Book Review: Unfashionable by Tullian Tchividjian

Though this book is a couple of years old, it is coming back around for a second publishing. After reading it once when it first came out, I thought it would be good to give it a second read and write this review. Many of my initial reactions from the book have changed after a more cautious examination of the implications in Unfashionable.

The author of Unfashionable is Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of the world famous Billy Graham. Tullian has an amazing story about redemption. Coming from a very religious family, he rebelled against the faith before finding his way back and going into the ministry. Having planted a church in the Fort Lauderdale area, he took on the enormous task of replacing D. James Kennedy at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church after his death. Shortly after taking the position as senior pastor, there was a major church split. Surely, his message of being ‘unfashionable’ was not welcomed in a congregation where right-winged outspokenness had such a strong voice for so many years.

The book Unfashionable is an excellent attempt to draw people away from the the extreme spectrums that mainstream Christians typically gravitate toward. Tullian challenges the church to be counter-cultural instead of anti- or parallel-. There is a great struggle in finding balance in walking the Christian life, and although there are areas I would disagree with Tullian (primarily from our differing theological perspectives), he has made great headway in moving the church toward the center of the will of God.

Tullian points out that the greatest need in the church today is not structural but spiritual.

“Our main problem is not that we’re culturally out of touch, it’s that we’re theologically out of tune.” ch. 2

In too many cases, the church is trying to be so much like the culture that they don’t have anything to offer society. But the church is not to be so removed from culture that they don’t have any impact. Tullian points out that the church is supposed to be both salt and light. Salt has no use unless it it touching what it is meant to preserve, and light is meant to pierce through the darkness not mix with it.

The struggle to figure out the balance of being both in the world and yet not of it is a challenge for everyone. The working out of this principle is probably going to look different from church to church and person to person. But the struggle is the point. It’s not designed to be easy. Tullian speaks against the problem of worldliness as he points out the common ways the church has mishandled culture and the Bible. What most Christians don’t realize is how heavily influenced they are by society.

One of the key factors I appreciate from Unfashionable is Tullian’s use of the term ‘prejudice.’ I’ve written extensively on this topic and Tullian hits the nail on the head at describing how this reaction affects how we view the world. Tullian appeals to the Word of God as the final authority for discovering the balance of honoring God.

Unfashionable is strongest in the first few chapters as well as chapters 8-10 where Tullian talks about the importance of being double listeners – listening to the question of the world and the answers from the Word. Many Christians don’t understand the context in which they live. They either attack culture or they absorb it. Because Christians are usually only students of the Bible and not culture, they fail to communicate the gospel and they are being negatively shaped by the world. Tullian makes some valuable points on the importance of contextualization.

But Unfashionable is not without it’s faults. Tullian fails to develop a solid argument for his positions. He assumes that the reader will agree with his eschatology and worldview – I do not. The book is more about the idea and metaphor than it is concerned with clarity. This is a major fault with several key points Tullian is attempting to make. However, for the discerning reader, this book does a great job at opening discussion on how the church can do more than just preach the gospel. Of yet, I can’t think of any other book that offers such a great deal of attention to the problem of being in and not of the world. Some of Tullian’s conclusions are a little off center, from my perspective, but I believe he is moving in the right direction.

I would recommend this book to solid leaders who are struggling with the balance of contextualization and biblical separation. While not a complete and closed book on the matter, I think it will help foster discussion among leaders who are attempting to be both salt and light in society.

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