Gabe Lyons would propose that two kinds of people clicked on the link to read my review of his book, The Next Christians, with a title like that. Either people who are hopeful that the dying of church in America as we know it will lead to something better from the seed of that death, or people who want to yell and scream that I’m an idiot (and therefore Lyons is, too) for ever even saying that. But the co-author of UnChristian has a lot to say about how we’re failing (and succeeding) as Christians in America today.
One of the gripping encounters he shares is a conversation around what a Christian looks like, recounted from an experience with a Lionsgate movie executive. Lyons shares two types of Christians, those who are Separatist (Insiders, Culture Warriors, Evangelizers) and those who are Cultural (Blenders, Philanthropists), and then breaks down how none of those are completely healthy models of Christian faith. But he points to the Restorers, a middle ground wanting to see God’s plan fulfilled in and through the world, as the future of the healthy church.
The next Christians claim that the beginning (God’s goodness through creation) and the ending (the restoration of all things) of the greater story have been conveniently cut out, leaving modern-day Christians with an incoherent understanding of the Gospel. Many are bound to a Gospel story with a climax that feels actually quite boring. “Go tell others how to escape Planet Earth” doesn’t feel like a compelling mission to them. Sure, they want to help others come to know the way of Jesus, but they believe their story should affect real lives and situations now. Not just in the afterlife. [page 50-51]
Does that fire you up? Lyons hopes so. He thinks that the way that we will truly be engaged in the kingdom of God on earth is by recognizing the Lord’s Prayer, “on earth as it is in heaven,” right now. He cites examples of people who want to redeem things, rather than summarily “save” them and then kick them to the curb, using building renovation (a man named Joe) and support groups (Jamie Tworkowski’s To Write Love On Her Arms) as examples of people who engage the world of what “ought” to be, and make it happen.
Lyons lays out the seven characteristics that make Next Christians different.
-Provoked, not offended
-Creators, not critics
-Called, not employed
-Grounded, not distracted
-In community, not alone
-Civil, not divisive
-Countercultural, not relevant
Do any of those “sting” you just a little? I know I have some work to do at being a creator, not a critic (which seems tough given that I am …critiquing this book), on being civil, not divisive (again, sharing my opinion isn’t always met with great cheering). But the focus here is on the fact that we are all created by God with a purpose in community, and when we start to recognize that, rather than making distinctions, we can grow.
Of course, in writing the book, Lyons runs the risk of designating some people as “outside” of the Next Christians group, but for the most part, I see that as an opportunity to compare, contrast, and grow. It’s not a group designated by socioeconomics or intellectual outpouring; in fact, the book is less about what you know in concrete bits of religious theology and more about how you “do” your love for God and others. It’s refreshing, challenging, and compelling reading for people of any faith, whether you’re a church leader or not.
Is your faith RIGHT NOW?