Title: Jesus Plus Nothing Equals Everything
Author: Tullian Tchividjian
Publishing Year: 2011
My Rating: 5 out of 5 (1 meaning I hated the book, 5 meaning I loved the book)
Normally when I write a book review, I have a firm opinion of whether or not I liked the book. However, this book still has me puzzled and thinking. I guess you could take that as the sign of a good book. One thing is for sure, Tullian Tchividjian is an excellent writer. In this book, Pastor Tullian weaves the story of his difficult times at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church (and his near ouster as pastor) together with a running commentary on the book of Colossians. Whether you agree with his theological conclusions or not, all must agree his keeps it interesting and thought-provoking all at the same time. This is not a book you will get bored with.
The premise of the book is that the Christian does not find security in his performance or perceived performance by others, but the Christian is to rest in the finished work of Christ on our behalf. Our life of obedience and good works is not founded on the notion that such things must be done to gain God’s favor and acceptance rather such things flow from a heart of gratitude because we already are favored and accepted by God. In other words, works are the result of God’s favor, not the basis of it.
Now, if you are like me, my first reaction was, “Won’t that just lead to antinomianism? Won’t that just allow people to be as sinful as they want?” This sounds great, but there’s that voice in the back of my head that wants to temper such ideas with just a little bit of law, to keep us honest. However, Pastor Tullian counters that reaction with this thought, “The biggest lie about grace that Satan wants the church to buy is the idea that it’s dangerous and therefore needs to be kept in check.” – page 44 (page numbers on my Nook e-pub may differ from other versions)
He also adds, “When it comes to drawing near to God and pleasing him, legalism insists that obedience precedes acceptance – that’s it’s all up to us. But the fresh breeze of the gospel freedom announces that acceptance precedes obedience – that once we’re already approved and already accepted by God in Christ, we can freely follow God’s lead and grow in his will out of genuine gratitude for his amazing grace and without any fear of judgment or condemnation when we fall… C.S. Lewis observed that what most distinguishes the gospel from legalism is that legalism says God loves if we are good, while the gospel tell us God will make us good because he loves us.” – page 77
As I mentioned in the opening paragraph, there are still parts of this book I am working through. There are still issues I am struggling to justify. For example, one wonders where the imperatives of Scripture come in. In other words, there are commands all throughout Scripture. If we were to break one of these commands, our relationship with Christ would suffer to some degree. While I certainly agree that our acceptance is not found in works but in Christ – doesn’t my sinful disobedience disrupt (but not break) that relationship?
This is radical. However, I am convicted by the constant reminder of grace. My temptation is always to add to grace, a sort of “grace, but…” of some sort. How can I add to Christ’s work? How can my meager attempts at holiness somehow garner the favor of the one who is infinitely holy and perfect? Again, still issues I am working through. This book has been a tremendous aid in this thought-process.
Here are just a few quotes I thought were worthy of your attention:
“In fact, when it comes to Christian life and experience, many of us have understood the gospel as the thing that gets us in, while then the thing that then keeps up in (we assume) is our own effort and performance.” – page 34
“In our bones, we know that God hates unrighteous ‘bad’ works; we’re not nearly so convinced that he hates self-righteous ‘good’ works just as much, if not more. In fact, the most dangerous thing that can happen to you is that you become proud of your obedience.” – page 40
“I believe it’s more theologically accurate to say that there is one primary enemy of the gospel – legalism – but it comes in two forms. Some people avoid the gospel and try to ‘save’ themselves by keeping the rules, doing what they’re told, maintaining the standards, and so on. (I call this ‘front-door legalism’). Other people avoid the gospel and try to ‘save’ themselves by breaking the rules, doing whatever they want, developing their own autonomous standards, and so on (‘back-door legalism’)…There are two ‘laws’ we can choose to live by apart from Christ: the law that says, ‘I can find freedom and fullness of life if I keep the rules,” and the law that says, ‘I can find freedom and fullness of life if I break the rules.” Either way, you’re trying to ‘save’ yourself, which means both are legalistic because both are self-salvation projects.” – page 43
“Idolatry, according to John Piper, ‘is a suicidal exchange of infinite value and beauty for some fleeting, inferior substitute.” – page 64
“Luther said, “God doesn’t need our good works, but our neighbor does.” – page 97
“Paul says that when we divorce obligations from gospel declarations, then our obedience becomes nothing more than behavioral compliance to rules without heart change. But when God’s amazing grace in the gospel grips out hearts the motivational structure of our hearts is radically changed, and we begin to obey out of faith, not fear, gratitude not guilt… When I begin analyzing and evaluating my own heart and the motivations behind what I do, I begin to discover a lot of moralistic tendencies. That’s why, as I’ve said so often, we need to be making a beeline for the finished work of Christ every day, because only the gospel can crush the moralistic tendencies that are the natural default mode of our hearts.” – page 117
“Only after he makes that huge point does Paul say, ‘Therefore walk in him. [Colossians 2:6-7]’ Notice, he doesn’t say ‘walk to him’ – as if we were on our own, separated from him and needing somehow to get to him by way of our own obedience. He says we’re to walk in him – to walk in Christ, in his strength.” – page 119
“I’m not saying the Christian life is effortless; the real question is Where are we focusing our efforts? Are we working hard to perform? Or are we working hard to rest in Christ’s performance for us?” – page 129
The only real negative aspect I thought I should mention is an over-reliance on the works of Michael Horton. I love Horton. I own several of his books and frequently listen to the White Horse Inn. However, Pastor Tullian seems to quote him on ever other page of this book. Gets a little old…
In short, buy this book. Begin your own theological quest to grapple with these great struggles! What I appreciate most in these pages is the constant reminder of God’s grace and work on our behalf. You will walk away glorying in the Lord and revealing in HIS righteousness. No wonder the last chapter is just one praise after another… You won’t want to skip the end, trust me!
Disclaimer: This book was provided by the publisher for review. I was under no obligation to offer a favorable review.