GCI’s Theological Conversion

In a special worship service held on October 14, 2018 in Charlotte, NC, Dr. Joseph Tkach passed the baton of Grace Communion International's presidency to Dr. Greg Williams. As part of that service, several GCI leaders recounted aspects of Dr. Tkach's legacy. One presentation was given by Dr. Gary Deddo, President of Grace Communion Seminary. Below is the text of his presentation. To watch a video with presentations from Dr. Deddo and others, click here

Joseph Tkach
A central element of President Tkach’s leadership has involved overseeing GCI’s theological renewal, indeed, its theological conversion. With his guidance, the denomination became comprehensively biblical, Christ-centered, grace-based, new covenant oriented, trinitarian and therefore historically orthodox. That conversion of fundamental belief and orientation of the church’s life and worship showed itself in many ways. It had an impact to some degree in every dimension of the denomination’s life and of course upon many, many individuals from top to bottom (or should I say from bottom to top!).

Gary Deddo
Few have overseen such an extraordinary work of God---so extraordinary that it took a good while for many outsiders to accept the denomination as having become a genuine Christian church. This change of mind was in no small part due to Joseph’s initiative in meeting personally with key Christian leaders and even so-called “heresy hunters.” Becoming a member of the National Association of Evangelicals also played an important part.

Books were published by Joseph, Michael Feazell and Michael Morrison to articulate the profound change in direction of fundamental faith that God had brought about. My own previous employer, InterVarsity Press, published a book authored by a journalist to explore what became widely recognized as a modern-day miracle. For any who know the story, it still is so regarded.

The transformation of GCI is a testimony to the living and active grace of God. Not that God is finished with us yet! The story, the miracle, goes on—as it does in every church living under the gracious Lordship of Jesus Christ.

My story got caught up with that of Joseph Tkach’s and the history of GCI. I couldn’t be more pleased (or surprised) at this very small turn of events for GCI but quite significant for me and for my wife Cathy. It was in the spring of 2008 that I received a phone call from Michael Feazell. He wanted to invite me to be a guest on his interview program You’re Included. He asked if I knew of the Worldwide Church of God and its story of what the grace of God had brought about. I told him that I was very much aware. I had been tracking WCG ever since I had begun praying for it as I watched the building of Ambassador Auditorium from the upper-level classrooms of Fuller Seminary, in 1973, and as I rented a house owned by a WCG elder. Michael confirmed that I was serving as president of the Thomas F. Torrance Theological Fellowship, had studied under James Torrance, the younger theologian brother of Tom Torrance. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in sharing something about Trinitarian theology for his program to benefit members of the church and others who might listen in.

Michael and Joseph were looking for “outsiders” whose convictions and training clearly aligned with the theological direction of the church—and so would help guard against the worry that this new teaching was simply another eccentric, in-house theological invention—no more biblical or orthodox than the previous teaching. Also, there was a desire to demonstrate a real connection with the wider Christian church and to contribute to it. The You’re Included program was intended to help those in WCG continue to learn how to better articulate and answer questions about Christ-centered trinitarian faith. This, I was happy to do. I was also able to give Michael and Joseph a list of other theologians who were also trinitarian and incarnational and who might be interested in being interviewed. Most, if not all of them, ended up participating.

That phone call led to my coming out to Glendora for two sets of interviews with Michael and meeting the whole Home Office team. The team included Joseph, but also those serving with him: Russell Duke, Michael Morrison, John Halford and the media team led by Tony Murphy and also Joseph’s assistant Deb Paz.

Other projects were developing under their leadership that also involved clarifying our theological understanding. A revision of the Statement of Beliefs was undertaken. The booklet The God Revealed in Jesus Christ was being revised. Also, Grace Communion Seminary was looking for faculty to teach. I was recruited to contribute to each of these endeavors. I thoroughly enjoyed the privilege of being a part of those teams brought together to meet the theological challenge of faith seeking understanding and articulation in a way that encouraged and strengthened our worship, our witness to the world and our being a well-informed, theologically cohesive denomination.

A high point for me was being involved in the ongoing teaching and training of the church's mission developers that Joseph oversaw. I was invited to address them as they assembled from around the world in Glendora in 2009. It was then I began to experience some of the amazing international scope of what was renamed Grace Communion International (GCI). Joseph continued to ask me to make presentations of some theological depth to that international group on most every occasion they gathered over the next eight years, whether in the U.S., South Africa, or Colombia. Most of my more extensive theological writing projects for GCI developed out of these engagements.

Joseph Tkach’s leadership to bring about a maturing faith in GCI on sound biblical and theological basis also extended to presentations and seminars given at our International Conferences in Orlando and at National Pastors conferences in Canada, the U.K., Australia and the Philippines. Cathy and I were extended invitations coordinated if not instigated by Joseph to give presentations and workshops at each these far-flung venues.

If we are to speak about Joseph’s theological leadership, we should not neglect the direct input that he delivered through his writings in GCI Update, his video series Speaking of Life, or his presentations at the many regional conferences in the U.S. and the national meetings held around the world. The biblical and theological content of these were not only heartfelt, but clear and theologically rich (not to mention, also providing some humor!).

Joseph’s leadership can certainly be characterized as showing concern to feed the faith of this church and to nourish it deeply and faithfully at its very roots. He was not squeamish about being “too theological.” He was not timid in taking on the most fundamental biblical and theological concerns in order to build up the Body and guard against mistaken or unfaithful ideas or opinions that might tear down or even hinder the life and outreach of the Body of Christ.

From the beginning to the present, Joseph Tkach lived out of the gift of courage that God gave him, to seek and articulate biblically grounded theological understanding, even when it called for metanoia---theological repentance. That courage seems to have also resided in his own grandfather who never did surrender his faith in our Triune God, a faith that was affirmed by this denomination first under the presidency of Joseph’s father, Joseph Tkach, Senior. That faith-feeding and faithful theological understanding was consistently sustained, developed and promulgated under Joseph Tkach’s tenure as GCI President—a presidency that I am grateful to have had the opportunity to serve under. A presidency and leadership that I am sure we all will continue to be grateful for, and benefit from, for years to come—because our Triune God has been faithful to provide for his church faithful shepherds, such as Joseph Tkach, to feed, guide and protect the sheep of his pasture.