When I was growing up, our church would designate the fifth Sunday of the month as Gospel Sunday. Structured with the unbeliever in mind, every aspect of the church's liturgy was stripped to its lowest religious denomination. Song lyrics would be filtered through the contemporary worldly thesaurus to ensure that no "thees" or "thous" or "eres" would befuddle the unsaved. The pastor would ensure that esoteric books such as Leviticus and Amos would be kept in abeyance while the more "evangelistic" passages (John 3:16 being a prime example) would be repeatedly recited right throughout the service. Most fascinating was that the sermons on these Sundays were about the "Gospel." And only on these odd Sundays we would hear the sacrosanct word "Gospel" and its assorted vocabulary such as "grace," "faith," "sin," "redemption" and the "cross."
This is because for many the Gospel Sunday is for outsiders; the Gospel is just for unbelievers; it's essentially just your entry ticket into heaven. After which, you don't need to hear about grace anymore. All you need now is hear about are sermons about how to work on your marriages; how to reach the world for Christ; how to study the Scriptures for yourself; and how to be better ethical Christians. But is such a model of the Christian life Biblical? If you read the ethical demands of Scripture, they are intrinsically tied to the Gospel. Husbands, for instance in Eph. 5:25, are called to love their wives not in a fashion they see as fitting. But they are to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave his life for her. The Gospel, such as the death and sacrifice of Jesus Christ, ought to be at the cynosure of how a family operates. Similarly in Phil. 1:27 Paul encourages the Christians to conduct themselves "in a manner worthy of the Gospel." The Gospel is not just an insurance policy for us to get into heaven; it should be at the center of how we live.
This is where Tchividjian's latest book "One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World" is of such a valuable resource. Grace is not just a word we say when we want to speak to our non-Christian friend when we are sharing about the Gospel. Rather, grace is the essence of our existence; it's the bedrock that makes our relationship with God and each other a joy and not a chore; and it's the impetus of our carpe diem. Grace, as Tchivijian defines it, is God's "one way love." Our intuitions, our relationships and all our religious talks all tell us that God will only love us if we only are worthy. If only we could somehow merit God's favor, maybe he would wink kindly at us. But grace says God does not need carrot sticks to be snared; God doesn't require us to perform moral gymnastics to be our coach; He loves us with a grace that is "recklessly generous (and) uncomfortably promiscuous" (p. 33).
One of the book's most rewarding apexes is that Tchividjian is a contextual writer. He does not just transcribe words on paper. Rather, he takes some of the Bible's most glowing concepts about grace, lets them loose within our lives and allowing let them make a home run for our hearts. And he does this in two ways. First, Tchividjian is a stellar exegete of our life situations; he allows us to witness how grace transforms our relationships in our families, work places and churches. In so doing, Tchividjian rightfully eradicates the common misconception that grace is merely just a Gospel word for the unbeliever. Rather, grace if properly understood affects how we deal with God, each other, our family members, employers everyday in ways that are liberating and restful. Second, as with every good writer, Tchividjian does an excellent in stepping into the context of legalists and those who insist of soliciting God's favors with good deeds. Instead of setting up a strong person's argument where Tchividjian effortlessly knocks down every one who is skeptically of God's one way love, he gently steps into their shoes. With pastoral sensitivity, heartfelt stories and the wizened use of his own testimony, Tchividjian prods alongside of us to help us move from an "I-am-not-good-enough-to warrant-God's love" attitude into one that responds to God's one way love with faith and humility.
Before we launch into a critique of Tchivdjian's views, a word needs to be said about the man who holds the pen. Currently, Tchividjian serves as the senior pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale. "One Way Love" is his latest among his oeuvre of literature including the hugely popular "Jesus + Nothing = Everything" and "Glorious Ruin." Tchividjian is also the grandson of evangelist Dr. Billy Graham. Though he grew up in a Christian family with an incandescent heritage, Tchividjian went through a period of rebellion which he details in his book where he wrestled with legalism and grace for an extended period of time. Thus, this explains in part his passion in his writing about grace. So, what does Tchividjian bring to the table with regards to his deliberation about grace?
Grace in T-Shirt and Levi's 501
Central to the book's thesis is Tchividjian's proposition that grace is not just religious rhetoric that the preacher reserves for Gospel Sunday. Rather, grace is the elevator between heaven and earth. It is God's one way street where we can gain access to him. Grace is the job interviewer who is willing to look passed our spotted resume and giving us a second chance on a job we don't deserve. Yet, Tchividjian doesn't leave it there; for him, grace needs be incarnated into the lives we live. It needs to be donned with T-shirt and Levi's 501; it needs to be the accent of our speech and the glasses we see the world.
And in the seventh chapter of the book, Tchividjian gives us concrete examples of how grace affects us in terms of firstly our self-image. In a world where we are easily bombarded with images of super skinny models and muscular hunks, it is so easy to be so absorbed in our own self-image that we begin to loathe ourselves. Many Asian-American studies, for instance, have shown that most common cosmetic surgery among Asian Americans is double eyelid surgery. Amongst many young Asian Americas, there's a burgeoning discontent to accept God's design unique to each race; thus, in an effort to eradicate the Asian look, many have resorted to cosmetic surgery. What grace does is that it liberates us "to be okay with being okay" (p. 148). Grace and not cosmetic surgery makes us learn to accept who we are. .
Also, a dearth of grace is what takes the life support out of our marriages. Often, we have been very vocal and manipulative in forcing our spouses to high jump across impossible hoops in order that they might conform themselves to the images we have created for them. Our society encourages us not to respect our husbands until they have earned our respect. And our TV soaps teach us that if you can't get sexual satisfaction at home a little extra marital hanky panky wouldn't hurt. "We have," as Tchividjian so eloquently puts it, "use one another in the basest and most selfish ways: for our own self-aggrandizement" (p. 151). Grace is what makes us treat others as true human beings rather than just mere objects we can use to provide for us what we cannot provide for ourselves.
Grace is Not Single and She Shouldn't Be Treated as One
As much as we appreciate Tchividjian's emphasis on grace, what then is our responsibility? Sure, salvation is entirely by God's grace in the sense that we can never contribute anything to God's salvific act. But don't we need to appropriate such a grace in our lives through repentance and faith in Jesus as Lord? If this is the case, in a book that is 236-pages in length, why is repentance never discussed? In fact, after his discussion of Luke 7:36-39 where a woman came to weep before the feet of Jesus, Tchividjian goes as far as saying that repentance and a resolve to want to change are not necessary: "Note that we don't have any record of her saying like 'I'm sorry. I promise to live a reformed life from now on." We don't have a record of her saying anything at all! All we have a record of her doing is kissing his feet, washing them with her tears, and drying them with her hair. No promises to do better. No declarations of her own fidelity and determination to live a changed life" (p. 174). Being the grandson of Billy Graham who is never afraid to talk about sin and repentance, Tchividjian has fallen Texas miles away from the tree.
One could counter argue and say that this is a book primarily about God's grace and it not a full-fledged exposition of the Christian gospel. However, can grace be talked about in isolation from the rest of the Gospel? Grace is never single and it should never be treated as one. Grace by itself can only be salvific for those who accept it. And it can be eternally condemning to those who reject it. Jesus, as Simeon puts it, did not just come to see "the rising of many in Israel" (Luke 2:34). But by his same grace, Jesus has also come to cause the "falling of many in Israel." Grace may be God's one way road to us but if we choose not to meet him in repentance and surrender to His Lordship, the road will ultimately drop into the abyss called hell. This is why if we are called to preach the Gospel we are to preach it in its entirety. Every aspect of the Gospel - sin, wrath, judgment, grace, salvation, cross, death, resurrection, eternal life, hell, propitiation, redemption and glorification - all need to be judiciously weighted and expounded. Each of these terms is in marriage with each other; to elevate one at the expense of the others will cause us to tread on dangerous (and even heretical) ground.
Further, on an etymological front, one is a little nervous to define grace as God's one way love. In one sense, Tchividjian is right, the Bible is replete with examples of how God's love is unconditional. But on the other hand, God's love is far more complicated than that. There are also passages in the Bible such as Matt. 25:46, John 14:8 and James 4:8 where God's love is also contingent upon our response. Tchividjian would do well to read D. A. Carson's "The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God" (Crossway, 1999) to see how these tensions can be kept intact.
Though Tchividjian is to be congratulated for liberating grace out of being a word reserved for special occasions to being a lifestyle for all believers, the book still needs to be read with caution. Grace is an important component of the Gospel, but it is still part of a family of truths. In order to hear God's entire story of redemption, all members need to have a say, not just one.
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