Pastor Tullian Tchividjian joins the provocative conversation on Christ and culture with this newly released (and widely endorsed) book, Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different. For those unfamiliar, there are a plethora of books (particularly recently) on the complex topic of how the Christian (and the church collectively) is to relate to the world. We’ve all heard the phrase “in the world, but not of it.” But what does that look like? That’s what Unfashionable is all about.
Following a helpful Foreword by Tim Keller, the book is divided into four sections: The Call, The Commission, The Community, and The Charge. The Call first describes Tullian’s conversion story: briefly, though raised in a Christian family (the grandson of Billy Graham), he had abandoned the faith of his parents and left home at 16. At 21, God dramatically and quite suddenly converted him. Attending church for the first time in years, Tullian recalls being struck by how different those he met at church were from his regular “in” group. This leads to the book’s theme: Christians make a difference in the world by being different from this world; they don’t make a difference by being the same. He spends the rest of the section talking about the world’s quest for authenticity and the church’s seduction with being fashionable. Tullian writes:
“It’s both sad and ironic that this shift is now putting the church in the wrong place at the right time. Just when our culture is yearning for something different, many churches are developing creative ways to be the same. Just as many in our culture are beginning to search back in time, many churches are pronouncing the irrelevance of the past. Just as people are starting to seek after truth, many churches are turning away from it. As a result these churches are losing their distinct identity as a people set apart to reach the world.”
The next section of the book, The Commission, starts with the implications of the Bible being God’s standard for our entire lives. The following few chapters give a concise and understandable treatment on the kingdom of God theme in the Bible: that God intends to renew the world, that the first Advent of Christ led to his inauguration as King while the consummation of His kingdom awaits His return. Until then, Christians are called to be salt and light, and we’re called to do so in community with one another. One of the most helpful phrases that Tullian returns to again and again is that we’re to be “against the world for the world.” In other words, we’re to live distinctively and attractively different kinds of lives—lives which reveal that our true citizenship is in heaven, and that our treasures are being stored there—and that although we oppose the world’s godless system of values, we are “for” the people of the world: we want to show them a taste of heaven in the way we interact with each other and with them. In doing so, the hope is that they, too, will be drawn into God’s alternative culture (a culture not withdrawn from the world but one that permeates it and, like light, has a transformative effect). God critiques this fallen world by creating a covenant people, called out of darkness and into His light, to be a “city set on a hill” (Matthew 5:14).
In the third section, The Community, Tullian delineates “six defining marks that ought to identify the community of God”: truth-telling, appropriate anger toward God-belittling sin, hard work (serving others rather than seeking to maximize personal ease), redemptive speech, kindness, and sexual purity. The book ends with a charge to follow the example of men like Augustine, Polycarp, and the countless men and women who give their lives for Christ in hard places, Christians who “joyfully accept undeserved physical and social misery” because they know that “here we have no lasting city” (Hebrews 13:14).
I found Unfashionable to be engaging and easy to read in spite of the complexity of some of the topics addressed. Tullian writes from the heart and is particularly arresting in his discussion of some of the ways in which the church (individually and collectively) looks like the world (for instance, in its pursuit of power rather than service). While hard-hitting and realistic about the evils in the world (and the indwelling sin in the lives of Christians), the overall tone is appropriately one of hope and optimism. The strong man has been bound and his property is being plundered (Mark 3:27). God’s kingdom is advancing and will one day cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. I highly recommend this book.
Related: Charles Spurgeon quote and video of Tullian introducing Unfashionable.