One Way Love, Inexhaustible Grace for An Exhausted World by Tullian Tchividjian (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2013) 236 pp., paper $14.99
Tchividjian is tired and exhausted (pp. 28, 198) and believes that others are too in their attempts to perform up to God’s standards (pp. 20-22, 62, 147). Many, he believes, think that God loves them only if they are changing and growing (pp. 30, 52, 199) and thus they conceive of God’s love as conditional (pp. 30, 52, 199). The author thinks that Jesus came to liberate us from this demand to measure up (p. 36). And since even when we are at our best we do things that need forgiveness (p. 54), our only hope is found in God’s grace. Instead of living by grace most Christians apparently operate on the basis of law, attempting to follow a set of rules to obtain the favor of God. But instead of improving, people get worse when the law is laid down, for law reveals sin but is powerless to remove it (p. 91). What we must understand is that everything we need is found in Christ (p. 188) and, therefore, our lives rest on God’s love of us, not on our love for Him (p. 115).
Tchividjian is rightly concerned that we should not preach “humanity and it improved” instead of “Christ and Him crucified” (p. 131). In all of this he is not against obedience (p. 129) or even rules, which he sees as necessary for life to function. But keeping rules (p. 194) is not a condition for God’s approval (p. 155). Good works are important however, but not for God. Rather they are important to our neighbors (pp. 200-202).
In all of the things Tchivijian is on the mark but there are concerns:
1. He often makes unbalanced statements such as.
“Grace doesn’t make demands, it just gives” (p. 33). Yet God makes demands, for example, after detailing God’s grace in Ephesians 1-3 Paul immediately writes, “I implore you to walk in a manner worthy of your calling” (4:1).
He quotes Steve Brown claiming that children who run from grace always come back (p. 57). Really? Always?
We apparently will never be grateful because we are told to be (p. 153), yet does not God command us to be thankful (Col 3:15-17)? Did the Lord not know that commands are bad motivators and produce legalists?
The author claims grace got Jesus killed (pp. 170-174), but the Gospels present other motives, such as claiming to be God, challenging the power structure in Israel, and exposing the sins of spiritual leaders.
His claim that “moralism will produce immorality” (p. 193) is a strange and unprovable comment.
His statement that “only unbelief is called sin by Christ” fails to note Jesus’ condemnation of many sins (see Matt 5-7, 23). Others could be cited but these communicate the idea.
2. Tchividjian forces grace into biblical accounts where better explanations are at least debatable. Was it really on the basis of grace, as the author claims, that the Prodigal Son was given his inheritance (p. 42)? And does God forgive unconditionally—without repentance (p. 175)? First John 1:9 seems to contradict this when it lays down the condition of confession for forgiveness.
3.Attempting to explain or define grace is a problem it seems (see pp. 103-104), so the author most often turns to examples from his experience and many of these examples give us deep pause. Tchividjian believes it was grace to give his disobedient son his phone back after open defiance (pp. 160-162), and it was grace for a friend to buy his son a new car after he got drunk and wrecked his old one (pp. 164-165). And it was grace for his father to give him blank checks to fund his rebellious lifestyle as a young man (p. 56). Whether these are examples of grace or bad judgment could be debated, but of course in these stories all turned out well. However, this is basing our actions on pragmatism not Scripture (pp. 186-187). And in what world are Mel Gibson and Bernie Madoff examples of those whom God has pursued to give His grace (p. 132)? In this regard it was sad to see Tchividjian trot out Brennan Manning as a champion of grace (pp. 43-44, 210, 226). For the author to even consider Manning, a former Roman Catholic priest, a Christian calls into question his understanding of the gospel.
4. Tchividjian makes a number of excellent observations about law, especially offering Machen’s quote “A low view of law always produces legalism—a high view of law makes a person a seeker after grace” (p. 96). And he rightly shows that law cannot heal us spiritually, rather it exposes us and informs us of God’s nature. But if God’s commands backfire and actually provide the opposite of their intention has God failed when He makes demands? This is at least implied in Tchividjian’s comments concerning God giving the law to Israel, Jesus demanding his disciples to take up their cross, Paul’s criticism of the Corinthians, and even the initial prohibition to Adam and Eve (pp. 86-87). Doesn’t the Lord understand law and human nature? The author does not sufficiently address this.
5. This leads to perhaps the most glaring weakness of One Way Love—it is not based on careful biblical exegesis. Very little scriptural analysis is found, and most of the passages cited are not handled well. Philippians 3:7-9 (p. 145), John 3:20 (p. 147), James 4:1-2 (p. 151) and Romans 5:8 (p. 175) are used but none carries the freight the author wants it to handle. By taking scriptural passages out of context, rather than carefully examining the pertinent texts, Tchividjian manages to reduce every problem to law and find every solution in grace. This reductionism leaves out a vast storehouse of truth while narrowing the Christian life to grace, and grace alone.
6. This is all the more frustrating because Tchividjian sees even attempts at “application” as legalism, therefore he refuses to give us some “how-to’s” in order to experience grace because he fears he would be taking us back to law (pp. 154-155). He has boxed himself into a “grace” corner and he cannot find a way out.
I was conflicted when I read One Way Love. Tchividjian is spot-on concerning much of his analysis. Yet he lacks a balanced, biblical understanding of the sanctification process perhaps because he attempts to filter Scripture through his own experience. At any rate since the author does not make a sound argument drawn clearly from Scripture, his ideas need to be carefully challenged with an open Bible. Followed at face value many of these ideas will lead to an unbalanced Christian life.
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher, Southern View Chapel