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Jesus + Nothing = Everything

From time to time I’ll be writing book responses, like this one – shorter than my formal reviews, and more a quick snapshot of my thoughts in response to the book than a careful dissection of the work.

Tullian Tchividjian’s1 Jesus + Nothing = Everything was, in one sense, a great book. In another, it was just okay.

Jesus + Nothing = Everything cover

It was a great book in its glorious exposition of what Matt Chandler might call the on-the-ground view of the gospel: Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, applied to the individual’s life. Tchividjian, like many others who have written in this gospel-centered movement over the last few years, said little about the cosmic kingdom aspects of the gospel. But that’s okay: Tchividjian’s target is not a definition of the gospel, but to ask how sanctification happens.

Taking his cues from Colossians, Tchividjian traces out how Jesus’ work on our behalf is all-sufficient for our spiritual needs and the soul source of power for our spiritual lives. I enjoyed his clear passion for the gospel and his constant return to the glory of not only the cross, but also Jesus’ life and his resurrection. These parts of the books – including the forward-looking conclusion, a meditation on the final fulfillment of all Christ’s work in us in the new heavens and the new earth – were a good reminder. Best of all, they made me want to go reread Colossians; it’s hard to pay a book a higher compliment than to say that it made you want to read the word of God yourself all the more.

However, throughout the book I had a constant niggling sense of mild disagreement. Tchividjian argues in what seems, after a while, almost Higher Life-style in its approach to sanctification. I say almost: at no point did I think, “That’s just wrong!” Tchividjian never quite embraces the Higher Life “Let go and let God” idea. But he’s close, often enough, and it niggled at me. He argues throughout the book that the enemy of the gospel is always legalism, and that what we call “license” is really just another form of legalism. This definition doesn’t seem to add up to me, and it also doesn’t quite seem to do justice to Paul’s argument in Romans especially.

Where Tchividjian has a tendency to set work and gospel in opposition to each other – constantly emphasizing that sanctification is a result of growing in the knowledge of God, not of our efforts – I would say that the two are so tightly entangled in sanctification that we cannot separate them. Peter and Paul and John all make a point to found every imperative on the gospel; this far Tchividjian is exactly on target. But the books are full of imperatives, and these are imperatives that Christians are to actively pursue. The pursuit is never for its own sake, and never without grounding in the gospel, and never apart from the power of Christ dwelling in us. Yet we are called to work in precisely the same passages that the apostles clearly say that it is God who works in us. This is no place, in other words for negation.

Similarly, Paul’s answer to license is, “Stop! Don’t you see that the gospel orients you in another direction?” The gospel is there, and it’s central, and it’s absolutely necessary – but there’s also the command to stop! Christians are called to be active participants in our sanctification.

Tchividjian gets this, and he notes as much at a couple points – but I wish he didn’t so often set gospel and effort as opposed to each other. Christians are called to effort, but effort empowered by, buttressed by, saturated by, and in every way shaped and informed by the gospel. There is no antithesis.

I’m hardly the first to bring up this line of disagreement. Tchividjian and Kevin DeYoung have carried on a spirited, irenic, iron-sharpening-iron discussion over at The Gospel Coalition over the last year, and just a couple days ago, D. A. Carson weighed in with what I thought were some helpful pastoral words on the subject:

So in a church that has lots and lots and lots of moralism in it, you need to see the comprehensiveness of the gospel. That’s what needs to be applied to the church. But once you start getting a whole lot of people who really do understand something of grace, but they’re beginning to sink in lethargy, into a comfortable acceptance of grace without understanding that grace has entailments in terms of obedience and striving, then it becomes urgent to pass on those sorts of emphases too, while still avoiding the do, do, do of just mere moralism.

Read all of those posts; they’re worth your time. And also, read Jesus + Nothing = Everything. It’s a good book, and worth your time for the gospel meditations alone. Go buy a copy and read it; even if you disagree with a few of Tchividjian’s particulars, you won’t be able to avoid being blessed by the whole. We can all of us always use more gospel, more whole-hearted and full-throated exultation in the glory of what Christ has done for us.

Buy it (price at time of publication):

1 It’s pronounced “chuh-vih-jee-uhn.”


  • Gabe Garfield thought to say:

    Nice review, Chris!

    I’m always surprised when effort — of every kind — is minimized. Jesus himself said that obedience will accompany the love of God (John 14:15). Actually, this reminds me a bit of what Bonhoeffer says in The Cost of Discipleship: “Only those who obey believe and only those who believe obey.”

    Offer a rejoinder↓
    • Yes! And Tchividjian is right to say that all our sanctification is founded on the gospel… it’s just that niggling tendency to keep putting gospel in contrast to effort, rather than limiting to the contrast to gospel versus moralism. No works? Well, looks like your faith is dead. Works don’t merit salvation, but they do merit reward, and they are a necessary component of the Christian life.

      Offer a rejoinder↓
  • Ame thought to say:

    the juxtaposition of our effort = God’s grace is a fine line, indeed. it is almost impossible in our human minds to comprehend this concept. in my mind, from reading the scriptures, over and over and over we are to obey and follow, but we are not to believe that we are capable of obeying and following without God enabling us to do so. when we begin to take credit for our good choices, pride sets in. i remeber hearing or reading that someone asked Corrie Ten Boon what she did with all the compliments she received everyday, and she replied that she put them all in a (imaginary) box and handed them back to Jesus.

    what happens when we take credit for anything good about ourselves – our talents, abilities, personalities, wisdom, etc, is that we begin to think it’s about us and God owes us. it is never about us; it is always about Him, His glory, His purposes.

    it seems humanly contradictory that while we must give glory to God for all good, we also must take responsibility for our bad choices which we cannot blame on anyone else. this dichotomy is perplexing, i think, because there are many references in the bible where we have to take responsibility for causing another to fail … but the person who fails cannot blame the one who caused the fall. for example, i am to respect my husband … period. there is no ‘out’ clause or ‘but, if,’ clause. if my husband is violating me in anyway, and i do not respect him, he has, in a sense caused that disrespect, and he will be held accountable. but i cannot blame him before God.

    i think that since we cannot rationalize all these things in our humanity, our human tendency is to go to the extreme – i won’t do anything vs. i’ll follow all the rules. finding balance is critical and often elusive. and God, because of His great mercy and grace and infinite love for us, draws us back to Him, continuously wooing us unto Him. we deserve nothing, but we gain everything in Christ, including confidence to be and become everything He designed and created us to be and become before the foundation of the world.

    Offer a rejoinder↓
    • Right on target, I think. We are called to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling…” And we do so on the basis of the second half of the sentence: “…knowing that it is God who works in you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” All our effort is rooted in the assurance of God’s love for us, not in the attempt to earn that love. (On this Tchivijdian is right on the money.) I summarize thus: work hard, knowing that God empowers you to work, because God has saved you and enabled you to glorify him.

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      • Ame thought to say:

        yes, i think the second half of that sentence is often left off.

        and perhaps my ‘niggling’ is that the ‘work hard’ is often either misused or misunderstood. misused by some to say another is not ‘doing’ enough, and therefore should not merrit God’s grace and mercy and blessing, therefore deserving what bad they get … or used by staff to ‘guilt’ people into doing more work in the church.

        misunderstood by some to think ‘if’ they do xyz ‘then’ God will bless them, as though their work and efforts earn what they perceive God should be doing and w/out them God does nothing. for example, i had a friend who followed all the church rules, and when her marriage fell apart from an unfaithful husband, she flipped with God, angry at Him b/c she had ‘done her part,’ so why did God not ‘do His part.’ … it falls under the saying that some people believe that IF we do our part, THEN God will do His part. we don’t earn God’s favor, and sometimes God gives to those we do not believe earned or deserve His favor. so it messes with the mind. i’ve seen it have horrible consequences in peoples’ lives.

        the reality is we can ‘do’ everything right, and our world still falls apart. and some can ‘do’ everything wrong, and their world stays intact. God gives to whom He gives, and the rain falls on the just and the unjust.

        so while i don’t have time to read the book right now, i can see why the author would err on the side you have stated. it’s a difficult, fine line.

        btw – is this billy graham’s sil?

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