Title: The Next Christians
Subtitle: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith
Author: Gabe Lyons (Coauthor of the Best Selling UnChristian)
Publisher’s Synopsis: Turn on a cable news show or pick up any news magazine, and you get the impression that Christian America is on its last leg. The once dominant faith is now facing rapidly declining church attendance, waning political influence, and an abysmal public perception. More than 76% of Americans self-identify as Christians, but many today are ashamed to carry the label.
While many Christians are bemoaning their faith’s decline, Gabe Lyons is optimistic that Christianity’s best days are yet to come. In the wake of the stunning research from his bestselling book, unChristian, which revealed the growing disenchantment among young generations for Christians, Lyons has witnessed the beginnings of a new iteration of the faith. Marked by Lyons’ brutal honesty and unvarying generosity, Lyons exposes a whole movement of Christians—Evangelicals, Mainline, Protestants, Orthodox, Pentecostals, and others—who desire to be a force for restoration even as they proclaim the Christian Gospel. They want the label Christian to mean something good, intelligent, authentic, and beautiful.
The next generation of Christians, Lyons argues, embodies six revolutionary characteristics:
“When Christians incorporate these characteristics throughout the fabric of their lives, a fresh, yet orthodox way of being Christian springs forth. The death of yesterday becomes the birth of a great tomorrow. The end of an era becomes a beautiful new beginning. In this way, the end of Christian America becomes good news for Christians.”
In THE NEXT CHRISTIANS, Lyons disarms readers by speaking as a candid observer rather than cultural crusader. Where other people shout, Lyons speaks in a measured tone offering helpful analysis of our current reality while casting a vision for how to be a Christian in a world disenchanted with the faith. Both a celebration and a reckoning, THE NEXT CHRISTIANS combines current day models and relevant research with stories of a new generation of Christian leaders. If you are worried by what you see transpiring around you, this book will take you on a surprising social exploration in hopes that you too will restore confidence in your faith.
When I requested this book as my next review book from Doubleday publishers, I was excited. I mean, I’ve been watching the disenchantment with Christianity from those around me, and I wondered just what Mr. Lyons would have to say about it. The first part of this book, however, left me scratching my head. I didn’t quite get it. Some of what he said made no sense in my experience. I think that is probably one crucial thing to this book. His experiences and those of the people he talked to are going to be very different from everyone else’s. Some will make perfect sense to some and to others it won’t.
The first chapters of this book are depressing. VERY. When you read about the rampant skepticism of the country and the rapid growth of that skepticism, it’s heart wrenching. I kept shaking my head and wondering if it was really as bad as they said. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I can see how our country is declining in Christian values and ideals, and I know it’s true, but I’ve not seen the examples he showed, so it made it very difficult to comprehend with “understanding eyes.”
However, I resonated with his heart when he described “separatists” amongst Christians. You see, I’d be happiest and most comfortable in a happy little community of Christians who are not inundated with secularism. The problem is, it wouldn’t work. I love Christian fiction (since much of mainstream fiction is riddled with sex, violence, and similar things that I don’t want to read), but I don’t like most Christian music. Yeah, I know. That doesn’t make me seem very spiritual, but the fact is I don’t like most of it. I don’t like the style, the words, the “feel.” I love to sing Christian songs, but I don’t want to hear them on my playlist. I like some Christian art, but I don’t care for most of it. We’re separatists in our own ways– we homeschool for heaven’s sake. We’re strong proponents of sheltering children while they’re little. However, the idea of living in a Christian bubble, while appealing when life slogs you through the muck of the world, is very unappealing for the long term. We were called to be in the world but not of it– not called to be not in the world OR of it.
Just as I felt ready to close the book out of frustration as to what the outcome would be, Mr. Lyons shared something that is so simple but so encouraging. This has happened before– in Jesus’ time, the Jews were in a huge cultural shift and didn’t quite know how to handle it. They had the Pharisees (separatists) and the Sadducees (culturally minded). It’s been there and done before. Jesus offered them the answer.
I often complain (yeah, I’d like a nicer word, but it’s true– complain) that we don’t seem to know how to avoid extremes in the church. We’re either so “conservative” that we can’t do anyone but ourselves (and therefore truly no one) any good, or we’re so “liberal” that we seem to stand for nothing but emotions (which often lie to us). This book reminds us that we DO have the answer, just as those early Christians and the Jews of that time did. Jesus is always the answer. His way, His truth, and HIS lfe is ALWAYS the answer. We just have to stop creating agendas and start following the Way.
What is the answer? Lyons reminds us of the Restorers– those people who seek to “restore” Christianity to what Jesus planned for it to be. I love the word he used for them– engage. Restorers don’t blend or separate… they engage. Isn’t that a great word? Engage. LOVE it.
He gave six characteristics of what he calls the “Next Christian.” I wasn’t going to share it… it seemed like something you should have to read the book to find, but the fact is, I think if I’d read those six characteristics in a review or on an advertisement, I’d have bought this book immediately. They say exactly what I think we need to hear. They’re brilliant. So, I’m sharing them now in order to spur you to read this book for yourself. The six characteristics are:
- Provoked, not offended
- Creators, not critics
- Called, not employed
- Grounded, not distracted
- In community, not alone
- Counter-cultural, not relevant
The second half of the book, the half talking about restorers and restoration, is largely anecdotal. Between stories to illustrate his points, Mr. Lyons shares what he thinks needs to happen and is happening to revive Christianity to a place that it is effective in affecting change in the world around us. He shares what he thinks the Lord is doing and how God is “awakening” our country in the twenty-first century.
The counter-cultural aspect was interesting, because anything can be counter-cultural. If culture is materialistic and technologically driven, then the Amish are counter-cultural to the extreme… and yet, that’s not what Lyons advocates because that is, of course, also separatist in the extreme. It’s just another one of those extremes that always seems to happen. If the church is getting watered down, then we try to fill it up with rich earth… and then we end up with a mud pit, so we try to wash it clean… and get watered down again. The cycle seems endless.
Mr. Lyons advocates counter-culture in so far as being “Christ-followers” is counter to our culture. In our culture, “Christians” are often “separatists” or “cultural.” Lyons calls us back to being “Christ ones.” Christians. Even though it may not look like what our culture defines as “Christian.”
So, what I thought was going to turn out to be a dry and very irritating book managed to captivate and inspire me. Who knew? Do I recommend it? Heartily. This book feels a lot like “Do Hard Things” but for adults. It starts with showing us where our culture has shifted and moves to showing why the “band-aids” of the recent past failed. It calls us out of “relevance” to our neighbors and into restoring what should never have been lost in the first place. As always, I didn’t agree with every word in the book, but I do agree with the heart of it– the core. I whole heartedly agree with the admonition to put off modern trappings meant to tease the world with what it already has and put on Jesus. In the first pages of this book, I really thought it was going to replace the gospel of Jesus with a new “social gospel.” It didn’t. It calls us from pietistic attempts at godliness into true godly piety. Well done, Mr. Lyons. Very well done.
Where do I think it falls short? Well, he does tend to make some assumptions, some broad statements, and states “facts” without much to back them up at times. I almost want to criticize the almost complete lack of finding Jesus and His principles in these pages, but really, that isn’t fair of me. The book is about “The Next Christian.” It’s not about who and what Jesus is and stands for. Christians are supposed to know that already, and I understand that, but it still seemed as if somehow he could have brought us back to the Word a little more and less to what Joe Christian down the road is doing as a “restorer.”
This book was provided to me by Doubleday for the purpose of review, and I thank them for the privilege of sharing what I found in it.
To enter to win a copy of this book, leave a comment and tell me what you see being restored in the church today.