Dear Paul Tripp...

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Dear Paul,

I was surprised that you wrote to tell us how we should view the end of Tullian Tchividjian's marriage. But since you addressed us publicly on your web site, I thought I'd write back and publicly say a few things that have occurred to me as well.

I must confess that for many years I confused you with your brother Tedd, never being quite sure which of you was the one doing or saying what. Sorry. I know it can sting. Perhaps it's the mustaches... (For years, for us it was the bow ties.)

More recently, I've been clear on the distinction. Tedd wrote the book my mother commended to me years ago, Shepherding a Child's Heart. Tedd was the pastor my friend Stephen Baker trained under. You're the PCA Tripp who's done the counseling for years. So I think I've got you straight, and my appreciation for your family's ministry is real. Moreover, there are people in the church I pastor who remember you from the Alliance church you attended in the 1950s and 60s. 

It's recently struck me that we've lived for years as each other's kind of reverse doppelganger, swooping back and forth across the same landscape like ships doomed to pass in the night. For instance, the church I pastor is attended by a daughter of the pastor who led the church you attended throughout your childhood, and even the granddaughter of that man's predecessor, pastor of that church when you were born. You were a kid together with people I'm approaching senior citizenship with. 

You were born and raised in Toledo, moving to Philadelphia as an adult. I was born in Philadelphia (with ties to Tenth Presbyterian) and moved to Toledo when I was thirty.

You went to college at Columbia Bible College. I went to college at Macalester. You went to Reformed Episcopal Seminary. I went to Gordon-Conwell. You were at Tenth under Jim Boice. I interned at Fullerton Ev. Free under Chuck Swindoll. Your name is Paul David and mine David Jeremy.

I could go on... You wear glasses today like those I wore in my college years. It was the punk rock era; I cut my hair short and found the frames of my dreams at an optical shop that sold safety glasses to industry...

My pair was nearly as sartorially splendid as yours: wayfarer frames of anodized aluminum with gold corners and bridge; a working-man's Buddy Holly look. I remember the envy the day I showed up with my new glasses: "Where'd you find those?!" my friends asked. Perhaps people ask you the same today. 

Your mustache reminds me of my own during college, though mine never got quite as long. I enjoyed retro clothing then too.... In fact, I suspect we share a certain aesthetic principle, though in recent years I've toned down the affect. I am a grandfather, after all. I used to wear bow ties, but then I saw Jon Stewart light up Tucker Carlson on Crossfire and it kind of ruined the look for me. (If you haven't seen it on YouTube, trust me, don't. It will ruin the bow tie look for you for at least five years.) And I'm working to overcome my fondness for funky frames.

Enough chitchat. There are more consequential areas where, despite being in the same waters, it seems to me we're ships headed in opposite directions. Let me list several of them: Mark Driscoll, Tullian Tchividjian, a church leader you know whom I won't name publicly and, finally, our definition of abuse.

Let me begin with Mark Driscoll. Just over a year ago you were widely quoted on the internet saying of Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill Church, "This is without a doubt, the most abusive, coercive ministry culture I've ever been involved with." I haven't heard any disavowal of that statement. You're said to have written it in a letter and if you didn't actually write it, I would hope I'd have seen a disclaimer somewhere in the last year. So I'm going to assume you stand by your assessment of Mars Hill and Mark Driscoll as uniquely abusive.

I kind of understand why you said this, I think. Mark preached male headship. Mark didn't like others disagreeing with him. Mark had lots of people unhappy with him. I'm conflicted in my thinking about Mark. Many of the things that seemed most troubling to you—that formed the basis of your "abuse" comment—don't strike me as negatively as they seem to strike you. But then there were the other things: the salary thing, the book marketing thing, the "give your husbands the sex they want" thing. Those troubled me a lot. So I'll accept that Mark needed criticism—after all, which of us doesn't?—and hope that God uses it to sanctify him in powerful and necessary ways. 

But the label "abuse" is a sticking point for me because it's a tricky word. It's not a simple word like 'sin' or 'hatred' or 'pride' or 'theft.' It's a word that entails not just objective actions, but also feelings. I know it's hard to deal objectively with a label designed to be somewhat subjective, but I think we should try for a moment. What is abuse? Is it harming another's feelings? In that case, the nurse who gives a child a shot is abusive. Feelings have been hurt. Or does abuse need to involve sin? Sinfully hurting another, say... And if this is really what abuse means as a spiritual category, can't we say that abuse is using our position to sin against others?

I know this leaves out feelings, but I think we must for the sake of this discussion because what I want to do at this point is ask you how Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill stack up with, say, a pastor taking young men into his home, telling them to strip off their pants and underwear and beating them with a rod until they are black and blue. Is that abuse? If he says he's doing it for their good and they accept it, does the fact that their feelings don't appear to be violated mean they haven't been abused? But of course, you and I know that leaders can misuse their authority to bring others to accept and even embrace sinful treatment. So let's leave feelings aside and speak objectively. Is it sinful for an older man in a position of authority to make a younger man strip naked for failing to meet his non-spiritual expectations and to beat his naked buttocks with a rod until he is bruised for days?

But asking you this is unfair because I already know your answer. On the phone a year and a half ago when a close associate of mine who is a pastor asked you the same question, you responded "No, it's not homosexual abuse. It's stupid."

Perhaps you view it as high expectations in a passionate teacher expressed in a less-than-fully-judicious manner?

So, still seeking to determine what constitutes pastoral abuse of office in your mind, let me turn to another high-profile case in which you're involved, this time the messy situation surrounding the marriage—and now, divorce—of Tullian Tchividjian.

You're in a unique position to know and judge there as well. You're his friend. You've been counseling him. You've pronounced what seem to be ecclesiastical, or at least authoritative-in-some-way judgments about his marriage and freedom to move on in life. What I want to ask you is this: Does Tullian's situation involve abuse?

But there again we run into that troublingly amorphous word... So let's leave "abuse" aside. Let's call it "leadership sin against those they are called to serve," or perhaps, "shepherding for personal benefit rather than the benefit of the flock." Have you seen any of this in Tullian? At all? In his teaching? In his life? In his relationship with his wife? Has he, for instance, abused the flock by teaching and practicing a form of grace that runs counter to Christ's call that His disciples, "make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you." Is it sin against the flock for a shepherd to commit adultery with a member of the flock for which Christ gave His life? 

More than a few of us, probably, are wondering why Mark Driscoll presided over the "most abusive, coercive ministry culture I've ever been involved with," yet when Tullian turns away from his marriage vows and pastoral calling you write, "From the point of Tullian's confession and repentance, he has been committed to dealing with the issues of his heart and to restoring his marriage. Much grace, counsel, thought, prayer and action has been invested over a six-month period of time with the hope of healing the marriage, but sadly, there are times when the trust is so deeply broken and patterns so set in place that it seems best to recognise that brokenness, cry out for God's grace, mourn, commit to forgiveness, rest in the truths of the gospel and with a grieved heart, move on."

Paul, and I'm dead serious here, you seem to regard adultery, divorce and a Gospel of cheap grace of little consequence, yet you describe Mark Driscoll as the most abusive pastor you've ever known. For what? Being unpleasant? Demanding? Coercive? Did the man leave his wife? Devour a member of Christ's flock through adultery? I'm not denying Mark's sins. Nor do I deny my own. But how on earth are you forming your judgments when a man who remains faithful to his wife, does not leave her for another woman, does not, through abandonment-posing-as-ministry, destroy his marriage, get described by you as a paragon of abuse, yet a man who does these things and more is simply "broken" and needing to "move on" with a "grieved heart."

Your judgments lack objective truth. Where's the sin? Stop waving your arms in the air and declaiming in emotive terms like abuse and brokenness and begin to speak objectively. Speak about sin. Define the sin. Don't speak about abuse. Use real words, Biblically-defined terms for sin like pride, greed, adultery, hatred, uncovering nakedness. Real, Biblical words will remove the wiggle factor so evident in all your pronouncements. The same with the other word you tend to use in describing sin, brokenness.

My theory on the way you deploy your vocabulary is this: if you don't like the person, you call his sin abuse; if you like him, you speak of brokenness. The one's a euphemism, the other's a pejorative, yet they both describe the same thing: sin. So call it such. Better yet, drive deeper into its taxonomy: pride, anger, bitterness, uncovering nakedness. Remember that God's the judge. Stop putting your finger on His scales by using your words rather than His.

Finally, Paul, I've been somewhat coy in this letter, but for a serious reason: the ministry of the Gospel is a life and death matter. The work we do here in this present age is seen by God and will be the basis of His judgment of us when we stand in His presence, soon. Add to this that the work you and I have been called and set apart for is the work of caring for the souls our Lord purchased with His Own blood. In this serious time doing this serious work with such serious consequences hanging in the balance for the souls we are responsible to guide and protect, there is no place for ostentation or a frivolous presentation, nor ought we to feather our nest with false judgments that shame our enemies but comfort our friends in their sin.

Your public statements have embarrassed me as a fellow church officer in the PCA, but more as a fellow minister of the Gospel. In the future, do keep in mind that the office you hold means that, in such matters, you are not supposed to speak for yourself, but for God.


David J. Bayly (Rev.)
Senior Pastor, Christ the Word
Presbyterian Church in America