October 22, 2010
Book Review: The Next Christians
Gabe Lyons' new book explains why the end of Christian America is good news.
If you have not yet encountered Gabe Lyons, let me encourage you to do so because he is a person worth your time. As co-founder of Catalyst, founder of Q (a learning community dedicated to mobilizing Christians for the common good), co-author of the tart and challenging book UnChristian, a dedicated husband and father of three young children and only thirty-five, Lyons has already packed some significant achievements into his young life. Now comes his latest work, The Next Christians, an engaging and exceptionally well-written look at how the newest generation of Christians is making its mark for Christ.
Lyons’ builds his thesis on two foundational concepts. The first is that American society has fundamentally moved away from its theological and moral roots. Historically, our culture was dominated by a Judeo-Christian worldview and ethic but now it’s pluralistic, postmodern and post-christian. Over the last few decades the church has been displaced from a position of cultural prominence and pushed to the periphery. Thus, a new narrative, in many ways antithetical to traditional faith, is shaping significant elements of our society.
Yet, according to Lyons, this situation is not at all hopeless. Ever the optimist, he quickly moves on to articulate his second foundational premise of ‘restoration’. Restoration is both a mind-set and a life-style. A ‘restorer’ envisions the world as God meant it to be and then actively works towards mending its brokenness in the name of Jesus. At heart, restoration is the extension of God’s kingdom by God’s people. It concludes the larger biblical story of God’s good creation that was broken by the fall and initially renewed by Jesus’ redemptive death and resurrection. As Lyons argues, ‘Christ’s redemptive work is not the end or even the goal of our stories; redemption is the beginning of our participation in God’s work of restoration in our lives and the world. Understanding that one idea literally changes everything.’ (p. 53)
He uses the rest of the book to show exactly how this happens. In Lyons’ view, the next Christians will not fight or flee from the culture nor will they merely blend in as philanthropic ‘do-gooders’. Instead, building on the innate power of ‘ought’, they will work towards transforming the world into what it should be. Their strategy is one of engagement defined by being provoked into action, serving as creators, following their call, practicing the spiritual disciplines, developing community and living in a counter-cultural fashion.
None of this is really new but what makes it all so refreshing is the author’s gift of weaving a series of real-life stories around each of these concepts. Many are encouraging, a few serve as warnings but most are genuinely stirring tales of how the next Christians leverage life to extend God’s kingdom. One of the best is Lyons’ own story of how he and his wife Rebekah transformed the challenge of having a Downs Syndrome child into the creation of a booklet that shows would-be parents of Downs babies the joys such children can bring. In a culture where 90% of the fetuses pre-diagnosed as Downs are aborted, this is no small contribution to the promotion of life.
Moreover, Lyons sincerely believes that the church is on the cusp of a remarkable transformation, not unlike the era of the Reformation. But to seize the day he offers a concluding word to the wise: the next Christians must emphasize the whole Gospel and stay committed to keeping it first. Our ongoing temptation is to get sidetracked by secondary issues such as theories of cultural engagement, methodologies of outreach, models of doing church and even environmental stewardship. These are not unimportant but they must be subsumed under the larger and more potent agenda of living out the Gospel by the power of the Spirit. As Lyons so astutely notes, ‘where Christians restore, people get saved.’ (p. 193)
This is not only a book worth reading; it’s one worth putting into practice both individually and corporately. Pastors, teachers and other Christian leaders can leverage its ideas and content to encourage, instruct and inspire those they serve. And if enough of us who claim to be the followers of Jesus live out the fullness of the Gospel, Lyons’ prediction of a new Reformation might just happen.