"The Good News About the End of Christian America" reads the text across the front cover of Gabe Lyons' The Next Christians. Many would argue that "Christian America" has always been a myth, but myth or reality, that mindset pervaded the evangelical Christian community throughout the second half of the twentieth century.
For this reason I found myself skeptical reading the first two chapters. Lyons' described recent changes that would indicate that what once was an idyllic Christian environment has come undone in recent years. I was wrong about Lyons' intention. Rather than bemoaning the demise of "Christian America" and describing the twenty-first century method of fighting it, Lyons' embraces the challenges of a new century and the opportunities to reframe the Christian narrative in a restorative framework.
Lyons describes several subgroups of Christians, grouping them all into two main categories: separatists and cultural. The former reacts to the broader world by withdrawing and criticizing. The latter integrates into the world at the expense of the gospel. The Next Christians represent a third way forward. This new way forward is neither progressive movement leaving the old behind nor a reactive movement rejecting the new to hold on to the old.
The next Christians practice restoration by fully living out the call of Paul to "be in and not of" this world. They do this by being provoked, not offended; creative, not critical; called, not employed; grounded, not distracted; in community, not alone; countercultural, not relevant. This third group of emerging Christians are neither separatist or culutural, reclaiming the full gospel beginning with creation and ending with restoration.
Within this clear and easy to follow framework, Lyons' fills out his description of The next Christian with moving stories of people living out this type of faith. Some are familiar like the story of "To Write Love on Her Arms" and the simple Christianity of Shane Claiborne. Others are surprising like the story of Kevin Kelly of Wired magazine. Still others are personal acquaintances with first names only. These stories turn an interesting but lifeless structure into an engaging and inspiring work.
The Next Christians encourages and equips the reader to begin a journey of engaging the contemporary world in a Christ-like restorative fashion.
Disclaimer: this book was received as a complimentary copy for review by the publisher.