Browse Worthy: Good Works’ Relationship to God

Though clearly our aim is not to focus on controversial issues on Gentle Reformation, there are times to make known debates when doing so will help sharpen the mind of the church on vital topics. This is especially important when influential pastors and authors are involved.  I do so again today.

Recently I drew your attention to a series of posts written about the doctrine of total depravity and the Christian.  The gifted pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, Tullian Tchividjian, created a stir because of the way his article wed too strongly the believer with an ongoing depravity.

Tchividjian has sought to overcome the concerns expressed by others with a new post entitled “God Doesn’t Need Your Good Works…But Your Neighbor Does.”  Sadly, despite much truth in his article, it will only raise further concerns.  If “wedding” was the problem in his first post, “divorcing” is the problem here as he separates too strongly sanctification from God Himself.  The statement from his article that summarizes its theme would be this: “The aim and direction of good works are horizontal, not vertical.”  According to numerous passages, including Matthew 25:31-46 where Jesus taught that believers will be rewarded on Judgment Day according to good works that ultimately were done unto Him, this statement is simply not true.

To read a gracious yet firm critique, see Puritan Seminary’s Professor David Murray’s article “Tullian Keeps Digging.”

11 Comments

  1. Gil Garcia December 12, 2012 at 12:26 am #

    Tullian did not create a “stir”, Martin Luther did!

    • Mark Olivero December 12, 2012 at 10:48 am #

      Amen Gil.
      …and quite a “stir” it was
      …apparently it’s still brewing.

  2. Venkatesh December 12, 2012 at 1:33 am #

    I wonder what the PCA presbytery over Tullian’s church thinks of this. Clearly, this is not an issue to be dealt with in the blogosphere alone.

  3. sarmishtavenkatesh December 12, 2012 at 3:15 am #

    I was just about chatting with Randy Martin Snyder on this the other day. Clearly, I’m now quite confused about the Gospel. But really, did God ever want us all to get confused? How then can we even preach it?

  4. Gil Garcia December 12, 2012 at 7:55 am #

    There is a BIG confusion going around, we need to put matters in their proper perspective, especially in the realm of Historical Theology.

    Rev. Tchividjian is following Martin Luther when Luther was quarreling with the Roman Catholics who wanted to be saved by doing works to please God.

    Prof. David P. Murray, Rev. Richard Phillips, and other Presbyterians, are following and thinking more towards the direction of the Westminster Divines (for example Anthony Burgess) who were going against the Antinomians (those were going against third used of the Law).

    We have two different periods of time and two different theological situations. The first occurred during the Protestant Reformation between Martin Luther and the Roman Catholic Church. The other during the Westminster Assembly in England, between some of the Westminster theologians and those who wanted to reject God’s law entirely, hence they were called Anti-nomians.

    I hope this helps!

    • Barry York December 12, 2012 at 1:41 pm #

      Gil,

      Thank you for your thoughts.

      If Pastor Tchividjian was only talking about the place of good works in justification, then your point would be well made and none of these objections would be raised. Sadly, he is referring to them in the article referenced with respect to sanctification.

      The other men, such as Murray and Phillips, are not misunderstanding his historical and theological reference points. These men, fully aware and studied on their historical theology, are showing that Tchividjian’s teaching on sanctification and good works is Biblically errant at significant points, especially as it conflates justification and sanctification.

      Respectfully,

      Barry

  5. Gil Garcia December 12, 2012 at 7:50 pm #

    Barry,

    So what is wrong with this excerpt from Pastor Tchividjian?

    “By giving people the impression that sanctification is progress beyond the initial step of justification, they have concluded that once God saves us (justification) he then moves us beyond his work into our work (sanctification). But justification and sanctification are both God’s work and while they can and must be distinguished, the Bible won’t let us separate them. Both are gifts of our union with Christ and within this double-blessing, justification is the root of sanctification and sanctification is the fruit of justification.”

  6. Gil Garcia December 12, 2012 at 8:16 pm #

    Barry,

    Secondly, If as you said that Murray and Phillips are “fully aware and studied on their historical theology” why is Murray and you alarmed at Pastor Tchividjian statement, because it is not his statement but comes from Luther himself. There should had been no alarmed then, that is Luther!

    • Barry York December 13, 2012 at 9:07 am #

      Gil,

      The first statement you quote above was not the subject of the concern. As Murray’s article said, much of Tchividjian’s post contains truth.

      Regarding the last statement, I feel no need to defend the qualifications and concerns of the men mentioned.

      Barry

  7. Rut Etheridge III December 13, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    Brethren,
    Perhaps as a point of clarification in this discussion and the discussion being discussed :-) It seems, based on what I’ve read so far, that Pastor Tchividjian is not sufficiently addressing David Murray et. al’s concern with the practical experience aspect of our sanctification and the importance of the Law in that sphere of Christian life.

    Murray’s references to John 14 were on point, in my opinion, with regard to the fluctuation of our everyday fellowship with the Lord depending upon our obedience or lack thereof to His commands. Pastor T (that is one difficult last name to type!) seems to be talking past that point as if Murray and others are conflating the ebb and flow of our daily obedience – and therefore the ebb and flow of our practical intimacy with the Lord – with the irrevocable position we have in Christ. It is no denigration to the truth of our permanent, positional standing before the Lord to emphasize the need for daily, loving obedience to the Lord (good works). Christ’s commands define and guide that obedience. Rich fellowship with the Lord follows upon loving obedience, and Fatherly chastisement follows upon disobedience (Hebrews 12:6). Praise the Lord, that chastisement is itself demonstrative of our sonship! But we must never use the certainty of our spiritual standing to deny the serious affects of our sin upon our practical experience of that standing (Ephesians 4:29-30). The Lord continually guides His children’s gaze to that spiritual mirror He’s provided, the perfect law of liberty (James 1:25) while He keeps our eyes fixed on the One who fulfilled it (Hebrews 12:1-2). This law is the blueprint for our good works, works pleasing to our Father (James 1:27) and thus works which Christians love to do! The Christian heart cries out with the Psalmist: “Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” (Psalm 119:5).

    God does not “need” our good works, but He is glorified by them. A dad does not “need” his son’s loving obedience, but is it not reciprocally heart warming when it happens? And does the son’s disobedience not introduce difficulty within that unchangeable relationship? Further, is it not wonderful when someone observes the son’s obedient behavior and comments on how closely he resembles his father?

    Our Father calls us to make progress in our position as His children, to grow up in the everlasting life He has given us (Ephesians 5:1). The imperatives within Christianity are inextricably rooted in the indicatives of Christianity, and God’s grace is operative throughout (Philippians 2:12-13). Emphasis of one to the neglect of the other is hurtful to Christ’s sheep. It seems that Pastor T is indeed emphasizing the indicative (and should keep doing so!) but his emphasis is infected with an increasingly explicit mitigation of the importance of imperatives in our walk with the Lord.

    Christ’s hold on His sheep is unbreakable. And within that omnipotent grasp, He calls and causes us to grow in good works which serve our neighbors and which are the occasion for their glorifying our heavenly Father (Matthew 5:16).

  8. Gil Garcia December 15, 2012 at 7:14 pm #

    ‎”So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’” – Luke 17:10

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