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Archive for March, 2011

Wishful thinking or prophetic observation?  That’s the question I’m left with after reading “The Next Christians” by Gabe Lyons, author of the popular book “UnChristian” and founder of Q.  He begins the book with what could be considered bad news by defenders of the status quo but good news for the thesis of his book.  The news is this: Christianity in America is undergoing a sea change which spells an end to the cultural dominance that evangelicalism has enjoyed for nearly 200 years (a point which is hardly news at this point).  In a nutshell, the church is losing influence in the world of the 21st century.  However, this is not necessarily bad news for Lyons, who sees a new breed of Christian emerging: the next Christians of the title.  In the past, he maintains, there were primarily five kinds of Christian.  Those who separated from the culture were insiders, cultural warriors, and evangelists while those who acceded to the culture were blenders and philanthropists.  All of these kinds of Christians had flawed methodologies, according to Lyons, and were not effectively sharing the Gospel with the culture.  The good news to Lyons is that the “next Christians” which are emerging are restorers, who do not flee from the culture nor blend in with it but instead are restoring the culture which they are in to a model of God’s Kingdom through five paradigms.  For example, instead of being offended they are provoked to action, instead of criticizing culture they create, and so on.  Lyon rejoices that the old paradigms are withering on the vine and are being replaced with those who are restoring culture by advancing the Gospel.   

I have very mixed feelings about this book.  If Lyon’s prediction is right, then I rejoice with him.  I would love to see the church take seriously the charge to proclaim the Gospel in such a way that culture is changed as people place their faith in Jesus.  I agree with his caricatures of the negative types of Christians and would love to see the church be seen more as a force for good and restoration instead of as a source of comedy for Jon Stewart, Lewis Black and Stephen Colbert.  However, I have a number of reservations.  First, I wonder where all these Christians are that he describes as the “next Christians”.  The book is filled with many anecdotes of people doing things right (though not all of them are Christians: one example he gives is of the gay movement), but I wonder if these anecdotes represent a real quantifiable movement or just a few isolated examples.  He states in the last chapter that it too early to chart this movement which leads me to wonder if his examples are truly representative or are just examples of what he would like to see.  After all, a person could find examples of any kind of Christian in small numbers to list in anecdotal form.  Second, I felt that he danced very close to a message of a social gospel where leading people to Christ is less of a priority than painting schools and cleaning up city parks.  Mind you, I don’t think this is what he is saying, but it would be very easy to come away with that conclusion.  His last chapter insists that sharing the Gospel is of prime importance, but I wish that point were made more clearly and throughout the book (then again, maybe I’m just an “evangelizer”).  Third, I don’t get any idea from his book about why he thinks these “next Christians” are becoming the prime moving force in Christianity.  Is it simply because people are embarrassed to be called Christians due to the negative stereotypes of the other Christians, is there some movement of God, or is this the result of a concerted preaching and teaching emphasis?

All in all, I recommend the book because all of the strategies that he describes the next Christians as employing are commendable if the Gospel is being truly and clearly proclaimed in the process.  I can’t say that this was a life-changing book, but only because it seemed based more on what he thinks should be backed up with individual stories rather than a description of what actually is: I’m simply not convinced that the examples he gives represent a vast movement in Christianity that will be the dominant model of Christians in the coming years.  The book is very well-written and he drops enough big names to clearly indicate that he travels in well-heeled circles in the evangelical subculture, so he carries some credentials by the company he keeps.  I received this copy of “The Next Christians” from WaterbrookMultnomah as a part of their Blogging For Books review program in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.

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