The other week I stumbled across a program called Blogging for Books sponsored by WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. I looked through some of the available books and found a few that I would love to review so I signed up, got accepted and picked my first book, "The Next Christians: The Good News about the End of Christian America" by Gabe Lyons. Gabe was also co-author of the book "UnChristian." I really learned alot about our culture and the shifts in it from UnChristian and I wanted to see what answers Lyons might give to help Followers of Jesus look more like Jesus and impact the culture around us. I wasn't disappointed.
Lyons starts out by spelling out two ways Christians have engaged with the wider culture. These two ways are called Separatist and Cultural. Each of these are made up of varying approaches on how to engage the culture. The Separatist are made up of Insiders, (Those who only stay inside the Christian bubble..you know Christian school, Christian music, Christian TV, Christian Plumber, etc..) Cultural Warriors (everything is a war against God. They tend to scream take America back for God and are highly political), and Evanglizers (who believe that the ultimate role of Christians is to save people from hell and that the gospel only deals with where you spend eternity). The Cultural Christians are made up of two approaches, the blenders (they identify with the beliefs of Christianity but try to blend into the mainstream culture) and the Philanthropists (those who emphasize doing good works but aren't rooted in the entire gospel)
Lyons goes on to spell out a third way of engaging culture, which is calls Restorers. He says about Restorers, "Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice and love. I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision." He also says, "They don't separate from the world or blend in; rather they thoughtfully engage.
The first thing that Restorers are learning is relearning the gospel narrative as a narrative not just about an end destination but as a narrative that is deeply concerned with the here and now and what it looks like when God's kingdom, and his rule and reign being to been seen in all areas of life. Lyons states, "The next Christians claim that the beginning (God's goodness throughout 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. He also goes on to say this about the importance of fully living within the true gospel narrative, "God's story is made up of four key parts: creation, fall, redemption, and restoration (and ultimately consumation). The truncated Gospel that is often recounted is faithful to the fall and redemption pieces of the story, but largely ignores the creation and restoration components. These missing elements are at the heart of what a new generation of Christians are relearning, and subsequently retelling."
Most of the reminder of the book covers 6 characteristics that set apart the next Christians. These 6 characteristics are:
1. They are provoked not offended....... when means when confronted with the corruption of the world, Christians ought to be provoked to engage, not be offended and withdraw.
2. They are Creators not critics.....The best way to describe this characteristic is to quote Andy Couch from his book "Culture Making"...Cultures aren't changed by being condemned, critiqued, or copied. The only way to change culture is to create more of it. Lyons also says this, which fits nicely with our dream of creating an Arts collective within Veritas, "They (next Christians) create organizations, services, and goods- art, films, music, campaigns, projects, media, churches, and businesses- anything that incarnates Christ and communicates the restoration that's possible. In this way, creating sits at the heart of restoration."
3. Called, not employed.....The next Christians are reconsidering their vocations. That everyone is called, not just full time "Christian workers". Lyons calls on the next Christians to engage (and be called) to be dispersed throughout all spheres of society and work together toward a common goal. He says that there are seven channels of cultural influence, and if followers of Jesus would faithfully engage in this spheres, that the kingdom of God would be felt throughout all culture. The seven spheres are Media, Education, Arts and Entertainment, Business, Government, Social Sector, and Church.
4. Grounded...not distracted....When Christians engage culture how do they stay connected to Christ in the midst of a world that seeks to pull them from that commitment? This is the question this chapter deals with by laying out 5 critical spiritual practices to stay grounded and rooted in Christ. These 5 are: Immersed in Scripture (instead of entertainment), Observing the Sabbath (instead of being productive), Fasting for Simplicity (instead of consuming), Choosing Embodiment (instead of being divided) and Postured by prayer (instead of power).
5. In community, not alone.....this chapter deals with the reality that we desperately, especially as we engage culture, need each other. God designed us to be in community with each other. Or as Lyons says, "Community provides the critical support base the next Christians need to be on mission for God."
6. Countercultural not "relevant"....we are countercultural due to our allegiance to the Kingdom of God. We are called to be countercultural, not to seperate, antagonize, or copy culture, but to be countercultural for the common good.
I truly enjoyed this book. It inspired me to be about the work of the kingdom. It challenged me in how I read the Gospel Narrative. And it gave me ideas of ways to interact with the wider world and make a difference for the Kingdom of God. I end with this quote that drives what I want to be about in my life, and I desperately want for the communal life of Veritas. "The churches that recover the Gospel instead of being too focused on finding the "right" worship style, programming winsome services, or measuring church growth statistics become a light in their communities. If they left town, they'd be sorely missed."
May we live out the power of the ought....the way the world ought to be....
"I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review"