Book Review: The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons

Posted: April 27, 2011 in america, books, christianity, church, culture, gospel, justice, review

Gabe Lyons is tired of being embarrassed of the name “Christian.”

Christian.  It’s a title that often triggers accusations of hate, arrogance, ignorance, exclusivism, and separatism, but Lyons is ready to take back the word and give it new (or, renewed) meaning.  His desire, and that of many others, is that “the label Christian [would] mean something good, intelligent, authentic, true, and beautiful,” (5).

In The Next Christians, Gabe Lyons builds on where his previous book, UnChristian, left off.  Instead of merely pointing out all the negative associations and stereotypes that many harbor against those who claim the name of Christ, Lyons offers a forecast in regard to the next generation of Christians.  Lyons, who founded and leads Q, an online learning community dedicated to mobilizing Christians to advance the common good, is clearly passionate about his conviction that Christians must be a force for “restoration” in the world.  It seems that his biggest “bone” with the traditional church has been the way she has largely removed herself from engaging with the prevailing culture, thus losing her restorative impact on the world.

He breaks up traditional “Christian Interaction with Current Culture” into two categories: separatist and cultural.  Both of these camps, Lyons argues, is flawed.  Rather, he argues that there needs to be (and indeed is) a third category: restorers.  These are people who understand that “telling others about Jesus is important, but conversion isn’t their only motive,” people who see that “their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and love,” (47).

Lyons points to the history of redemption, emphasizing the beginning (perfection in the Garden of Eden) and the end (perfection in the new heavens and earth), noting that, “by truncating the full narrative [in our Gospel presentations], it reduces the power of God’s redeeming work on the cross to just a proverbial ticket to a good afterlife,” (51).  This “full narrative,” Lyons argues, entails a responsibility to seek the restoration of the world here and now.  Agreed.

The rest of the book is a discussion of six essential characteristics that set the “next Christians” apart.  They are:

  1. Provoked, not offended
  2. Creators, not critics
  3. Called, not employed
  4. Grounded, not distracted
  5. In community, not alone
  6. Countercultural, not “relevant”

I really don’t have a problem with any of these “characteristics.”  They’re all important and, I think, biblical (at least to an extent).  However, Lyons often lacks nuance, painting vast numbers of people with the same broad brush.  He constructs (and then knocks down) many straw men.  I was continually frustrated by his unfair comments in regard to Christians’ attempts to preach the Gospel.  For example, he writes that “evangelizers” are Christians who are

intent solely on getting people “saved.”  For the the evangelizer, recruiting others to the faith is the only legitimate Christian activity in the world.  These Christians are motivated to “win souls for Christ,” no matter who they offend.  Wearing this calling like a chip on their shoulder, they might drop Jesus’s name and the prospect of eternal damnation wherever they can get an audience (35).

These types of comments are sprinkled throughout the book, and left me feeling disappointed.

Lyons also conflates the call to make disciples of Jesus Christ with the call to love our neighbors and seek justice.  While these two issues are undoubtedly closely related (see Tim Keller’s new book, Generous Justice), I don’t believe they’re one and the same.  The term most often associated with this missiological trend is “mission creep” (Michael Horton addresses this exact issue in his new book, The Gospel Commission).

All in all, The Next Christians is a good reminder to love others, seek justice, and work for restoration around us.  Lyons is right to object to a sectarian separatism that would “unplug” from the world and disengage with the lost.  However, Christians must not downplay the central importance of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and our calling to make disciples, baptizing them into the name of the triune God, teaching them to obey all that Christ commanded.  That is the great mission and calling of the Christian faith.

Note: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

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  1. […] This review was originally posted at Huiothesian. […]

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