Many Christians are concerned about the future. Not about when Jesus is coming back, but about the future of Christianity. We keep reading reports of young Christians leaving the faith especially teens after they leave High School. Some would say, "Christianity's worst days are ahead of us."
Gabe Lyons has another opinion. He believes that Christianity's best days are ahead. This is what Lyons' latest book The Next Christians is all about. The subtitle to the books refers to the seven ways Christians can live the gospel and restore the world.
The book is divided into three parts. The first part deals with the changing world around us. Lyons talks about all the cultural shifts that has happened in our world especially what is now the new normal. The second part deals with what Christians can do to bring about change in their world. One chapter deals with Christians accepting their job as a calling not an employment. Lyons wrote, The next Christians don't work at jobs; they serve in vocations. They see their occupational placement as part of God's greater mission. This view is natural and holistic, and fits within the everyday rhythms of most people's lives.
The last part of the book, which also contains the final chapter of the book, talks about the next big shift that is going to happen with the church. That next big shift is Christians rediscovering the gospel. Lyons said that Christians need to relearn and fall in love again with the historic, beautiful, redemptive, faithful, demanding, reconciling, all-powerful, restorative, atoning, grace-abounding, soul-quenching, spiritually fulfilling good news of God's love.
This book offers great insight into what Christians in the next generation need to do be more effective in the coming years. Great book for all pastors, youth pastors, young adult pastors, and all who care about what Christians in the near future need to do.
Much research and study has been executed regarding "The Next Christians." Not just by Lyons, but by others such as Ed Stetzer, Tim Elmore, David Kinnaman, and many others. This is likely the most studied generation in history.
Lyons' approach in "The Next Christians" is different though. He is hopeful of them which is a rarity. But his hope is not in the generation, his hope is in God. He believes, and knows, that our cultural milieu did not come as a shock to God. God knew it was going to happen because God is omniscient.
Don't let that get your hopes up too high though. Even Lyons is ready to admit that "Christian America" is dead. Pluralism, postmodernism, technology, and so on have all had their grips on the minds of Americans, and the rest of the World, for some time now. It has been a works in progress. Some saw it developing, others were duped, but no one has successfully led a defensive against the secular attack on the Christian faith. However, the criticisms most give Gen Y is the same reason Lyons sees hope.
Just as every generation has been fed up with their predecessor, with the exception of Gen X who to this day still do not seem to care about much. Gen Y, "the next Christians," seem to care a great deal though. They've seen what pessimism and apathy breed and they don't like it. While they have a lot of issues that must be dealt with, Lyons does not see them as all together bad. They are disordered and are in need of restoration. For this to occur, Lyons suggests we need to reevaluate our dependency on the Holy Spirit who has the power to change lives unlike us.
Ultimately, Lyons points out "seven channels of cultural influence" he suggests we need to restore. Christians can do this by discovering their calling and pursuing it out of faith and dependency on God.
This happens in relationship and community. Lyons, referring to Phyllis Tickle's book "The Great Emergence," believes we are about to enter into a huge shift in Christianity. He points out the great shifts that occur about every 500 years and we are due if this is the case. So be alert. This next generation may be bring the birth of the greatest shift in Christianity since the Reformation.
I recommend Lyons' book though I cannot agree on everything. He makes a lot of great points and observes "the next Christians" quite well I believe.
*I received this book from the publisher to provide a review. I was not required to give positive feedback.
The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons is built on one crucial insight, with two corollaries. The insight is that the culture wars are over. The corollaries are that 1) Christians lost, and 2) that's not necessarily a bad thing.
Sure, you sometimes hear people trying to whip up support for another offensive in the culture wars. There is no shortage of "Christian Nation" and "Take Back America" rhetoric, but generally speaking these salvos come from people who are over 50 or so years old. They grew up in a time and place where Christianity had more cultural power than it does now, and they think that because they experienced it in the past, it just takes a little wielding of political might to experience it again. However, those who are youngerâ€”those whom Lyons calls "the next Christians"â€”have a different perspective. They grew up in a time when Christianity had already started its slip away from the center of society, and they believe that fighting a culture war is a destructive responseâ€”and not just to the "other side."
This is my second go-round with The Next Christians. I read the hardcover version last year (here is my review), and picked up the paperback version when it came out earlier this month. I'm glad that I did; Lyons has made the book stronger with the addition of a new chapter.
The paperback is mostly the same as the hardcover, but includes a new subtitle ("The Good News About the End of Christian America" is replaced by "Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World") and a new chapter on a seventh characteristic of the Next Christians: "Civil, Not Divisive." That means the characteristics of the "next Christians" are that they are:
Provoked, not Offended
Creators, not Critics
Called, not Employed
Grounded, not Distracted
In Community, not Alone
Civil, not Divisive
Countercultural, not "Relevant"
The "Civil, not Divisive" chapter is a welcome addition. Too often, Christians in the public square subscribe to the "but they started it" school of political engagement, using fear-mongering and tit-for-tat tactics to gain support. Jesus calls us to a better, more gracious, way. The chapter also contains the important idea, which I originally heard from Tim Keller, that politics is downstream of culture (78). That is, it is changes in culture that make political change possible. Putting all of one's eggs in the basket of political change is a short-sighted philosophy.
Along with a different political outlook, the "next Christians" have a fuller understanding of the gospel. Lyons writes, "The next Christians believe that Christ's death and Resurrection were not only meant to save people from something. He wanted to save Christians to something. God longs to restore his image in them, and let them loose, freeing them to pursue his original dreams for the entire world. Here, now, today, tomorrow. They no longer feel bound to wait for heaven or spend all of their time telling people what they should believe. Instead, they are participating with God in his restoration project for the whole world" (53).
"Restoring the world" can sound a bit grandiose, but I think Lyons is merely trying to direct attention to the grand calling given to humans by Christ. He isn't saying that restoration can happen apart from Christ, and he isn't saying that evangelism isn't important.
My main critique is that Lyons's cultural analysis can be a bit oversimplified at times, but I don't think that is out-of-bounds for a popular level book. He has put his finger on a cultural shift among Christians in the West, and wants to help define and encourage it. I think he's on the right track.
Note: Thanks to Waterbrook/Multnomah for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.
It is always a tricky business when someone tries to make predictions about the future of Christianity. I am reminded of the many trends and fads that have swept the church in my brief forty plus years of life. We are a culture of fads and trends, always running after the newest and the latest and the greatest. I was tempted to take this attitude with The Next Christians.
Instead, I found myself being challenged to think not about fads and trends, but about substance and philosophy of ministry that left me with many questions about the way we do church in my context. The key concepts of restoration and the common good run like a thread through a presentation of seven expressions of Christianity that are becoming a heartbeat for the western church in the 21st century.
Missing from this presentation is supernatural workings of God in signs, wonders, and miracles that I also feel are impacting and will continue to impact a culture that has become less and less influenced by Christianity. Names like Bill Johnson and Randy Clark are conspicuously left out of this presentation, which is a major oversight in my mind.
Overall, I would highly recommend this to any ministry leader who is trying to identify how to engage in the culture of the 21st century in a genuine expression of the Kingdom of God. You will definitely be challenged and provoked to think and act in ways that are more consistent with the heart of Christ.
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.