I used to follow Gabe Lyons on the Catalyst podcast. I recall hearing of his seemingly abrupt departure from that ministry. In The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith he explains that back then, he found himself often ashamed to be called a Christian. As a young twenty-something he found that most people his age thought of Christians as “judgmental, hypocritical, too political and anti-homosexual” (p.4). He wrote about this in his first book, Unchristian: What a New Generation Really Things About Christianity and Why It Matters.
He also discovered a whole movement among young Christians who want the word “Christian” to mean “something good, intelligent, authentic, true, and beautiful” (p.5). He set out on a quest to do something about it. He founded “Q” (www.qideas.org), and conducted a large research project to come to terms with the disparity of opinions inside and outside of Christianity.
Early in the new book, Lyons describes two very divergent types of Christianity, which he calls “Separatist and Cultural”. One seeks to fight against culture and the other seeks to blend into culture. The Separatists long for “purity, integrity and holiness in life” (p.32), which leads to a withdrawal from and a fight against the culture around them. The Culturals on the other hand “identify with the beliefs of Christianity on a spiritual level, but at the cultural level, they attempt to blend with the mainstream” (p.40).
After pointing out the weaknesses of these two models, Lyons presents a third alternative which he calls “Restorers”. In his words, “their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice and love” (p.47). They don’t separate from the world or blend with it, they engage it. Most of the rest of the book is dedicated to highlighting stories of these Restorers, and how he sees them as the hope for the future of Christianity.
On a very broad level, I like what he has to say. This is a very optimistic book. But like so many young writers his caricature of the church (particularly anyone older than his generation) is disturbing. He seems to want to identify anyone not from his particular tribe as being either outdated legalists or liberal sell outs. He paints the young “Restorers” with broad and beautiful strokes that would make anyone love them. He seems oblivious to the fact that there have always been Christians and churches out there that embody this notion of engaging. For every example he gives of a young Christian engaging in some creative way, I could think of many past (even historical) believers who have done the same thing.
I agree that the Restorers offer fresh hope for a declining movement, but I don’t necessarily see something new here. Rather, I see an attraction for his generation to a way of doing Christianity that has always existed in that tension between the extremes of law and grace.
Having said all of this I must admit I enjoyed this book. Any time I read a book in which I feel like I am having an inner dialogue with the author, I come out learning something. Once you get past the simplistic caricaturizing of all Christians into these three categories, there is a lot of hope and optimism. And, I hope he is right that there is a growing force among young Christians to chart new courses and engage our culture in fresh ways. If you are concerned about the future of Christianity in America this book is worth checking out.
NOTE: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.