Mark D. Roberts

Today I’m continuing the review I began yesterday of the book Unfashionable by Tullian Tchividjian. My plan is to quote portions of the book and then add my comments. This way you’ll hear Tullian’s own voice as well as mine.
“The point I want to drive home in this book is that Christians make a difference in this world by being different from this world; they don’t make a difference by being the same” (p. 9).

First, a comment about style. This sentence exemplifies Tullian’s clear, snappy, occasionally hyperbolic prose. He knows what he wants to say and he says it with passion. I never felt lost in a tangled web of words as I was reading Unfashionable.
But the hyperbolic tone of this sentence also gave me pause when I first read it. Surely we don’t make a difference in the world simply by being different from the world. And, sometimes, aren’t we to be like the world in a way? What about Paul’s “all things to all people”? Doesn’t the Incarnation itself suggest that we need in some sense to be like the world we’re trying to reach? I hoped that Tullian’s effort would wrestle with the tricky challenge of being “in but not of” the world.

“I want to help you reimagine the potential impact of a radically unfashionable lifestyle. I want to show you what God-soaked, gospel-infused priorities look like in relationships, community, work, finances, and culture — and how those priorities can change the world” (p. 10).

This sounds promising. Being unfashionable isn’t the main point, but rather the by-product of being authentically Christian. And I like the inclusive vision of what true Christian living will impact.

“We need to remember that God established his church as an alternative society, not to compete with or copy this world, but to offer a refreshing alternative to it” (p. 15).

Yes, indeed, though this would lead, I think, to a certain competition between the church and the world. The church is not just one more institution within this world, but an instance of another world that is invading this world. This inevitably leads to competition, or spiritual warfare, as it is often called.

“Ironically, the more we Christians pursue worldly relevance, the more we’ll render ourselves irrelevant to the world around us” (p. 17).

Again, this is one of Tullian’s rhetorically clever statements that leaves me hoping he’ll sort out ways in which relevance is helpful and ways in which it is not. He right, of course, that there is a difference between “pursuing relevance” as a goal in and of itself, or as a means of gaining worldly approval, and using relevance to relating the Gospel to the genuine needs of people and the issues of our day.

“I’m not saying, of course, that rejecting worldliness means one must remain culturally clueless. Just the opposite in fact. To avoid being pressed into the world’s mold, every Christ follower must work at gaining an accurate understanding of how culture works — where and how it influences the way we think and live” (p. 28).

This is pointing in the right direction. Presumably, our cultural analysis will also help us see when culture is negative, positive, or neutral in its influence. If, for example, our culture is growing in its appreciation of narrative, that might not be so bad for biblical Christians. In this case, culture might be our friend.

Tomorrow I’ll finish my review of Unfashionable.

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