William Graham Tullian’s Washington Post Article

In the below link,


William Graham Tullian (WGT) offers some good points and some points I’m not sure of. Because it is all confused and jumbled together the article could be confusing. I won’t be interacting with the whole article, so I encourage the reader to access the whole article to make sure and get the whole context.

WGT opens

America’s churches came back into the media limelight a few weeks ago after a well-publicized Pew study showed a meteoric rise of Americans claiming no religious affiliation, shooting up from seven percent in 1990 to 16 percent in 2010. The percentage more than doubled for those under the age of 30, reaching almost 35 percent. The group is now being referred to as “the religious nones.”

Bret offers,

It might have been helpful here had someone noted that it is impossible to be a “religious nones.” Now, certainly people may not self identify with a religion but that doesn’t make them any less religious then the person thought to be the most religious person on the planet. Part of what it means to come to intellectual maturity is to realize that religion is an inescapable category and that the lives of all people is conditioned by their religion. The flight from religion never happens apart from a flight to religion.


There has been no lack of theorizing to account for the numbers. Some chalk it up to a more visibly secularized society, others to doctrinal confusion, and others to the social media-fueled culture of distraction among today’s youth. Some dismiss the charge as alarmist, claiming that young people have always had a distaste for organized religion. The list goes on.


If my above paragraph is true (and it is) then it follows that societies never become more secularized as it is as impossible for societies to be a-religious as it is for individuals to be irreligious. If more secularized societies means that the society as a whole is operating apart from a religion foundation then the notion that societies become more secularized is ridiculous. Man, rather considered as a individual or in his societal role, is a hopelessly religious being.


In a recent column for CNN, Rachel Held Evans opined that, “what millennials really want from the church is not a change in style but a change in substance.” Speaking as someone who has spent the past forty plus years in the bosom of American Evangelicalism, she is certainly onto something. The “what” is the issue, not the “how.”
You don’t have to be a sociologist to know that we live in a culture of asphyxiating “performancism.” Performancism is the mindset that equates our identity and value directly with our performance. It casts achievements not as something we do or don’t do but as something we are (or aren’t). The money we earn, the car we drive, the schools we attend, aren’t merely reflective of our occupation or ability; they are reflective of us. They are constitutive rather than descriptive. In this schema, success equals life, and failure is tantamount to death.


If WGT is correct about “performancism” then what the culture needs above all is the law preached to them to remind them of their performance failure. The last thing these performance hounds need to hear is that God accepts their failures apart from a confessed recognition that all their performances (even the best of them) are as filthy rags before God. They should be told that their schema is correct. Success does equal life and failure is tantamount to death and the fact is that the most successful of them in the congregation are failures.

You see my problem with WGT is I sense that WGT wants to rush to the Gospel solution before setting the law hook. WGT’s message leads people to conclude, “It’s ok if my performance isn’t good enough because God isn’t exacting.” But God is exacting and God does demand performance.

My next problem is that the performance hounds are only self disappointed regarding their performance. An awareness needs to be opened to them that they need be more concerned about the fact that God is disappointed with them. The good news of the Gospel is not they have no need to be hard on themselves but rather that because of the Lord Christ God is no longer hard on them. This is not an unimportant distinction because, with notable exceptions, the emphasis on WGT’s article is how self is hard on self. The problem that those who refuse to attend church have instead is that God is more hard on them then they will ever be on themselves.

The fact that WGT’s article is anthropocentric regarding people’s performance issue makes me wonder about the article as a whole.


Performancism leads us to spend our lives frantically propping up our image or reputation, trying to have it all, do it all, and do it all well, often at a cost to ourselves and those we love. Life becomes a hamster wheel of endless earning and proving and maintenance and management, where all we can see is our own feet. Before long we are living in a constant state of anxiety, fear, and resentment. A few years ago, Dr. Richard Leahy, an anxiety specialist, was quoted as saying, “The average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”


Naturally self is always concerned about self. This is a succinct definition of sin. The last thing we need to tell the performance hounds is that God gives them permission to not be concerned about performance. In point of fact what they need to be told is that God is more demanding of them than they will ever be of themselves. Of course when they become convinced of their inability to live up to God’s standards then we give them the good news of Christ performance for them and that God is satisfied with Christ’s performance for them.


Sadly, the church has not proven immune to performancism. An institution theoretically devoted to providing comfort to those in need is in trouble because it has embraced the same pressure-cooker we find everywhere else.In recent years, a handful of popular books have been published urging a more robust and radical expression of the Christian faith. I heartily amen the desire to take one’s faith seriously and demonstrate before the watching world a willingness to be more than just Sunday churchgoers. The unintended consequence of this push, however, is that we can give people the impression that Christianity is first and foremost about the sacrifices we make rather than the sacrifice Jesus made for us – our performance rather than his performance for us. The hub of Christianity is not “do something for Jesus.” The hub of Christianity is “Jesus has done everything for you.” And my fear is that too many people, both inside and outside the church, have heard our “do more, try harder” sermons and pleas for intensified devotion and concluded that the focus of the Christian faith is the work that we do instead of the work God has done for us in the person of Jesus.


I’m going to need a list of all these pressure cooker Churches because I don’t know where they are at.

Still, there is much to like in this paragraph. I only wish we didn’t need to create false dichotomies as if emphasizing Christ’s performance for us means that our performance doesn’t matter. Even St. Paul could say,

by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not found vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

Obviously Christ performance is what is central — and the centrality of that needs to remain central — but the effect of Christ’s performance for us is dimly reflected in our performance for Christ and if we care not about our performance for Christ then we must ask ourselves if we care about Christ’s performance for us.


Furthermore, too many churches perpetuate the impression that Christianity is primarily concerned with morality. As my colleague David Zahl has written, “Christianity is not about good people getting better. It is about real people coping with their failure to be good.” The heart of the Christian faith is Good News not good behavior.When Sunday mornings become one more venue for performance evaluation, can you blame a person for wanting to stay at home?
As someone who loves the church, I am saddened by the perception of Christianity as a vehicle of moral control and good behavior, rather than a haven for the discouraged and dying. It is high time for the church to remind our broken and burned out world that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a one-way declaration that because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak; because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose; because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail.


Again, we must beware false dichotomies. It is true that Christianity is not primarily concerned with morality but that doesn’t mean that Christianity isn’t proximately concerned about morality. Certainly St. James was concerned with morality. If one reads St. John’s epistles you can see that he is concerned about morality. St. Paul is concerned about morality when he asks, “What shall we say? Shall we go on sinning that grace might increase? God forbid! It is just not helpful when Christian ministers write as if morality is not a concern of the Christian God.

And the Zahl quote just isn’t accurate. Christianity is about good people getting better. It is true that none of our “good” in an absolute sense but by God’s grace alone we are transformed from glory unto glory (II Cor. 3:18). Christianity teaches that we are not what we will be, but it also teaches that we are not what we once were.

The fact that Christians do begin, with serious purpose, to conform not only to some, but to all the commandments of God indicates that by God’s grace alone we are being changed.

The fact that Christianity is seen about Christians being moral is seen in Paul’s words to the Ephesians,

But ye did not so learn Christ;

21 if so be that ye heard him, and were taught in him, even as truth is in Jesus:

22 that ye put away, as concerning your former manner of life, the old man, that waxeth corrupt after the lusts of deceit;

23 and that ye be renewed in the spirit of your mind,

24 and put on the new man, that after God hath been created in righteousness and holiness of truth.

25 Wherefore, putting away falsehood, speak ye truth each one with his neighbor: for we are members one of another.

26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath:

27 neither give place to the devil.

28 Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labor, working with his hands the thing that is good, that he may have whereof to give to him that hath need.

But of course it is not only about good people being constantly renewed by Grace alone. It is also about comforting the afflicted who see that they are not yet what they are called to be. Christianity is also about helping real people cope with their failure of not being good. The Christian faith encourages people to press on

13 Brethren, I count not myself yet to have laid hold: but one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, and stretching forward to the things which are before,

14 I press on toward the goal unto the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

15 Let us therefore, as many as are mature, be thus minded: and if in anything ye are otherwise minded, this also shall God reveal unto you:

So the Church has a word of hope and comfort to the floundering and it has a word to those who are not floundering. To those who are floundering the word is, “It is true you are a great sinner, but Christ is a greater Savior.” To those who are not floundering the word is, “further in and farther up.”


Grace and rest and absolution–with no new strings or anxieties attached–now that would be a change in substance.

Was The Lord Christ attaching strings when he spoke of the necessity to deny one’s self, take up his Cross and follow?

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

6 thoughts on “William Graham Tullian’s Washington Post Article”

  1. That was great! I’m glad you did a response. I’m still looking for all of these churches concerned about following “God’s rules.” I have not heard one sermon on the radio, seen an ad for a sermon series or heard of someone talking about their congregation preaching on the “need to follow God’s rules.” I actually see the complete opposite mantra of “we need more grace & less rule following.” As you say: False dichotomies.

  2. Sad article by Tullian. Coral Ridge is missing D James Kennedy. A lot of “let go and let God” cheap grace mumbo-jumbo.

    1. Silas,

      Religion is that mechanism by which men interpret and prioritize their world. In religion all men have a God or God concept that organizes their system of beliefs, ceremonies and rituals whereby they serve that god, gods, or God concept.

      1. That definition just made entry into my all-time quotes notebook!

        How didactic of you.

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