parish pastor was purely selfish and pragmatic. I enjoyed being able quickly to check out how the Early Church Fathers and Martin Luther and other faithful, orthodox Lutherans preached on the texts I would have to preach on. Mark Surburg provides even better reasons in his post. Oh, and of course, you can add one more excellent reason to use the one year lectionary, Concordia Publishing House now offers a full line of full color bulletins to support the One Year Lectionary, using traditional art.  We also offer a complete set of downloadable bulletin inserts that support the one year lectionary.

I'd like to hear from pastors who have decided to use the one year lectionary as to why they are using it, and I'd like to hear from pastors who have decided to use it.

Let's have your confessions!

Here's a little taste:

If you had told me ten years ago that I would be using the one year lectionary today, I would have said that you were crazy.  I had experienced the one year lectionary as a boy.  However, in 1982 my home congregation purchased Lutheran Worship and began using the three year lectionary that came out with the new hymnal.  I was twelve years old, and from that moment all the way through my training at the seminary I was in congregations that used the three year lectionary.  From the age when I was old enough to know anything about the existence of a lectionary, the three year lectionary was the only one I experienced. 

Read the rest here.


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Thursday, January 16, 2014

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

Consider more…

 

Feed: Steadfast Lutherans
Posted on: Thursday, January 16, 2014 8:31 AM
Author: Pastor Matt Richard
Subject: A Steadfast Lutheran Interview With Pastor Tullian Tchividjian (Part 2 of 2)

 

Tullian-Picsquare-300x300

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.

 


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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

FW: A Steadfast Lutheran Interview With Pastor Tullian Tchividjian (Part 1 of 2)

Consider…

 

Feed: Steadfast Lutherans
Posted on: Tuesday, January 14, 2014 11:31 AM
Author: Pastor Matt Richard
Subject: A Steadfast Lutheran Interview With Pastor Tullian Tchividjian (Part 1 of 2)

 

Tullian-Picsquare-300x300"He must be a Lutheran; he sure sounds like one."  These were some of the first words out of my mouth when I first read the writings of Pr. Tullian Tchividjian.  However, upon further investigation I discovered that Pr. Tchividjian is not a Lutheran pastor, but the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, the church founded by Dr. D. James Kennedy.  Furthermore, I learned that Pr. Tchividjian is the grandson of the evangelist Billy Graham and the visiting professor of theology at Reformed Theological Seminary.  Even though I was able to put together a loose biography of Pr. Tchividjian, I still found myself wondering why a lot of his writings, sermons, and vocabulary sounded so much like my preaching/teaching, my colleagues preaching/teaching, and many of the Lutheran theologians that I had read.

To answer these questions and many more, I approached Pr. Tchividjian several weeks ago about doing an interview for Brothers of John the Steadfast.  I have had the privilege of exchanging several emails with Pr. Tchividjian over the last several years, since I first was exposed to his writings.  Furthermore, about a year ago I had a chance to visit with him briefly while I attended a Reformation Conference in Florida.  However, I have never been able to ask him about this 'Lutheran connection' that I and so many others have recognized.

After receiving my request for an interview, Pr. Tchividjian graciously accepted and what follows is part one of the hour long exchange that we had over the phone.  I hope you enjoy the conversation as much as I did.

__________

Pr. Richard:  Tullian, within Lutheran circles I have heard people refer to you as a 'closet Lutheran.'  This is obviously a tremendous complement from my perspective.  What are your thoughts about this and is it true?

Pr. Tchividjian:  [Laughing] I've heard that too. People who know me, however, know that I'm not a closet anything.  I'm pretty outspoken and unashamed about what I believe and why. I wish I had the kind of personality that was subtle, but I don't. I have some theological differences with my Lutheran friends which is why I am a Presbyterian. But I will joyfully admit that few theologians have helped me more than Lutheran theologians. They tend to be much more down-to-earth and realistic, with little tolerance for theoretical descriptions of the human condition. They are existential realists, rather than idealists. They've helped me better understand my sin, God's grace, and the distinction between the law and the gospel. They've guided me through deep and wide pastoral challenges and, I think, made me a better preacher, pastor, and counselor.

Pr. Richard:  In what ways has Lutheranism and these Lutheran theologians helped you?

Pr. Tchividjian:  I have found great benefit from the Lutheran writings on three primary distinctions: law and Gospel, active and passive righteousness, and the theology of cross vs. the theology of glory.  Plus, as I mention above, they understand and diagnose the human condition realistically which makes their riffs on the gospel experientially real. Luther's famous phrase simul iustus et peccator  gave me language when I was a budding theology student which greatly helped me understand what I was feeling and experiencing as a young Christian. The personal and pastoral payoff here is that it enabled me to affirm (without crossing my fingers) that in Christ—at the level of identity—I was 100% righteous before God while at the same time recognizing the persistence of my sin. If we don't speak in terms of two total states (100% righteous in Christ and 100% sinful in ourselves) corresponding to the co-existence of two times (the old age and the new creation) then the undeniable reality of ongoing sin leads to the qualification of our identity in Christ: the existence of some sin must mean that one is not totally righteous. This is acid at the very foundation of the peace we have with God on the other side of justification. To say simul iustus et peccator is therefore not to say that "sinner" is our identity; it is to say that while we remain sinful in ourselves we are, in Christ, totally righteous.

Pr. Richard:  Where did you first discover these Lutheran writings?

Pr. Tchividjian:  Believe it or not, I was first captivated by Luther himself by listening to a lecture by R.C. Sproul as a young Christian. But it was through conversations with Michael Horton, the host of The White Horse Inn, that I was introduced to the proper distinction between the Law and the Gospel.  Then through Horton I met a plethora of Lutheran individuals, individuals such as Dr. Rod Rosenbladt—who then introduced me to Harold Senkbeil, Robert Kolb, and others.

Pr. Richard:  So, which Lutheran theologians have you delved into?  Which Lutheran pastors and theologians have influenced your theology and practice the most?

Pr. Tchividjian:  Well, obviously Martin Luther.  Other than Luther though, probably the best book that I've ever read was a book written by Kolb…

Pr. Richard:  Robert Kolb?

Pr. Tchividjian: Yes, 'Robert' Kolb.  The title was The Genius of Luther's Theology.  I have also appreciated the writings of Harold Senkbeil, Gene Veith, Rod Rosenbladt, Oswald Bayer, and a Saskatchewan Lutheran named, William Hordern.  Oh, I cannot forget the book by Bo Giertz titled The Hammer of God.  I just love that book!  Not only was the book by Giertz well written, the theology in it is most excellent.  I promote Giertz's book to everyone I can.

Pr. Richard:  Let's back things up a little, if you don't mind.  When did you first believe the freedom earned by Jesus, in your stead, is for the forgiveness of your sins, life, and salvation even though you don't deserve it as a sinner?

Pr. Tchividjian:  Hmm, that can be answered two ways.  When did I become a Christian, or, when did I come to realize the awesome implications of God's grace.  Let me answer it both ways.

Pr. Richard:  Yes, that is fine, please do.

Pr. Tchividjian:  God saved me when I was 21 years old even though I had grown up in a Christian home, gone to church, etc…  As a youth I rejected my family faith pretty explicitly.  It was more of a functional rejection rather than an intellectual one. Christianity just wasn't functionally real to me growing up.  I dropped out of high school when I was 16 and was kicked out of my home and proceeded to lead a very debaucherous lifestyle. Through a variety of circumstances I came to a point of realizing that there has to be more to life than what I was experiencing. Therefore, I called up to God in my brokenness and He saved me.

Pr. Richard:  What happened from this salvific event?

Pr. Tchividjian:  I was absolutely captivated by grace for the first 8 months.  I realized that I didn't deserve grace and didn't deserve salvation.  I kept identifying myself as the prodigal in Jesus' parable in Luke chapter 15.  I couldn't hear about grace  without being overwhelmed by the kindness of the Lord that led me to repentance. The fact that God had been patient with me and pursued me in my rebellion swept me off my feet. I wept a lot in those early days—overcome by God's amazing grace to me.

Pr. Richard:  Is this when you first realized the implications of God's grace?

Pr. Tchividjian:  Yes and no.  Let me explain.  After 8 months I started to get better.  I went to Bible studies.  I started watching my mouth.  I stopped having sex with my girlfriend.  I started to improve morally speaking.  As I improved, something subtly happened to me.  The narrative in my life slowly changed and it became about 'me' and what 'I' was doing.  It was a slow shift.  As I improved morally speaking, it became less about what Jesus had done and more about what I was doing.  It was like a trap; I improved yet I began to lose sight of God's grace.

Pr. Richard:  So, what happened?

Pr. Tchividjian:  [Chuckling] Life happened!  Life, suffering, and failure have a way of transforming you from an idealist to a realist—from thinking that you're strong to reminding you that you're weak.

When I was 25, I believed I could change the world. At 41, I have come to the realization that I cannot change my wife, my church, or my kids, to say nothing of the world. Try as I might, I have not been able to manufacture outcomes the way I thought I could, either in my own life or other people's. Unfulfilled dreams, ongoing relational tension, the loss of friendships, a hard marriage, rebellious teenagers, the death of loved ones, remaining sinful patterns—whatever it is for you—live long enough, lose enough, suffer enough, and the idealism of youth fades, leaving behind the reality of life in a broken world as a broken person. Life has had a way of proving to me that I'm not on the constantly-moving-forward escalator of progress I thought I was on when I was twenty-five.

Instead, my life has looked more like this: Try and fail. Fail then try. Try and succeed. Succeed then fail. Two steps forward. One step back. One step forward. Three steps back. Every year, I get better at some things, worse at others. Some areas remain stubbornly static. To complicate matters even more, when I honestly acknowledge the ways I've gotten worse, it's actually a sign that I may be getting better. And when I become proud of the ways I've gotten better, it's actually a sign that I've gotten worse. And 'round and 'round we go.

If this sounds like a depressing sentiment, it isn't meant to be one. Quite the opposite. If I am grateful for anything about these past 15 years, it's for the way God has wrecked my idealism about myself and the world and replaced it with a realism about the extent of His grace and love, which is much bigger than I had ever imagined. Indeed, the smaller you get—the smaller life makes you—the easier it is to see the grandeur of grace. While I am far more incapable than I may have initially thought, God is infinitely more capable than I ever hoped.

Pr. Richard:  Is this the second part of your answer, where you came to understand the implications of God's grace, could I say, 'functionally speaking?'

Pr. Tchividjian:  Yes, it is.  About 3 years into a church plant I came to realize that life was simply hard.  Church work was hard, family was hard, marriage was hard, and so forth.  I disappointed a lot of people; people disappointed me; life happened.  Furthermore, I started to realize the fruits of 'do more – try harder' preaching.  I was losing idealism and I began to see that a lot of the popular theologies in America were simply unrealistic.  This was when I first encountered Lutheranism and began delving into various Lutheran theologians.  As I mentioned above, I was captivated by just how realistic Lutheran theologians were.

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Please check back soon with Brothers of John the Steadfast for Part 2 of the Steadfast Lutheran Interview with Pastor Tullian Tchividjian.

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

 


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