October 17, 2017

Glorious Ruin—Introduction (iMonk Book Club)

We are kicking off our iMonk Book Club with the latest from Tullian Tchividjian, Glorious Ruin: How Suffering Sets You Free. The book club idea is not meant to be me (or any of our other writers) reviewing the book, but simply beginning and moderating discussion. I have my ideas about this selection, and will be sharing them throughout the week. But I really want to hear what you think. So jump in and let’s have fun.

Tullian Tchividjian (his last name is pronounced “cha-vi-jin”) is the pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. His struggles with taking over the church after its longtime pastor, D. James Kennedy, died are just part of the suffering he describes. But this book is unlike most every other book dealing with suffering.

So why write another book on suffering?

Certainly we have enough works on the topic already, books that attempt to explain why God allows suffering, presumably in a way that ultimately lets God off the hook. And while much smarter people than me have constructed elaborate systems in this pursuit—the fancy word for this is theodicy—they are by definition exercises in speculation. To know the Why would be to grasp the mind of God, which is something none of us can do.

He says we have plenty of books that address the How of suffering—how pain can be used for gain in our lives. That is not the purpose of this book either.

The question I would like to emphasize instead—and the only one that will ultimately point us toward the truth—is the Who amid our suffering. Which is fortunate, since it is the only question that God has seen fit to answer, concretely, in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

Tchividjian puts all on a level surface when it comes to suffering, discounting the one-upmanship that is often deployed in Christian circles. You may have boils on your butt, but I have them on my butt and both legs. That sort of thing. We all suffer. Yours may be physical today, financial tomorrow, and emotional next week. Another may have suffered the loss of a spouse or close friend. And another may have just lost his job. It doesn’t matter what you circumstances are—everybody hurts. (And yes, the author does credit R.E.M. for that.)

So, what do you think? Has he opened the door for all who are suffering with this intro? Are you intrigued enough to keep going?

What do you hope to find at the end of this read?

Our chairs are in a circle now, and the floor is open for your thoughts.

Comments

  1. job endured suffering like no other, yet he never got the why question answered. in the end it was enough for him to trust god in the midst of his pain and suffering. “for i know that my redeemer lives, and he will raise me up on the last day.”

    • Jeff Dunn says:

      The author references Job throughout the book. Do you ever think, though, that we compare our sufferings–big or small–to those of Job and think, “Oh well, God only deals with those who are suffering in a big way. He doesn’t have time for my small things”?

      • I think everybody is guilty of this overly pious self-abnegation at times. We don’t want to appear like whiners before God because we don’t want to be his “projects.” We want to contribute to the equation. Perhaps it really is all about getting us to despair of our abilities so that we can see the reality that trusting Christ is our only hope.

      • Yes. In fact, Tullian deals with this exact question a little later and says that we shouldn’t trivialize our suffering, even over relatively inconsequential things, but recognize it for whta it is.

  2. Marie Whitehead says:

    The What we know intimately- what specific suffering we are entangled with at this time in our lives.

    The How to endure- people offer solutions all the time, mostly unhelpful to me in my specific circumstances.

    The Why- I think our hearts search for this thinking if we get the answer the suffering will be less or go away, as in, find the why and you have solved the big eternal puzzle. Sounds a bit of like trying to be god…

    It is only the Who who will be there with us, guiding our hearts through he mess and muck of suffering Who offers us Himself again and again and again. Who goes before us, behind us all around us in the journey. Who at times speaks softly giving us words that pierce and soothe and enhearten.

    I am intrigued…

  3. Not to hijack a thread but I have a question about Tully Tchividjian….. I’ve noticed that he identifies with The Gospel Coalition. Now I’m trying to figure things out…I’m reading Paul Coban’s book which I grabbed from Amazon. But I’m sitting here on the sidelines noticing that The Gospel Coaliiton is attacking Rachel Held Evans as if she were the anti-Christ. It’s all over the board from John Piper to Tim Keller’s wife. The Gospel Colaiiton has some questionable objections in my book, and when a Pastor like Tchividjian who identifies with TGC comes out with a book. My initial reaction is to be suspicious…no matter how much I am drowning in the issue of pain, suffeirng and evil -AND CRAVE some answers about these topics, becuase let’s be honest I’ve shared a lot here at I-Monk over the past few years. But I’m asking about the source of the book since he identifies so much with the TGC.

    Do others feel like that?

    • I used to pay a lot of attention to the source of Christian writings and exhortations. If they did not come from a group that I liked, then I ignored their writings altogether. I was wrong. Very wrong.

      If the truth be told, we should probably be wary of all Christian groups . . . don’t you think? I do not know which denomination you call home, but I am willing to bet that there is more than one person in your group that has caused embarrassment in their words, deeds, and doctrine. I can say that because I see the same thing in my own affiliation, which is made up of fragile, fallible people just like all the others.

      You should listen to Mr. Tchividjian because above all things, he loves Jesus and His Gospel. Whether you know suffering or joy, he will point you to Christ because he simply does not know anyone or anything greater. If he holds to a doctrine to which you object (like complementariansim) I can assure you that he holds it with far less intensity than he does the Person and Work of Jesus. Because of his high view of Jesus, I believe there is a good chance that he would have some encouraging words for that which you crave.

      I listen to and read lots of Christians that I am not in full agreement with. I am not a Lutheran, Anglican, Catholic, but I have been blessed by men and women from these traditions. That is one reason I keep visiting all of the I-Monks. There was a day when I would not listen to others, so I missed out on the richness of N.T. Wright, Rachel Held Evans, and even someone like Chaplain Mike. For all of the differences, one truth keeps rising with a resilient persistency: Jesus Christ and Him crucified, risen, and coming again. It would be as big a mistake for anyone to shut out TGC as it was for me to shut out a host of other believers.

      Wherever the Word comes from, I truly hope that your craving is satified. May the Lord bless you.

    • Josh in FW says:

      Well Chill said it better than I can. I was a little concerned about reading the book for reasons similar to those you stated, but I think Tchividjian has written a book that can be helpful to Christians across the doctrinal spectrum. I was impressed by the variety of sources he quoted. I recall a reference to Mother Teresa, Merton, and a book published by Ignatius Press. The book isn’t nearly as long as the 198 pages implies due to the spacing. It’s a quick read and I would give it a shot just so you can let the rest of us here know your thoughts.

    • I’m wary of some of what comes out of the gospel coalition- but Mr. Tchividjian is the real deal. I’ve listened to some of his sermons- he definitely points to Christ in his teaching and has a good understanding that the law is the school master that leads us to Christ. If you google his name you can check out his blog.

    • The thing about TGC is that they are just a John Calvin club. Because of their inerrantist views on scripture and strict interpretative methods, they also are all generally complementarians. The problem with many TGC members is not that they are complementarians, but that they can be quite agressive and tactless in their rhetoric, and definitely have a skewed sense of theological priorities. Tchividjian is in this club by virtue of being a PCA minister, which would mean that he is also a complementarian. But not all of them are like Mohler or Piper. There’s a broad range of personalities in that group, I wouldn’t think if fair to assume all who associate are jerks. Many members are on blogroll here or are BHT fellows. Is Imonk guilty by association now?

      That being said, they are going after RHE because they think her ideas are not only wrong but harmful. Given that they see things that way, the more inconsiderate thing would be to say nothing. Yes, their reasoning can be quite kooky at times. But what’s the worst that could happen by reading it?

    • By now I’ve listened to almost every sermon of Tullian’s, and I never get the impression he has much in common with the TGC crowd. A lot of what he says seems outright contradictory toward the Mark Driscoll Christian-tough-guy message. I’ve never heard him say a thing about complementarianism, or come down dogmatically on any issue of politics, evolution, and so on. The only particular bias that ever really shows up is Calvinism, and even that was only really in the first few sermons on Job. If there was one guy who I thought might offer a message you would like, Eagle, it’d be Tullian.

    • I had a sermon to prepare for last week and my husband pointed out John Piper had already spoken on the passage. I swallowed hard several times then listened to what Piper had to say and it was pretty good and helpful. No one is perfect and I think that if we only listened to people who we agreed with in every respect on every subject then I suspect most of us would only listen to ourselves!

  4. Ooops…I meant to say Eagle….

  5. Josh in FW says:

    First of all, thanks for the recommendation Jeff. I read this book pretty quickly and am sure that I missed some good stuff, but I liked how Tchividjian used the framework of Theology of Glory vs. Theology of the Cross. I was a little disappointed, because I was hoping for more ‘answers’. But, I think this avoidance of easy answers is what made the book worth reading.

    A few lines that hit close to home and got my attention enough to write down:

    “A sign that you are operating with a theology of glory is when your faith feels like a fight against these realities instead of a resource for accepting them.” pg 42

    “Instead of a hospital for sufferers, church becomes a glorified costume party, where lonely men and women tirelessly police each other’s facade of holiness. The higher up in the pecking order, the less room for weakness.” pg 80

    “The tragic irony in all this is that when we focus so strongly on our need to get better, we actually get worse. We become even more neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our guilt (instead of God’s grace) makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective. And what is Original Sin if not a preoccupation with ourselves?” pg 82

    “. . . explanations are ultimately a substitute for trust.” pg 150

    “The truth is, suffering does not rob us of joy; idolatry does.” pg 162

    Now, if I could only be confident enough in God’s promises to face my sufferings head on rather than putting so much effort into avoiding them.

  6. I was amazed at the book. Tullian is going to grow into one of today’s theologians if he keeps going in this direction. I was totally surprised by the breadth of his reading choices. Some of his phrases showed such insight. “The gospel is for the defeated, not for the dominant” His chapter on Suffering Honestly will set so many people free – in fact I hope the whole book does just that. I mean what young pastor today would say, “The appropriate response to life in this world is grief and pain.” Uh – hasn’t he heard good old Joel Osteen? I found myself responding with both joy and anger. Anger at having “bought into” wrong theology and joy at having learned much of what Tullian has learned in the past couple of years. When he says, “All this to say, if you attend a church where you’re not hearing the gospel regularly, it might be the time to find a new place of worship. Because when the ‘big hurt’ comes, you’re going to need it!”

    I am so grateful to have learned about this book from the Internet Monk. I could hardly put it down and will go back to it time and again to digest all that is available in it. If I could afford it I would give it to every person on my Christmas list.

  7. Tchividjian largely succeeds in validating our pedestrian sufferings, and this is useful insofar as it helps us see ourselves not as victims but as broken people in a broken world. (C. S. Lewis makes a similar point in “The Problem of Pain” when he points out that there is no such overwhelming thing as “the sum total of human suffering.” All there is is the suffering that is experienced by any given person at any given moment.)

    The tone of the writing and the character of the quotations are largely familiar (so far reminiscent of Os Guinness), but I think I will finish it out.

  8. I think Tullian has nailed it. I hope that by the time I finish this book, I become prepared to deal with suffering not by minimalizing or glorifying it, but by being able to identify it as an opportunity to know God more closely – regardless of whether I get anything out of the experience myself.

  9. I have suffered immensely in the past 2.5 years. My marriage a wreck by surprise; my spouse possibly mentally ill now with the shocking stuff crept back in. Seriously. A year ago, I delivered my first and only homegrown baby straight to heaven. Sometimes, I scream cry while raising a hand to the heavens while almost seeing God’s heel. I’ll get this book and read it, but I’ve drawn my conclusion through my despair. God is real. Jesus is real. This world is not my home, and it’s broken and backward. After God’s rescue and taking Jesus at His word, I honestly believe you can kill me and tear me apart, but you can’t take my soul. Jesus died to give me such deeply convicted hope and peace in spite of the heartache I must carry. If I hadn’t suffered, I don’t know that I’d ever have sought Him to find Him. I didn’t need a Savior, but oh do I now. So my deep load is back to carry. The future is uncertain in the way I know it today. But I know Jesus has never left me and will always be able to carry my heavy loads on His yoke. I love my Savior, my Lord, more than this life or anything in this world.
    I hope that wasn’t boasting. My heart is raw, open and bleeding. Again.

    • Oh goodness Kris…I’m sorry for your sorrows. I had a miscarriage earlier this year and felt some intense emotional pain from that, so I can only imagine your experience. I know these are just words over the internet, but I am praying right now that God continues to draw you near to Him. How true it is that the gospel is for the broken and broken-hearted.

      One thing I appreciated in Tullian’s introduction was his reminder that our God “is a God who suffers himself. Maybe even dies. A God who meets people in their suffering, rather than on the other side of it.” This “man of sorrows, acquainted with grief” knows your pain and has wept with you. May you feel his nearness today, sister!

      • Thank you, Karen. I very much appreciate your kindness and love in responding. Peace be yours and mine in Christ alone!

  10. Also, if you go to crpc.org and click on Media and then Sermons, you can listen to or watch his sermons. I just recently got an mp3 player so I can listen to podcasts. I see these are mostly videos. I will have to find out whether my mp3 player can play the sound. I know it won’t show a video. Some mp3 players will, but not mine. I didn’t think I would want to watch a video in a screen less than two inches in size.

  11. ()ops, I put this on the wrong blog entry, so you will see this in the previous entry as well.)

    For those of us who don’t have the book…if you go to crosswalk.com and click on blogs and then scroll down through a list of names to click on his name, you will see that he has three fairly lengthy sections of his book. They are his blog entries on August 31, September 26 and October 16. Looks like great stuff.

  12. Good article and comments. I really like Tullian because he says it like he believes and doesn’t seem to cater to the TGC that much. He disagreed with Piper, Keller, DeYoung recently on sanctification. He believes it is all accomplished by Christ through the indwelling Spirit, while they believe it is a joint effort between us and the Holy Spirit. As some have pointed out above all groups have diversity, as Christ would have it, but TGC engages each other in polemics while trying to reach agreement on issues. Recently they took on TD Jakes over the Trinity and CJ Mahaney over another issue. So they are at least trying to be a loving and yet accountable group holding each other responsible to the true Gospel and scripture.

  13. Josh in FW says:

    First of all, thanks for the recommendation Jeff. I read this book pretty quickly and am sure that I missed some good stuff, but I liked how Tchividjian used the framework of Theology of Glory vs. Theology of the Cross. I was a little disappointed, because I was hoping for more ‘answers’. But, I think this avoidance of easy answers is what made the book worth reading.

    A few lines that hit close to home and got my attention enough to write down:

    “A sign that you are operating with a theology of glory is when your faith feels like a fight against these realities instead of a resource for accepting them.” pg 42

    “Instead of a hospital for sufferers, church becomes a glorified costume party, where lonely men and women tirelessly police each other’s facade of holiness. The higher up in the pecking order, the less room for weakness.” pg 80

    “The tragic irony in all this is that when we focus so strongly on our need to get better, we actually get worse. We become even more neurotic and self-absorbed. Preoccupation with our guilt (instead of God’s grace) makes us increasingly self-centered and morbidly introspective. And what is Original Sin if not a preoccupation with ourselves?” pg 82

    “. . . explanations are ultimately a substitute for trust.” pg 150

    “The truth is, suffering does not rob us of joy; idolatry does.” pg 162

    Now, if I could only be confident enough in God’s promises to face my sufferings head on rather than putting so much effort into avoiding them.