The One-Way Gospel of Paul David Tripp and Liberate 2014
In February of 2014, the third annual “Liberate” conference was held at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Florida where Tullian Tchividjian is senior pastor. The theme of the conference was “God’s One-Way Love”.
In the words of keynote speaker Tchividjian, the conference was focused on God’s “inexhaustible love for an inexhaustible world”. He stated that the purpose of the “Liberate” conferences is to “rebrand Christianity on a global scale” so that “in twenty years…evangelicalism would come to be understood not as “cultural warfare” but solely as “forgiveness of sins” with no “and then” to its gospel.
He characterizes evangelical Christians as thinking “they need to gain God’s favor.” The Conference says nothing to help listeners understand this to be man’s nature in the line of Adam. Instead, it is said to be due to the environment. It is described as having been taught by parents and/or the church. Thus the audience is assumed to be caught on the “performance treadmill” believing that Christianity demands such.
Typical of false teaching, there is no distinction made between believer and unbeliever. Nor is any distinction made in this conference between justification and sanctification. Because of this, the conference contradicts itself in offering nothing but its own variant of performance-ism for that problem from which they feel we need to be liberated.
Tchividjian assumes that evangelicals are seeking “the cure for exhaustion.” He even describes his listeners as “weary and heavy laden” using the words of that hymn while ignoring its advice to “tell it to Jesus alone.” Instead, he tells his own troubles in life to anyone who will listen, pouring out details of his own past rebellious behavior while excusing it as an attempt to “validate” himself and gain “self-worth”. He claims to realize now that he located his identity in tennis and therefore, assumed that if he didn’t win, he “didn’t count.” His talk consists largely of psychotherapeutic catharsis interspersed with details of his own rebellious son saying of him, “What Jesus was apparently incapable of doing, a girl did.” After proudly using the term “damn fool”, he tells his listeners that there is “no need whatsoever to validate ourselves” concluding his presentation by saying, “Love God and do what you want!”
As explained by Tchividjian, “God’s One-Way Love” means that Christians are to be liberated from any notion that the free gift of God’s “inexhaustible” grace would lead to what he calls “performance-ism”.
Also featured at the conference was Elyse Fitzpatrick, an increasingly popular speaker at Christian women’s conferences and author of numerous Christian self-help books. She spoke on “The Fruit of One-Way Love” which she lists as “transparency, laughter, and rest”. Following after Tchividjian, she characterizes evangelicals as “weighed down by all the bad news” of Christianity. This “bad news” includes “all the things you are supposed to do to prove you are properly grateful.” She promises her listeners that “God has no unmet expectations for you” and urges them to “relax and stop pretending.”
Paul David Tripp
Paul David Tripp was a featured speaker at Liberate 2014 (as he was in 2012 and 2013 and is scheduled for 2015). He is a Christian counselor who trained and worked at the Christian Counseling and Education Foundation (CCEF) in Pennsylvania but now has his own incorporated “ministry”. He is also a popular speaker and author of self-help books intended for a Christian audience. He is an engaging speaker: humorous, self-deprecating, peppering his performances with bible quotations, and offering clever (but psychological) answers to the common problems of daily living. He describes himself as “a thinker-guy”, a “theo-geek” and jokes that his signature mustache has its own twitter site.
Tripp’s topic at Liberate 2014 was “God’s One-Way Love and Personal Identity.” Identity as a topic has an interesting history. This term has replaced the older term ‘personality’. This replacement reflects a fundamental shift in emphasis from external to internal, from objective to subjective. Personality referred to the individual’s typical or characteristic behavior. The emphasis was on objective observation. Such observations served to group behavior into various personality types. For example, the “obsessive compulsive personality type” was composed of a set of typical behaviors that could be observed from the outside.
Identity, however, is quite different. This is supposedly an individual’s conception or mental model of the self, a product of private self-reflection and self-awareness. This so-called identity is entirely internal and subjective; the types are defined not by observable behaviors but solely by the claims of the individual. Thus today we have individuals claiming a particular “gender identity” rather than being labeled by sexual behavior. Psychologists speak about identity as value-neutral; it is something a person is rather than what he does.
The psychological theory of identity claims that everyone has a compelling need for a satisfactory identity. Freudian Psychoanalyst Alfred Adler popularized the belief that the necessary elements of a satisfactory identity are feelings of security, significance and self-worth. As with most popular psychological theories, this view invaded Christian counseling. An important conduit for this corruption was the work of Larry Crabb (Inside Out) and later Robert McGee who wrote the bestseller The Search for Significance founding the Rapha Christian psychotherapy enterprise. In that book, McGee states, “Since the fall, man has often failed to turn to God for the truth about himself. Instead he has looked to others to meet his inescapable need for self-worth.” (Search p.25) He adds, “By imputing righteousness to us, God attributes Christ’s worth to us”. (Search p.53) This view of man and God is the philosophical foundation for the Liberate Conference.
All the speakers assume that need for an identity of security, significance, and self-worth is real and compelling. They all agree that we look in the wrong places for this identity; they all include “nasty theology” as one of those wrong places. They state that the “inexhaustible grace of God” should be the source of a Christian’s security, significance, and self-worth. They conclude that Christians should feel “liberated” from performance-ism being free to ‘cuss’ as well as to “relax and stop pretending.”
“God’s One-Way Love and Personal Identity” not only reveals Tripp’s reliance upon a particularly egregious psychological theory but points to the fundamental theological error of the entire conference: God’s love is “one-way” with no “and then”; therefore, you can “love God and do what you want.” To these speakers, liberation means an always-loving-never-wrathful God lavishes his inexhaustible grace/love upon you empowering you to realize and affirm your “identity” making you finally free to “do what you want.”
Since the Liberate speakers see Jesus as coming to liberate us from lack of self-worth, the Apostle Paul’s clear response to this deception is never mentioned. “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer” Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death”? (Romans 6:1-3) If sinful behavior is simply an attempt to gain security and significance, this talk about baptism into Christ’s death is bad news. Jesus says in John 12:25 that we are to lose our life in order to find it; the Liberate speakers urge the finding of life and to get over the idea of having to lose it.
Tripp’s presentation focuses, not on sin, but on “the disease” which he defines as “identity amnesia”. This sickness is spread by “nasty theology” which focuses on who God is and what He expects rather than on “who we are.” Tripp claims that an “information approach to Scripture is evil.” He says that such “nasty theology” promotes “lack of rest, timidity, doubt, worry, addictions”, etc. Most importantly, it causes us to “forget who we are” and focus on our failings. Tripp says that the “Savior has come to me and I’m OK.” Throughout his presentation, there are repeated references to the receiving of God’s grace/love but nothing about a resultant desire to return thanks, worship, confess, repent, turn from sin, or even share the comfort of such grace with another person. Instead, Tripp tells his listeners to say to themselves, “I am; therefore I can”.
He surely assumes his audience to be so poorly grounded in Scripture that none will recognize the blasphemy of urging the creature to take on the name of the Creator or remember that name was given when God told Moses to “take your sandals off your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.” (Exodus 3:5.14). He assumes none will recognize this move to Monism (no separation between God, man and creation) since such thinking has become so much a part of what is called Christian psychology in the twenty-first century.
With humour, personal stories, and emotion, Tripp warns his listeners, “If you make the darkness inside you your meditation, you’re going down.” He permits no thought that the audience is already ‘down’ in a vastly more serious manner than they realize. Jesus made it clear in John 3:18 that man is thoroughly down in being condemned already. Like the other speakers, Tripp is concerned with subjective feelings rather than objective Truth about the self.
Rather than examining sinful thoughts and behaviour according to Scripture, Tripp advises, “Run to his beauty…gaze upon the beauty of the Lord…his beauty unleashed upon you by his grace…live based on who you have become by gorgeous grace…afraid of no one, nothing.” This florid language communicates much feeling but no real Scriptural truth.
Tripp fits readily into the theme of this conference, the call to “Liberate” Christianity from what Tchividjian calls “performance-ism”. Presumably, the audience calls itself Christian; therefore, the speakers are assumed to be using Jesus to accomplish this liberation. However, so little Scripture is used by any of these speakers that the talks could easily fit into any secular self-help seminar. The philosophy underlying the instructions from Tchividjian, Tripp, and Elyse Fitzpatrick is the classic Adlerian version of Freud. Their talks all assume that the problem of mankind is lack of self-worth expressed in a search for security and significance. They are essentially a re-run of Larry Crabb and Robert McGee (Rapha) packaged for a new generation with comedy and “cussing”. Elyse says, “You’re so freakin’ miserable!” Tchividjian recommends a book with foul language saying, “British people cuss, so get beyond it!”
They treat the audience like children directing them to repeat self-affirming phrases after them. Tripp tells them they do not need more “ideas” or more of the “boring informational approach”; instead, they need his “deeply personal” approach. He says he won’t “talk to you [if] you want to critique.” Instead, he wants to be certain that “the ‘MY’ lives in your life the way it should.” “I don’t need to lap up achievement. I don’t need you to like me.” Tripp tells the audience that Jesus died for their peace, security, and inner sense of meaning.
He tries to force the first verse of Psalm 27 into his analysis of the human problem saying that this verse should be taught not in relation to who God is but rather to “who you are.” He then asks the audience to “sense my passion” about the word ‘my’: “The Lord is MY light and MY salvation”. After much personal babble and comedy on so-called relationships, he ends with a call to meditation similar to the Buddhist technique of mindfulness training. “Stop the study; don’t analyze or think. Just sit with your Bible and gaze.” He bases the need for this on his own personal experience in seminary where he claims that he wept after the first seven chapters of Romans. Instead of the apostle Paul’s “Oh, wretched man that I am,” (Romans 7:24) this counselor Paul wept because he had become a “theo-geek” studying those seven chapters in Greek. He supposedly needed his wife to reassure him that he could still be deep and personal rather than cold and theological. According to Tripp, she made him realize that he was “ok” without Greek and theology. He needed “rest from achievement” at that point, or he would have left seminary. Based on this experience, he urges his audience to come to this same realization about themselves.
Tchividjian, Fitzpatrick and Tripp are so directly contradictory to Scripture that the most elementary student of the Bible would easily refute the false teaching. Their talks analyze personal motives, excuse sinful behaviour, lead people into mysticism, elevate antinomianism, and ridicule the Christian who is “zealous for good works” (Titus 2:14) or who studies as a “worker who does not need to be ashamed.” (II Timothy 2:15) “Wherefore, gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (I Peter 1:13) “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before-hand that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10) Presumably, such verses are the “nasty theology” from which Christians need to be liberated. Instead of Scripture, Liberate offers psychological self-help “according to their own desires…they will turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables.” (II Timothy 4:3, 4) In the name of Liberation, this conference offers Bondage.