I was given a complimentary copy of The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons from Blogging For Books in exchange for my honest review. When I read all the praise for the author on the back dust cover I felt encouraged that I had made a good choice when selecting this book. Shortly into the book I was no longer encouraged. In fact, I had a hard time controlling my anger. Frankly, I prayed before writing this review so I could elucidate in a creditable way why I dislike this book so much.
First, a synopsis: Lyons is asked to go to Hollywood to give a movie producer demographic information in order to better market her product for Christians. (Not because she's a Christian but because she is impressed by the cash cow Mel Gibson's The Passion had become). Instead what she got was a dissertation of the different categories of people who consider themselves Christians and why they're all wrong. He then proceeds to tell her -and spends the rest of the book telling us -who the “right Christians” are.
First of all, if you're heavily involved in your church, church activities, have your kids on the church basketball team and ESPECIALLY if you homeschool, you are a “Separatist Christian”. Gabe informs us that these Christians want nothing to do with nonbelievers and hide inside their self made world that only involves fellow Christians. The are always offended and angry at nonbelievers and show it by voting against gay marriage and abortion. They give Christianity a bad image and are responsible for people not becoming saved.
Their motivation for retreating and separating from the broader culture can be attributed to a longing for purity, integrety, and holiness in life. But by default, their choice to live outside the typical rhythms of culture makes them seem awkward, disconnected, and judgmental toward others....
.....They come across as 'holier than thou' and make mental lists of sins that, to them, are clearly wrong and unjustifiable for a 'true Christian.' Smoking, drinking, cussing, boys with earrings and tattoos, or even cutting your grass on Sunday might make it onto the list. They sincerely believe that anyone who participates in these activites couldn't possible have a relationship with God. Strangely, gossip, gluttony, and materialism never make their list.
....Another group of Christians is intent solely on getting people 'saved'. ...These Christians are motivated to 'win souls for Christ,' no matter who they offend. (Chapter 3 pg. 32, 33)
Secondly, if you grew up high church, say Lutheran, Episcopal or Catholic, you're a “Blender Christian.” You're embarrassed by the image the world has attached to Christian believers and you want to make sure no one knows you're a Christian or, if they do know, you want them to know that you're “normal” just like everyone else. They accomplish this by living lifestyles that resemble nonbelievers more than believers. They also give Christians a bad image and are responsible for people not getting saved.
And don't think being a hip and groovy Christian is any better. Those who attend churches with coffee bars, worship to Christian rock music and listen to Contemporary Christian musicians are “imitator Christians”. They are not affecting the culture because they are following it rather than leading it.
Then there's the “Next Christians.” These are the good Christians who have got it right. Instead of being followers of American culture, they are the leaders of the culture. They accomplish this by organizing soup kitchens, working their way up into the upper echelons of Hollywood movie making, organizing fine arts displays and concerts, and otherwise serving their community. They have “engaged the culture”. There's no description of their personal beliefs, how they're saving anyone and in fact at one point Lyons admits that, since these people aren't actually sharing the gospel we don't really know who's getting saved, if at all. BUT. We know that they are showing beauty and love to their community and that is sure to lead people to God.
Entire churches finally feel free to serve their communities and the world using all their talents. Churches are beginning to feel the power of seeing all their congregants come alive, from doctors co-opting to create clinics for the poor in urban centers to stay-at-home moms starting after school tutoring programs for at-risk children. (Previously) They'd bought in to the modern idea that the only good Christian activity was to convert others or give their money and time to those who could. Today they are discovering that their talent and creativity matter. (chapter 7 pg 104)
Now so far that sounds really good, right? Of course Christians should be serving their community, but why? For what purpose? So people can become acquainted with Christ and receive salvation? Not exactly. The “next Christians” have finally figured out:
The longings they have felt to do good in the world -even if it wasn't explicitly connected to getting people saved (emphasis mine)- have been validated.(ibid)
But, hey, so what? Getting saved is only part of the gospel-another thing the old fogey Christians have gotten wrong. Getting people's souls secured in the after life is all well and good but we need to focus on the here and now. We need to RESTORE THE EARTH. According to Lyons, this is the ultimate objective of the “next Christians.”
In fact, Lyons asserts that telling the gospel is only half the story.
I don't mean to diminish the importance of telling others about God's redemption accomplished on the cross, and we shouldn't deny that salvation through faith in Jesus has eternal implications. But shouldn't we be faithful to recount and live out the whole story?(chapter 4 pg. 57)
And what is the whole story? Lyons declares it's “to restore the earth.”
The idea of restoration is critical in the Next Christian discussion. They see themselves on a mission, partnering with God to breathe justice and mercy and peace and compassion and generosity into the world. They believe that ...they are turning back the hands of time to give the world a glimpse of what the world looked like before sin entered the picture. ..
..Is evangelism really the only use for the millions of church goers in our culture?..
Now, put restoration back into the story. Instantly, you've created millions of jobs for all the 'unemployed' and bored Christians in the church - jobs they can get excited about. …. Instead of simply waiting for God to unveil the new heaven and the new earth, the rest of us can give the world a taste of what God's kingdom is all about......
...The bottom line is this: The next wave of Christian engagement seems inherently linked to this idea of restoration.” (pg. 60)
That's a beautiful thought, I just don't see any of that in scripture. It is true we are to serve people here as Gabe points out. One day each of us is going to an give account to Christ for how we treated the poor, sick and neglected but I don't see anywhere in the Bible that says we're supposed to be cultural leaders and create some kind of Utopia here on earth.
The whole book gives me the same feeling that so many other books written by immature, arrogant so-called Christian writers have (Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller comes to mind) . They condemn the Christian world for being narrow, negative and judgmental while they describe these same Christians in narrow, negative and judgmental terms.
I don't know where Gabe Lyons goes to church. Judging from all the name dropping, he moves in a very different social circle than my own. I'd like to know where he met all the "wrong Christians" he describes. He doesn't cite references (or maybe just one). I've gone to church all my life and I've met plenty of sinners redeemed by grace but never anybody as flat and one dimensional as he describes. Oh, and by the way, someone needs to tell him that he didn't invent the idea of serving the community. Every church I've ever attended (I've been to a lot because I've moved around a lot) spent a great deal of time and effort plugging themselves into their environment and doing their best to address the communities' needs. I know that we, the body of Christ could do more and be less swallowed up in the busyness of our lives but that's no excuse for making sweeping generalizations about the people to whom you're supposed to be a brother in Christ.
Before closing I would like to address Lyons' presumption that all these “wrong Christians” are responsible for the negative view nonbelievers have toward them and Christianity in general.
I contend that “the bad image” that the world has toward Christians is for a very scriptural reason:
If the world hates you, keep in mind that they hated me first. If you belonged to the world, the world would love you as its own, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.(John 15:18,19)
All the world will hate you because of me. (Matthew 10:22)
And one more:
At that time the Son of Man will appear in the sky and all the nations of the earth will mourn. (Matthew 24:30)
If the world is going to mourn at Christ's return why should we assume they're going to welcome any “restoration” Christians would have to offer?
And what about the majority of the Christian church that's living in exile and persecution? What's his solution to them?
In case you haven't figured it out, I recommend this book to no one.