“I want the evangelical church to be the church. I want it to embody a vibrant spirituality. I want the church to be an alternative to post-modern culture, not a mere echo of it. I want a church that is bold to be different and unafraid to be faithful,…a church that reflects an integral and undiminished confidence in the power of God’s Word, a church that can find in the midst of our present cultural breakdown the opportunity to be God’s people in a world that has abandoned God. To be the church in this way, it is also going to have to find in the coming generation, leaders who exemplify this hope for its future and who will devote themselves to seeing it realized…. They will have to decline to spend themselves in the building of their own private kingdoms and refuse to be intimidated into giving the church less and other than what it needs…. To succeed, they will have to be people of large vision, people of courage, people who have learned again what it means to live by the Word of God, and, most importantly, what it means to live before the Holy God of that Word.” (Wells 1994)
This was the closing charge of Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different, the book which I recently finished reading in an attempt to better sort out what exactly it means to be “in the world, yet not of the world.” Contending with the desires of the world and a love of the world’s pleasures has taken up a great deal of my thinking processes over the last few months, and so it was with great excitement that I picked this book up from the library and began to read. Questions that I hoped to be answered within its pages by someone smarter and hopefully “more godly” than myself, included, “How do I live as a Christian that is different from the world and still ‘fit in’?” “What does it look like to be a set apart Christian while playing volleyball?” “Do I have to be weird to be a Christian, or can I still like volleyball, bicycling, and other ‘normal’ stuff?”
Tchividjian begins his book by recounting his youth, of being raised in a Christian home, rebelling and partying, and then being shocked by the unfashionable, unreserved love of a church that he happened to walk into spontaneously on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t because the church had “cool” music, or “hip” speakers, or anything else that might appeal to him, but because they loved him when he had nothing to give in return.
From this, Tchividjian turns to the need for the church to begin honoring God as Lord. “The epidemic of professing Christians ignoring the Bible has led theologian Michael Horton to ask if churches are guilty of secularizing America. Christians are quick, he notes, ‘to launch public protests against “secular humanists” for diminishing the role of God in America society,’ yet ‘the more likely source of secularization is the church itself.’ Our first concern should not be (as it often is) that God is treated so flippantly in American culture but that he is not taken seriously in our own churches.” (Tchividjian 2009) When the church starts taking God seriously, only then will it be prepared to take the Great Commission seriously and begin reach the world for God.
How far is the redemption of the world to go? Far from the current “individualistic” soul-winning methods that focus on one’s personal relationship with God, Scripture makes the case for the redemption of both people and communities. “Because God created peoples, places, and things, and because sin has corrupted peoples, places, and things, God intends to redeem peoples, places, and things. In Christ, God intends to redeem not only individuals, but also neighborhoods, schools, and workplaces. He intends to redeem not only environmentalists but also the environment, not just lawyers, but also the law, not simply government officials, but also the government itself (see Isaiah 9:6-7). His goal is to transform every cultural sphere, from art and education to commerce and communication—everything! His mission is to redeem, renew, and regenerate all that is twisted and corrupt, broken and crusted over with sin.” (Tchividjian 2009) John Frame writes of the Great Commission, “You see how comprehensive that [Matthew 28:19-20] is? The Great Commission tells us not only to tell people the gospel and get them baptized, but also to teach them to obey everything Jesus has commanded us. Everything. The gospel creates new people, people radically committed to Christ in every area of their lives. People like these will change the world. They will fill and rule the earth to the glory of Jesus. They will plant churches, establish godly families, and will also plant godly hospitals, schools, arts, and sciences.” It is that kind of person, radically committed and world-changing that I want to be. If my relationship with Christ is not holistically affecting every area of my life, then something is wrong.
Ethelwyn Wetherald wrote:
My orders are to fight;
Then if I bleed, or fail,
Or strongly win, what matters it?
God only doth prevail.
That servant craveth naught
Except to serve with might.
I was not told to win or lose—
My orders are to fight.
Though many Christians do not see it as such, “No observation could be more condemning to the Christian than for a non-Christian to say, ‘You’re no different than I am.’” (Tchividjian 2009) It was this realization, that I could no longer see visible differences between myself and my volleyball buddies, which brought me to angst of spirit and led me to began seeking out what it really meant to live life in the world, yet not of the world. Tullian writes, “…our King also happens to be the Great Evangelist, calling men and women to himself, setting them apart as ‘unfashionable,’ then sending them out into the world to make his invisible kingdom visible. This happens as we, in and under the Holy Spirit’s power, live what one theologian calls ‘the cruciformed life’—reaching up to God and reaching out to people so that our lives form the posture of the cross.”
Though I have long said that my goal in life was to love God and love people, it is ever so easy to let that slip from my day to day thought and action. Far too often, I find that I don’t love people at all, nor God, but only myself. This self-centeredness is the bane of my existence, for there is nothing to love about this sin-filled self. It is that very fact, that God chose to love me when I had nothing worthy of his love, which makes the gospel so astounding. So how should that gospel penetrate my very being so that I can both love God and people? Even more, how does that compare with all the “successes” that the world waves before my eyes? Richard John Neuhaus stated, “The church and its gospel throw into question the agenda of the world—all the agendas of the world—and open the world to possibilities of which it has never dared to dream. When the church dares to be different, it models for the world what God calls the world to become.” Furthermore, as Dick Staub wrote, “Few of us know what it means to actually love the world with the kind of passionate, visionary love that sent Jesus from the heights of holiness into the depths of a sin-sick culture.”
A church that loves the world is not afraid of the world, nor does it imitate the world. Rather, “[W]hile Christians are to separate from the self-glorifying motives, God-ignoring goals, and subpar work standards of the world (our spiritual separation), we’re not to separate from the peoples, places, and things in the world (a spatial separation). We’re to be morally and spiritually distinct without being culturally segregated.” (Tchividjian 2009) It is this distinction between spiritual separation and spatial separation that so often gets confused in our churches today. In my experience, churches either imitate the world and are found indistinguishable from the world, or they separate themselves both spiritually and spatially, rendering themselves untouchable to the world. It is a relief to my troubled mind to begin to understand that I can be spiritually separated without building a wall between myself and those I would desire to reach with the gospel.
“Jesus didn’t invite the world to come to church; he directed the church to go into the world (see Matthew 28). This means every Christian is a missionary.” (Tchividjian 2009) Part of our roles as missionaries is to bring the gospel to the culture we live in, just as many cross-cultural missionaries over the centuries have taken the gospel into new languages and cultures. Simply put, contextualization is the translating of gospel truth into language understood by our culture. This is composed of several facets, including building relationships with the people who don’t believe, not compromising the truth, and “giving people God answers (which they may not want) to the questions they’re really asking and in ways they can understand.” (Tchividjian 2009) Chuck Colson explained it this way: “We must enter into the stories of the surrounding culture, which takes real listening….We connect with the literature, music, theater, arts and issues that express the existing culture’s hopes, dreams, and fears. This builds a bridge by which we can show how the gospel can enter and transform those stories.” Tchividjian stated that contextualizing “begins with a broken heart for the lost and a driving desire to help them understand God’s liberating truth.” “This is the challenge: If you don’t contextualize enough, no one’s life will be transformed, because they won’t understand you. But if you contextualize too much, no one’s life will be transformed, because you won’t be challenging their deepest assumptions and calling them to change.” (Tchividjian 2009)
“In seeking to engage and connect, Christians must remember that God hasn’t called his people to be popular. He has commanded us to be faithful, even in the face of mockery, criticism, and persecution.” (Tchividjian 2009) Living my life as a radically committed Christian doesn’t allow for popularity and “fitting in.” It doesn’t come without a price tag, nor does it come with the promises of prosperity, wealth, or earthly peace. Scripture commands us to take up our crosses in following Christ. Sure, it would be fun to drive a nice truck or Jeep, and to be “successful” in the eyes of the world, but that is not what I have been called to—God has prepared me to walk another path. “In contrast, the highest aim of mission-minded people is not self-protection but self-sacrifice. Mission-minded people exist primarily not for themselves, but for others. They’re willing to set aside personal preferences in service to those with different preferences. They’re willing to be inconvenienced, discomforted, and spent for the well-being of others.” (Tchividjian 2009)
What then, is the difference between reaching out to the world and being worldly? According to Tchividjian, “a worldly way of thinking is any mind-set that, unconsciously or consciously, eliminates God and his revealed truth (the Bible) from how we approach life. The biblical notion of worldliness is a sleepiness of the soul in which the status, pleasures, comforts, and cares of the world appear solid, stunning, and affecting while the truths of Scripture become abstractions—unable to grip the heart or guide our everyday activities.” Quite simply, “Christians make a difference in this world by being different from this world; they don’t make a difference by being the same.” (Tchividjian 2009) When my focus is on loving God first, realizing that to be his disciple I must count the cost, I cannot at the same time cling to the loves of the worlds. The fast cars, the expensive clothes, the “cool” factor—it all becomes worthless when compared to the love of Christ. “Faithfully following Christ requires that Christians maintain a constant state of culture shock in relation to the sinful patterns of the world. As followers of Jesus, we must maintain what psychologists call ‘cognitive dissonance’ toward the patterns of culture that undermine our loyalty to God and his unfashionable ways. For Christians to embody a vibrant, world-transforming presence in our culture, shock must never give way to submission; tension with the world must never give way to comfort in the world.” (Tchividjian 2009)
“Remember,” says Tchividjian, “Jesus never went looking for crowds; he went looking for disciples. And to get disciples, he explained that any who wanted to follow him would need to count the cost. Daily Christian living, according to Jesus, means daily Christian dying—dying to our fascination with fitting in and instead joyfully becoming a ‘fool for Christ.’” What is it worth to me? Am I prepared to count the cost, prepared to lay my life down for the One who laid his life down for me?
Tchividjian, Tullian. Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different. Colorado Springs: Multnomah Books, 2009.
Wells, David. God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994.