When another new book came out talking about the issue of "Christians and Culture" I first wanted to yawn. I read in this area quite a bit and did not think someone could improve on the good work being done by the likes of Os Guinness, Tim Keller, DA Carson, Nancy Pearcy, Cornelius Plantinga and even popular level authors like Mark Driscoll, Andy Crouch and Dick Staub. Being somewhat of a junkie in this area of study I went ahead and clicked the Amazon.com buttons and had Amazon Prime send Tullian Tchividjian's Unfashionable my way. I have been pleasantly surprised.
In many ways Tchividjian says little that is new in this discussion but what he does give us is a book that can be read by anyone. So often Christ/Culture treatments can get lost in theory, making more arm chair quarterbacks than missional practitioners. Tchividjian is a pastor, a guy who is shaping these ideas in a real community and it comes through loud and clear in this volume.
The subtitle of the work gives his thesis right away: making a difference in the world by being different. Tchividjian's goal is both critical and constructive in this book. He realizes that there are great perils for the church that chooses to mimic the world to the point that it simply IS the world. He also realizes that the church must understand and know culture in order to be a resistance community within it. Too often the church falls off a cliff in one direction or another becoming either worldly or absent among the people she is called to connect with the gospel. On page 81 he sums up well the difficulties of living as God's people in a world that is in rebellion with its maker:
We've found it easy, as Andy Crouch points out in his book Culture Making to condemn culture, critique culture and consume culture. All too often we are guilty of cocooning, combating or conforming.
Tchividjian seems to strive for the right balance. He advocates walking in the world as a peculiar, unfashionable people who are set apart as different even as we live among the various tribes of culture.
I found several things to my liking in reading Tchividjian's work. First, it is very approachable and could be read by scholar, pastor or layperson. Furthermore, the book's division is very helpful and drew me into the work. He begins with a section entitled "The Call" which chronicles God's call on Christians to be different in the world. He begins with his personal story of being a prodigal from a godly home who left the church for the party life on South Beach. His return was not because church was cool, but it was so different as to be compelling and attractive. This brought me right into the work. Following the autobiographical discussion was a treatment on how we need not to clamor to be so cool that we are no longer salt and light in the world. His focus on this generations desire for transcendent reality and connecting with something bigger than the normal was helpful for me as we are forming a culture in the early days of a church plant.
The second part of the work, "The Commission", is also the most meaty and perhaps most controversial. In this section Tchividjian, following many other thinkers, sees God's work through the church as comprising more than simply saving souls for heaven, but taking part in manifesting the Kingdom on earth. We sojourn to God's final consummating of all things building kingdom culture along the way. We are to participate in the cultural mandate to steward and rule creation and to manifest a Kingdom culture in the here and now. In no way does he mute a conversionist gospel that calls individual sinners to repent and find salvation in Jesus Christ. What he does advocate is calling the church, made up of these saved souls, to create and redeem culture in the time appointed for us. Some may find this difficult to see in the Bible (case in point is Tim Challies review of the same work) but I find it very much the story of the Bible.
- God creates and give man stewardship and vice regency with him on the earth. We are to populate and cultivate (See Genesis 1-2)
- Our sin and rebellion brings curse on creation and the work of our hands...yet we are called to populate and create even after the fall, after the flood (See Genesis 9)
- God's decree to redeem a people comes through his covenant promises, is culminated with Jesus and extends through his people bringing the gospel
- God's church is a community that represents the good news of the Kingdom in space and time - it is to multiply and teach what Jesus taught to others - this includes working jobs, loving people, making babies and building new communities as God saves new people.
- God will make all things new through Jesus in the end - the culmination of creation is a new heavens and new earth.
So I guess I am unsure of what Mr. Challies and others are objecting to when they say that creating culture or a cultural commission is lacking in the Bible. I don't see how Christianity can be lived otherwise.
One note of warning. Though Tchividjian warns against it (see pages 62, 63) there are others in his tradition that have advocated, using some of the same Kingdom Now thinking, for theonomy. I am thankful that he actually deemphasises politics and only calls for cultural renewal through persuasion and never compulsion. My fear is that sometimes the "bringing the Kingdom to earth" sort of thinking ends up relying on the work of woman and men rather than the final coming of Jesus.
Part 3 of the book that is simple entitle "The Community" and is a discussion of what a counter cultural community looks like. Drawing on Paul's letter to the Ephesians Tchividjian lays out how we are called to a different sort of life now. We are teaching through Ephesians right now at our church and when we get to the second half of that book I will be rereading Tullian's observations and application of this epistle.
Finally, Tchividjian provides a great bibliography/reading list for those interested in the discussion of Christ and Culture. All the usual suspects are there but having these in one place is a great blessing. Furthermore, he cites works from diverse theological perspectives which is always a plus in this discussion. Case in point is that you find Timothy Keller and Stanley Hauerwas on the same list. Now on to a very small weaknesses observed.
To be honest, I liked the book and only noted one minor annoyance for me. On several occasions Tchividjian refers to the Bible as "a manual for life." Now I understand him to mean that the Scripture has guidance for everyday living but this metaphor can be a bit misleading to some and can lead to misuses of the Bible. The Bible is primarily a revelation of Jesus Christ, God's character and his work in redeeming all things. I have avoided "the Bible as manual" and "the Bible as playbook" in the past several years as it leads to Christians seeing it as a "how to book" rather than a book that reveals God, brings life and then calls us to live in wisdom in light of its teaching. My issue is with the choice of metaphor more so than how Tchividjian handles the Bible.
Tullian Tchividjian has written a book that strikes a needed balance between punking out to being the "cool church" in the world and being an irrelevant enclave speaking to no-one but those within its own walls. The book is not only a balanced treatment of Christians relating to culture, it will also be accessible to a broad audience. Though there are more meaty and scholarly treatments around, this volume is one I would hand to people in my church to see the holistic calling God has on our community. We are to preach the gospel that saves sinners and then live as an inbreaking of a new Kingdom in the here and now. This affects how we live, eat, work, play, study, think, recreate and create. The mandate God has on us is to make disciples - converts to Jesus Christ who learn from him and then participate in God's work until he comes again. This means keeping the two hands of gospel proclamation (atoning work of Jesus that saves from sin, death and hell) and Kingdom demonstration (including shaping culture) alive and well in our midst.