The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons is built on one crucial insight, with two corollaries. The insight is that the culture wars are over. The corollaries are that 1) Christians lost, and 2) that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Sure, you sometimes hear people trying to whip up support for another offensive in the culture wars. There is no shortage of “Christian Nation” and “Take Back America” rhetoric, but generally speaking these salvos come from people who are over 50 or so years old. They grew up in a time and place where Christianity had more cultural power than it does now, and they think that because they experienced it in the past, it just takes a little wielding of political muscle to experience it again. However, those who are younger—those whom Lyons calls “the next Christians”—have a different perspective. They grew up in a time when Christianity had already started its slip away from the center of society, and they believe that fighting a culture war is a destructive response—and not just to the “other side.”
This is my second go-round with The Next Christians. I read the hardcover version last year (here is my review), and picked up the paperback version when it came out earlier this month. I’m glad that I did; Lyons has made the book stronger with the addition of a new chapter.
The paperback is mostly the same as the hardcover, but includes a new subtitle (“The Good News About the End of Christian America” is replaced by “Seven Ways You Can Live the Gospel and Restore the World”) and a new chapter on a seventh characteristic of the Next Christians: “Civil, Not Divisive.” That means the characteristics of the “next Christians” are that they are:
Provoked, not Offended
Creators, not Critics
Called, not Employed
Grounded, not Distracted
In Community, not Alone
Civil, not Divisive
Countercultural, not “Relevant”
The “Civil, not Divisive” chapter is a welcome addition. Too often, Christians in the public square subscribe to the “but they started it” school of political engagement, using fear-mongering and tit-for-tat tactics to gain support. Jesus calls us to a better, more gracious, way. The chapter also contains the important idea, which I originally heard from Tim Keller, that politics is downstream of culture (78). That is, it is changes in culture that make political change possible. Putting all of one’s eggs in the basket of political change is a short-sighted philosophy.
Along with a different political outlook, the “next Christians” have a fuller understanding of the gospel. Lyons writes,
The next Christians believe that Christ’s death and Resurrection were not only meant to save people from something. He wanted to save Christians to something. God longs to restore his image in them, and let them loose, freeing them to pursue his original dreams for the entire world. Here, now, today, tomorrow. They no longer feel bound to wait for heaven or spend all of their time telling people what they should believe. Instead, they are participating with God in his restoration project for the whole world (53).
“Restoring the world” can sound a bit grandiose, but I think Lyons is merely trying to direct attention to the grand calling given to humans by Christ. He isn’t saying that restoration can happen apart from Christ, and he isn’t saying that evangelism isn’t important.
My main critique is that Lyons’s cultural analysis can be a bit oversimplified at times, but I don’t think that is out-of-bounds for a popular level book. He has put his finger on a cultural shift among Christians in the West, and wants to help define and encourage it. I think he’s on the right track.
Note: Thanks to Waterbrook/Multnomah for a review copy of this book. I was not asked to give a positive review.