Tullian: Jesus + Nothing = Everything?

Tullian Tchividjian

Tullian, I hear you’re making a comeback.

It’s been a whole year since you married one of the four to seven women you allegedly either sexually abused or groomed while you were married to your first wife. And now you have a new blog to tell us that your scandalous sin is the very reason you’re qualified to preach, and “the world needs Tullian.”

You got me pondering about one of your mottos:

Jesus + Nothing = Everything

Like “let go and let God,” it’s one of those sayings I think some people may have used without really thinking about what they mean.

But it’s easy to find out what you mean by it. I read the interview in Decision magazine in 2011, a couple of years before the first known case of clergy sexual abuse allegedly began, when you were promoting your book of the same name. You said:

  1. Because Jesus is strong for me, I am free to be weak.
  2. Because Jesus wins for me, I am free to lose.
  3. Because Jesus is Someone, I am free to be no one.
  4. Because Jesus is extraordinary, I am free to be ordinary.
  5. Because Jesus succeeds for me, I am free to fail.

I can see how that kind of thinking could lead to where you ended up.

But ummm . . . just no.

That is not what the Scriptures teach.

Here are a few things the Bible says about those thoughts, in numbered order. . . .

#1. But [the Lord] said to me [Paul], “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (II Cor 12:9-10)

Notice that? Paul said when he was (physically) weak, he was (spiritually) strong. Not that he was free to be spiritually weak. 

 #2. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long;     we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Rom 8:35-37)

Notice that? Paul said that even when we Christians are undergoing (physical) persecution, we are (spiritual) conquerors and more than conquerors. Not losers.

In #3 and #4 I agree that Jesus is rightly the one to be exalted, not us—though I would argue that no one is a “no one.” But if you’re happy to broadcast on your own website that “the world needs Tullian,” it seems you aren’t yet feeling free to be “ordinary.” 

So then that leads to . . .

#5. Correct me if I’m wrong here, but I’ve gotten the impression from your life that “free to fail” has really meant “free to sin.” 

 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (Rom 6:12-14)  

 Awake to righteousness, and do not sin. (I Cor 15:34)  

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. (Gal. 5:16)  

 Whoever abides in Him does not sin. (I John 3:6)  

No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (I Cor 10:13)  

Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. (Eph 6:13)  

I agree with you, Tullian, that God’s grace is lavish. It makes sinners into saints. But whatever “Jesus + Nothing = Everything” means, it isn’t what you’ve said it means. In fact, you’re preaching a truncated gospel, emphasizing the forgiveness while ignoring the power.

Charles Spurgeon wrote about “the checkbook of faith,” using a “bank” metaphor for the Christian life:

If you have millions of dollars in the bank, you are truly a rich person. But if you never withdraw any of the funds, you’ll still live like a pauper.

The Christian life you’re describing is a life of living with millions of dollars in your bank—indicated by the first half of each of your five sentences above. But Tullian, it looks like you never “withdrew” the empowering and life-changing aspects of who Jesus Christ is right now, to you, for you, in you, and through you—never really appropriated it by faith. So I get the impression you thought it would be normal to live like a spiritual pauper, weak, losing, and failing.

Bizarrely, you even seem to think that living like a spiritual pauper is something to be celebrated.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything is true in the same way it’s true to say “Millions of dollars in the bank makes me a wealthy person.” But when you don’t appropriate those funds it results in the sad life: “I live like a pauper.”

What if our God gave you a set of armor, really awesome armor (in all the truest sense of the word “awesome”). You can say, “Wow! Thank you, God, for this amazing armor! I’m going to keep it in a stack over here, and I’ll look at it occasionally and thank you for it, and tell others how awesome it is!”

But God says, “Put it on. Put it on!”

Otherwise, the fiery darts of the wicked one; the roaring lion who wants to devour you through pride, discouragement, lust, or any of a score of other means; the adversaries who want to steal, kill, and destroy, they will seek and find you as their target. (Seems like maybe they already did.)

Jesus + Nothing = Everything is true in the same way it’s true to say “God gave me a set of armor, so that makes me a warrior.” But when you don’t appropriate that armor, you’ll end up living the sad life: “I am completely defeated.”

Jesus (+ Nothing)  is all you need . . .

to be strong

to win your battles

to be victorious over sin

to live for God and others

But Tullian, don’t keep making the mistake that simply acknowledging that you have Jesus—like the money in the bank or the armor in the corner—is going to  mean you don’t need to live the Christian life God has called us to live.  

By faith, draw on those funds. By faith, put on that armor. By faith, through the written Word, get to know the Living Word, Jesus Christ, as your All in All, apart from dead works. And as you do, expect to live with the riches of God’s grace making a practical difference in your daily life. As you do, expect the living fruit to be manifested through your transformed life.

You don’t need to be famous. (The world doesn’t need you.) But be faithful.

Tullian, Jesus + Nothing = Everything you need to win all your battles in the spirit realm and live as He has called men of God to live.

Do you understand what that means?

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27 thoughts on “Tullian: Jesus + Nothing = Everything?

  1. Nothing gives this man or any other person in a leadership position the right to ever be in the pulpit again. What he did can be forgiven, but to have him in any position of leadership is a sin in itself.

  2. I thought I agreed at first. But by “nothing” I thought Tullian meant a life short on earthly blessings. I sort of fall into that category, and I would agree. Jesus really is all I need. But, even if you live in physical poverty, spiritual poverty or a life of sin is beneath a Christian. It’s like a pauper adopted by a king who continues to wear clothes from his orphanage days and doesn’t bathe. Way to honor your royal dad!

    If Tullian really is content to be nothing why doesn’t he start a new ministry cleaning toilets–as church janitor?

    • That about earthly blessings–that’s what it should mean. But he never distinguished between earthly blessings and spiritual strength. His blog and other places has made it clear he’s content to live as a spiritual weakling.

        • But I quoted him exactly . . . And are you familiar with what he actually did, his predatory behavior? There’s plenty of information about it available.

    • The “nothing” Tullian is talking about is anything physical, mental, spiritual, etc you try to do to save yourself other than faith alone in what Christ did to save you. Totally misunderstood by article.

      • The “nothing” Tullian is talking about is anything physical, mental, spiritual, etc you try to do to save yourself other than faith alone in what Christ did to save you.
        That’s a truth I believe in, and what I’m espousing in this article. But these statements . . .

        Because Jesus is strong for me, I am free to be weak.
        Because Jesus wins for me, I am free to lose.
        Because Jesus is Someone, I am free to be no one.
        Because Jesus is extraordinary, I am free to be ordinary.
        Because Jesus succeeds for me, I am free to fail.

        Are you saying that these statements of Tullian’s are complete non sequiturs, utterly distinct from his understanding of grace?

        • I’m thinking Tullian’s position you referenced (in 2011) was more informed by his understanding of the sufficiency and efficacy of Christ’s righteous record, which is now his (ours) through faith alone Rm 5:1, Gal 2:20-21. Having heard him speak and having read his book, but more importantly, understanding the scriptures I believe the “slogan” was founded on (2 Cor 6:1-10) the statements you quoted are better stated this way:
          “Because Jesus is strong for me, I am free to try and fail”
          “Because Jesus wins for me, I am free to run hard and then lose.”
          “Because Jesus is Someone, I am free to be be regarded as no-one.”
          “Because Jesus is extraordinary, I am free to be ordinary (who I am).”
          “Because Jesus succeeds for me, I am free to give my all and fail.”

          The point is that we are not identified or secured eternally by the measure of our works, our efforts, our reputations, or our outcomes. We who are in Christ are identified by the righteous record (success, strength, holiness, perfection) of Christ. So, with that, as Paul said, “..having nothing, I possess everything.”

          With Paul, and with every one of us who claims in faith the righteousness of Christ, we are free to give our all, relying on the power and strength of God….to try and try and give and work and endure… and fail. I am free to fail because my failure does not define me, the cross of Christ defines me. And if I sin I have an advocate with the Father, Jesus, who pleads for me, and He, the Father, is just to forgive me and cleanse me from all unrighteousness.

          The righteous record of Jesus Christ applied to our accounts frees us to try and not be undone or deterred by fear of failure.

          Spurgeon said it thusly in Morning and Evening for today, October 16th:
          “The best position for a Christian is living wholly and directly on God’s grace – still abiding where he stood at first – ‘Having nothing, and yet possessing all things’. Let us never for a moment think that our standing is in our sanctification, our mortification, our graces, or our feelings, but know that because Christ offered a full atonement, therefore we are saved; for we are complete in Him. Having nothing of our own to trust to, but resting upon the merits of Jesus – His passion and holy life furnish us with the only sure ground of confidence…”

          May Tullian’s full repentance be born out across the coming years and may he, with humility, never forget on whose record his freedom to speak stands.

  3. “I agree with you, Tullian, that God’s grace is lavish. It makes sinners into saints. But whatever “Jesus + Nothing = Everything” means, it isn’t what you’ve said it means. In fact, you’re preaching a truncated gospel, emphasizing the forgiveness while ignoring the power.”

    “holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these.”
    2 Timothy 3:5

  4. Thanks for speaking truth Rebecca.
    Brenda I was thinking the same that being restored to fellowship with Christ and believers yes. Pulpet no way!

  5. Thank you, Rebecca, for providing a thorough, biblical response to the man’s twisted version of truth.

    As you so well outlined, rather than confessing the magnitude of his sin and the wrong thinking that rationalized it, he essentially defended his moral failings and used false “biblical” principles to do so. If anything, Tullian pointed out how messed up and ungodly his thinking really has been – and still is.

  6. Thanks for this insightful post, Rebecca. I appreciate the thoughtfulness and thoroughness that backs up your pointed critiques. The “spiritual DNA” of every paradigm has inherent directions it will take us, and so it is important to compare Mr. Tchividjian’s theology with what is now known publicly about life-dominating problems that have been in his lifestyle. “When a pupil has been fully trained, he will be like his master” (Luke 6:40, paraphrased). Following Mr. Tchividjian’s example in principles and practices holds dangerous DNA. I hope more people will become aware of that and be wary.

    • Yes, I feel sad and frustrated when I see The Gospel Coalition followers pointing at a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” like they presume Joel Osteen to be (and he may well be) but ignoring the ones under their very noses, in their own circles. They seem to want to keep pointing to one kind of false doctrine and ignoring the other.

  7. Is Tullian back on the pulpet? Just some thoughts from someone who is by no means a theologian but just loves the Lord and is awed by His grace for me. I gotta be honest in saying that this all seems very judgmental. Is it our place to set a timeframe whether someone is “godly” enough to return to talking about Jesus?
    What I do know is that we are all sinners, even in our minds and when I think and meditate on Gods grace and what He has done for me on the cross I don’t want to sin. Unfortunately we live on earth where there are so many earthly distractions that can keep us from focusing on the gospel 24/7(Thank the Lord we will have that ability when we get to Heaven). I believe that the church should start making it as simple as it really is, that it is Jesus and what He did on the cross that saves us and can get rid of so much condemnation that many believers and non believers feel in their lives because of sin and not feeling worthy of forgiveness. Jesus sees me as perfect because of the cross. How amazing is that!!!!! When I truly think on that it makes me have joy, want to help my neighbor, love my enemies, have patience, kindness, and give that same grace to others. But like I tell my daughter, no one is perfect except for God, so I’m glad I know about the grace message and that if and when I fail multiple times a day I’m am seen as perfect and still have a place in Heaven when I leave this earth because I believe On the one he has sent.
    I want to try and fix my eyes on the vertical from me to Heaven and not on the horizontal, me and looking at everyone else. I think that’s where Jesus + Nothing can = Everything.

      • Maybe he’s saying “I want to do what I want to do. Quit telling me I’m wrong cause that’s ‘judging.'”

        Interesting how this “not judging” only applies to sexual sins. If someone swiped Dwright’s wallet I bet he would get pretty vocal in condemning the theft. Judge not that ye be not judged!

      • Hi thanks for responding Rebecca. As I said I’m just sharing thoughts. I think when I mentioned judgemental (and believe me I have judged others) I was referring to comments about someone’s faith or walk and how do we judge someone to be “ready” to teach or write about Jesus again? Is there a certain timeframe? Is it up to us to decide that? I grew up in a church that told me what not to do as a Christian and how I should pray a certain amount of time or my walk or even salvation might be in question. It’s Like a checklist of things I need to do or should do to make sure I am going to Heaven when I leave this earth. I believe in the Word but how do I try and follow the Word? By being told I should and shouldn’t do something? Does that truly create change in my heart? As I said earlier I discovered what truly changes my heart and brings out the fruits of the spirit in me is not having a checklist of things I should and shouldn’t do but focusing on the cross and what Christ did for me. Share with others the Good News and Word of God but leave no doubt that if we believe on the One He sent My salvation is secured, regardless of how much I sin. That although there may be consequences for my sins on earth my salvation is secure. And maybe what can truly change my heart to turn from my sins or cause me to love my neighbor is to focus on the cross and Gods amazing Grace. I’m just sharing what I’ve experienced on my Christian journey for the past 30 years. Thanks;)

        • Hmmm . . . I’m wondering if you read the post? I’m not about checklists at all, as you can see from this post: http://www.heresthejoy.com/2012/09/its-hard-living-by-the-list/. I’m about living by faith in the power of the Holy Spirit. But the Scriptures also tell us that there will be fruit in our lives when we walk in the Spirit and live in the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance, among other things. One indicator of living and walking in the truth will be fruits of repentance–evidence, like in the prodigal son’s life, that a person sees the wrong he’s done and wants to make it right. But according to several of the women Tullian victimized, he hasn’t said anything to them about the wrong he did against them in seeking to make it right.

          I’m not saying Tullian isn’t a Christian. I’m saying his doctrine is defective. I believe there never comes a timeframe when a Christian is “ready” to teach a defective doctrine.

        • Thank you Rebecca for your insight. I am new to this site so I have not had time to read your blog on lists. I definitely am looking forward to reading it. Thanks again your words. God Bless you and your family;) If anything, I go to rest tonight thinking and praising my Savior for His love and grace and forgiveness. And that is a great thing.

      • Not a defective doctrine. Your misunderstanding or misrepresentation of what The Gospel Of Grace Message Tullian has taught and its effect on many believers is defective. Your constant publicizing of the Devistation to many people caused solely by his sinful lifestyle has merit. He has confessed puplically of the truth of your assertions. If your call in life is to continue on this path and people chose to shun him because of his sinful choices, that’s valid and the horizontal conciquinses he will have to bare. You and those that agree with you might be confused why a multitude of believers have listened to Tullian in the past and continue to do so. It’s because the message he teaches is not the defective message you say it is. It is The Message Of Grace, not any man, that sets us free and if we believe leads us in all good things.

        • All the Scriptures I brought to bear in this article still stand. Tullian’s arguments lead to an age-old problem, the problem is one a friend of mine has called “small grace” and I’ve called “truncated grace.” The forgiveness without the power. I believe I’m not misrepresenting Tullian when I say he doesn’t or didn’t teach that we have any power over sin. He simply said we’re forgiven. That’s small and truncated grace. I’m not really confused as to why many people followed him. But I do know that his error is an old one that’s been around a long time.

    • Uh, how can you focus on sharing the Gospel in Heaven? We can praise the Lord for our redemption but since we will be redeemed no one will be left to preach to.

      And how will spending your life here abusing God’s mercy and crucifying Jesus afresh help fit you for Eternity?

      Should we then, being saved by grace, continue in sin that Grace may abound? Heaven forbid! Romans 6:1

  8. Thanks for interjecting some truthful analysis into this discussion. Tullian’s case is a sad lesson about how the pastorate is a calling not a starring role in a screenplay. What is even more sad to me than the lives that were reduced to ashes by his behavior is what his debacle revealed about so many others’ lack of knowledge and/or concern about the pastorate. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard “men of God” say things like Tullian is too big to fail and that he is too important to the ministry to be black-balled by a couple of mistakes. Really? Apparently there are a lot of people out there serving as elders, deacons, and pastors who do not understand Who supplies the power in the pulpit…

    • Honestly, that makes me sick to my stomach. No one is too big to fail–what does that even mean? God certainly doesn’t think anyone is too big to fail.

      And for “men of God” to call clergy sexual abuse–multiple women at the same time!!–a “mistake” indicates to me that either (1) they are refusing to hear what actually happpened, or (2) they themselves have evil hearts, or (3) they just downright don’t care who supplies “power in the pulpit”–whether it is God or the evil one. I guess there’s a possibility that for many, all three of these are true at the same time.

      But what does it matter, they think, as long as they’re all too big to fail? God have mercy.

  9. Wearing mismatched socks is a mistake. What Tullian did was carefully planned and orchestrated.

    If Nathan had told King David to abdicate the throe after his sin, David would have gladly done so. But David said, “I have SINNED.” Not, “So I made a little mistake. That’s what grace is for. Yuck yuck yuck!”

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