Given the cover story of last week’s Newsweek, “The Decline and Fall of Christian America,” we Americans who believe in Jesus can expect to fall increasingly out of step with our culture. Life was somewhat different in the 1950’s, when “under God” was added to the pledge of allegiance and “in God we trust” was put on our money. Then an evangelist like Billy Graham could rise to prominence by preaching the simple gospel of repentance and faith in Christ. Christianity was popular, and so was he.
Times have changed. Newsweek trumpets the advent of post-Christian America and Billy Graham’s grandson, Tullian Tchividjian, has just published unfashionable: making a difference in the world by being different (Multnomah). Just as Billy represented the acceptance of evangelicals into the American mainstream (every president between Jimmy Carter and George W. Bush claimed to be born again), so Tullian represents a younger generation who refuse to bow the knee to Baal (I’m thinking of young pastors like Driscoll, DeYoung, Bartels, and the Grand Ledge guys).
Tullian’s main point 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” (9). He elaborates: “There’s an irrelevance to pursuing relevance, just as there’s a relevance to practicing irrelevance. To be truly relevant, you have to say things that are unfashionably eternal, not trendy” (17).
And despite the obvious difference between Christian and post-Christian America, Tullian convincingly argues that his thesis was true even in his grandfather’s day. He recounts the advice that a Hollywood actor gave his grandfather in the 1950’s: “Billy, don’t ever try to compete with Hollywood, because Hollywood will always do it better than you. You give the world the one thing Hollywood can’t—the straightforward, timeless truth of the gospel” (23).
Here is what I like about this book:
1. I like that it was written. Sometimes I feel surrounded by cultural Christians who read their Bible through our culture rather than the other way around. Tullian and the generation he represents give me hope. Here is someone who gets it and isn’t afraid to say it.
2. I like Tullian’s emphasis on the Kuyperian worldview. He says that the whole reason to be against the world is because we’re for the world (10). We contribute to the restoration of this world, not by going along with its fallen desires, but by proclaiming and living the gospel. Readers of my Heaven is a Place on Earth will find similar themes, and even a couple of quotes, in unfashionable.
3. I appreciate Tullian’s honesty as he describes his youthful rebellion and later conversion to Christ. He has lived the difference between being cool and unfashionable, and his words are steeped in the wisdom of experience.
4. I like the practical application in this book. Too many times “kingdom living” is described in general, vague terms. Tullian’s final section emphasizes personal, practical ways that we can live redemptively in this world. For instance, he explains how Christians should use money, words, and sex differently from the world. There is a lot here to savor and apply.
In sum, if you want to be encouraged by the next generation of Christian leaders, if you want to know that you are not alone in your counter-cultural walk with Christ, and if you want to be challenged and helped in that walk, then this is the book to read. Thanks, Tullian, for saying so well what we all need to hear.