It took me 7 years to get through seminary. I did it on the side while working full-time, back before there were accredited online programs. Which meant I spent a lot of summers driving with my wife and kids to Orlando, Florida, to spend my vacation time sitting in week-long intensive courses (40 class hours crammed into 5 days).
In the summer of 2000 I sat in the back row of a New Testament class with two guys who seemed to be somewhat well-known to the professor. He was always cracking jokes about their family members – things like “I disagree with your dad on this one” or “Your grandfather probably knows more about this than I do.” Being slower than the average guy, it took me a while to figure out that I was flanked by Elliott Grudem (son of well-known theologian Wayne Grudem) and Tullian Tchividjian (AKA Billy Graham’s grandson). I made their acquaintance as we worked through the exegesis of Hebrews and have maintained loose contact with them since then. Elliott is now an A29 church planter in Raleigh, NC, and Tullian, after planting a PCA church in South Florida, made headlines this past year by being selected to fill the shoes of D. James Kennedy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church.
Obviously Tullian’s family connections have opened some unusual doors for him. But he is a good, articulate theologian in his own right. His short booklet called The Kingdom of God was required reading for Coram Deo’s membership process in the early years. Most recently, he’s released a new book called unfashionable which explores what Christian cultural influence should look like.
Tchividjian’s writing is less erudite than that of Tim Keller, who penned the foreword for unfashionable. So he won’t win style points with some critical readers. But he does get high marks for clear, cogent, accessible prose. For those who are deep into Keller’s work on contextualization or who have read giants like Abraham Kuyper or Francis Schaeffer, Tchividjian probably won’t tread any new ground. But unfashionable is an excellent tome for those who find Keller a little too heady, for evangelical Christians who are just awakening to the importance of culture-making, or for skeptical young Christians who felt homeless in the ‘religious right,’ voted for Obama mainly to spite James Dobson, and are wondering if they should even care about evangelism.
Tullian’s basic hypothesis is that Christians have mistaken being “cool” for being influential. In our desire to impact the culture, we have sold out to hipness at the expense of the gospel. (I think we at Coram Deo need to hear his rebuke squarely.) His contention is that true cultural impact will require us to be unfashionable – to be against the world, for the world. If we are truly following the biblical pattern, we will not be accepted as cool or desirable in the culture. But we will be compelling by the very virtue of our unfashionableness. His concern is summed up in this pregnant quote from Charles Spurgeon: “He who marries today’s fashion is tomorrow’s widow.”
In spite of its diagnosis of the problem, unfashionable is not primarily a work of critique. It’s an apologetic for a return to rich, robust, theologically rooted cultural impact. Tchividjian unpacks the biblical storyline of Creation-Fall-Redemption and shows how a proper view of the future (restoration, not rapture) gives purpose to our efforts at redeeming culture:
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… God wants those he’s redeemed to work at transforming this broken world and all its broken structures – families, churches, governments, businesses – in a way that reflects an answer to the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…” God has called Christians to play a role by celebrating what’s good and true and beautiful, working for change in what isn’t, and looking forward in hope to God’s redemption of all things.
Along the way, he teaches and trains, offering helpful insights from theologians past and present:
It’s been helpful for me to understand the distinction Abraham Kuyper made between ‘persuasion’ and ‘coercion.’ For Kuyper, persuasion is the Christian’s role and responsibility toward culture here and now – seeking to influence every sphere of society (such as the family, government, education) for Christ and bringing the standards of God’s Word to bear on every dimension of human culture. Coercion, on the other hand, is the role and responsibility of Christ, not Christians. Jesus alone possesses the right and power to ‘coerce,’ or force, culture in a Godward direction, and this is a right he will fully exercise only when he returns to make ‘all things new’ (Revelation 21:5). Understanding the difference between persuasion and coercion – between our role and Christ’s role – helps us serve God with realistic expectations.
My overall recommendation: this might not be a “buy it immediately” book, but it’s definitely a “put it on your Christmas list” book. Especially for those of you who work in education, art, media, government, and other culture-making institutions, unfashionable will help you better understand the how and why of being against the world, for the world. I am jealous for all of us in Coram Deo to have a solid grasp on how the gospel informs our interaction with culture – and in these matters, Tullian is a reliable guide.