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Location: Greensboro, NC, United States

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

New Pastor of Coral Ridge

This piece of news almost slipped past me. Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, which was founded by the late D. James Kennedy (known for his radio and TV ministries, political involvement, and the creation of the Evangelism Explosion training program), has finally chosen a new pastor. Interestingly enough, they have chosen one of Billy Graham's grandsons. His name is William Graham Tullian Tchividjian. The "Tullian" part comes from the early church father Tertullian, apparently. Here are a couple of articles about the choice of Pastor Tchividjian:

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/breakingnews/sfl-coralridge0118,0,7957788.story

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/broward/story/861948.html

The most important aspect of this, of course, is that Tchividjian has a tan to rival that of his predecessor, Dr. Kennedy. I say this facetiously, of course, but it highlights a couple of concerns it raises in my own mind. The articles note that Coral Ridge considered about 150 potential pastors in their search, but also that they approached Tchividjian on three different occasions. Apparently they wanted this guy pretty bad. But why? I listened to one of his sermons today to get an idea of his teaching. The content was pretty good. And he preached for over forty minutes, so at least he doesn't preach sermonettes like so many contemporary ministers. But the shape of his preaching was very contemporary. His choice of words and his vocal inflections were all very contemporary.

This might seem a rather ridiculous observation on the face of it. But aesthetics matter, and everybody lives like they do, whether or not they realize it.

Prior to now, Coral Ridge's approach to ministry was very 20th century. Their corporate worship (at least, what they showed of it on TV week by week) was a mixture of tradition liturgical worship and American Revivalism. There were liturgical elements, like the procession of the choir, the traditional hymnody, the organ, and the robes that the choir and Dr. Kennedy wore. And yet a measure of the aesthetics of it, such as the slick production of the service, were of the Revivalistic tradition. While I believe that there is a need for liturgical change in every generation, some forms are somehow less bound to particular time periods, and carry more of a sense of transcendence about them. Liturgical robes, for instance, have been used in the church for most of the church's history, and this isn't simply because the church doesn't like change. Some art forms serve the worship of God better, which is simply to say that Relativism doesn't exist in the realm of art any more than it exists in the realm of morals. And, as R. C. Sproul says, all forms are art forms. This includes the shape of the songs we sing and the clothes we wear, not to mention the way we speak.

While Coral Ridge's worship needed some fixing, it was better than what goes on in most contemporary churches today. Tchividjian's approach, as of that of his current church, is more contemporary, however. If taking Tchividjian on as pastor means a further move away from traditional liturgy towards a contemporary worship approach, then things don't bode well for Coral Ridge. We can talk about being counter cultural all we want, and even criticize the culture on specific issues. But if the shape of the worship of the local church isn't counter cultural in some sense, then all of are criticisms will be in vain.

But this raises another issue. Dr. Kennedy often mixed church and politics in an improper way. His sermons in which he tried to prove that certain historical American figures, such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, were faithful Christians (at times dubious, especially regarding the latter figure) were inappropriate for the pulpit of the Christian church. Nonetheless, his speaking out on certain political issues, such as abortion, not to mention his political activism outside of the pulpit, were generally something to be admired and emulated. Tchividjian, on the other hand, wants to pull away from the "culture war" approach that Kennedy took. In one of the articles I linked above, the reporter states that Tchividjian "would not answer questions on current political issues, such as same-sex marriage." If he is simply steering away from a blind allegiance to Americanism, and seeking instead for local reformation, particularly by focusing on community within the church and the way that stretches out to the community around the church, then that's great. But as a Christian, one can't not speak out against the wicked decisions of the government over them. When God says something is evil, I don't then have the option to say, "no, I won't talk about that." When the opportunity arises, I must speak. I can understand how people can get worn out by the culture wars. But perhaps this weariness is just a sign that we need to reassess how we address the culture. It isn't a sign that we need to start acting like our differences don't matter. Considering the direction our country is going, this isn't the time to start getting sheepish about things.

Then there is the issue of the merger of the two churches. In order for Tchividjian to take the position, he wants his church to merge with Coral Ridge. But while Coral Ridge is in the PCA, Tchividjian's church, New City Church, is in the EPC, which is the PCA's slightly more liberal cousin. The EPC (Evangelical Presbyterian Church) holds tenuously to the Westminster Standards, allowing for departures from it even in regards to the Doctrines of Grace. It also allows for the ordination of women. The PCA isn't in the best shape itself, but Coral Ridge would be worse off going into the EPC. On the other hand, unless Tchividjian is willing to publicly renounce the EPC's stance on women's ordination, I don't think he should be let into the PCA. As of yet, it has not been announced which denomination the merged church would be in.

And then there's the celebrityism. He's the grandson of Billy Graham, and has "William Graham" as part of his own name. The news reports haven't hesitated to use his full name to highlight this, though he actually goes by the name "Tullian Tchividjian". But what is the likelihood of Coral Ridge choosing a no-name for the pastorate?

So, basically, Coral Ridge is choosing the grandson of a Christian celebrity, with soap star good looks, who is hip and surfs and listens to cool music, and who doesn't want to address contemporary moral issues when asked about them. As one of the articles above states, "Gasps, then applause, greeted Tchividjian's name as Dr. Dan Westphal, head of Coral Ridge's search committee, announced it during the morning service." Gasps? I hope Tchividjian is a godly man and a good pastor. But all of the above factors combined make me think that the motives behind choosing him should be suspect at the very least.

12 Comments:

Anonymous Heather M said...

A few corrections to your comments regarding the EPC: The EPC's motto is a quote from St. Augustine "In essentials unity, in non-essentials liberty, in all things charity". The Doctrines of Grace are essentials and the EPC does not allow any exceptions to them.
In regards to women's ordination: Tullian has never held to this position. This would be a non-essential, Tullian does not defend it, but others in the EPC do. New City takes the stance of not ordaining women elders.
It is big news and most are suspect. Let's pray that most importantly - whatever the outcome God's Kingdom is extended.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Jason said...

As I am still uncertain about the ins and outs of Presby polity, this question may seem naive, but doesn't it seem like there would have been an elder in their own session capable of taking the primary teaching pastorate?

7:35 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Heather,

Of course, I would disagree with your assessment of women's ordination. No matter how much some individuals obfuscate the issue, nothing is so clear in Scripture as the question of whether or not women should be ordained. And I'm glad for Tullian's and New City's stance on the issue. But this question remains: why was he in the denomination to begin with? There are plenty of other Presbyterian denominations out there. Is it because he thinks it is a non-essential? Then why take the stance against it in your own congregation? For that matter, you said "Tullian does not defend it," but does he actively stand against it?

Regarding the matter of the Doctrines of Grace, what about Limited Atonement? I found nothing on the EPC website specifically dealing with it, which doesn't necessarily mean the denomination allows for floundering on the doctrine, of course. But my understanding for some time had been that, while the EPC is broadly Reformed, they allowed for variations with regard to Limited Atonement. If you have any specific statements regarding the denomination's stance on Limited Atonement, I would be interested in seeing them.

Thanks for your thoughts, of course. But I am concerned as to why it is "big news", and with what this says about the state of the church in America overall.

Jason,

In presbyterian polity, it is generally required that a man have a seminary degree (specifically an M.Div.) in order to pastor. I believe I'm correct in saying that the order is: M.Div. - ordination in denomination - call to a specific church. The other elders in the church are considered ruling elders, and therefore laity, as distinct from teaching elders or pastors, which are clergy. In order for a ruling elder to become pastor, he would have to have the M.Div. and then be ordained. There are exceptions made at times, particularly with men who believe they are called to the pastorate and are older than the typical "school-going" age (our friend Roger Wiles was one of those). But in those cases, the individuals go through a rigorous examination process before they are ordained. And those exceptions, as best I understand, are rare. Roger told me that if I wanted to be ordained, for instance, that I am young enough to where a seminary education would still be required.

8:24 PM  
Anonymous Heather M said...

Essentials would be understood as those things which would be necessary for salvation. I would absolutely agree with you in your assessment of women's ordination. I believe scripture is clear on that issue; however, it isn't necessary for salvation.

I don't know how you came to understand the EPC's view on limited atonement, I don't know if this will satisfy you or not but their website does state that they hold to the Westminster Confession of Faith which does clearly hold to Limited Atonement (chapter XI.3 and 4). Hope that helps clear it up.
Your right, "big news" is probably an overstatement in general terms, but it is big news to both these congregations, which they are making a serious matter of prayer. It obviously caught your attention and you found it newsworthy enough to blog about so maybe you can answer that question for yourself.

10:26 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Heather,

Thanks for your clarification. It's been a number of years since I've interacted with the views of the EPC, so I couldn't trace back to where my ideas came from on this. Limited Atonement often gets compromised as one slides gradually from traditional Presbyterianism towards generic Evangelicalism. And there have been those in church history that were considered "Reformed" in some sense, and yet not fully "Reformed" in another sense because they rejected Limited Atonement. Richard Baxter and J. C. Ryle come to mind in this regard. There is this article on the EPC website, which one would hope would clarify things:

http://www.epc.org/about-the-epc/pastoral-letters/receiving-and-adopting-the-westminster-standards/

But it isn't enough to speak of "the unique Reformed or Calvinistic system of doctrine embodied in the Westminster Standards" when you hold to a system subscription approach to the Standards. Who is to say that the particular Presbytery examining the candidate for ministry won't consider something like Limited Atonement to be a non-essential? This, in fact, is what happened in the downslide of the PCUSA. So I appreciate your help, but it doesn't clear things up for me. I'd like to see a clear statement that they don't allow ministers to reject Limited Atonement.

This is big news for me because of the ministry of Dr. Kennedy and the legacy he left. His church and his ministry were high profile, you might say. While I wouldn't agree with everything he believed or did, I think he served the Lord faithfully and accomplished a lot for the Kingdom. I am concerned that the Church maintain a good testimony before the world, and that Coral Ridge take what Dr. Kennedy accomplished and build on it. I am concerned that they might instead actually be tearing down some of the good he did. And I'm concerned that the choice of Tchividjian is big news for many people because he is Billy Graham's grandson and that he and his approach to ministry sit rather too comfortably with the spirit of the age.

11:40 PM  
Blogger J Huss said...

Dear Kerry,

Thank you for being one of the few folks who even question what is happening at CRPC. For all his faults, Dr. Kennedy was in a company of few peers when it came to his stand for Truth. In our postmodern, populist society, few principled preachers are left. They are taught in seminary to teach to the 7th grade level and to avoid controversy. Should we wonder that our churches function much like religious shopping malls with video gaming arcades attached - for the adults?

1:26 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

Thanks, J Huss. I discovered your blog earlier today, and noticed you had linked to me. Thanks for the encouraging thoughts. Though I know you may not agree with everything I've said here, I'm glad to know somebody understands that I'm not raising questions merely in order to criticize. And you nailed my concerns exactly. Those of us who are standing on the outside looking in and who believe that the seeker Presbyterian churches are doing more harm than good grow pretty concerned when we see another church heading that way.

10:59 PM  
Blogger J Huss said...

You know, at this point, I am not concerned that we all agree. When exactly is that supposed to happen in a fallen world anyway? I am just happy to have a bit of dialog with the few people left that understand something about our presbyterian form of government and reformed theology. I am by no means an expert, but I am learning.

After the announcement from the CRPC pulpit yesterday, this change to a seeker church is pretty much a done deal. Not withstanding a stay from God's hand, everything that Dr. Kennedy worked for will start to be dismantled. My hope is that I am completely wrong, but the target is too prime and there are no watchmen on the wall. It has caught most by surprise and there are so many other distractions.

But God can use this too. Perhaps it takes something like this to wake up whatever is left of the remnant.

12:00 AM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

I'm not up on the latest news there. What announcement are you referring to?

1:47 PM  
Blogger J Huss said...

I know the official silence is deafening. You can see a recent official comment buried deep here:

http://www.crpc.org/news/transition-team-progress-report

I especially like the link to Tullian's blog at the end. Seems like a willing early transition of power there.

The announcement was public from the pulpit and broadcast over the radio, but has not appeared in print yet. The gist is that after meeting with the CRPC Session, Tullian received the full support of the session in a motion that was unanimous.

It was described in glowing terms and we were all solemnly charged to avoid gossip. We were all then directed to ask any questions on Tullian's blog at New City. The analogy was that we are 80% up Mt Everest. That is thought provoking. Don't we need intense preparation to scale Everest? The congregation has to make the journey, too. It's a long way to fall. Somehow, I have a hard time seeing Presbyterians scaling Everest without extreme motivation to do so. Too out of character.

Also, Tullian held a Town Hall meeting with his church this past Friday, but his blog has been silent about the results thus far.

2:40 PM  
Blogger Kerry Lewis said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I always motivated by you, your thoughts and attitude, again, thanks for this nice post.

- Norman

6:09 PM  

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