It’s part of a common misunderstanding in today’s church, which says there are two equal dangers Christians must avoid. On one side of the road is a ditch called “legalism”; on the other is a ditch called “license” or “lawlessness.” Legalism, they say, happens when you focus too much on law, on rules. Lawlessness, they say, happens when you focus too much on grace… This dichotomy exposes our failure to understand gospel grace as it really is; it betrays our blindness to all the radical depth and beauty of grace.
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”)… Either way, you’re trying to “save” yourself, which means both are legalistic because both are self-salvation projects.
When we believe, deep down, that God’s blessing depends on how well we’re behaving, we wither and groan under the heavy burden of self-reliance. In this performancism, we eventually figure out that being the star of our own show actually makes life a tragedy. When life is all about us—what we can do, how we perform—our world becomes small and smothering; we shrink. To have everything riding on ourselves leads to despair not deliverance.
I've said this before, though maybe less clearly. It's a theological stall-out of disastrous proportions to frame this issue with "two possible mistakes" requiring that we do a balancing act between them. Jesus is all. The Cross answers every type of sin you can think of. There is no other way but grace, and everything is riding on it, or else everything burns to the ground. No matter what problem we're talking about.
Too many people wimp out big-time when it comes to holding forth on this glorious truth as it comes under attack. Tullian doesn't seem to pull the punch in this book, as most are inclined to do when speaking of the grace of God in Jesus. Reminds me of Brennan Manning. Nice.
Also here's the story of Tullian's trial by fire at Coral Ridge Presbyterian where he succeeded culture war icon James Kennedy as pastor, in which an all-out slander war was waged against him and his family for things like, you know, not preaching politics. And not wearing a robe. Church-wrecking things like that. A true tale of the triumph of the gospel. That's a storm I wouldn't want to weather, brother.
I find it compelling that the phrase "Jesus + Nothing = Everything" seems to have led his church to eliminate the 2 service "contemporary vs. traditional" split, instead of accommodate people's cultural preferences. Interesting.
Favorite quote from the interview: "There is a fresh I-don't-care-ness that accompanies belief in the gospel."