Book Review: The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons

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Gabe Lyons’ book, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America, was first published in 2010 (Doubleday Religion) and updated in 2012 with a new chapter, “Civil, Not Divisive.” For those unfamiliar with Gabe Lyons, he is one of the cofounders of Catalyst Conference and co-authored the book UnChristian (Baker Books, 2007).

It is clear that Gabe Lyons not only has a thorough understanding of the Christian landscape in the United States as it currently stands, but also has keen insight into where Christianity is headed. His approach is not one of condemnation or finger-pointing as he exposes the downward trajectory of cultural Christianity. Instead, Lyons has a contagious hope for Christianity in the United States.

Lyons begins by walking his audience through a categorical understanding of how Christians interact with their culture. The idea here is that historically we can find examples of how Christians have been “separatists” or “blenders” in mainstream culture. These two categories are important because the rest of the book details how the next Christians will be “restorers” who will fill the void between these polarized groups.

THE BIG IDEA

To understand what it means to be a “restorer” one has to understand all of God’s story, this can be expressed in four distinct parts: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration[1]. Lyon’s believes that the creation and restoration aspects of God’s story have been forgotten by the separatists and blenders. The evidence is in the way they have interacted with U.S. culture. The Next Christians are people who are here to remedy this situation through the restoration of culture and the care of God’s creation.

Lyons spends some time fleshing out what it means to be restorers. One statement in particular captures the essence of his contention: “Many are bound to a Gospel story with a climax that feels actually quite boring. ‘Go tell others how to escape from Planet Earth’ doesn’t feel like a compelling message to them.”[2]

Lyons moves his readers to consider a more holistic calling of demonstrating to the world what God’s kingdom is like. By focusing on holism the church can embody what the power of restoration looks like in the human soul.  This is how the church ought to interact with culture.

FOCUS ON CULTURE

“No one – Christians included—can avoid all contact with potentially corrupting people, systems, perspectives, and influences. For everyday followers of Jesus, this tension begs the question: How should Christians react when placed in an environment that celebrates sin, overlooks justice, or tolerates immorality?” (p. 75)

Culture. This is how the next Christians are going to function as restorers on planet earth. Lyons spends the next couple chapters explaining how Christians can achieve and demonstrate restoration through being culture makers. He even provides a helpful chart of cultural venues that desperately need Christian influence.

CHRIST THE ANCHOR

“The next Christians must beware that operating in the center of the world requires a deep anchoring in Christ, a grounding that’s achieved only through means unbecoming to most. Otherwise, it hardly works.” (p. 130)

Lyons spends an appropriate amount of time explaining how to go about influencing culture, and walking the thin line between restoring a culture and succumbing to it. It would be hard to finish this book without being encouraged and motivated to think about the way Christians express their faith in Jesus Christ in community and culture.

THE TAKEAWAY

Lyons’ book was a fast read because his words articulated a yearning in my heart for the kind of life-changing ministry that we read about in the Bible. So many times we ask ourselves “what if” in the church, and that is the internal voice that The Next Christians speaks to. Lyons simply lays out the big picture of culture and shows the reader how they can be ministers of restoration in this world. I would recommend this book to laity and those in full-time ministry.

[1] The Next Christians, p. 51

[2] The Next Christians, p. 50-51

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David Lyell is associate pastor at Westwood United Methodist Church and Photographer at Stephanie Lyell Photography.

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