Christians make a difference in this world by being different from this world; they don’t make a difference by being the same.
What does it look like to live a Christian life? When people look at us, what should they see? Should Christians stand out, visible against a backdrop of non-believers? Should they have that subtle, “there’s something different about you” quality that is recognizable but not necessarily dramatic? Should we blend in entirely, like some kind of special forces undercover God Squad?
A little over 100 years ago, a debate raged in the church about truth. Was the Bible completely true, how does what the Bible says interface with the world around us, and what should Christians believe? This was sparked by a book that has impacted Christianity more than almost any other book ever written – “On the Origin of Species” by Charles Darwin. Because ofDarwin’s hypothesis of evolution, Christians around the world brought the Bible’s creation account into question, which brings the entire Bible into question. The debate raged – do Christians believe in the Bible and look like fools to a world that was increasingly drawn to scientific studies or do Christians change their views of what the Bible, God’s revelation, and truth really are? A battle raged for several decades between what would be known as Fundamentalists and Liberals within the church, eventually leading to the distancing of more liberal denominations, including many Methodists and Presbyterians, as well as a significant theological shift in many major Christian seminaries and schools, most notably Princeton Theological Seminary.
The debate between Fundamentalist Christianity and Liberal Christianity, much like the debate between evolutionary biology and intelligent design, is far from over. However it could be said that for 100 years fundamentalism has been losing the fight. With the loss of Princeton(that really was a big deal), among other events, fundamentalists retreated in the culture war and holed up in big, closed off buildings away from the front lines. Take a look at a lot of buildings built by conservative churches from the early- to mid-20th century and you will see big, imposing walls with very small windows that feels closed off from the outside.
One of my soap boxes for years has been that conservative Christians need to be engaging culture more and fulfilling our calling to love and care about others. Too often we have looked down at “sinners” like homosexuals, people who have children out of wedlock, alcoholics, smokers, etc., and we have very effectively hated both the sin and the sinner. We cannot and should not accept these sins, but these sinners should be loved and cared for by our churches just like the sinners that are volunteering in the ministries, serving on the church boards, and preaching the sermons.
When I started reading “Unfashionable” I was worried that I was going to get another book that said we need to separate from the world more. I’ve read too many of those and heard that too often already. However, that isn’t the message Tchividjian has. The subtitle of the book really is his focus; “making a difference in the world by being different.”
The Bible makes it clear that Christians need to be people of double listening – listening to both the questions of the world and the answers of the Word. We’re responsible to be good interpreters not only of Scripture but also of culture.
Christians aren’t called to simply wait out our time on earth until we can get out of here – we are called to a purpose, right here and right now. We have lives to live, people to serve, work to do. Being “unfashionable” as Tchividjian outlines it isn’t about running away, it’s about standing up. We are called not to conform but to transform; our lives should reflect Truth like a city on a hill, so that we shine Truth into the dark world that we are living in.
None of this means that following and applying God’s Truth to our lives is easy. “Unfashionable” is a challenging book to help us keep our focus in the right place. Our lives should not be structured around the world’s assumptions and forms; they should reflect God’s priorities for us. We should not be living passive, scared lives; we should be boldly proclaiming God’s truth, even as we humbly admit we are still trying to understand it.
To us [God] has given – and will continue to give – grace and truth. And it’s grace enough and truth enough that we’ll become people who make a profound difference in this world…by being profoundly different from this world.