Tullian Tchividjian apologized; should Tim Keller and D.A. Carson apologize, too?


The Tim Keller and D.A. Carson blog post of May 21 begs for further analysis.

The purpose of the post was to clarify some changes that had taken place on The Gospel Coalition website: Tullian Tchividjian’s blog had been removed, and the names of C.J. Mahaney and Joshua Harris had been deleted from the list of Council members.

Here, I want to focus on the May 21 post, not its fallout (Tullian said some angry things in response his blog’s premature removal), or its encouraging resolution (Tullian apologized).

In their post, Keller and Carson write,

In Tullian’s case, it was obvious to observers that for some time there has been an increasingly strident debate going on around the issue of sanctification. The differences were doctrinal and probably even more matters of pastoral practice and wisdom. Recently it became clear that the dispute was becoming increasingly sharp and divisive rather than moving toward greater unity. Earlier in the year our executive director spent two days with Tullian in Florida. Coming out of that meeting, it was decided that Tullian would move his blog. Finally the Council at its meeting last week decided that Tullian should move his blog immediately, and we communicated this conclusion to Tullian. (emphasis added)

And then, in last paragraph, Keller and Carson write,

We commit ourselves to not recount the parting of the ways in such a fashion that it makes us look good and the departing persons look bad…. John Newton’s famous letter “On Controversy” should guide us all at such times. When warning that the “leaven” of self-righteousness exists in the best of Christians, Newton wrote: “Controversies, for the most part, are so managed as to indulge rather than to suppress this wrong disposition.” Pray for us that moves and changes like these will be marked on all sides by the startling, visible graciousness that should be present in all saved by grace. 

Consider how peculiar it is to accuse someone of divisiveness and stridency and then to say they won’t make “the departing persons look bad,” and then to jump to the moral high ground by warning everyone against self-righteousness with a thunderclap of authority from a John Newton letter.

It’s a great technique: Readers of The Gospel Coalition website naturally will be dazzled by the reference to a Newton letter — plus, they’ll immediately know that self-righteousness is a horrible label we can all agree we’d like to avoid.

So Keller and Carson’s last paragraph pulls the rug over the earlier accusations of divisiveness and stridency, or directs attention away from the accusations. But, whether Tullian deserved it or not, in that post, Keller and Carson have already made him look bad (“strident” and “divisive”), which in turn makes their call to avoid self-righteousness and their commitment to avoid making “the departing persons look bad” seem disingenuous.

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