What might we learn from Paul Tripp and Tullian Tchividjian?


I recently read a very brief statement from Paul Tripp concerning the very public sinful expressions of Tullian Tchividjian (see an article on the matter in Christianity Today HERE). The whole thing is a painful reminder that even the best of men are men at best. However, I think there might be something worth observing here.

I know very little of Tullian’s story – before or after the public sinful expressions that are now the dominating subject. Therefore, I cannot speak meaningfully about anything that has happened in his personal life, nor am I in any position to comment authoritatively about how his church family or pastoral community has interacted with him. The only reason I am making any comments at all is because I believe that there is something here that all Christians should see and take note of.

In Paul’s brief comments (see his post HERE), he said, “So, it has been with sadness that I, along with others, have come slowly and cautiously to the conclusion that [Tullian Tchividjian’s] marriage is irreparably broken.” In quoting this sentence, I am not advocating or denying any specific reason for divorce. I am making no claim on the biblical legitimacy of such a statement or the fidelity of any of those who have arrived as such a conclusion. I believe there is something important to see here nonetheless.

Paul, noting his own heart-grief over the whole thing, said that he and “others” have played a very significant role (so much so that they have arrived at a conclusion of some kind) in the marriage of another Christian – and a Christian pastor at that. This speaks to several things that I believe Christians must understand and embrace in order to live in harmony with biblical Christianity.

First, such a statement can only be made if Tullian and Paul, along with some “others,” had a deeply meaningful relationship with one another before these painful and sinful expressions came to light. No one “slowly and cautiously” does anything with anyone if he or she is not a meaningful companion. This is especially true when one considers the nature of what this group was “slowly and cautiously” doing. They were discussing the nature of Tullian’s marriage, his sinful actions, and the potential for reconciliation.

All of this is to say that Christian community is something much deeper and much more significant than most Christians (in my experience) settle for. Knowing others and being known by others in the kind of way that builds friendships that are this significant takes effort and time. Biblical Christian community is exactly this kind of camaraderie, but we often merely pretend to have friendships with other Christians and keep them at too great a distance to ever really be known by them. Such a pretentious relationship is not worth calling “friendship,” but real Christian community is worth more than you or I likely know.

Second, Paul’s statement probably rubs most professing Christians wrong because of the very nature of what is being assumed here. One might ask, “Why does Paul Tripp need to ‘conclude’ anything about Tullian’s marriage?” Or another might say, “Who does Paul Tripp think he is to say that Tullian can only pursue divorce after he or anybody else has made a ‘slow and cautious’ conclusion?” Questions like these reflect the expectation of many professing Christians regarding their individual practice. Many churchgoers seem to think that their personal theology and practice is utterly self-governed; no trespassing allowed.

The Lone Ranger might have been a fun television show to watch when I was a kid, but biblical Christianity is not comparable to this kind of individualistic approach in any way. No human is autonomous, no matter what the secular humanistic culture says, and this is especially to be recognized among Christians. One’s understanding of the Gospel itself is affected by one’s perception of his/her personal autonomy. It is only when we come to realize that God is the only truly autonomous being in existence that we start to recognize and admit that we are under His sovereign rule – we are accountable to Him in everything and always under His authority.

Furthermore, the follower of Christ learns to submit to Christ’s authority in the context of a church family – the local church. Christ makes statements and commands that are authoritative over the lives of all those who follow Him. Because of our sinful propensity, even as Christians, we benefit greatly from the accountability and encouragement found in intimate relationship with other Christians in the context of a local church. God has given the local church (a covenanted body of believers who are bound by fellowship in the Gospel of Jesus Christ) authority to be exercised over one another, and always under the headship of Christ.

This idea of the local church family is quite foreign to many professing Christians today, but it is the biblically faithful expression. Tullian, Paul, and the “others” in Paul’s statement have provided us (at least in this narrow focus) with the practical implications of real Christian community. When any Christian begins to see his/her wheels leaving the track, he/she should simultaneously have brothers and sisters in Christ (members of their local church family) that see it too. Additionally, those brothers and sisters are obligated and privileged to grab hold of their untethered spiritual sibling and keep him/her from running too far off course.

Both of these points are worth considering much more deeply, at least from my perspective. Christians everywhere should ask themselves, “Do I have friends like this right now?” Well, do you? Do you have the kind of friends that are actually worthy of the title? Do you have friends that tell you the truth? Do you have friends that challenge you? Do you have friends that will be there for you even when you don’t want them to be, but you know you really need them to be? Do you have friends who love you and Christ enough to go to war with you against all enemies of your soul – sometimes including you?

Christians everywhere should also ask themselves, “Am I actively participating in this kind of Christian community?” Well? Are you willing to listen to a brother or sister pour out their heart about a recent failure? Are you willing to hold them accountable as you both consider how to best avoid sinful expressions in the future? Are you honest about your own struggles? Is there anyone that knows you well enough to see your ‘wheels leave the track?’ Are you willing to hear the voice of a true friend as they call you to repentance and submission to Christ?

I pray that God will continue to bless church families who cultivate this kind of Christian community. I pray that God will cause the light of these kinds of relationships to shine brightly amidst the dark world around us. I pray that God will help us to recognize our desperate need for genuine Christian fellowship.