Tullian Tchividjian posted an apology of sorts on his website Saturday, May 31 for publicly exposing the manner in which he was removed from The Gospel Coalition by Don Carson, Tim Keller and Ben Peays its Executive Director.
A little background. On May 21, Tim Keller and Don Carson posted "On Recent Changes at TGC" Their statement included the following.
In Tullian’s case, it was obvious to observers that for some time there has been an increasingly strident debate going on around the issue of sanctification. The differences were doctrinal and probably even more matters of pastoral practice and wisdom. Recently it became clear that the dispute was becoming increasingly sharp and divisive rather than moving toward greater unity. Earlier in the year our executive director spent two days with Tullian in Florida. Coming out of that meeting, it was decided that Tullian would move his blog. Finally the Council at its meeting last week decided that Tullian should move his blog immediately, and we communicated this conclusion to Tullian.
Two days later on May 23, Tullian made the following comments to The Christian Post in “Tullian Tchividjian Pushes Back Against Tim Keller, DA Carson’s Gospel Coalition Statement on His Exit.”
Tullian Tchividjian says D. A. Carson and Tim Keller’s claims about how his departure from The Gospel Coalition transpired are misleading and a “flat-out lie.”
“I told Ben Peays this last night. I called him and I told him, ‘That statement’s misleading and you know it,’” said Tchividjian, “... The way the statement read, it was as if he came down to Fort Lauderdale to talk with me on behalf of the coalition regarding the theological issue that they were having with me. That is categorically false.”
Tchividjian countered, “No one ever said anything to me from the Gospel Coalition staff, not Don Carson, Tim Keller, the president, the vice president, no one from the Gospel Coalition ever even uttered a word about concern, which is why, when I was told ‘You need to go immediately,’ I was shocked.”
In his apology yesterday, Tullian does not retract his statement about the “flat-out lie” or “categorically false” misrepresentation given by these men. He does apologize to Tim Keller when he says, “The thought that I said anything at all that would hurt Tim or call anything about him into question makes me both sad and sick.” He does not apologize to Carson or Peays for anything.
Why is this the case? If I had to guess Carson and Peays are responsible for the big fat lie not Keller. I think it likely their statement “On Recent Changes at TGC” went out under Keller’s name for the added clout but not with his approval. I could be wrong.
So three questions remain that must be answered. First, “Does the statement contain lies?” Second, “Who lied then?” Third, “Did Keller read, write or approve the May 21 statement?”
Here’s the problem, I doubt these question will ever be answered. If history is our guide, there will be no honesty, openness, or accountability provided by the Council Members at TGC in the matter. It will be swept under the rug. You will never know if Keller or Carson or Peays are guilty of deception.
This is so hypocritical. Keller, Carson, and Peays would never allow one of their church members to put out a deceptive statement that contained a “big fat lie” and “categorically false” accusations to the evangelical world without demanding the congregant publicly ask forgiveness under the warning of church discipline.
As in Mahaney’s case, I’m afraid these men are above the rules applied to ordinary sheep. Only the shepherds can get away with this kind of hypocrisy in the name of maintaining church unity for the sake of the gospel so the watching world doesn’t become critical.
It is this fake unity, this pretended unity, this cowardly unity that opens the church to mockery. It is not the kind of unity taught by Jesus. Unity is built upon truth and sanctity, not lies and hypocrisy according to the Savior (John 17:17-19). Jesus exposed leaders, error, and corruption in Judaism and the Church (Rev 2-3). Evangelicals largely cover it up when it comes to their celebrity leaders.
If Keller, Carson, Peays lied, they need to be held accountable. If Tchividjian lied about their lie, he needs to be held accountable. This accountability must be public because the sin was public and against the public. Keller, Carson and Peays didn’t just lie about Tchividjian. They lied to everyone who read their comments. Or, Tchividjian lied.
The evangelical cover up for Mahaney has done GREAT harm to the church and it will only get worse unless men like Keller, Carson and Peays speak out. Mahaney is the mastermind behind a 30 years conspiracy to protect predators despite his self-absolution. NO ONE in the know is absolving him including his brother in law, Grant Layman. That was clear in the Nathaniel Morales trial (May 12-15) and the David Tapia Jr. trial (May 19-20). The same is true for prosecutors, detectives, lawyers, victims, witnesses and the Covenant Life pastors including Joshua Harris.
The evidence against C.J. is so strong it is rather like the testimony of Creation in Romans 1. It cannot be denied, it can only be suppressed in unrighteous by evangelical leaders unwilling to accept the evidence. It is remarkable that C.J. is still held out as a celebrated preacher at upcoming and well-known conferences.
The only verse used by most evangelical leaders when it comes to disciplining fellow leaders is this one. “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses” (1 Tim 5:19). That verse is highlighted and underlined in their Bibles. But what about verse 20. “As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” When was the last time you saw this verse applied?
Thirty churches left Sovereign Grace Ministries in large measure because of C.J.’s deceit and abusive leadership. That includes his previous home church, Covenant Life Church, where he was the senior pastor for 25 years. C.J. has persisted in sin for a long time yet no one is willing to rebuke him.
Remember, the Council Members at The Gospel Coalition have largely endorsed C.J. Mahaney and none of them have spoken out in public. Except for Tullian on May 23, no one has raised concerns for Mahaney in public to the best of my knowledge.
But what is worse, Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung and Justin Taylor radically defended Mahaney and absolved him of all wrong-doing in the conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse in Covenant Life Church and Sovereign Grace Ministries. They dismissed every bit of evidence in the Second Amended Complaint (i.e. lawsuit) and even after the conviction of Nathaniel Morales and the incriminating testimony of Grant Layman have yet to make a statement that their defense of Mahaney missed the mark. It stands. Moreover, they have yet to contact me to hear additional evidence despite numerous appeals
Getting back to the original subject. It comes down to this - either Tullian needs to ask forgiveness for bringing such serious charges against Keller, Carson, and Peays because they are unfounded or these men need to ask forgiveness for their deceit. Not only of Tullian but of the evangelical church whom they represent and to whom they wrote.
All this aside, I need to offer some constructive criticism regarding Tullian’s apology. Here’s what he says in his opening statement.
First, I want to say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for saying things in my own defense. One of the things that the gospel frees you to do is to never have to bear the burden of defending yourself. Defending the gospel is one thing. But when a defense of the gospel becomes a defense of yourself, you’ve slipped back under “a yoke of slavery.”
A little later he says,
When you feel the need to respond to criticism, it reveals how much you’ve built your identity on being right. I’m an idolater and that came out last week. Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose…and last week I fought to win.
I am not impressed with Tullian’s theological explanation for his apology. Actually, I am concerned.
First, I agree that we should all be open to the ordinary criticism we receive from parents, pastors, teachers, bosses, friends, coaches, et al. That is a mark of humility. Sometimes we are wrong. Sometimes we need wisdom. Sometimes we have blind spots. We don’t have to sinfully react against those trying to help us and we should always weight this kind of input.
Second, however, if someone is pressing “criticisms” that are really false accusations then we must respond in an honest and candid fashion. This is so important. Christians must feel free to disagree if they feel wrongly accused. It is not spiritual to remain silent and allow others to potentially abuse you or lord it over you. It is even worse to pretend a confession to avoid conflict. No one should think they are being an “idolater” for being honest and repelling false accusations.
Third, it is not wrong to defend ourselves in public. I’ve begged C.J. to defend himself in public countless times over the last 4½ years. That is his right and that is biblical. If my charges are nothing but slander he MUST be afforded the opportunity to defend himself. In so doing, he is not de facto being proud. He has never been willing to defend himself.
Because of bad theology, so many Christians believe it is wrong to defend themselves and call others to account. But that is just pacifism and it allows for the triumph of evil. We should always expose error and defend the truth and not just gospel truth.
Such efforts are not done out of pride or the love of reputation. They are done out of the love of God knowing he hates lying, injustice, oppression, evil doing, etc. Nor are they done recklessly. There are proper protocols to follow.
On this point, Tullian may be a fault. It appears he did not follow step two in Matthew 18:15-17. He followed step one when he called Peays’ to confront him after the “On Some Recent Changes at TGC” came out on May 21 but it is not apparent he followed step two. That is taking “two or three” others to correct Keller, Carson and Peays. If true, then he should ask forgiveness for not taking the proper steps.
If his charges are just and they remain unrepentant, however, he is obligated to take step three and use a public forum to tell the church since these men used a public forum to slander him and mislead the evangelical church. That is not being “divisive” and it might cost him his church or ministry but that is the price we pay for obeying God.
Personally, I don’t think his charges are unfounded because he doesn’t withdraws his charges. Tullian does not ask forgiveness for making false accusations in his apology. I think he would if guilty of libeling Carson, Keller or Peays.
But let me continue. I disagree with Tullian’s logic where he separates defending the gospel from defending yourself. So often the two go hand in hand. For example, Paul the apostle defends himself throughout 2 Corinthians. Why? Because the slanderous attacks on him were intended to destroy his credibility in order to undermine the gospel he preached. The same was true of Jesus. He constantly defended himself against the accusations of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Let me illustrate. If someone tells all your colleagues at work that you are hateful or homophobic because you believe homosexuality is a perversion, are you not to defend yourself against such accusations for the sake of the truth? In so doing, you are not slipping “back under ‘a yoke of slavery.’” Galatians 5:1 is about legalism, not about defending yourself against slanderous attacks.
Paul continuously defended against slanderous attacks upon his person and misrepresentations of his doctrine. For example, “And why not say (as we are slanderously reported and as some claim that we say, ‘Let us do evil that good may come.’ Their condemnation is just.” (Rom 3:8) He goes on to correct this slander of his doctrine which was intended to destroy his credibility.
That’s why Paul would not agree with “When you feel the need to respond to criticism, it reveals how much you’ve built your identity on being right. I’m an idolater and that came out last week. Because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose…and last week I fought to win.” Tullian’s motive or attitude last week may have been wrong, but it is not wrong to respond to “criticism.” Not speaking up against deception is slipping back under a yoke of slavery.
The May 21 statement put out by Keller and Carson put Tullian in a very bad light. According to Tullian due process was not followed and the content was purposely deceitful. That must be responded to in the proper way. We are not talking about a little unfair criticism you just brush off. It needs to be addressed.
There are times when it is not necessary or worth defending yourself. You just suffer unjustly. For example, Jesus before the Sanhedrin and Pilate. It was unnecessary. Christ knew he would be vindicated three days later in the resurrection. Therefore, it wasn’t God’s will to defend against false witnesses and unjust proceedings leading to his death.
But this is not a mandate to passively suffer abuse or injustice in the face of evil. For example, Paul the apostle said, “At my first defense no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me” (2 Tim 4:16). It was perfectly right for Paul to defend himself in a Rome court and it was also right to expect his friends would defend him also.
The spiritually abused and the sexually abused must be encouraged to defend themselves. The same is true of all oppressed people everywhere. When you are seriously sinned against, the Bible instructs you to rebuke your brother with the hope that he will repent. It doesn’t say be quiet. It doesn’t say don’t rock the boat. It doesn’t say forget it ever happen. If doesn’t say be a doormat.
That kind of thinking leads to abuse. The battered wife must call the police. The sexually abuses must contact law enforcement. The physically abused child must tell friends or extended family members. The spiritually abused church member must confront the pastor and be willing to involve others. This takes courage. Therefore it must be encouraged, not discouraged.
Most Christians are enslaved to the fear of men. They are afraid to speak out when right and necessary. When the do they are often charged with being divisive or harming the unity of the church. We need courageous Christians in our day. People who are willing to suffer. We must follow the example of men like Nathan, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul the apostle.
In his apology, I am grateful Tullian did not retract his comments about C.J. Mahaney’s complicity in the conspiracy to cover up sexual abuse or withdraw his rebuke of Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, or Justin Taylor for their unconscionable defense of Mahaney.
The first article done by The Christian Post with Tullian on May 21 was entitled, “Tullian Tchividjian Blasts Sovereign Grace Ministries Handling of Sex Abuse Scandal; Prematurely Departs The Gospel Coalition.” The article said the following in part.
Tullian Tchividjian is slamming Sovereign Grace Ministries for its handling of a sex abuse scandal, while announcing this week that his participation with The Gospel Coalition will unexpectedly end on Thursday. …
C. J. Mahaney, who founded the SGM, along with other ministry leaders, was hit with a civil lawsuit last year alleging that they conspired to “permit sexual deviants to have unfettered access to children for purposes of predation and to obstruct justice by covering up ongoing past predation.”
While the lawsuit was thrown out due to statute of limitations, Tchividjian said that unlike many of those connected to TGC who considered Mahaney a friend and claimed that he had “been the object of libel and even a Javert-like obsession by some,” he saw the situation differently. In his eyes, given that Mahaney’s brother-in-law [Grant Layman] and fellow former pastor at Covenant Life Church had confessed to knowing about sex abuse claims and withholding that information from police last week, the SGM pastor [Mahaney] was guilty.
“Give me a break. These people, they’re family. Of course he knew,” Tchividjian told The Christian Post. “C. J. was, for many years, the micro-managing head of the organization and nothing happened under the umbrella of Sovereign Grace that he wasn’t made aware of, so for anyone to say, ‘Well he didn't know,’ that’s totally naive.”
Tchividjian added that he was “pretty disturbed” when Don Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Justin Taylor published a statement on TGC website in May 2013 which defended Mahaney, saying that it looked “like the good-old boys club covering their own.”
“I thought it was premature. I thought it was insensitive. I communicated with the guys who wrote this statement that I was disappointed, that I thought it was unwise and premature and that they needed to clarify that their statement was not a statement from The Gospel Coalition, per se, but was their own personal statement,” Tchividjian explained.
“There were some of us on the coalition, or who were associated with it, who didn’t want to be associated with their defense of C. J.,” he continued. “I've just been sort of disgusted by the whole thing.”
I find nothing wrong with this statement coming off the conviction of Nathaniel Morales and the sworn testimony of Grant Layman that C.J. Mahaney knew about Morales’ crimes in 1992 when he was senior pastor but conspired to cover them up. The subject of Morales’ sexual abuse was also discussed in 2007 as a pastoral team at Covenant Life Church. At that time, Mahaney was mentoring Joshua Harris in his role as senior pastor. Harris would have discussed this matter with C.J. if he wasn’t in the meeting. Of that there is no doubt. Once again, the pastoral team covered up the abuse and did not report it to police according to Grant Layman.
While Tullian does not retract this statement in his apology, he does not affirm this statement in his apology. He should have. As a result, victims are feeling deserted once again.
I hope Tullian will continue to speak out on behalf of all the victims of sexual abuse in SGM by holding C.J. Mahaney and his enablers accountable in a very bold and public fashion. It must be done.
I also hope he holds Keller, Carson, and Peays accountable if his charges are just because they are serous! By the way, why haven’t any of these men offered an apology to Tullian of any kind? I guess Tullian is all to blame! Not!
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