Beliefs Culture Ethics Institutions Jonathan Merritt: On Faith and Culture Opinion

Billy Graham’s grandson warns against New Year’s resolutions

Image courtesy of Tullian Tchividjian
Image courtesy of Tullian Tchividjian

Image courtesy of Tullian Tchividjian

Tullian Tchividjian is no stranger to controversy. As a prominent pastor and the grandson of Billy Graham, he has taken Christians to task for their legalism, indicted them for their political partisanship, and had a public tiff with The Gospel Coalition, a web community for Calvinist Christians. As 2015 dawns, he is picking a new fight–with New Year’s resolutions.

Here, we discuss why he thinks they can be spiritually damaging, why it matters, and how these ideas relate to his newest book, It is Finished: 365 Days of Good News.

RNS: Why do so many people make New Year’s Resolutions when they all fail anyway – what do you think is driving this? 

TT: It’s not so much New Year’s resolutions themselves but what lies underneath the seemingly innocuous act of making them that needs to be re-evaluated. Down deep, every one of us longs to be loved, accepted, appreciated, respected, and so on. We want our lives to count. And we conclude that if we’re going to experience these things, we have to make it happen by doing more, trying harder, losing weight, behaving better, etc. In other words, underneath our New Year’s resolutions is the drive to save ourselves by generating our own value, significance, meaning, and security by what we do and by who we can become.

RNS: You write that making New Year’s Resolutions puts undue pressure on us. How so?

TT: When it’s up to you to go out and get the love you crave, create your own worth, or work at becoming acceptable to those you want to impress, life gets heavy. [tweetable]New Year’s Resolutions are a burdening attempt to fix ourselves and make ourselves more lovable.[/tweetable] But here’s the good news: God loves us as we are, not as we should be.

God’s love for me, approval of me, and commitment to me does not ride on my resolve for God but on God’s resolve for me. God always meets my messes with his mercy, my failures with his forgiveness, and my guilt with his grace. The Gospel of Jesus Christ announces that because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose; because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak; because Jesus was extraordinary, you’re free to be ordinary; because Jesus succeeded for you, you’re free to fail.

RNS: Do you think rigorously setting New Year’s resolutions can be spiritually damaging then?

TT: Let me be clear: making changes in your life is not a bad thing. But these things become damaging, spiritually or otherwise, when we see them as ways to justify ourselves. Robert Capon once said that “the greatest temptation is to think that it is by further, better, and more aggressive living that we can find life.” Thinking that we can save ourselves by our works, in other words, is not just a bad theological idea, it’s a terrible way to live.

finishedRNS: What is “performancism” and how is it driving us to make bad decisions? 

TT: Performancism is the mindset that equates our identity and value directly with our performance. It says that how I look, how intelligent I am, how my kids turn out, what people think of me is synonymous with my worth. To all of us performancists, success equals life and failure equals death. This, of course, smothers our freedom. Instead of living life from love, we live life for love. Rather than living life from acceptance, we live life for acceptance. This dictates all of our decisions regarding what we pursue, who we “let in”, and how we let people see us.

Performancists have to pretend, hide their flaws, accomplish, please, and manage. The Gospel is good news because it announces that Jesus came to set us free from the demand to measure up, from the burden to get it all right, from the obligation to fix ourselves and others. He came to relieve us of the burden we feel to win, to get ahead, to be on top of everything. He came to set us free from the pressure to be right, regarded, and respected. We don’t have to live under weight of making all our dreams come true if we’re going to matter. The Gospel of Grace announces that Jesus came to satisfy the deep judgment against us once and for all so that we could be free from the judgment of God, others, and ourselves.

RNS: What if someone made a New Year’s Resolution to read It Is Finished for the next 365 days? Wouldn’t that be a good thing?

TT: It could be. As long as they don’t think that reading a devotional every day will make God love and accept them more. My hope and prayer is that God would use these daily readings to make our lives lighter, to relieve us, and to set us free.  Because the truth is, that the nagging internal voice that is constantly whispering  “Do this and live” is only silenced by the external voice that shouts “It is finished.”

About the author

Jonathan Merritt

Jonathan Merritt is senior columnist for Religion News Service and a contributing writer for The Atlantic. He has published more than 2500 articles in outlets like USA Today, The Week, Buzzfeed and National Journal. Jonathan is author of "Jesus is Better Than You Imagined" and "A Faith of Our Own: Following Jesus Beyond the Culture Wars." He resides in Brooklyn, NY.


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  • I’ve long practiced (for 35 years now) what I think is a healthy alternative to New Year’s Resolutions. A wonderful professor in college, Dr. Lowell Saunders of Biola University in La Mirada, taught us (in a mid-term class titled “Writing for Personal Enrichment”) how to do a personal “annual report” in which we reviewed goals and benchmarks from the past year, and reaffirmed or set new goals for the coming year.

    I’ve tried to set aside a day each January (as close to New Year’s Day as possible) for this purpose, and find it incredibly enriching to see how the Lord has blessed me and helped me to accomplish various goals. And if I miss the mark … oh well, there’s always next year! Lord willing. This document is just between me and God, and it’s definitely not about me trying to “be more lovable” since I already know He could never love me more than He does already.

    The difference between a goal and a resolution may be a matter of debate, but I too have found resolutions rather self-defeating. But I believe everyone should work toward goals, even if those are simply to draw closer to God each year and to allow Him in a deeper way to shape us more into the kind of person He desires us to be.

  • “…underneath our New Year’s resolutions is the drive to ,,, generat[e] our own value, significance, meaning, and security by what we do and by who we can become.”

    Oh no! How awful!

  • “..because Jesus won for you, you’re free to lose; because Jesus was strong for you, you’re free to be weak; because Jesus….”

    Good grief!

    Tullian Tchividjian advocates a level of profound human emptiness ONLY NORTH KOREA COULD ADMIRE! What lazy, fatuous garbage.

    If people think religion is harmless they only need to examine the shallow, irresponsible call to surrender coming from people who are dripping with sick religious marinade of their indoctrination.

    Brain poison.

  • TGGP,

    Unfortunately religion preaches a level of self-loathing and self-disgust that it becomes the dream of the most religious to be swept away in their own mad delusions.

    “Hate your life” – JESUS

    Dangerous, mind-wasting nonsense.

  • Instead of making “worldly” resolutions, iwhich usually are broken, it is better to improve our personalities and way of living by following the wise wisdom provided by God in his Word, the Bible, as well as provided by God’s son, Jesus, therein.

    Our Heavely Father knows us better than we do ourselves and knows what is best for us since he is our Creator. Applying his principles and guidelines in the Bible will bring us true happiness, peace of mind to give our lives a fulfilling purpose. God also provides wisdom on the things we should avoid such as immorality, lying, drunkedness, etc.

    Jesus, God’s son, also tells us where our priorities should be: “Keep on seeking first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all these other things (what we need) will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33)

    The good news of God’s kingdom or heavenly government is being preached worldwide these days before the end of this wicked era comes (Matthew 24:14).

    That should be a priority among true Christians today.

  • Matthew 22:39: “You must love your neighbor as yourself.” — Jesus

    There is no hate promoted by him there.

  • @Fran,

    Jesus is not interested in loving neighbors. He was speaking ONLY to Jews to tell them to love other Jews (their neighbors).

    Jesus on the record about that!



    Jesus is cold to the woman who is not Jewish – he calls her ‘a dog’

    “It is not right to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. — Jesus (Matthew 15:26)

    In other words, “Get lost. I’m only here to help the Jews.”

    If you think that’s a distortion of scripture, it isn’t. Jesus comes right out and says it:
    “I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel” — Jesus (Matthew 15:24)

    No person in history has caused more misery
    in the world than Jesus. He is a nightmare.

    For Peace, Empathy and The Separation of Church and State

  • Fran, heed My words:

    Matthew 10:34 – 36
    Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law, and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.

    Do you see, Fran? I am an angry man and an angry God. I sow the seeds of division and wrath. I did not come to make neighbors love one another, Fran. I came to rip society apart. Where ever my influence is felt, there can be no peace. Amen.

  • Max,

    Yes, Jesus concentrated on preaching and teaching to the Jews in his day. Many became believers; however, many Jews still rejected him as the Christ or Messiah:

    “Oh, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent into thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under Her wings, and yet ye would not! Behold, your house is left into you desolate.” (Matthew 23: 37,38, King James version).

    Since the Jewish nation as a whole rejected him (as you have done), Jesus rejected them as well.

    The ransom sacrifice of Jesus was made on behalf of all mankind, including Jews and Gentiles (which also comprise part of God’s heavenly kingdom).

    Your citing of Matthew 15:26 does not mean that Jesus had a hatred for the woman. She was evidently not Jewish, having come from Canaan. Jesus stated to her:

    “I am sent but to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (verse 24).

    She worshipped him still, saying Lord, help me (verse 25). Her daughter had been grievously vexed with a devil (verse 22).

    He replied “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and cast it to the dogs.” (Verse 26) He was using this as an illustration to her, not calling her a derogatory name.

    However, with her comment to Jesus that “Truth Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master’s table.” (Verse 27)

    Evidently this woman had such faith in Jesus that he would be able to cure her daughter. But did Jesus deny her request because she was a Gentile?

    “Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, GREAT IS THY FAITH; be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” (Verse 28)

    It is best to read the entire account from beginning to end to get a complete picture of Jesus’ words and actions; including how Jesus rewarded the Gentile woman her for her faith.

  • @Fran,

    You need to admit that you have created a Jesus in your mind which does not live on the page.

    You remind me of a mother who keeps apologizing for a bad, bullying son. The Jesus of the Bible is a spoiled, megalomaniacal brat.

    “If you do not hate your life you are not worthy of me.” – JESUS

    What a jerk he is. What a con man!

  • Max,

    I can see from the scripture you cited (and you don’t believe the Bible is truthful at all) that not everyone is willing to accept the truth, righteousness or love, even in the family structure. Jesus does not purposely make division in the family unit take place. Just some persons make it a personal choice to hate others in the family and show it as well. How many family members are killing off their family these days? The news speaks for itself.

    The wicked ones on this planet who choose not to become meek and good-hearted cause the major suffering on earth; but they will not cause it for much longer.

    I can definitely see that you are a man of hate; and I know that the dominant quality of both God and his son, Jesus, are love.

  • Fran,

    “Jesus does not purposely make division in the family unit take place.”


    “I have come to break your homes and set mother against daughters, father against sons..
    “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to set a man against his daughter, and a daughter against her mother, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; and


    Please have the human decency to be disgusted!

    Of course I don’t believe this garbage!
    I quote it to show you the evil you promote every time you defend the spoiled, ugly brat named Jesus.

  • @Fran,

    “I can definitely see that you are a man of hate”

    Good grief.

    Of course, you see no hate in Jesus – so the hate must be coming from me?

    If Homosexuals ever wrote a book demanding “to Stone all Christians to death” I wonder how long it would take before somebody accused them of hate speech?

    You promote the most vile, despicable, evil – the source of thousands of years of misery – as if it is good.
    OF course that is going to make people notice and argue strongly against it, as I am trying to do.

    “Hate your life, hate your mother and father” – JESUS

    Horrible nonsense.

  • You can say whatever you want but you can never say Jesus is boring right? I actually love this about Him, he spoke like no other, He used metaphors and figures of speech that sound horrible taken at face value. I think He was being truthful, the apostles gave up all for love of him, in this way they hated their lives, they threw it away for something greater, that appealed to them more, that completed them.

  • Robin,

    “they threw it away for something greater, that appealed to them more, that completed them.”

    I’m not impressed.

    Mohammed Atta and the 9/11 hijackers did the same thing.
    What did their blind faith do for them?
    What did it do for anyone?

    Giving up thinking does not lead to ‘something greater.’

    – Atheist Max

  • I dont think of it as giving up thinking, just having encountered something that changes everything about the way i see the world. We are called to give all, to love enemies, to change the world. The polar opposite of terrorism. Think of all the good that Jesus’ teaching has done for our modern world where would we be without it?

  • @Robin,

    “We are called to give all, to love enemies, to change the world. The polar opposite of terrorism. Think of all the good that Jesus’ teaching has done for our modern world where would we be without it?”

    I have no doubt that you would never be interested in Terrorism.

    But don’t you realize that Suicide bombers are showing their love, too?
    That is how religion works – that is what is wrong with it.
    The way the bombers see it, they are sending people to Heaven and they are ensuring their own families will go to Heaven. Isn’t that ‘love’?

    I have no use for it, of course. It disgusts me.

    That is how religion works. It claims there is “something greater” than human beings. Something greater than human love!

    I reject that! Nothing is more important or ‘greater’ than doing our best for other humans – it is not a supernatural ‘calling’ as you say – it is simply HUMAN decency.

    I would rather spend time with Atheists who help other people than Christians who claim God is ‘greater’ than humans. Nonsense to that.

    Atheists like the Nurses and Medics who work at Doctors Without Borders to save people regardless of religion. Or Atheists at Oxfam who are feeding the world instead of bothering with religion.

    Atheists like Paul Newman who created “Newman’s Own” which raised $370 Million for sick children.

    Or Atheists like Oscar Schindler who saved thousands of Jews from the Holocaust.

    As for Jesus, I’m sorry but he is disgusting. I am NOT criticizing you for believing in Jesus – please separate my comments about Jesus from judgment about Christians – there is a difference.

    Jesus and Christianity are profoundly immoral. Like Islam, Judaism and Hinduism – they all put humans lower than a god. And that is immoral on its face.

    When you consider the effect Jesus has had on the world, please be sure to include all of the millions and millions of massacres and genocides from Auschwitz and Belgrade to Rwanda and Zimbabwe

    “Execute them in front of me” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    Inhumane nonsense.

    For Peace, Culture and the Separation of Church and State

  • Just in the past few months we have seen many Christian doctors tisk and lose their lives treating Ebola patients. We have also seen Christians become xenophobic here in the US and wanting that disease out of our borders. So it is with the world, so many claim the title but few really follow. Do you really think that Auschwitz etc was done because these people thought it was their religious duty? They were using religion among many things to fuel evil ambitions. I see it very differently, the religion Jesus taught was meekness, self sacrifice, self denial. Those verses you quote are from parables, stories, metaphors. Never would Jesus encourage any form of violence in his teaching, in fact he asks us to do the hardest thing: resist evil with good, love your enemies, repay evil sith kindness. You can see it at work in the civil rights movement, it is powerful.

  • I also wanted to add the fact that millions were also killed by atheistic secular regimes like Stalin, Mao. People are to blame, this we call sin. The bent inside us to do so much harm.

  • @Robin,

    “Do you really think that Auschwitz etc was done because these people thought it was their religious duty?”


    The Nazis were Christians who thought Hitler was a demi-god Father (Fuhrer) sent to save the Germans from evil. The Evil was the Jews.

    “….the personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew.“
- Adolf Hitler (following the
 position of Martin Luther), [Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 11]


”Hence today I believe that I am 
acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty God: by defending myself
 against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” -Adolf Hitler
 (Mein Kampf)

    When I was in Catholic school I was taught the Jews killed Jesus.
    And my teacher (who was a nun) used the Parable of the Minas to explain the Holocaust:

    “Bring to me those enemies of mine who would not have me as their King and execute them in front of me.” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    It took me several decades to realize Jesus is not a loving person. So delusional is the indoctrination of religion.

    For Peace, Love and The Separation of Church and State

  • Robin,

    Never would Jesus encourage any form of violence in his teaching, in fact he asks us to do the hardest thing: resist evil with good, love your enemies, repay evil with kindness. You can see it at work in the civil rights movement, it is powerful.

    Not true.

    Jesus is cruel. “They are dogs, do not give….” (Matthew 7:6)
    And he contradicts himself on everything he ever said – which is why very few people believe he could be a real god:

    “Judge not that ye be not judged” – JESUS (Matthew 7:1)
    “Judge them unworthy, remove your blessings of Peace” – JESUS (Matthew 10:13)

    “Love those who won’t listen” – JESUS (Luke 6:27)
    “Abandon them who won’t listen” – JESUS (Matthew 10:14)

    “Bless those who curse you” – JESUS (Luke 6:27)
    “take back YOUR BLESSING from the unworthy” – JESUS (Matthew 10:13)

    “Pray in public” – JESUS (Sermon on the Mount)
    “DO NOT pray in public” – JESUS (Sermon on the Mount)

    “Blessed are the peacemakers” – JESUS (Matt. 5:9)
    “Do NOT think I have come to bring Peace” – JESUS (Matt. 10:34)

    “do not steal” – JESUS
    “I saw a colt, go and steal it” – JESUS (Luke 19:29-34)

    “Honor your parents”
    “You must Hate your parents” – JESUS

    “If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true.” – JESUS (John 5:31)
    “I am one that bear witness of myself” – JESUS (John 8:18)

    “Love enemies” – Jesus (Matthew 5:44)
    “Kill enemies” – Jesus (Luke 19:27)

    [I am not god] “My doctrine is NOT MINE but of Him that sent me” – JESUS (John 7:16)
[I am god] “I and the Father are one” – JESUS (john 10:30 )

    “I do NOT come to bring PEACE, but division” – JESUS (Luke 12:51)
“My Peace I leave you” – JESUS (John 14:27)

    The civil rights movement
    was inspired by the success of Gandhi, not Jesus.

    Gandhi followed a theory of Satyagraha which is an appeal to the heart.

    Every time Jesus is employed to make change in the world people are slaughtered mercilessly – in the Rwandan Genocide, Catholics slaughtered 800,000 of their neighbors.

    “Execute my enemies in front of me.” – JESUS (Luke 19:27)

    Gandhi would have failed miserably if he had followed the example of Jesus – everyone who leads with Jesus (or any religion) is doomed to fail and spiral into genocide.

    Stalin, Mao and Pol Pot were Agrarian Religious Cults – Religions with Gods on Earth do not qualify as Atheism.

    Atheism is the lack of belief in Gods.
    Get away from Gods and superstition and Humans always behave better. Atheist societies continue to show this every day.

  • I always though that German nationalism was the motive, to rebuild Germany from her defeat in the First World War. Hitler wanted to purify Germany and saw the Jews as stealing what was theirs, as parasites. If you read Paul’s writings he makes it clear that we should respect the people of the first covenant, no where is it written that Christians should persecute Jews. If anything the early Christians were the ones persecuted to no end. But believe it or not I do get where you are coming from because you are quoting those parables that Jesus used to describe the punishment Israel will receive from God because they rejected and even killed the Messiah promised to them from old. This is God’s prerogative and I also wanted to say that Paul clarifies this further by saying that we are all cursed the same way. But never did Jesus command his followers toward violence, it is exactly the opposite, we are told to fight back violence with love, curse with blessing. You can quote violent texts in the Old Testament and I struggle explaining that but Jesus? I can never see it the way you do.

  • Just to make it clear I do not See the Jews in any way like the Germans describe them! And I am also totally for peace, love, and the separation of church and state.

  • Ruben,

    “But never did Jesus command his followers toward violence..”

    Not true.

    Jesus told his disciples to prepare for battle
    “If you have money, buy a sword” – JESUS (Luke 22:36)

    Jesus didn’t forgive his enemies – he sent them to Hell! (Mark 16:16)
    Jesus cursed his enemies – “Thou Fools!”(Matt. 23:17)
    Jesus stole things – “untie them” ..”bring them to me” (Matt. 21:2-3)
    Jesus destroyed his enemies – “execute them in front of me”(Luke 19:27)
    Jesus didn’t love most of his neighbors, – They are ‘Dogs’!(Matthew 15:26)
    Jesus told people to judge others – “Remove your blessings”!(Matt 10:14)
    Jesus was bigoted – “They are swine” (Matthew 7:6)
    Jesus violently whipped people – attack on the temple (John 2:5)
    Jesus didn’t want peace – “I do not bring peace.”(Matt 10:34)
    Jesus lied to people – “He went in secret” (John 7:8-13)
    Jesus prepared for war – “if you have money, buy a sword” (Luke 22:36-37)

    Please stop repeating what the priests told you.

    There are hundreds of ways in which Jesus directed violence – it is too numerous to list them all. He endorsed all of the stoning laws.

    If you want to learn why you believe these things please read my blog.
    Click “Atheist Max” and it will take you to the truth.

  • Sorry, that’s a stretch..I did not learn from priests, I have been all over the Christian spectrum and have spent the last 30 years studying and thinking for myself. It is easy to cherry pick things people say and paint a dishonest picture. Read the Gospel accounts and see where he sided and what he taught. I used to be a fundamentalist and proof texting was a skill I learned from those days. He was not a literalist, frequently using stories, metaphor and allusion – deeper than the evangelicals or fundamentalists paint him. You could say the same things about Martin Luther King or Ghandi but everyone knows that is blatantly false.

  • Robin,

    “Read the Gospel accounts and see where he sided and what he taught.”

    50 years as a Christian and 3 years as a Sunday School teacher was quite enough. Thanks.

    I don’t believe this stuff for a very simple reason.
    The Bible isn’t ‘scripture’ at all. It is a bunch of contradictory stories about a contradictory, cantankerous rather ignorant legendary character named Jesus:

    “And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” – JESUS (Matthew 5:30)

    Cut off your hand? What a despicable, horrible idea.

    Obviously, Jesus (an ignorant jerk) had absolutely no idea that evil thoughts come from the BRAIN, not body parts.

    People of the Bronze Age of 2000 years ago had no knowledge of brains, or what brains did, or the heart, the blood or how the body functioned.

    They did not know where the sun went at night.
    For crying out loud!

    Profound, unbearable ignorance like this
    has no business in modern conversation. Jesus has nothing to offer but contradictions and dangerous ignorance.

  • By making resolutions we are in no way trying to “save ourselves,” whatever that means, we are trying to improve and better ourselves, and there is nothing wrong with that. According to TT, God wants us to be lazy.

    Tchividjian is attempting to psychologize where he has no qualifications for.

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