“The Bible is one long story of God meeting our rebellion with His rescue, our sin with His salvation, our guilt with His grace, our badness with His goodness. The overwhelming focus of the Bible is not the work of the redeemed but the work of the Redeemer. Which means that the Bible is not first a recipe book for Christian living but a revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our un-Christian living.” ~ Tullian Tchividjian
As a recovering follower of Bill Gothard’s teachings, I am always on the lookout for books that I can recommend to other ex-Gothardites as an “antidote” to Gothard’s legalistic system of thinking. I’ve found Henzel and Veinot’s A Matter of Basic Principles to be an excellent exposé and deconstruction of Gothard’s ministry and teachings, and Jerry Bridges’ Transforming Grace is one of the best introductions to the topic of grace that I’ve found. But I think I may have found a book that even more specifically and effectively counteracts the mindsets and philosophies that make Gothardism so enticing and destructive: Tullian Tchividjian’s One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World.
Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, FL, is the grandson of evangelist Billy Graham. In his late teens and early twenties, Tullian rebelled against God and his family, wandering away from the faith that his grandfather preached with such passion. However, rather than being cast out and rejected by his family, Tullian found that his family never stopped reaching out to him, caring for him, and praying for him. It was this “one way love” of God, flowing through his family, that ultimately led Tullian back to Christ. Tchividjian utilizes his personal testimony along with narratives from the life and ministry of Christ to weave a beautiful picture of how God’s “one-way love” transforms our lives.
I think there are three primary reasons why this book is extremely powerful in combating Gothardism. First, Tchividjian very winsomely explains the role of grace in the life of the believer. Tchividjian is no theological lightweight, and he finds a way to make familiar stories from Christ’s ministry come alive with rich and new meaning. For me, I realized that in past readings my primary focus has been on the wrong characters. In the story of Zacchaeus, I’ve always focused on what Zacchaeus did to make things right. When Mary anoints Jesus’ feet with perfume, I focused on what she did. However, Tchividjian focuses our attention on what Jesus did, the grace and love that he showed. The actions of Zacchaeus and Mary were born out of gratitude and freedom, not by a desire to merit God’s love.
Secondly, Tchividjian very clearly shows how performance-based living, or legalism, is addictive and destructive. In chapter three, he writes this about “performancism”: “This we understand. This we like. The outcome of our lives remains firmly in our hands. ‘Give me five principles for raising exemplary children, and I can guarantee myself a happy family if I just obey those five principles.’ If we can do certain things, meet certain standards (whether God’s, our own, our parents’, our spouse’s, society’s, whomever’s), and become a certain way, then we’ll make it. It feels like it works— at least that’s what we’ve been told. Conditionality lets us feel safe, because it breeds a sense of manageability. The equation “If I do this, then you are obligated to do that” keeps life formulaic and predictable, and more important, it keeps the earning power in our camp.” Yet, legalism produces the opposite result of what we desire. He writes, “The ironic thing about legalism is that it not only doesn’t make people work harder, it makes them give up. Moralism doesn’t produce morality; rather, it produces immorality.”
Thirdly, Tchividjian also does a masterful job of dismantling many of the misconceptions other believers have about those who pursue gospel-centered, grace-based living. One such example is found in the penultimate chapter, when Tchividjian addresses the issue of “antinomianism.” Antinomianism is the belief that the law is irrelevant and unimportant for the Christian, and is a philosophy which Gothard has oft accused his critics of espousing. Gothard has “warned” in several writings that those who believe grace to be God’s unmerited favor are in danger of turning grace into a license to sin. However, Tullian believes this to be utterly impossible, stating that antinomianism is an impossible heresy. Those who have truly been captivated by God’s grace are not capable of abusing it, and those that turn to licentiousness are simply substituting their own law for God’s. According to Tchividjian, “grace inspires what the Law demands. The Law prescribes good works, but only grace can produce them.”
I cannot recommend this book more highly. If you’re a recovering legalist like me, this book is for you. If you still find yourself occasionally looking back and wondering if the Bible really is just about principles and steps for this, that, and the other, then this book is for you. If you need something to reassure you that God’s grace extends beyond your greatest sin, this book is for you. If you find that you constantly beat yourself up because you aren’t doing enough for God, this book is for you.
God’s grace is inexhaustible. Don’t exhaust yourself trying to earn it.
EDITOR’S NOTE: You can purchase One Way Love from Amazon in either paperback or Kindle editions. (Note that by purchasing using these links, a small percentage of the sales price comes back to support the ministry of Recovering Grace).