Unfashionable

Tullian Tchividjian has just written a book by that name, and it will be available at the WTS bookstore sometime this month. I got a pre-pub copy and read it very eagerly. A book that has encomiums by J.I. Packer, Ravi Zacharias, Michael Horton, Kent Hughes, Luder Whitlock, Thabiti Anyabwile, and D.A. Carson (among many others!) ought at least to hold my attention. I was not disappointed.

The book is about Christians relating to culture. There are many books available on this now, many of them outstandingly scholarly. This one fills the niche of saying those things that Carson and Wells (for instance) say in a way that a brand new believer can understand. And the message is exactly what the modern church needs to hear. The book may be summarized by Jesus’ proverb that the church needs to be in the world but not of the world. Fortunately, Tchividjian spends most of his time on the “not of the world,” since that seems to be the greater danger in the church today. Churches think that they need to be “relevant,” and so that usually means looking just like the world. But if the church looks just like the world, it is no longer relevant, argues Tchividjian. Salt can only be salt is if it is not the same thing as that which it is trying to salt. And yet, on the balance side, salt cannot salt unless it is in close contact with that which it is trying to salt. So Tchividjian gets this balance exactly right. Tchividjian obviously cares a great deal about this subject; his passion is evident. The book is therefore a clarion call to churches to be rooted in God’s truth, which is perennially relevant, even though unfashionable. Also laudable is his emphasis on the Christian faith permeating every aspect of who we are and what we do. We don’t check out Christianity at the door, as if it was a borrowed library book that we have to leave at the library when we leave. Instead, when we leave church on Sunday morning, we enter the mission field, whatever vocation one might have.

I have only a few questions for Tullian concerning this book. First, piggy-backing on his laudable balance of truth and unity, I was wondering if he could be a bit more specific about what constitutes truth. Obviously, there are many factors in our quest for catholic (small “c”) unity. A PCA church can have a greater unity with a Calvinistic Baptist church than it can with a Roman Catholic Church; and a greater unity with a NAPARC church than with a Calvinistic Baptist church, and a greater unity yet with a PCA church than with, say, even an OPC church. My question is this: what is the basis for each of these different levels of unity? All these groups would claim to believe the Bible and would claim the Bible as at least a standard, and most would claim it as the final standard for truth. My question really aims at the confessions. Are the Westminster standards our basis for unity in the PCA? He quotes a post written by Reggie Kidd which is certainly directed against certain kinds of confessional voices in the PCA. Indeed, that post was heavily modified (and retracted, it is important to note) from its original version, which had brutally attacked several well-known voices in the PCA arguing for confessional teaching. Does Tchividjian agree with that kind of assessment of confessional thinking or not? Understand that I am not presuming the answer one way or another, nor am I saying that this was a lapse on Tchividjian’s part in the book. His argument was to keep the balance between truth and unity. Amen to that. And you cannot say everything in a small book. But it does compel us to ask the next question about confessional truth.

The book should be read. I think it is the easiest entrance into the question of Christianity and culture that we have. It is eminently sane and biblical. And I would like to thank Tullian for writing it.

8 Comments

  1. April 2, 2009 at 8:11 am

    […] Tullian Tchividjian has just written this book. I review it here. __________________ Rev. Lane Keister Teaching Elder, PCA, North Dakota (working out of bounds in […]

  2. Scott said,

    April 2, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Thanks, Reverend Keister for the thoughtful and challenging review.

    You ask an important question- one no doubt this dear brother will be growing with as he and his congregation change from EPC to PCA.

    It is important to understand, it took me a long time to understand this, that in reformed theology, the unity of the church must be grounded on doctrinal agreement. Related to that is that that the church is bound together by covenant to serve God in this world.

    The first part relates to being a confessional church, the second to being a covenanted community, bound together and accountable together.

    While not perfect in every aspect, the PCA was founded on this basis. The EPC was not. This is not to say every particular PCA church practices this perfectly, nor to say that particular EPC churches do not feel bound in this way. But there is a basic difference here in that the PCA binds members to peaceably study and officers to in good faith to receive the doctrine it confesses. This is not the case in the EPC, with its minimalist essential statement of doctrine.

    I have faith the good Pastor has come to appreciate this biblical difference, and is growing towards it as he has taken vows to lead, by example, many in this well. God takes vows seriously, and gives us grace, to endeavor to keep them for His Honor and His Glory!

    It seems his book is a good start in recognizing the church is not a (“fashionable”) loose association of consenting adults, each with their own imagined beliefs about God. Rather, His body is a holy and peculiar people bound by the revelation and confession of doctrine of the Holy Spirit speaking through Scripture.

  3. Wayne Whitmer said,

    April 2, 2009 at 6:06 pm

    I would agree with Scott there will be room for growth especially as he may have been influenced slightly by his grandfather who had a broader ecumenical spirit than most of us in the PCA, OPC, etc. I’m excited for him as he takes the helm of Coral Ridge, it will be interesting to see his development over time. Thank You for the great review Lane. I’m looking forward to reading the book.

  4. dgh said,

    April 2, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    Lane, out of curiosity, why should the church be unified on culture and what would that look like? I get the doctrine part. But if the church needs to be unified about culture, aren’t you making the world safe for theonomy? Yes, Israel was unified culturally. It had the same language, same customs, it was the same people. The church transcends local culture. I don’t mean that in the sense that the church is disembodied. It is always situated and so a suburban church will have a different “ethos” from a rural congregation. But the church has Southerners, Canadians, Ethiopians, Koreans, and even living white European men. Also, the very idea of Christian liberty means that some Christians can handle Updike, and others can’t. So again I’m back to the question of the church being unified on culture. (Would that mean politics too? We’re all Republican?)

  5. dgh said,

    April 2, 2009 at 7:38 pm

    p.s. Maybe this all makes sense if you’ve read the book. I haven’t. Please pardon my ignorance.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    April 3, 2009 at 9:27 am

    Sorry, Darryl, maybe I wasn’t being clear. Tchividjian was arguing not for cultural unity in the church, but rather doctrinal unity. He was also arguing that our approach to culture should be the same, while not meaning that our individual culture had to be the same, if you follow. In other words, all churches should be in the world but not of the world (as an approach to culture), but he certainly did not mean (and I don’t either) that every church has to look like a city church, or a country church, a suburban, or a rural church. Hope this clarifies.

  7. gairneybridge said,

    April 6, 2009 at 10:10 am

    “Churches think that they need to be “relevant,” and so that usually means looking just like the world. But if the church looks just like the world, it is no longer relevant, argues Tchividjian.”

    That is a great quote!

  8. John said,

    April 8, 2009 at 5:54 am

    Sounds like a good book indeed. Thanks for the thorough review.


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