Tullian Tchvidjian’s book, Surprised by Grace “took us by surprise” as we read his passionate statements regarding God’s relentless pursuit of His lost image-bearers. That is because Tullian, the grandson of Billy Graham, resides on the other side of his grandfather’s theological tradition of free-will and has embraced the Calvinist God of predestination and absolute sovereignty. His theology would limit the application and scope of Christ’s salvation to a few chosen or “elect.”
However, his book does not reflect that perspective as he lays aside the theological boundaries of the Reformed tradition and lets God’s universal love for the lost rip through the pages of his book on Jonah! Occasionally he stops and qualifies his universal “all without exception” statements and reminds the reader that only some are predestined to reach God’s ultimate kingdom. He tries to explain that God loves “all without distinction” meaning that even though He chooses only some of mankind to be saved from an eternal hell He does so by electing them from every ethnic group. This is Tchividjian’s way of defining “all the world.” Yet he is inconsistent and continually flip-flops between defining the world as “all without exception” and “all without distinction”.
Theologically Tullian is not supposed to imply that God loves all people without exception. He is required as a Calvinist to put qualifications on what he means by “all.” But we are grateful that Tullian appears to be following the inclination of his redeemed heart. He often profoundly trumps his few exclusive statements with the glorious all-inclusive message of the gospel known as the Greater Hope, Ultimate Restoration or Christian Universalism.
Following suit with his ‘mentor’ Tim Keller, Tullian presents a radical, all-encompassing grace of God that pursues sinners to the ends of the earth to save them.
Let his presentation of the gospel through the story of Jonah fill your heart with wonder, awe and power to live a life more devoted to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ:
“What is redemption? In the biggest sense, it’s God’s arrangement to reverse the curse of sin and to renew all things–to restore creation, not destroy it. God is on a mission to reclaim and replenish his corrupted territory. ‘Behold.’ he says, ‘I am making all things new’ (Rev 21:5). God created both the physical and the spiritual, and he’s going to redeem both the physical and the spiritual.” (pg 131)
“In Jesus, God is at work regaining, restoring, and extending all that Adam ruined and forfeited by his disobedience. Christianity is about Christ making everything sad come untrue, straightening out everything that’s crooked, and correcting every injustice. As the second Adam (1 Cor 15:46-47), Christ achieves for us no less than what the first Adam enjoyed, and much more. He came to succeed where the first Adam failed. We won’t simply go back to the perfect garden; we’ll enjoy a whole new incorruptible world.” (pg 133)
“God’s closing remarks to Jonah about ‘much cattle’ are a reminder that this world belongs to God, and he’s in the process of gaining it all back, not giving it all up.” (pg 133)
“Because of [Christ], every human problem will someday come to an end.” (pg 34)
“God’s mercy is massive. This storm tells us that God spares no expense in going after those who run away…The supreme example of this massive mercy is Jesus. The incarnation of Christ tells us most emphatically how God spares nothing in going after those who run away.” (emphasis his, pg 52)
“Jesus is the storm” … “God’s grace is so massive that it tracks down both types of sinners..the lawbreakers and the law-keepers, the moral and the immoral, the good and the bad…Whenever we try running from God, he’s committed to making our lives miserable–for our sakes. And so often, he’ll use some kind of storm to do it, not to punish but to mercifully intervene. Until we see God-sent storms as interventions and not punishments, we’ll never get better; we’ll only get bitter.” (pg 57)
“Nothing can make injustice just but mercy.” (178) (quoting Robert Frost)
Read the entire book for a beautiful journey into the relentless love of God!
The astonishing thing is that this message does not just resonate with us but with a host of evangelicals who also love the message and yet, like Tchividjian, do not seem to see the glaring inconsistency of these theological statements with their prescribed Reformed theology. This book was endorsed by Jerry Bridges, Sally Lloyd-Jones, Randy Alcorn, Josh Harris, Kevin DeYoung, Paul Tripp, Bryan Chapell, Ray Ortland, Scotty Smith, Elyse Fitzpatrick, Tremper Longman and Michael Horton!! It is immensely refreshing and encouraging to see that theologians recognize good news when they hear it! It’s simply their hearts embracing truth that resonates before their minds can inform them of their contradiction.
Tullian recognizes that Jonah is a story pointing to Christ as the obedient missionary making this story ultimately about God and not Jonah. Jesus came to earth “for the joy set before him,” not out of coercion. For Jonah, “his vision of God’s mercy was still narrow.” (pg 117) He wanted to run from his enemies and limit salvation. Jesus, “the one greater than Jonah”, came gladly to love and die for all his enemies even “making all things new”.
Here is a humbling statement by Tullian for us all to ponder as we end this post:
“…true faith–for Jonah and for all of us–always carries the dynamics of more to learn and more to be surprised by. That’s because true faith brings us to a better and closer view of God’s character, and his character is so different from ours that an ever-closer view of it will never cease to astonish us. No one, not even an obedient and successful prophet, can ever have God fully scoped out.”
We say a hearty “AMEN” to that!
Check out more radical all-inclusive grace from Tchividjian found in his book Jesus+Nothing=Everything!
Update 1/7/14: Just read Tullian’s newest book, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World released in 2013. Amazing.