The world is changing. There's no denying that. The faster our technology gets, the more rabid the changes take place. The world of yesterday is not the world of today. Caught in the middle of all of this is the Christian Church with a 2,000 year-old message. No wonder the world scoffs. In his book The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America, author Gabe Lyons seeks to guide the Christian reader into the future of Christianity. Lyons is most known for the book he co-wrote with David Kinnaman entitled unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks about Christianity... and Why It Matters which reveals how the lost world perceives Christians and Christianity.
In this book, Lyons lays out the six different types of Christians he has encountered. They break down into three categories. Some are separatists, others are cultural Christians. Neither, and I agree with him, is good. To pull away from culture goes against the gospel. At the same time, to become the culture corrupts the gospel. Instead of these two paradigms, Lyons suggests that we become Christians of Restoration. And it is this paradigm that the author promotes.
One of the key points Lyons makes regarding what it means to be a Restorer is a fuller understanding of the gospel narrative. Lyons rightly points out that many Christians make the gospel about the next world and not about this one and that many present the gospel story without mentioning creation, the fall, the Old Testament, or consummation. Christians are good at mentioning the death and resurrection of Christ, but rarely present the full narrative.
The climax for me came in the final chapter. The author writes:
The first thing for the Christian is to recover the Gospel - to relearn and fall in love again with that historic, beautiful, redemptive, faithful, demanding, reconciling, all-powerful, restorative, atoning, grace-abounding, soul-quenching, spiritually fulfilling good news of God's love. As described throughout the earlier chapters of this book, it is critical that this come first.
Following Jesus in the twenty-first century demands that his disciples relearn the full meaning of the Gospel story, recovering the culminating theme of restoration that runs throughout the whole Scripture. This begins by seeing the Gospel as the central resolution to humanity's age-old questions and self-conflict. But this story isn't static; it dynamically continues to unfold today, displaying God's original goodness and ultimate intention for all his creation. The good news for humankind is that we are all made in God's image, given a path through Jesus to be reconciled from our sin, and purposed to partner with him to renew and restore the creation to its fullest potential.
Christians can easily get sidetracked with distractions. And most of the time, those diversions really amount to second things in the form of debate, programs, and methodologies that can cloud hat matters most and are easily worked out when first hings are put first. Outreach methods, good deeds, social justice, cultural engagement theory, church models, environmental stewardship, career paths, even the negative perceptions of Christianity are some of the most current and popular distractions. But these represent second things for the church. They seek to distract, compete for the center, and manipulate us into believing they're really the main thing. But they're not. The restorative work of Jesus as displayed through the Gospel is the main thing - indeed, the one and only and true first thing.
I found myself celebrating at this point and found myself in much agreement with the author throughout. I wholeheartedly agree that we have become distracted by many cultural, ethical, moral, societal, international, political, and economic issues. Why are we not driven, motivated, and pushed towards the gospel - both the here-and-now and the not-yet. I like a lot that Lyons says in this book, but at times I feel that he didn't quite go far enough - or at least make the argument clear enough.
I agree that the gospel isn't just "Jesus died for your sins so that you won't go to hell" (though that is itself true). Instead, the gospel is "adoption through propitiation" (to quote JI Packer) that reconiles us rebels with our Creator. I thought that Lyons almost unintentionally downgraded the emphasis of the cross and resurrection in his attempt to rightly present the full biblical narrative. The gospel does begin with God and then moves to His act of creation which led to our rebellion and fall. For the next several millenniums, man foolishly convinces himself he can return to the Garden on his own whether through legalism, politics, liberation, or whatever. In steps Jesus. He brings, not a new humanity, but the old one. He returns His creation back to God. He makes reconciliation, forgiveness, and propitiation possible through the Passion account. Imputation is central to the gospel. Substitution is central to the gospel. Lyons said little to nothing about them. From there, we are given new hearts (we are "born again") and in the end, Christ will return and restore all things.
This is a fuller version of what Lyons presents, but in his attempt to balance the narrative, Lyons almost undercuts the concepts of propitiation, expiation, atonement, substitution, sacrifice, imputation, and adoption. All of these concepts demand a response. The gospel is both Objective (belief in the gospel narrative and particularly the doctrine of Christ and the cross/resurrection) and Subjective (repentance of sin seeing that the cross calls on us to change and live the cross and resurrection). Lyons said much about the Objective, but little (beyond more social justice issues) about the Subjective.
This is why, I believe, Lyons really belittles personal evangelism. There are two extremes when it comes to this issue: not doing it and overdoing it. Lyons emphasizes those who overdo it and push people away and almost excuses those who don't do it at all. Of course people are offended by personal evangelism because the gospel is itself offensive. We are called to be ambassadors of Christ and if we have truly been changed by the gospel, then how can we not shout from the rooftops the good news of Jesus?
There is a lot to gain from this book and I was expecting the complete opposite. The fact that persons like Phyllis Tickle and Rob Bell endorsed it made me assume that it would be nothing more than Emergent/post-modern garbage. But it wasn't. It is always fascinating to think about how the culture is changing and how the Church ought to respond. However, unless the Church proclaims the pure and transcendent gospel, we are only wasting our time. In other words, whether one knows where the culture is going or not, we are already equipped with a message that is not limited to zip codes and societal trends: the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.
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