Ever feel like you are missing something? It can happen when big names, wise men, hail a book. People you know find the book life-changing. Self-doubt begins to creep in, “Am I missing something important?” Perhaps I had erroneous expectations.
The book is Tullian Tchividijian’s Jesus + Nothing = Everything.
The big names include guys like Paul Tripp, Scotty Smith, Matt Chandler, Gene Edward Veith, Michael Horton, and Steve Brown.
Scotty Smith called it “a faithful and fresh exposition of Colossians.”
I began to read the book because I’m preaching on Colossians. I had heard his sermon on the subject at hand, and thought it was very good. So I thought this would be a great book.
“Progress in obedience happens only when our hearts realize the God’s love for us does not depend on our progress in obedience.”
My expectations were off. I expected an exposition of Colossians. What I read was a polemic against legalism. Don’t get me wrong, we need polemical material against legalism. And he said some really good things.
“The gospel is the only thing big enough to satisfy our deepest, eternal longings- both now and forever.”
Where I struggled was that was the vast majority of the book. It did not seem to move linearly. It was more like progressive parallelism. It looked at legalism from different perspectives. And there was no exposition of Colossians.
“Even as believers, we don’t adequately realize how Jesus is enough to meet our deepest needs, so we’re always pursuing an add-on approach- Jesus plus something.”
Colossians can be summed up by the formula that Tullian presents for us. The problem in the Colossian church was multifactorial, to steal a line from Ben Cherington. There seem to be a few different things added to Christ to find fullness. Tullian just hits legalism. So, it seems a bit reductionistic to me.
“The gospel frees us from trying to impress people, to prove ourselves to people, to make people think we’re something that we’re not.”
One weakness is that his definition of legalism comes too far into the book, and he almost doesn’t address the place of the law in the life of the Christian. He addresses it, finally, beginning on page 187 of 206.
Since much of Colossians appears to be about sanctification- Christian growth- not justification, it seems odd to me that the book is mostly about justification and very little about sanctification.
His discussions of sanctification are also reductionistic. Not erroneous, but incomplete. We do look to Christ, we don’t add anything to Christ to be sanctified. But it is far more than “growing deeper in the gospel”. That is vague. There is nothing about how we put sin to death as a gospel imperative. I wanted him to go deeper, not go in circles. For instance:
“Sanctification is the daily hard work of going back to the reality of our justification. It’s going back to the certainty of our objectively secured pardon in Christ and hitting the refresh button a thousand times a day.”
He is conflating justification and sanctification, but making the opposite mistake the Church of Rome did. They based justification on sanctification. He seems to be confusing sanctification with justification. Yes, we never grow beyond our justification and we only grow as we are convinced of our justification. But sanctification involves more that recalling our justification. Even though that is important. It not less than that, but it is more than that.
He listed a number of great books on sanctification in an appendix. I wish his discussion of sanctification sounded more like those books. Instead, it sounded more like a Lutheran approach to sanctification than a Reformed approach to sanctification. There is no sense here of training yourself for godliness (1 Timothy 4). It is passive not active.
While our status with God never changes because of our sin (our justification is secure!!!), there doesn’t seem to be room for John 15 in his view. Kevin DeYoung’s distinction between union and communion is helpful (this is found in his excellent book, The Hole in Our Holiness). Our union with Christ does not change. But our experience of communion certainly does. That doesn’t mean God loves me less. It does mean I am not enjoying God as much. DeYoung illustrates it with marriage. You are still married, even when you are fighting because one (or both) of you is being selfish. Union continues, but communion is hindered.
And herein is the danger of polemical material- you overstate your case. And you create straw men. I thought he did some of both in this book.
And then there were times when his explanation of a passage made no real sense to me.
- In talking about Philippians 2:13 he says “God works his work in you, which is the work already accomplished by Christ. Our hard work, therefore, means coming to a greater understanding of his work.” So much for willing and acting according to His purpose, which is what the verse is about.
- In talking about Colossians 1:5 he says” “It’s a hope so vast that all earth can’t contain it.” As I ponder Colossians, our hope is in Christ who is our life and is in heaven. This seems to be Paul’s point.
- “Peter began to sink only when he took his eyes off Jesus and focused on his own performance.” I have no idea how he got to performance instead of Peter’s fear as he saw wind and wave churning the boat.
These are some of the reasons that I wondered “Did they read the same book that I did?” Nothing heretical here. I just didn’t find it particularly helpful aside from the dynamics of the equation. It made for a great sermon, but not a great book.
Then again, maybe I’m missing something and this is the best book of the year. Self-doubt, it is like a splinter.