Christianity needs to be unfashionable on campus

Would you agree or disagree with me that Christianity* is unfashionable on campus?  If so, would you go further with me to argue that Christianity is even more unfashionable on campus than in our larger culture?  Whether you agree or disagree with me that Christianity is unfashionable on campus, does Christianity need to be unfashionable on campus?  And if so, why and how?

On May 5, Christianity Today ran Out of Step and Fine with It: Why Tullian Tchividjian, the grandson of the Most Admired Man in America, thinks Christians need to become unfashionable.   Let’s take a look at what Tchividjian has to say:

“Younger generations don’t want trendy engagement from the church; in fact, they’re suspicious of it,” Tchividjian writes in Unfashionable. “Instead, they want truthful engagement with historical and theological solidity that enables meaningful interaction with transcendent reality. They want desperately to invest their life in something worth dying for, not some here-today-gone-tomorrow fad.”

New City practices what theologian Ed Clowney called “doxological evangelism.” … Like Manhattan pastor Tim Keller, Tchividjian believes biblical fidelity holds the Reformed and Anabaptist views on church and culture in creative tension. “Why haven’t any Christ/culture models taken over the orthodox world the way other doctrines have? Why can’t we come to consensus?” Keller asked when we discussed Tchividjian. “It’s because none of them really captures everything, and all of them are really good critiques of each other.”

In this spirit, Tchividjian credits Anabaptist theologian Stanley Hauerwas for showing him how the church should be the church and not worry about winning cultural approval. But he also praises Abraham Kuyper, a Reformed theologian and Dutch prime minister from 1901 to 1905, for emphasizing Christianity as a total world- and lifeview. Kuyper influenced later worldview advocates Francis Schaeffer and Charles Colson, who called Tchividjian “one of today’s brightest young Christian leaders.” On their own, Anabaptists tend to marginalize themselves, while Reformed transformationalists lose the unique gospel message amid their social agendas. Together, these contrasting approaches help Christians retain both biblical dimensions of the gospel.

“The gospel is both individual and communal,” Tchividjian said, sounding more like John Stott than Billy Graham. “The gospel is not simply the story of Christ dying on the cross for sinners. It also involves Christ rising again as the first fruits that will eventually make all things new. There is a universal dimension to the gospel.” …

Unlike the Religious Right’s founders, Tchividjian preaches little about winning the culture wars. Like his grandfather, he believes that focusing on the gospel will reap the reward of faithful church practice, an appealing apologetic in a skeptical age. Now as senior minister of Coral Ridge, he takes this message into one of America’s most prestigious pulpits.

What do you think about Tchividjian’s perspective on being unfashionable?   If approached from this manner, would you describe yourself as unfashionable? AND would you say that Christianity needs to be unfashionable on campus (and the culture at large)? I’m going to read Tchividjian’s Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different (Multnomah, 2009) over the course of the next several months and see how well it applies to higher education (and the culture at large).  Anyone interested in joining me in discussing Unfashionable later this summer?

Hungry for a book discussion sooner?  In June, we’re going to begin a series on Your Mind Matters by John Stott (you may remember him being mentioned above).  If you don’t already have a copy of this 93 page classic introduction to Christian thinking, borrow one from your InterVarsity staff or order one with your Emerging Scholars Network discount for InterVarsity Press.  Be prepared.  Pick-up a copy.  Start reading.  Take notes.  More details tba ;-)

*Definition:  the religion derived from Jesus Christ based on the Bible as sacred scripture, and professed by Eastern, Roman Catholic, and Protestant bodies — http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/Christianity

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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10 Comments

  • amywung@gmail.com'
    Amy commented on May 8, 2009 Reply

    I generally fear the tendency to be counter-cultural for the sake of being unique and counter-cultural. Yes, we will be made different by our obedience, but that difference does not need to be an unfashionable one to count or be real.

    And as someone who came to Christianity in college, I am constantly feeling the tension of trying to fit my theology into my past life experiences. (As opposed to fitting life experiences into my theology, which seems to me more common with people who grew up in the church.) That tension that I feel would not be helped by a church culture which does not even stop to think what their culture looks like to the seeker who has never stepped foot in a church, and thinks that worship is just some odd communal form of karaoke.

  • Tom Grosh commented on May 8, 2009 Reply

    Dear Amy,

    I affirm

    1. your concern regarding ‘the tendency to be counter-cultural for the sake of being unique and counter-cultural’
    2. your statement that we’re being ‘made different by our obedience,’ which may or may not lead to being ‘unfashionable’ [Note: as our heart, soul, mind, and strength become more like Christ through the gifts of the Word, the fruit of the Spirit, the blessing of the Church through time/space and the proper use of tradition].

    I’m interested in how Tchividjian addresses these concerns. I fall much more in line w/Andy Crouch’s Culture Making perspective, visit http://www.culture-making.com & http://www.intervarsity.org/gfm/esn/news/central-pennsylvania-christian-scholars-network-launched

    But part of this has involved

    1. not being surprised/frustrated by being considered at times ‘unfashionable’ as I embrace/live out the call to ‘salt’ a world in need of more richness of flavor, ‘leaven’ relationships to enable them to rise up in a proper manner, and share the ‘light’ of Christ in dark places.
    2. listening and learning from others, even confessing when I’ve been wrong and/or lack the ability to contribute much (or anything) to a given topic. This has been humbling in a helpful manner, particularly over the course of the past three years.
    3. recognizing that as a follower of Jesus with such a perspective, not everyone will affirm who I am and my call in life/ministry. Furthermore, that at times I will be more ‘unfashionable’ in various ‘religious’ circles than I am on campus. But my life/identity is first about God, second about loving neighbor (after which I would add proper self-love and love of creation).

    Thank-you for sharing part of your testimony and how you’ve wrestled with theology, experience, church culture. Please share more. Yes, no doubt some have the impression of worship as ‘just some odd communal form of karaoke.’ I would add in some places that it comes across more like a concert/performance.

    Shalom, Tom

  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on May 10, 2009 Reply

    I would not say that Christianity needs to be unfashionable, but I would say that Christians need to not be concerned about being fashionable. Woe to you when all men speak well of you. I am very concerned about statements I have heard by evangelicals in public recently, e.g. Gabe Lyons (http://blog.cityreformed.org/2009/02/19/thoughts-on-jubilee/)
    that evangelicals need to be much more concerned about their image, and use marketing methods to get all men to speak well of them, and this is what will lead to revival. I’m sure it is well-intentioned, but it is the opposite of what Jesus said. Being image-conscious not only is bad theology, it also stunts creativity, as it makes us slaves to fashion and not original thinkers and original artists.

  • amywung@gmail.com'
    Amy commented on May 12, 2009 Reply

    “I would not say that Christianity needs to be unfashionable, but I would say that Christians need to not be concerned about being fashionable.”
    I think that’s a far better way of putting it.

  • bbutler@katz.pitt.edu'
    Brian Butler commented on May 13, 2009 Reply

    “Christianity needs to be unfashionable” is actually a strange statement. How can “Christianity” need something?

    “Christ needs to be unfashionable” — this is nonsense.
    “Christians need to be unfashionable” — this may is what people really mean, and (as stated above) it is not a healthy thing.

    The one modification I would suggest is that while it is very true that when Christians seek to be fashionable (i.e. make it a goal, either directly or indirectly) it is detrimental, is also bad when Christians aren’t aware of others responses to them.

    Christ repeatedly demonstrated that while he was was not driven by his “image”, that he was very conscious of what that image was, and he modified his approach and tactics to take it into account. He knew when he was “fashionable” and when he was not — and he spoke and acted differently in each case.

    The thing that Christ demonstrates that we (I) often get wrong is that it is important not to mistake popularity (or unpopularity) for an indication of whether we are following God. There are many places in the Bible that indicate that (a) ignoring peoples perceptions of you is unwise, but (b) believing peoples perceptions is even more unwise.

    Matthew 10:16
    I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.

  • jshurmer@sasktel.net'
    janine commented on May 13, 2009 Reply

    unfashionable.

    Christ was very likeable and loved by some unfashionable types
    like Paul, to be “all things to all men”
    and yet know that it would be all the better to die now and be with the Lord
    gives a sense that regardless if one is fashionable, at the ultimate end of the day, we play for an audience of One.
    if you are all things to all men, for whom do you do this?

    how tempting it is to collect our own glory, fashionable or not.

  • bsaontheloose@yahoo.com'
    Sergey commented on May 14, 2009 Reply

    What does it mean to be unfashionable?

    If you mean we should not be of the world I agree.

    We need to step out of our fear of being rejected or look like fools and be fools for Jesus.

    He was a fool for us when he died so we should do the same. Not saying fool in a bad.

    We need to make sure we be part of the world so we can reach out to people in the areas of darkness. I know right I am talking to people who drink, do drugs, swear, get high. Jesus hung out with those people becuase they needed him the most.

    Those people need us so we can show people who Jesus is.

    It’s difficult but it was difficult for Jesus.

    To answer Janine, being unfashionable means your intentions are for the interests of others because most people’s intentions to serve is for self-interest. Trust me, being selfless is unfashionable.

  • churshman@gmail.com'
    Christopher commented on January 1, 2010 Reply

    A few thoughts:

    1. Neither being fashionable nor being unfashionable is terribly meaningful.

    2. Following Christ is costly and hence unlikely to be fashionable.

    3. While the cross and Christ may offend our culture, this fact cannot justify occasions of insensitivity, ignorance, or boorishness among Christians.

  • rstar34@hotmail.com'
    Jon commented on January 30, 2010 Reply

    For me trendy never enters into it.

    I dislike and am not Christian(or any other religion for that matter) because…

    1. Religions are make believe.
    2. Christianity is immoral.
    3. Christians are often hypocritical jackasses.

    Who wants to engage in that?!

    • mike@emergingscholars.org'
      Mike Hickerson commented on January 30, 2010 Reply

      Jon, let me ask you a question more directly related to the post: do you think that the trend of bestselling “New Atheist” books has made your position more easily acceptable on campus? Less accepted? In other words, within the specific context of the academy, is atheism/agnostic/irreligion fashionable?

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