Mark D. Roberts

Today I’m finishing my review the book Unfashionable by Tullian Tchividjian. As I did yesterday, I will quote portions of the book and then add my comments.
“God’s ultimate purpose for Christians is not to bring them out of this world and into heaven, but to use them to bring heaven into this world. As we hallow God’s name and do God’s will in how we think, feel, and act – even when it means being unfashionable – the power of Christ’s resurrection flows through us, and as a result we bring heaven’s culture to earth; we give people a foretaste of what’s to come. In this manner we continue the work Christ began and will one day complete” (p. 61).

This statement will surely raise some eyebrows, perhaps even some critical voices. Billy Graham’s grandson and the heir of D. James Kennedy’s pastorate is saying that getting people into heaven isn’t the main point of Christian mission??!! In fact, Tullian is sounding a whole lot like  N.T. Wright here, in Simply Christian and Surprised by Hope as well as his many other writings. More to the point, Tullian is sounding a lot like the New Testament and its eschatological vision. But is he denying the soul-saving mission of the church? See the next excerpt for his answer.

“Therefore, the mission of the church is spiritual and physical, individual and cultural. God wants us to involve ourselves on the rehabilitation of hearts and houses, souls and society. We’re to care about the renewal of both people and the environment. This requires word and deed, proclamation and demonstration. God is renewing human hearts and recreating all things through his church. This is our mission to the world” (p. 62).

This is a powerful statement. I’m reminded of something my mentor Lloyd Ogilvie used to say when people wanted to focus the ministries of Hollywood Presbyterian Church too narrowly: “We must not submit to the tyranny of the either-or.”

“For a long time now, I’ve been convinced that what happens on New York (finance), Hollywood (entertainment), Silicon Valley (technology), and Miami (fashion) has a far greater impact on how our culture thinks about reality than what happens on Washington DC (politics)” (p. 65).

Here Tullian plainly distinguishes himself from the Religious Right, including his predecessor at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church, D. James Kennedy. Though not denying the value of Christian political involvement, Tullian puts far less hope in its potential for social transformation. I think he’s right here, though we mustn’t forget the political efforts of people like William Wilberforce, whom Tullian notes as well (pp. 63-64).

“In becoming Christians we don’t need to retreat from the vocational calling we already have. Nor do we need to justify that calling, whatever it is, in terms of its spiritual value or evangelistic usefulness. We simply exercise whatever our calling is with new God-glorifying motives, goals, and standards ¬ and with a renewed commitment to performing our calling with greater excellence and higher objectives” (p. 85).

As you might well imagine, I cheered when I read this paragraph. Tullian’s vision of vocation is right down the line of Laity Lodge. Of course doing our work according to God’s standards is often mich more easily said than done. That’s one reason why we have an entire website devoted to The High Calling of Our Daily Work.

“Therefore, every day and in every circumstance, we need to be consciously and rigorously translating our faith into the language of the culture we’re trying to reach.
This is the challenge: If you don’t contextualize enough, no one’s life will be transformed, because they wpn’t understand you. But (and this is whatvwe’ll look at next) if you contextualize too much, no one’s life will be transformed, because you won’t be challenging their deepest assumptions and calling them to change” (pp. 89-90).

This is the sort of nuance I was hoping for.  Contextualizing the Gospel is essential for mission, and this involves adapting to a culture, at least to an extent. In the latter chapters of Unfashionable, Tullian spells out in more detail what this means for us. Using Ephesians 4:22-24 as a guide, he addresses specific issues of Christian living. One of his major emphases is that we must be a community in which the Good News is proclaimed and lived.

Conclusion: Of course there’s much more in Unfashionable that I have been able to deal with here. If you’re intrigued, I encourage you to purchase the book for yourself.

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