Open Letter to The Gospel Coalition: You Represent the Strong

In light of Tullian’s post this morning, announcing his departure from the Gospel Coalition based on their disapproval of his particular way of articulating the gospel.

Dear Gospel Coalition (and Mark Jones and anyone else in a tizzy about Tullian),

You represent the strong. Just to be clear here, those are the sides you are marking off. You have the influence and the strength, and you knew that Tullian isn’t prominent among his PCA brothers (probably because he isn’t old and bald enough). You knew that you were his lifeline to influence. You are trying to nip his message in the bud before he gets too “big.” You know that Liberate is not near the platform of TGC. And you also know that Tullian’s message appeals to those gross people that we don’t really want in our churches.

In my post last week defending Tullian, I tell the story of why I thought he was going to eventually be exiled. The way he talks about grace is indeed scandalous – it shocked the literal hell out of my baptist/Acts 29/Gospel Coalition-loving bones. (The way you talk about grace, Kevin DeYoung, is NOT any kind of stumbling block for anyone. It’s exactly what every non-Christian would assent to. It so appeals to the flesh in its emphasis on our glorious contributions that it does not make people want to love God or others more. It only amplifies hearers disgust with themselves, as they hide in the bushes with Adam and Eve, threading fig leaves together.)

Am I merely framing this debate as strong versus weak for Tullian’s sake? Maybe, but I doubt it. I honestly think you are exiling him so that his influence doesn’t grow. You probably failed here and exacerbated his influence. The liberating message of Christ crucified for actual sinners has taken root, and the seed will grow. You will spend the rest of your lives trying to focus on your ministries and forget this moment, trying to forget the sweeping condemnation of Tullian’s invitation to all non-hypothetical sinners, but it won’t do any good. This is the heart of the matter. And you just chose your side.

Jen’s article was a shot at Tullian. Tullian defended himself. Then your deceptive crew pled plausible deniability (“I don’t know why Tullian even went after her! How rude.”). This is what sickens me about you. You have been drawing Tullian out since you realized his gospel was being preached to the weary and downtrodden. You wanted the gospel that attracted the strong and influential and those who have it together.

This is such a nuanced point, and I know that you will plead your confessions, which are nice, but I can see your actions here. Tullian is right to push people to distinguish law and gospel. Frankly, most of you aren’t doing it and have illustrated (Kevin DeYoung) that you have no clue how it is even done. Kevin DeYoung has clarified that he would rather die than see the sincerity of his good works brought under scrutiny. In fact, Kevin, it is only in your death that you will be free from their chokehold. You don’t know your motivation. If you had an ounce of self-awareness, I would hope you could admit your mixed motivations without theologizing them away. But you hide behind your theology and experience with college students whose guilt-riddled motivations lead them to you in droves, only to be confused about the worth of their performance until 20 years later when their mid-life crisis levels them, exposes the bankruptcy of their hard work that you pointed them to (and they perceived as salvation). I can only hope they stumble on someone who preaches like Tullian, so that they actually understand the gospel and repent of placing hope in their good works. Christ and him crucified (unconditional grace with no “buts”) is your congregant’s only hope. And as long as you keep preaching how you are, it is only an accidental or future hope.

It’s all going to work out, and yes my thoughts are hasty. And maybe I’m over-reacting out of loyalty. And this time I didn’t send this article to Tullian for pre-approval. I don’t like you guys anymore. And I really wanted to. And Tullian really wanted to. And I am convinced you don’t like people who are actual sinners. I’m convinced the grace that you preach is reserved for those with gas in the tank, who come to Christ not only with faith but with at least an ounce of nervous energy. You want the response.

The Reformed Pubcast guys, I am told, distanced themselves yesterday from Tullian as well (“Just because we had him on here doesn’t mean we agree with everything” – paraphrase. Nobody accused you of agreeing with everything, but we can all see this is a self-protective maneuver to protect your show. I hope it worked for you guys). Only a few weeks ago they were affirming Tullian (“So basically you are just saying what the Reformers said!” – paraphrase). Well, guys, you are also missing the significance of this. Your whole “theology of Calvin, taste of Luther” thing was confusing to begin with (I wondered how much of Luther you actually interacted with). Luther had more than a taste for beer, if that is what you are playing on. Luther had a taste to see weary-sinners, those pathetic ragamuffins that most pastors roll their eyes at, those downtrodden annoying old women who – even if they did have the energy to contribute – are not wanted by the church, Luther wanted to see them set free from the bondage of sin by the grace poured out in Christ’s death and resurrection. You guys have missed the point.

This is a post that I wrote after a day of frustration and pacing around wondering what had happened, after Mark Jones douchey and condescending indictment. I feel the weight of this thing. I don’t know if anyone else’s concern has risen to the same level of frustration as mine has. Perhaps some can nod along with some of what I am saying. Perhaps others will write me off as a bit too grace-heavy, a bit unbalanced, and a bit vulgar. It seems like those were the same concerns leveled at Pastor Tullian, and Luther before him, and Paul before him, and Jesus before him.

I’ll take it.

Jacob Goff

Update: The Reformed Pubcast Army (a good lot) has informed me that I caricatured their position. Bless those guys. I reacted to a brief remark on their show yesterday that seemed to indicate they weren’t as “on board” with Tullian as they seemed to be when he was on the show.


Add yours →

  1. Brother-
    There is a time for gentleness, and a time to call a spade a spade. I appreciate your zeal to tell it like it is. I was very upset that the Gospel Coalition even posted up the Jen Wilkin article. Tullian was right in his response (whether one agrees with all of his theological distinctions or not): her article was very theologically muddy. She put forth a major ‘straw man’ in her characterization of the ‘Gospel centered sanctification’ movement. For a place that airs the appearance of being a think-tank for reformed renewal- this was very frustrating.

    Anyone with a dog in this fight needs to spend some serious time reading Martin Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation. I believe it is the heartbeat of the thought/theology of the man who sparked the reformation giving birth to the protestant umbrella that everyone in this debate claims to stand under. His theses treat everything from the ethical thought of Aristotle to the scholastics and reveal that scripturally- the only fitting destination for the flesh (and therewith all of our well-intentioned best efforts) is the Cross.

    I am one of those “gross people we don’t really want in our churches.” I am a pathetic, anxiety-ridden OCD cripple. My only hope- ONLY HOPE- is that Someone entered into this mess to SAVE me- Someone that I can rely on fully- without anything left in my back pocket to hold out just a little bit for my own contributions. And I praise and trust the one who cried “It is finished!” I’ve found that such helpless faith has finally enabled me to be honest and REALLY start confessing my sin without all of the psychologically complex window dressing we use to try and ‘cover up’ our ugliness and save face. Though I came home from my prodigal wanderings long ago, I have finally found in the last year or two that such helpless faith is actually bearing fruit (albeit very slowly and modestly)- love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, – and all things “against which there is no law.”

    Though I probably would caution your use of the ‘vulgar’- I understand that Luther himself was often not very gentle with those whom he debated in defending the Gospel. Nevertheless, I think I will be “re-blogging” your open letter on my site:

    To close:

    “O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. 2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— 6 just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

    7 Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[c] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” 9 So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith. 10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse”

    Galatians 3:1-10

    From a helpless OCD-trainwreck


  2. Well said, both of you! When I saw what Mark Jones said yesterday I was shocked, angered, and saddened. It seemed so mean-spirited and childish. In contrast, I thought Tullian’s response on TGC was classy and charitable, which is what I would expect from him. I know this whole thing must hurt him though. How could it not hurt to be treated that way? He has helped me more than anyone else to understand, like Austin said, that Jesus came for train wrecks like me who have never and will never cut it on my own. I need a savior, not a motivational speaker. Without Tullian’s preaching and books I don’t believe I would have made it through a very difficult last two years because he helped me to see that God had not cast me aside because of my pitiful performance. I heard him speak at a Presbyterian church in Nashville a few days before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I have two little boys and as you can imagine, I was devastated. Thankfully, Tullian had said something that changed my life: “The link between sin and suffering was broken at the cross.” God used that one line to show me that I wasn’t being punished for my sinful past and that He was faithful to get me through whatever came my way. I honestly don’t know what I would have done without Tullian’s constant focus on the grace of God and the finished work of Christ on our behalf. So, to see him treated the way he’s been treated is hard to stomach. I’m just glad we have Liberate so Tullian’s message will continue to reach sinners like me who are in desperate need of good news.

  3. Clearly you don’t have a wife who pressures you about how you can’t be ungracious about grace! I did not know about this with Tullian. We need a new “true gospel” coalition anyway, Not a “gospel (but not really)” coalition. I can’t even count the number of times I’ve been contacted by people looking to find a radical grace church in this town or that town or the other town. The gospel coalition is the LAST place I would look. We have some gospel coalition churches in town, and they all have this same “gospel (but not really)” mindset at their root. As they are now ejecting any contrary voices, they can only become more and more a strong woody shoot that bears no fruit, that will need to pruned heavily.

    To be clear, when I say “radical grace”, I mean a church that believes this simple message:

    3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures 1 Cor 15:3-4

    15 It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. 1 Tim 1:15

    Let’s really pray that the cause of the actual gospel is strengthened and spread all the more because of this, and that the more the Gospel (but not really) Coalition fades to gradual insignificance. I’d like to see Tim Keller weigh in on this.

    Love you man. Really do. I pray for you through the week. God has astonishing things in store. Blessings and grace!

  4. Jacob,

    Never underestimate the passive aggresive shuns that “grace-but” believers push on those of us who preach the gospel strait up. I know that Tullian is probably hurting over the whole thing because it just hurts. I was a teaching elder at my previous church and the coldness from most of the leadership was the hardest for me. I am thankful that when I went to Liberate that Steve Brown took time to console me.

    Love on Tullian…..Thanks for your article.

  5. I do not know Tullian well. I have not read any of his books. However I have listened to the first 6 sermons on his series in Romans on line. Let’s suppose for a moment that he has gone to far with his teaching on grace although I doubt seriously that he has. I can say from listenting to those 6 sermons I have never heard a preacher reveal sin to his congreation the way Tullian does. Instead of it being those down and outers outside the church it is about those down and out pilliars inside the church. He reveals the sins of those of us inside the body better than anyone I have ever heard. This doesn’t strike me as going to far with grace teaching. Rather it points out the need for grace even to what we regard as the pillars of the church! Perhaps that is one of the real reasons for his demize? I am reminded of Phil Yancey’s statement in his book called “What’s so Amazing about Grace” in which he states “What is the limit to grace!” In the book, if I recall correctly, he had a professing Christian friend that came to him and said that he hated his wife, was planning to have her killed and was subsequently going to ask God to forgive him. What actually is the limit to grace? Makes you wonder!

  6. Jacob,

    Great post on this whole thing. I need Gospel all the time, full stop. It has been very sad to see this whole thing unfold like this. You may be interested in some Herman Witsius quotes on The Gospel in the Narrow Sense. He was thoroughly Reformed and got “Gospel” in all of its graciousness towards us. I someone were to quote these snippets, they’d be accused of antinomianism too. And yet, like Tullian, held to the 3rd use of the law.

    Blessings –

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