Intellectual Virtues and Tullian Tchividjian’s New Job

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In terms of a theology of the Christian life, I’m not particularly a fan of Tullian Tchividjian. I don’t think he articulates well how grace and obedience relate under the new covenant and wouldn’t recommend his books as resources. I don’t think he’s a heretic, or that he teaches full blown antinomianism. I am however a fan of his preaching, and after he preached one weekend when we were at The Village, I completely understand why he has such a following.

I am going to assume you’re loosely familiar with the ways he has made the news in the last few months. He resigned from Coral Ridge because of adultery, both on his and his wife’s part, the sequence of events not being relevant (for what I’m writing about). Then you probably saw a few weeks back that he is getting divorced. There is much more to the whole story, especially when you throw Paul Tripp’s involvement into the mix. But again, details are not relevant for the point I’d like to make.

I’m more interested in the response to Tchividjian being hired by Willow Creek PCA. This happens to be a local church for us (in good old Winter Springs), and we have friends that go there. I know the associate pastor (via Starbucks) and even applied for a youth pastor position there a while back. It’s a decent sized church. Not a mega church by American standards, but not necessarily a small church either.

Somewhat predictably, within the Reformed evangelical neck of the woods there was not a positive response to Tchividjian’s hiring. As a representative sample, consider the posts at Mortification of Spin by Todd Pruitt and my favorite, by Carl Trueman. Tullian has been a favorite whipping boy of Carl’s for a while, so like I said, I could almost guess the response before reading it.

While there is wisdom in warning against restoring a pastor to ministry too soon, there are also a clear lack of intellectual carefulness in assessing the situation and then passing judgment. I think I noticed this because of teaching a new class I’m teaching at school called Creative Problem Solving. Really, it’s a class on critical thinking and as part of our foundational section, we’ve been covering the intellectual virtues. I’ve found Philip Dow’s book Virtuous Minds to be particularly helpful. There, he defines intellectual carefulness as follows:

Those who are intellectually careful earnestly want to know the truth and so consistently make sure not to rush to hasty conclusions based on limited evidence. They are patient and diligent in their thinking, careful that they do not overlook important details (34).

Given this definition, the opposing vice would be intellectual hastiness. Returning back to Trueman, here is the first part of his final paragraph:

No one begrudges a man the chance to earn a living.  Further, I doubt that WillowCreek PCA has done anything wrong at a technical level with regard to the PCA’s Book of Church Order.  Tchividjian has been defrocked and has not been restored to ordained office.  Morally, however, the situation is this: a man deemed unfit to hold teaching office just three weeks ago is now occupying a position of teaching influence in the same denomination.  Maybe not illegal, but certainly irresponsible towards both him and those he will influence.  At the very minimum it is also most discourteous towards the Presbytery which acted to remove him and whose informed judgment in the matter has been for all practical purposes rejected.

His points here would be valid, if his underlying information were accurate. However, it’s not.

For one, he does not now hold a position of teaching influence within the PCA. One might guess that’s what his job entails simply from the title on the church’s website, but then again, that’s just guessing. The title “Director of Ministry Development” is ambiguous for sure, but an intellectual careful response wouldn’t assume what the job description is in absence of more details. If you were curious what exactly this job title entailed, you might do well to ask the pastor of the church.

In addition, Trueman presumes to know that this hiring was either circumventing the South Florida Presbytery’s censure, or directly flaunting it. Rather, it seems that there was a clear transfer of Tchividjian’s care at work (see previous link). Trueman might be assuming, based on his previous erroneous assumption of the nature of the job, that a church couldn’t possibly hire Tchividjian without rejecting the South Florida Prebytery’s decision. But then again, that is the lack of carefulness compounding itself.

Elsewhere, I’ve seen people have either directly lament Tchividjian being restored to ministry too soon, or indirectly pointing out how unwise such a thing would be. However, this rests on the wrong assumption that this constitutes restoration to ministry. Likewise, it may be assuming that this hiring is celebrity driven. It overlooks the fact that this was Tchividjian’s old church home during his time at RTS Orlando and that he has had an on-going relationship with members there during his pastorate at Coral Ridge. It also confuses a church staff position with being a minister, and again, assumes too much about what the job entails (again, see previous link).

Speaking too soon and too authoritatively without enough information also fails to display intellectual humility. Many people don’t really need to comment on this situation one way or the other. Many people also aren’t making much of an effort to understand all the information. Many people do not have intellectual virtues when it comes to how they analyze a situation like this, and so once again, we have a lot of sound and noise on Twitter, but most of it signifying nothing.

In the past, I’ve certainly been guilty of contributing to the noise. But, as I’m studying the intellectual virtues more, I’m finding myself drawn to recommitting myself to not only thinking critically, but thinking carefully. It’s easy to rush to judgment. It’s much harder to hold a tentative opinion until you’ve gather the necessary facts to draw sound conclusions. I’d like to pursue more growth in this area myself and I hope you’re interested in doing the same.

Author: Nate

I'm an avid reader, musician, and high school Bible teacher living in central Florida. I have many paperback books and our house smells of rich glade air freshners. If you want to know more, then let's connect!

8 thoughts on “Intellectual Virtues and Tullian Tchividjian’s New Job”

    1. You can find the website at nathanielclaiborne.com/classes although it won’t really show how I teach it. It does show how the first few weeks went.

  1. I am going to try to be as brief as possible. According to I Tim. 3:1-13, Paul describes the two offices of the church, overseer and deacon. Unlike our day which has a plethora of distinctions in church leadership, it is most probable that these were the only two known offices to Paul and the church (If there was another distinct one I am confident that Paul would have also given a list of qualifications). They are leadership in spiritual issues and leadership in physical issues. In both cases, “blamelessness” is a fundamental characteristic of BOTH offices (3:2, 10). Moreover, both offices require blamelessness in the area of leadership in their respective homes (3:5, 12). Thus, it is most probable and most fair to assume that Paul had in these descriptions all leadership of the church in view. I think that you are splitting hairs when you say that we are not sure what “Director of Ministry Development entails.” The reality is that he is taking a leadership role in the church, i.e. “director.” A director exercises leadership in whatever area that he is given oversight, unless we are going to stop using “director” in its traditional linguistic sense. Based upon Paul’s description I have full confidence to say that Paul would be among the dissenter’s right there with Trueman voicing his disagreement.

    1. I think you might be right that Paul would dissent to TT’s hiring. However, I’m more concerned with why people reacted, not ultimately whether or not he should have been hired. Also, I don’t think that because TT would be overseeing some aspect of the church’s administrative functions he should have to have the qualifications of an “overseer” which is the office of elder/bishop, something he won’t be in his new church. It’s not splitting hairs to say people aren’t sure that Director of Ministry Development entails because the church website doesn’t say and so most people spoke in ignorance on the matter. You’re right to highlight the “director” aspect of it, but it makes a pretty big difference whether TT is overseeing the development of particular leaders in the church or whether he is overseeing the staffing of the nursery workers.

  2. I am truly at a loss to understand the continued need for debating, arguing, judging and condemning this man and the church leaders who accepted him. The man is in the position at Willow now, is he not? Why do you think that debating/arguing over the propriety of his being there is in any way Christ-like or even cultivating?

    Step back, the continued debate over his position title (and the propriety of him being in it) serves only to reinforce a title of “adulterer” and a “sinner.” You are ignoring the fact that this man sought forgiveness with a humble heart. Those who have hired him have confidence that he has reconciled with Christ and is healing. They accepted him unanimously. So why are you not affording deference to them? Aren’t we obligated to do so? Questioning church leaders, criticizing church leaders, debating intricacies of church rules as they apply here misses the point: our forgiving God has a mission for all repentant sinners.

    People, don’t forget Peter, the rock upon which Christ built the church. Before he was crucified, Peter betrayed Jesus three times by denying he knew him. When Christ returned, he asked Peter–three times–Do you love me? Each time Peter gave his heartfelt “yes,” Jesus gave him charge to do important tasks that are the foundation of our church: feed and care for lambs/sheep (i.e., Peter was to reach out to all Christians and teach, love and care for them as a shepherd would). Moreover, Peter wrote key portions of the Bible. Yes, Peter endured 40 days of struggle. Certainly this man has had, and will continue to have, his own struggles. Should that keep him from working at the church? Absolutely not! If Jesus placed Peter (the man who denied him three times) in a central role, why would he not restore this man to this position?

    I think we need to spend time reflecting on this issue as a very simple teaching lesson: God uses all things, even our mistakes, for our good and the good of his church. Don’t think for one moment that the mistakes made by the couple here won’t be used in a way to shape them over time, albeit in painful ways, into who God wants them to be. Moreover, don’t think that God won’t use this for the benefit of the church. This man has the ability to develop ministries that are needed in a hurting world, something God is far more concerned about than our judgmental opinions on whether “this or that” should have/should not have been done.

    There are lost, hurting souls in this world. We, as his brother/sister in Christ, must encourage him and pray for him in this position. We also must pray for him and his family, particularly his children.

    Finally, strive to be like Christ in all ways. Remember Jesus at the Temple: He debated only so long ….

      1. Nate,

        My comment was directed at the former comment. I thought I hit reply.

        Regardless, I appreciate that you read my comment and found that “in the time it took me to write my comment” I could “have actually read your article.”

        Even though we kind of see things the same, the irony is this: continuing to post things like this is affording a forum for people to throw Tullian and church leaders under the bus. The man is in the office now; the church leaders are settled on the decision. Ongoing criticism is being fostered here, not to mention the highlighting of Tullian’s forgiven sin. Move on!

        1. Gretchen,

          That does make more sense, but it did come through as a comment on the article and seemed to have little to do with the substance, which made it seem that you hadn’t read it. I apologize for my harshness now in realizing you were talking to Tim. However, I doubt that I am actually fostering criticism or highlighting his sin based on what I had to say about it all which neither debated the validity of his hiring or went into detail about what he did that led to leaving Coral Ridge.

          Nate

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