I previously stated that this review would be published on RELEVANT Magazine’s website. It was originally supposed to be– however, circumstances changed and now it will only be appearing on this blog. I hope to continue to be able to publish other reviews with RELEVANT in the future.
Tullian Tchividjian, pastor of Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, (and a grandson of Billy Graham) wrote Jesus + Nothing = Everything after dealing with a year of great personal and professional trials. During that time, he found solace and revelation in Paul’s letter to the Colossians, realizing that he was too focused on measuring up to the standards of others instead of resting in God’s grace. From that experience, the concepts that Jesus plus nothing equals everything and everything minus Jesus equals nothing were brought to the forefront of his life.
Tchividjian reminds readers of the deep desire in all of us for something more—a desire that can only be satisfied through the everythingness (a term Tchividjian uses quite often) of a relationship with the God who created us. But in our sinful nature, we seek to fill the void with things so much smaller than God—things that will never bring us fulfillment: idols.
Idolatry—specifically legalism, or performancism, as Tchividjian likes to call it—is a type of spiritual slavery that Jesus came to liberate us from. He writes that it is the opposite of filling up with the everythingness of God; it leads to the very nothingness that causes us to cling to it in the first place. Tchividjian (I will learn to type that name perfectly without looking by the end of this review!) even writes that “according to the Bible, the greatest threat to the gospel’s advance in this world, and the greatest threat to gospel growth in your life and in mine, is a particular strain of idolatry that arises not from outside the church but from inside.”
Tchividjian sees legalism as a widespread illness in the Church and the primary reason people outside the Church don’t want any part in Christianity. He stresses the point that “most believers realize we could never earn… salvation; we’ve come to accept that no one can work his way into God’s kingdom… But when it comes to our sanctification, suddenly we become legalists.” Instead, Tchividjian argues, just as we find our saving justification in what Christ has already done for us, we should also find the fuel for our spiritual growth in Christ’s work as well. God’s overwhelming grace in the gospel is everything we need to progress as Christians—adding anything else to it is idolatry.
This idea of sanctification naturally raises some questions about good works. Tchividjian rails against Christians working, doing, and trying to become better in order to grow in Christ, and says it must all be of grace. But everyone knows you can’t make progress by not doing anything, and the Bible gives us instructions we know we are meant to follow. Tchividjian acknowledges these questions and admits that “the issue is never whether or not to obey. We know the Bible has plenty to say about keeping God’s commands. That’s indisputable.”
But, he makes it clear that the motivation and capability behind our obedience must always come from God’s grace. He advises believers to keep coming back, daily, to the gospel. What Jesus has done for us should drive our sanctification, not what we do for him. In that way, our acceptance by God is never based on our own works, but on Jesus’ work for us. While this is a wonderful, biblical thought, Tchividjian doesn’t seem to fully answer what obedience fueled and motivated by grace looks like in practical, daily experience.
Jesus + Nothing = Everything uses its title equation as its format. Tchividjian goes through the formula once, backwards (beginning with “everything”), then again, forward, going into more detail. As one can imagine, that layout lends itself to repetitive content. Tchividjian probably would have been better off giving his readers’ memories the benefit of the doubt and condensing the book into one rundown of the equation.
Throughout the book, Tchividjian uses Colossians (especially the first two chapters) as Scriptural evidence to drive home his points. While his references to the text feel sporadic, likely because of the book’s format, he does expose some beautiful truths and connections from these chapters that often go unnoticed. He uses a variety of other passages from Scripture, as well, but focuses primarily on Paul’s letters.
Also very prevalent are quotations from other pastors, writers, and theologians. Readers might get annoyed at the nearly constant quotations, especially from a few of the same sources over and over again, but to Tchividjian’s credit, nearly every quote is relevant and adds something to the conversation. He didn’t choose them haphazardly.
Overall, Jesus + Nothing = Everything is a book that Christians should take the time to read—but perhaps in one small dose at a time (so they don’t get bogged down with much exposition and repetition). It raises several excellent, easy-to-understand, but tough-to-live-out theological points. Some chapters outshine others, particularly the main chapter on legalism and the final chapter that beautifully describes everything that God has in store for his people in Christ. While it does feel lacking in practicality at times, Tchividjian’s emphasis of God’s grace in the gospel is refreshing and liberating.
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