Russ Baustian is my father-in-law, an avid reader, and a retired minister. I asked him to review Gabe Lyons’ “The Next Christian” because I think it is a remarkable book! (Read my review of the same book.)
“The Next Christians”, by Gabe Lyons, is another difficult book for an octogenarian, (myself) reared in fundamentalism, evangelism, separation, judgementalism, all the things that the author points to as the things that have given the name “Christian” a bad name. And that sentence is probably the hardest one I have to write. While I have to wonder how we were ever able to reach anyone with the message of the gospel if everything we did only serves to repel the hearers, I have to admit that what he says is true.
The author identifies “us” by the way we interacted with culture – Separatists: those who are “insiders”, whose lives revolve primarily around Christian activities and functions involving other believers; “culture warriors”, those who fight against the secularization of our nation and its moral decline; “Evangelizers”, those motivated ‘to win souls for Christ’ , no matter who or how they offend. While these positions are good, and need to be encouraged, the author is concerned about what he calls a new generation of Christians, seen as “Restorers”. Through sowing seeds of restoration, they believe others will see Christ through us and the Christian faith will reap a much larger harvest These are what he refers to as the Next Christians.
Key to this is the concept of Restoration. Lyons says there are four parts to God’s story – creation, fall, redemption, restoration. For the most part , we have been faithful in recounting the fall (all have sinned), and redemption (Christ died for our sin), but largely ignored the creation – what God made and what we lost by our sin, which gives meaning to the fall; and restoration, part of what He intends for us in the redemption. We’ve only been telling half of the story, reducing the power of God’s redeeming work on the cross to just a ticket to a good afterlife, overlooking what it means for us in the here and now. The “next Christians” believe that Christ’s death and Resurrection were not only meant to save people from something, but to something. Heaven, yes, but to also restore His image in them, and empower them to pursue his original purpose for the entire world; not just waiting for heaven, but doing something here, now, today, tomorrow.
He is careful to distinguish from a “social gospel”; but for the ‘next Christian’, it is the “ought” that motivates them – sharing the Gospel so that men and women might enter into relationship with God, and recognizing that in the original creation, there was no sickness, evil, or pain, so seek to identify hurts, sickness, darkness, and evil, and show up as a force to help, for healing, and goodness – restoration to what “ought” to be.
Lyons identifies six characteristics that set apart the next Christians as:
– Provoked, not offended
– Creators, not critics
– Called, not employed
– Grounded, not distracted
– In community, not alone
– Counter cultural, not “relevant”
Part II of the book contains 6 chapters detailing each of these characteristics and illustrates each one with individuals and groups that are involved with one or more of these six characteristics – basically, entering into lives and situations that the Separatist/Insiders/Culture Warriors, and Evangelizers would have avoided like the plague. Demonstrating the love of Christ, displaying the Beauty, so they can hear the message (Seems to me I have a sermon with that theme. Maybe I did make some progress over the years after all).
His emphasis is not to be confused with “a new kind of Christian”, but is faithful to the Word, and as Chuck Colson said “will give great insight into the hopes and aspirations of the next generation of Christian leaders”.