Out of Step and Fine with It
America's most fashionable city fits Tullian Tchividjian like a glove. Tchividjian, 36, grew up in South Florida and exudes Miami's cosmopolitan, comfortable cool. He relishes the region's multicultural mix and loves to surf when he can find the time in his busy schedule as pastor of New City Church in Coconut Creek. When preaching in the summer heat, Tchividjian leaves the top of his shirt unbuttoned. This is not the kind of town that expects its pastors to suffer in dark suits.
By looks alone, Tchividjian is not the most likely candidate to write a book that calls on Christians to eschew cultural appeal. Yet that's precisely what Tchividjian has done with Unfashionable: Making a Difference in the World by Being Different (Multnomah, April 2009). His third book, Unfashionable reflects insight gained in part from his 1993 conversion experience, which fueled him with zeal only God can grant. Kicked out of his family's home as a teenager, Tchividjian indulged in almost everything Miami's sensual nightlife offered. But now he believes that Christians must forsake any hope of winning cultural acceptance if they want to affect the culture for the Lord's sake.
For decades, another Presbyterian church in South Florida pressed to win the culture for Christ. Coral Ridge, once led by D. James Kennedy, is 12 miles away from New City in Fort Lauderdale. Once visited by as many as 7,000 on Sunday mornings, Coral Ridge shrunk to 1,400–1,500 regular attendees as Kennedy's attention turned to national politics. Kennedy last preached on Christmas Eve 2006, and suffered cardiac arrest four days later. He died September 5, 2007, and the church's leaders searched far and wide for a new senior pastor.
No culture warrior himself, Tchividjian seemed like an unnatural replacement for Kennedy. Yet in January 2009, Coral Ridge and New City proposed a dramatic plan: If the two churches could agree to merge, Tchividjian would become the senior pastor. If not, he would happily remain the pastor of New City. As the churches completed their merger March 15, Tchividjian inherited a high-profile opportunity to work out his vision for an unfashionable church.
Though Tchividjian had never preached at Coral Ridge before March, he was no stranger to its congregation. He hosts a monthly radio program on its radio station, has spoken on numerous occasions at the Kennedy-founded Knox Theological Seminary, and attended Coral Ridge's private school, Westminster Academy, when his family moved to South Florida in the late 1970s. For a time they even worshiped at Coral Ridge. Once the fastest growing Presbyterian church in the country, Coral Ridge welcomed Billy Graham to dedicate its gorgeous campus in 1974.
The famous evangelist forges yet another link between Tchividjian and Coral Ridge: Tullian is the middle of seven children raised by Stephen Tchividjian and Gigi Graham, Billy and Ruth's eldest child. His full name is William Graham Tullian Tchividjian. Named for the early Christian apologist Tertullian, Tchividjian resembles Graham with his deep-set eyes, bronzed skin, and distinguished nose. He speaks with a cadence that recalls the younger Billy's famous drawl and emphasis on "the Bi-ble." But his theology hews much closer to Ruth's, his late Presbyterian grandmother. Tchividjian took to heart his grandfather's regret that he did not pursue further education. After studying at Columbia International University in South Carolina, Tchividjian earned his master of divinity at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS) in Orlando. The combination of Reformed theology and evangelistic fervor match two passions stoked by Kennedy, who founded Evangelism Explosion in the 1960s. This history encouraged Tchividjian to listen when Coral Ridge's pulpit search committee called and called and called again.