In The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (with a second subtitle: How a new generation is restoring the faith), Gabe Lyons says that he is attempting to describe the new Christians landscape in America following the fall of Christendom. In fact, his book reads as both a description of a “new normal” for Christianity as well as a challenge and exhortation for others to join these new (“next”) Christians.
Lyons divides his book into three sections: Part I) The World is Changing, Part II) The Restorers, and Part III) A New Era.
In Part I, the author describes how Christianity in America is changing. He describes past Christian America in two categories: the Separatists (Insiders, Culture Warriors, and Evangelizers) and the Cultural (Blenders and Philanthropists). Among and between these two categories, Lyons sees another breed of Christians rising up, a group that he labels “The Restorers.” Primarily, he says this group is “restoring” the ideas of creation and restoration to the typical gospel story which has usually only included fall and redemption.
In Part II, Lyons uses both story and exhortation to help describe/define “the restorers” by comparing and contrasting their values with some of the values from the previous generations of Christians. For example, the chapters within this section are called “Provoked, Not Offended,” “Creators, Not Critics,” “Called, Not Employed,” “Grounded, Not Distracted,” “In Community, Not Alone,” and “Countercultural, Not ‘Relevant.'”
The final section, Part III, contains only one chapter titled “The Next Big Shift.” Within this chapter, the author includes a discussion of “First Things” and “Second Things.” Lyons says:
“The First Thing for the Christian is to recover the Gospel – to relearn and fall in love again with that historic, beautiful, redemptive, faithful, demanding, reconciling, all-powerful, restorative, atoning, grace-abounding, soul-quenching, spiritually fulfilling good news of God’s love. As described throughout the earlier chapters of this book, it is critical that this come first.” (pg 192)
Accordingly, he continues, “Second Things” result from beginning with the proper “First Thing.”
In a book such as this, categorization and labeling are necessary. The author is painting with broad strokes, and thus must make broad generalization. This can be both helpful and hurtful. It is helpful because we can see both ourselves and others in these categories, and, hopefully, understand one another’s perspective a little clearer. Categorization can be hurtful because very few actually fall neatly within the categories. Thus, it is easy to label and discount someone without considering their point of view or history.
For example, I think that Lyon’s “Next Christians” are primarily passing through the two categories (Separatists and Cultural) and five sub-categories (Insiders, Culture Warriors, Evangelizers, Blenders and Philanthropists) that he described. Thus, even different groups of “Next Christians” make not recognize their common traits because their trajectory (path of change) is coming from different starting points.
However, the fact that Lyons ended with a focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ as the First Thing is a huge positive in my view. If Christians can actually remember that the gospel is First (and everything else comes far behind), then the labels and categories become much less important. It is when we begin to major on the “Second Things” that the church runs into trouble and continues the division and separation that we’ve seen from the early days of Christianity.
Finally, as I mentioned earlier, Lyons presents his books as a description of what he and his group has seen developing in Christianity in recent years. Much of the book reads as a description. In fact, the author presents many stories to illustrate his points. (At times, the descriptions and stories can almost seem monotonous, but only almost.) However, occasionally, the book reads more as a manifesto, calling others to live as “Next Christians” also. (I’m not saying that this is a bad thing; I’m simply pointing it out.)
I would recommend The Next Christians, especially to two groups of Christians. If you consider yourself one of “The Next Christians,” this book will be an encouragement and a challenge for you to live for Christ focusing on the gospel. If you do not consider yourself a “Next Christian,” and perhaps even wonder why so many people are changing a good thing, this book will help you see these new Christians from their perspective.
(I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their Blogging for Books program.)
(Please consider rating my review below or at the WaterBrook Multnomah site here.)