Home > Media > Tullian Tchividjian on The White Horse Inn

Tullian Tchividjian on The White Horse Inn

I am several months behind on The White Horse Inn and lately I’ve been trying to catch up. I’d like to point readers to the first part of a recent two-parter [link], where host Michael Horton interviews Tullian Tchividjian as part of the latter’s book tour.

This episode is notable because it is one of the rare instances where Reformed types actually talk about sanctification. If I had to make a list of the reasons I’m not Reformed, it would go something like this: contemporary Reformed types have an explanation of sanctification, even a theology of sanctification, but none of them actually have seemed to have experienced it.

As I listen to the exchange here, it sounds to me like host and guest agree that sanctification is a matter of stopping certain sins, as if that were the sum total of sanctification. Tchividjian is one of the rare Reformed types who will countenance the Pauline phrase “work out your salvation with fear and trembling,” but then both of them dive down the usual Reformed rabbit hole of reclassifying this working out until it is unrecognizable.

I will admit that I come to discussions of sanctification with the taint of some kind of Holiness perspective that suggests that “justification is God’s work; sanctification is ours” and the notion that sanctification results in a person having victory over particular sins and becoming in some quantitative sense less sinful. And I tend to hear Horton and Tchividjian reacting to that perspective. But neither that perspective nor its opposite is right, and I don’t understand why these two don’t sound like they understand that. They sound to me like they’re following the usual pattern of setting up a straw man with beliefs no one actually has, knocking it over, and putting nothing in its place.

Also: perhaps I’m mishearing, but it sounds to me like to every spiritual problem Tchividjian proposes a solution that involves buying a book he’s written, is writing, or is planning to write. It might lead one to wonder if there was such a thing as Christianity before the invention of movable type.

  1. Vince
    September 13, 2011 at 8:57 am

    “If I had to make a list of the reasons I’m not Reformed, it would go something like this: contemporary Reformed types have an explanation of sanctification, even a theology of sanctification, but none of them actually have seemed to have experienced it.”

    With all due respect Mike, If I had to make a list of the reasons you are not Reformed, it would go something like this: (1) you lack a fundamental knowledge of what Reformed theology stands for, and (2) your preconceived bias, including unsupported statements like that, cloud any objective consideration of the subject.

    I would personally fall into the category of the “contemporary Reformed type” and to suggest that “Reformed types” have not “experienced” sanctification is scornful in my opinion. Further, I highly doubt that you would assign such accusations to the likes of Luther, Spurgeon, or even Tullian’s predecessor, Dr. D. James Kennedy (all “Reformed types”).

    • September 13, 2011 at 9:45 am

      Thanks for your analysis, Vince.

      Please note I’m not interested in dead Reformed types; I can’t see how they behave or hear how they talk from day to day. And, in the context of what I’m getting at above, I’m not overly interested in what living Reformed types believe.

      When I am tempted by round readings of John and Paul that stress the strengths of Reformed Theology I’m tempted to cross over and join you. But when I look for any indication that all that great theology leads to any real sanctification, any good works, etc. I can’t help but reach the conclusion that Reformed theology is pretty sterile; it’s a great thing to do with your head, but it doesn’t do anything to transform the soul, let alone actually lead to any positive beneficial change.

      When I hear as I often do Reformed types claiming loudly “theology matters” I am led to suspect that it doesn’t. Why it doesn’t I don’t know.

  2. Vince
    September 13, 2011 at 12:13 pm


    You can’t see how Tullian, Chandler, or Driscoll behave or talk from day to day either; yet, that has never prevented you from criticizing their ministries and/or their motives. Further, if you are “not overly interested in what living Reformed types believe,” then why do take so many opportunities to try and discredit them?

    I am, however, pleased to read that when you read the Bible, you find that the writings actually strengthen the Reformed position. And as far as looking for an indication of sanctification in a Reformed Christian’s life, my question is: How many Reformed Christians do you associate with on a regular basis to reach that conclusion?

    Lastly, to address some of you other conslusions:

    “Reformed theology is pretty sterile” – FALSE; In Santa Fe alone, we are seeing consistent salvations and baptisms on a regular basis.

    “it doesn’t do anything to transform the soul” – FALSE; I am living proof of the transformation that occurs when worshipping a God that is more powerful, loving, and graceful than the reactive Arminian God that simply responds to our stimulus.

    “[it does not] lead to any positive beneficial change” – FALSE; Once again, I am living proof. Thanks to the Gospel-centered approach that Reformed theology promotes, I am a better husband, ministry leader, and employee, to praise of His glorious grace!

    “I am led to supect that it [theology] doesn’t [matter to Reformed types]” – FALSE; We love theology! In fact, it is because we love theology that we choose to simply take the words of Scripture at face value, without regards for what WE think or how WE feel. In fact, I would suggest that the conversion from Arminianism or Calminianism to the Reformed side actually occurs when an individual, such as yourself, reaches the conclusion that theology does really matter.

    God bless!

    • September 13, 2011 at 8:53 pm

      Vince —

      Thanks again for stopping by.

      Thanks for your questions above. Let me see if I can be more clear here. You and I come from somewhat similar backgrounds, having spent time both at Liberty and at a Calvary Chapel. You’re on board with the Acts 29 thing; I’m not. At the risk of putting words in your mouth, I would guess that like a lot of Young, Restless, and Reformed folks you see Reformed theology as being the solution to what is ailing contemporary Evangelical Christianity. I’m not so sure, and I’m looking for some (any) indication that that’s true.

      One of the things I’m looking for in YRR folks is some sign of spiritual maturity. It’s great to get excited about theology, but not if it doesn’t lead to spiritual maturity. It’s great to have lots of salvations and baptisms. I’ll say here what I’ve said before: get back to me when you’ve been in A29 for twenty years and weathered a crisis or two. In the meantime I’ll reserve the right to have my doubts that Acts 29 is anything qualitatively better than say Calvary Chapel or Sovereign Grace Ministries.

      When I listen to The White Horse Inn I hear more or less the same argument week after week, and it goes something like this: contemporary American Evangelical Christianity is a mess, and Reformed theology is the cure. And sadly, I hear more and more of the former and not so much of the latter. I’m listening to hear *how* Reformed theology is the cure. Is it a fuller theology? Does it make more or better sense of Scripture? Does it produce Christians who are more Christ-like? Does it have a real pneumatology? And so far what I’m hearing is middling; the guys at the White Horse Inn talk a lot about Law and Gospel, but not much about love or the Holy Spirit. Which is odd, because Paul talked a fair amount about both.

      To return to my comments at the top of the page, I was genuinely surprised to hear any discussion about sanctification on The White Horse Inn, because they so rarely mention it. And as I understand Paul he talked a lot about sanctification. He talked a lot about righteous living after salvation. And I’m baffled that the guys at the White Horse Inn talk about it so little.

      It’s funny you should mention Driscoll; I’m puzzled in particular by him. He seems to be a strong personality, and have strong opinions, and be great at running an organization, and so forth. But I was puzzled when he made his recent comments about “effeminate worship leaders.” I would have expected a mature Christian to have admitted that making that comment was sinful, explained how it was sinful, apologized, and repented. Did Driscoll do any of that? I saw him make some comments where he promised to write a book about gender issues in the Church, but I didn’t hear anything that actually sounded like spiritual maturity. Perhaps he did and I missed it. Did you happen to see it?

  3. Vince
    September 14, 2011 at 9:08 am


    Anyone who suggests that a movement, organization, or network is the cure for Evangelical Christianity is mistaken, and I personally would not contend that Reformed theology is the cure either. Based upon your reply, I think you and I would both agree that the cure is legitimate transformation resulting from sanctification. It was Piper that warned: “My caution concerns making theology God instead of God God – loving doing theology rather than loving God.” I completely agree that such a danger exists and that it can result in theological knowledge without personal transformation. In fact, I would argue that is the very problem I encountered in the churches I previously attended.

    “I can read Greek.”

    “I can write Hebrew.”

    “I know the difference between exegesis and eisegesis.”

    “I know what the scorpions represent in the book of Revelation.”

    Who cares? None of that encourages me to be a better man, a better husband, a better father, a closer follower of Christ. Again, it’s simply information without transformation.

    With regards to A29, I disagree that we need to “weather a crisis or two” to substantiate the spiritual growth that is taking place throughout the network. I can tell you that Blaze has weathered more than a crisis or two in the past year alone and that has not kept the work of God from moving forward in Santa Fe.

    As far as your questions, my advice is that if you want to answer a question like: Does it [Reformed theology] produce Christians who are more Christ-like? – then find and fellowship with some Christians of the sort and make your conclusion at that point. Listening to topical interviews and 5-minute clips taken out of context is not enough to do so.

    Lastly, to clarify some things regarding A29 organizational structure: Mark Driscoll does not run A29. Driscoll is the Preaching and Vision Pastor for Mars Hill Church and the Founder and Lead Visionary for A29. A29 is run by a Board that includes President Scott Thomas, VP Darrin Patrick, Board Member Matt Chandler, and others.

    And as far as his “effeminate worship” comment, I can tell you that Driscoll picks on plenty of other men, including machismo men who abuse their wives and children, and don’t lead their families well. But since you brought it up, I’m curious. Have you ever witnessed an effeminate man leading worship anywhere? And if so, where is the sin in calling a spade a spade?

    Thanks again for allowing the discussion Mike. God bless!

    • September 14, 2011 at 9:52 am

      Let me try to put more of a point on this. Nine or ten years ago I think I would have made some fairly firm statements about my confidence in Calvary Chapel, not dissimilar from what you’re saying here about A29. I don’t think I’d make those same statements today. It is great to have boards, standards, and practices in place, but you don’t really find out what good they’ll do until they weather a crisis. I might look at what SGM is going through now as an example.

      I do appreciate your sharing your perspective here. I have friends that attend Blaze, and we discuss it from time to time, but it always helps to hear more and different voices.

      I wish you guys well; not a lot of good came out of the Calvary Chapel mess a few years ago, but I have high hopes for you guys.

  4. Vince
    September 14, 2011 at 1:23 pm

    I appreciate that. God bless.

  5. terriergal
    October 16, 2011 at 3:44 pm

    “But neither that perspective nor its opposite is right, and I don’t understand why these two don’t sound like they understand that.”

    Because they aren’t at the opposite. Antinomianism is the opposite error from legalism (although I agree with Tullian that antinomianism is just another form of legalism). The gospel is the center of the narrow path.

    • October 18, 2011 at 12:40 pm

      I think what I would have to say here, though, is that while sanctification isn’t Antinomianism, and it isn’t legalism, it needs to be defined positively, and not just not those two things. I thought his presentation here was pretty shallow, but I chalked it up to the limitations of the format.

  6. terriergal
    October 16, 2011 at 3:51 pm

    An article that might shed a little light on why someone like Tullian and Horton say what they say.

    Legalism and License

    Both come from the same error. Both come from looking at our performance as some measure of sanctification. The more sanctified I am the less I worry about myself and the more I focus on Christ. I cannot become conformed to Christ by focusing on myself and my performance. It seems counterintuitive only if you are in fact too caught up in performance based (law based) religion where I can check off a checklist to see if I’m making progress in my being pleasing to God. Surprise, I am never pleasing to God by my performance. Only in Christ. In him even the pathetic good works I do are seen as if Christ did them. He pleased God by just making a woodworking project, or walking down the road. On my behalf, he did this, and for God’s glory, he did this.

    Now, if I’m willing to just run willy nilly and do whatever gross sins KNOWING this well, then I’m just lying about the idea that I love him. Not much you can do about that. You could teach those folks to organize their behavior with the threat of “if you don’t then X” but in that case you’ll just be teaching false converts to pretend better at being Christians.

    If I’m lying about loving him, then I am unregenerate. And what is it that converts the unregenerate heart? The law rightly taught (not as a means to sanctification) and then the precious gospel. So in any case, the gospel is what creates life in a dead heart and sustains life in the regenerate heart.

    • October 18, 2011 at 12:57 pm

      Thanks for posting this link. I think this is a prime example of what’s wrong with the Reformed discussion of sanctification. There are a couple of convenient straw men, a bunch of theological terms, a simplistic answer that appeals to comfortable categories, but the author never deals with the obvious question(s): what is repentance, how do you do it, and how does that differ from practicing legalism?

      It might help if Wilken referred to some actual examples of anyone who believes what he’s setting up as a straw man here, but that would just be a start at fixing what’s wrong here. I hear Reformed types (and other conservative speakers) appealing to a fictitious opponent who honestly believes that he can avoid sinning for one second, etc. but I don’t know anybody who actually believes that.

  1. September 15, 2011 at 9:30 pm

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