The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons
If I was to awaken you from a deep REM cycle and question your self-identity, how would you answer? Would it be a racial or ethnic label, political or alumni affiliation, or would your respond with the label of any one of the innumerable cultural tribes? If I was to ask this question of a younger disciple of Jesus, author Gabe Lyons asserts that the answer would most likely not be ‘Christian’. As he says in the opening lines of The Next Christians, many of his generation were and are embarrassed by this label. Not because of Jesus, he is quick to add, but because of the negative cultural connotations that have become associated with the EvangelicalFundamentalLiturgical tribe.
Lyons spends the next two hundred pages outlining the efforts and leadership of a generation of Christ followers intent on restoring two things, the positive image of the Christian label and the influence of that tribe on the larger culture. Far from proclaiming that the Church is dead, Lyons identifies a strata of disciples who are investing their lives in the restoration of Christian transformation of the culture. The intention of the restorers is not to stand aloof from the world and point to its many corruptions from the safety of a sanctuary, but rather, to immerse themselves in the culture and change it from the inside out. The restorers take seriously the salt and light imagery given by Jesus.
There are many parallels between the missional movement popular a few years back and the restorers. The difference that Lyons highlights through the many people he uses to illustrate his points is that the missional Church was a top-down movement that affixed a label to a church in the hopes that members of that church would self-identify as well. The restorers are a distinctly bottom-up tribe, followers of Christ first and foremost who take their influence fearlessly into their vocations. If the Church at large should wish to follow, that would be fine, but the restorers are not waiting on any ordination of their ministry before following their calling.
The Next Christians serves the followers of Christ in two ways. It is an important cultural touchstone for the Church as a whole who need to understand and follow the new leadership that will arise and call them out of their fortresses. It is also mirror that can be used in your personal self-survey. Examine the lives that Lyons highlights. Test them against your theological and cultural understandings. The author doesn’t provide ten steps to becoming a restorer; those steps will be up to you and unique calling that infuses your life. What he does record are the lives of influencers, believers who are restoring one small corner of the world, and re-establishing the Christian label as a positive identifier.
I’m grateful to Doubleday publishers who graciously provided this copy for review.