Review of The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons

Written by Joel on January 3rd, 2011

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

Gabe Lyons, also author of UnChristian, describes in his new book The Next Christians his vision for the next generation of Christians. Lyons begins with a brief overview of the fading influence of Christianity in America. He argues how this may actually be a good thing for the church. That it may force the church to rediscover the core of the faith. Lyons writes that the current Christian narrative is missing significant pieces of the story by focusing only on Christ’s sacrifice and ignoring what came before and after the cross. More than saving souls, Christians are called to guide people to God. Christians who are embracing this new focus of the faith are called restorers. The bulk of the book is used to describe these restoration-minded Christians. That they are described both in positive terms of what the next Christian ought to look like and with a negative term which sets the next Christians apart from the current Christians. They are provoked, not offended; creators, not critics; called, not employed; grounded, not distracted; in community, not alone; and countercultural, not relevant.

Lyons presents a quick gloss of the religious composition of the United States which is based on vague generalizations and personal anecdotes. He cites The American Religious Identification Survey (but only once) and does not heavily rely on this study nor other statistical data in forming his assessment of the current religious make-up of American society, much less any trends these studies may imply.

Of the six chapters which describe the next Christians I found that “Grounded, Not Distracted” spoke most to my experience. Lyons shares stories about how ancient Christian practices such as fixed-hour prayer and fasting are being rediscovered by the next Christians. However, this is the only mark of a “next Christian” that appears to be explicitly Christian.

The ways Lyons argues that the next Christians should interact with their culture seems to make Christianity irrelevant. It is the motivation for the Christian to engage in culture and improve the lives of their neighbors but I did not read how the next Christians aid others on their journey to God. For example Lyons shares a story of a woman who recovered from a drug addiction and created a t-shirt for sale at a major retailer. Her recovery story was printed on the inside of every shirt which contained the phrase “body of Christ.” The company asked for phrase to be removed, which it was, and Lyons praised the woman’s co-operation as an example of how the next Christians are not offended. I believe it is an example of how Christianity is made the irrelevant factor in a future religion of philanthropy.

A better title for this book might be “The Ideal Secular Humanist.” The stories which Lyons presents as exemplars of the faith make Christianity rather irrelevant. Yes, it is a great thing that a group of friends helped someone get off drugs; that people moved into a rough neighborhood to clean it up; that people create art; that people find fulfillment at the their jobs by helping others. But this is not uniquely Christian – A Muslim does good in the name of Allah, a Buddhist for enlightenment, or even a secular humanist just to make society a better place. Lyon’s Next Christians are defined primarily by the good they do for others.

Finally, I find this book’s thesis unclear. Is this a description of what the Next Christians will look like? Is this how the church must change in order to survive in the next generation? Or is this a wish list for how Christians ought to be?

At its best The Next Christians promotes a Christianity which may encourage people to be more nice (yes, even sacrificially nice) to one another for the betterment of society. However, these niceties go so far as to make Christianity an irrelevant underlying motivation to do good things.


 

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