Takeaway: Creating culture and solving problems are often much more effective than protest.
At the end of my block is a church. I don’t often drive past it because most of the time I use the other entrance to our neighborhood. But about once a week I come that way. And each time for the past couple months I see a vinyl sign that says, “The United States is a Christian Nation”. I always wonder what exactly they are trying to communicate with that sign. It certainly is not an evangelistic statement. It is not there to welcome non-Christian or generate dialog. To me it seems intended to make a political statement. (By the way it is my local polling place.)
In The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons starts with the assumption that we are not living in a Christian nation. After leading the reader through some thoughts about the state of the church in America, Gabe Lyons presents the various streams of how Christians relate to culture. Richard Niebuhr‘s Christ and Culture models are never explicitly mentioned, but no one can really present the models of how Christians actually interact with culture without some nods to Niebuhr. Lyons originally presented this research to some movie executives attempting to understand how to market films to Christians and it seems it helped him crystallize in his head what is going on in the church.
After presenting six classic ways of interacting with culture, Lyons presents a seventh option that he calls the Restorers. He does not claim this is a new method of interacting with culture or being Christian, but that it has gained new footing because of generational and cultural shifts both inside and outside the church.
After about the first 1/3 of the book defining and categorizing the different streams and the state of the church, Lyons starts to illustrate. The remaining 2/3rds of the book profiles a number of these “Next Christians” and uses their stories to illustrate the range of ideas descriptors that make up Lyons’ understanding of The Next Christians. These descriptors (one per chapter) are: Provoked (not offended), Creators (not critics), Called (not employed), Grounded (not distracted), In Community (not alone) and Counter-cultural (not relevant).
I believe I am one of these Restorers as Lyons wants to call them. I prize cultural creation and I think that the restoration of the earth, the people and the culture are part of the gospel (yes a missing part of some Christians’ gospel.) This blog and the reviews, while being personal, are at least in part an attempt to create and give back to culture and create a common good that can be used by others.
However, I feel that quite often Lyons seems to ideal type these Christians. No movement is perfect. There are a number of weaknesses that need to be paid attention to for Next Christians. Lyons mentions some of these. He repeatedly brings up the need to keep the focus on the gospel. But other issues I think need some more work. One is the problem of calling. When everything can be, and is, a calling, then the sense of calling can be reduced to “what I like to do is the way I serve God.” The counter-cultural chapter is very good, but without a theology of church discipline (which probably would be located in his chapter on community) it is easy for counter-cultural to end up being Kooky. But I was encouraged by his focus on spiritual disciplines. A community that is really focused on spiritual disciplines is going to be much less likely to forget the gospel or be counter-cultural in inappropriate or unhealthy ways.
Overall, I thought this was a very useful addition to the current discussion about the renewal possibilities of the church. I am not quite as positive as Lyons is about the status of the renewal of the church or the long term strength
audiobook: 4.5 hours
hardback: 240 pages
christianaudio.com provided a free copy of the audiobook for review.