The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons
The Next Christians – The Good News About The End of Christian America – How A New Generation is Restoring the Faith by Gabe Lyons
(Doubleday – New York) Available October 5, 2010
Theologian Eugene Peterson once wrote:
“God and his ways are not what most of us think. Most of what we are told about God and his ways by our friends on the street, or read about him in the papers, or view on television, or think up on our own, is simply wrong. Maybe not dead wrong, but wrong enough to mess up the way we live.” (emphasis is mine) [i]
In The Next Christians – The Good News About The End of Christian America – How A New Generation is Restoring the Faith – (Doubleday – New York) – Gabe Lyons takes us on a stimulating, hope-filled, incredibly well-written journey, breathing life into the meaning of his thesis – restoration has risen!
In 2007, Lyons and David Kinnaman captured the character of the conundrum within Christianity in the U.S. when they wrote the following about the results of their exhaustive research, in their book entitled UNchristian – What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…And Why It Matters:
“We are at a turning point for Christianity in America. If we do not wake up to these realities and respond in appropriate, godly ways, we risk being increasingly marginalized and losing further credibility with millions of people.” (P. 39) “How can people love God, whom they can’t see, if those of us who claim to represent him don’t respond to outsiders with love?” (p. 36) “We can’t change what we’re known for unless we change how we live.” (p.231) [ii]
Like I said, Christians have messed up Christianity by the way we live. As Lyons says, “Although many of us still feel like we reside in Christian America, that reality is dead. Christianity once possessed an influential, “speaking for the masses” voice that tempered secular tendencies. Now that it’s gone – as we reported in unChristian – the reversed momentum is stronger than ever.” P.139.
OK…OK…I guess most folks already appreciate that observation. So what are the faithful to do? According to Alan Hirsch, “I simply do not believe that we can continue to try to think our way into a new way of acting, but rather, we need to act our way into a new way of thinking.”[iii](Emphasis is mine).
Well…that’s exactly what Lyons has nailed in this book…the identification of new forms of Christian living – behavior – whereby – “The bottom line is this: The next wave of Christian engagement seems inherently linked to this idea of restoration. The people who are shaping this movement believe with all their hearts that God is in the restoration business – not just in the afterlife, but here on earth as well. “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Mt 6: 10). They consider restoration to be God’s trademark and they want to make it a central theme of the Christian faith again.” Pp.50-51
II. Who Are These People?
Lyons chronicles story after (masterfully crafted) story of real people currently living out the Gospel – dedicated to the passionate pursuit restoration – on earth as it is in heaven. Lyons observes a number of traits that both the people, and what he clearly characterizes as the restoration movement, have in common. A few of these include:
“Put simply, the next Christians recognize their responsibility “not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God.”P. 98.
“Following Jesus is about restoring the broken.” P. 62.
“The next Christians are desperately searching for their calling. It serves not only them well but also those whom God wants to reach and serve through them.” p.105.
“The next Christians are living in the tension of being prophetic with their lives while serving others and inviting them to a better way.” P.145.
“Early followers of Jesus showed up and exemplified what restoration living looked like. They befriended people who were different from them and served those in need….For the next Christians, this is predominantly how they are seeing the church spread in the West.” P.162.
III. A Movement?
A movement though? Really? Absent the data derived from several years of research that supported UNchristian – What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…And Why It Matters – Lyons is honest and forthcoming about the observations made in “The Next Christians” — “Although few significant trend lines point to it, underneath the declining church attendance statistics, an entire population of Christians is rediscovering purpose in their lives. Like new wine in new wine skins, the momentum is building in ways that elude our traditional metrics for measuring church activity. Nevertheless – a surge is under way. And though it will likely take years before it manifests itself in real, quantifiable data, connections between life, faith, and work are being made. People are coming alive and the church is sitting at the nucleus of what could be the faith’s next great expansion.” p.168. (emphasis is mine). From a methodological standpoint, the book will not be without its critics. Essentially Lyons is making observations about a certain strata with the Christian subculture. The stories he shares support his observations (of course). Social scientists typically refer to this pitfall as the multiple-end-point problem – the tendency to selectively include data that fit a specific thesis, while overlooking the rest. Again, he’s refreshingly honest and forthright about this.
Although Lyons goes on and on about “purpose” and “calling” (treatments of both concepts I found refreshing), one begins to wonder about two points that follow you throughout the reading like shadows on a sunny day:
Lyons observations and thesis are limited to young Christians. What he doesn’t talk about is the vast number of years and the degree to which non-Christians have been engaging in the lifestyles he is championing — lifestyles dedicated to restoration of a segment of the world as we find it, where we find ourselves. However, again, he’s honest: This isn’t some new strategy – it’s the way Christianity has flourished ever since it began.” P. 162.
The “second shadow” that follows the thesis of the writing pertains to “what about those professed Christians who no longer attend a church, yet have been living “restoration lifestyles” for years?”
Lyons talks about the necessity for Christians to engage culture in all its many different facets. Well, that’s what you would be saying if you’re speaking to an audience whose majority is not currently engaged in that way. To some degree, that audience appears to be those he is speaking to, in certain segments of the book – Nothing wrong with that.
However, Lyons clearly possesses an incredibly bold vision for the future of the institution of the Church in North America: “The church remains at the epicenter of what is possible. It represents the most uniquely positioned channel of cultural influence when it’s operating on all cylinders. No other institution regularly convenes people who work within the other six channels of culture on a weekly basis.” (Emphasis is mine) Pp. 101-102.
This book is refreshing. One unique aspect of the book is the humility both Lyons and the people he profiles exude, as evidenced in the following about the Next Christians he is characterizing “This doesn’t mean they are perfect. In fact, these Christians I’ve profiled throughout this book would all readily admit that they are in constant need of restoration themselves. Sometimes they make huge mistakes, get sidetracked, or foolishly ignore one of the six characteristics that at one point were critical in their lives. But that’s what makes them so unique. They are messy and broken, and that doesn’t stop them from engaging. From time to time, they will let us down. They will fail.” P.169.
This is an important book. It is superbly organized and very, very well-written. Destined to drive dialog – and provide the pathways and permission for people to live-out the Gospel, restoring the boots on the ground meaning of “on Earth as it is in heaven.”
Wishful thinking? I hope not.
Grab Gabe Lyons book and decide for yourself.
GABE LYONS was at the top of the Christian food chain several years ago. A graduate of Liberty University, he was vice president of a prominent Christian organization and cofounder of Catalyst, the nation’s largest gathering of young Christian leaders. There was only one problem: he was embarrassed to be called “Christian.” So Lyons set out on a personal journey, leaving his comfortable job to found Q (qideas.org), a learning community that mobilizes Christians to advance the common good. He also commissioned stunning research, which became the basis of his 2007 landmark book, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why It Matters, co-authored with David Kinnaman of Barna Research.As a respected voice for a new generation of Christians, he has been featured by CNN, the New York Times, Newsweek, and USA Today. Gabe, his wife, Rebekah, and their three children live in New York City.
To learn more:
Video Embedded in Article by ABC News:
Direct Link: http://abcnews.go.com/WN/christianity-emerges-youth/story?id=10842049
Direct Link: http://abcnews.go.com/WN/christianity-emerges-youth/story?id=10842049
Q website: www.qideas.org
Book website: www.nextchristians.com
Gabe speaking at Q Chicago 2010: http://qideas.org/video/the-next-christians.aspx
The Huffington Post review of Q Conference Chicago 2010:
NOTES for This Review:
[i] Peterson, Eugene H. Eat This Book – A conversation in the art of spiritual reading, William B. Eerdsman Publishing Co., Grand Rapids, MI Copyright © 2006 by Eugene H. Peterson. Pp. 34-35.
[ii] Kinnaman, David & Lyons, Gabe UNchristian – What A New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity…And Why It Matters Baker Books Grand Rapids, MI Copyright © 2007 by David Kinnaman and Fermi Project. Excerpts from pp. 39, 36, 231.
[iii] Hirsch, Alan The Forgotten Ways – Reactivating The Missional Church Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, MI Copyright © 2006 by Alan Hirsch p. 122