Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Move Over Webster: Redefining Christians

Besides the stomach flu, my mind has been held captive this past week by tiny letters set on cream colored pages and bound in solid black.

It's been awhile since a book has intrigued me enough to give it room in my thoughts throughout any given day, much less for an entire week. But that's just what Gabe Lyons' newest book has done.

The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America is sure to prompt any reader to disagree, agree, become irritated, and grow excited all at the same time.

Lyons' text looks at trends surrounding those who claim the title "Christian," classifying all Christians into three categories--Separatist Christians (those who separate from mainstream society to avoid the taint of sin), Cultural Christians (those who "inherited" their faith but do not practice it), and the Next Christians.

While his casual, even dismissive attitude concerning Separatist Christians and their preaching of a half-gospel beginning with the fall of man is sure to raise the ire of many, Lyons' main point is important. He argues that when the Christians of the past few generations chose to withdraw from society in order to make themselves holy, they wove a cocoon around themselves that, yes, kept the taint of sin out, but also stopped them from impacting a society they were totally removed from.

The result of that separation is being played out today in modern-day America where Christians no longer hold the influence they once did either politically or socially, where the term "Christian"is synonymous with words like "judgmental" and "hypocrite."

The Next Christians he describes are people who are proclaiming the gospel from creation to Jesus' return and who are learning to live in (not apart from) the world just as Jesus did, working side-by-side with non-Christians in formerly-off-limits areas of society in their attempt to "restore" the world and the people within it to a state of what "should" be instead of what "is". Whereas evangelism was the sole activity of Separatist Christians, the Next Christians see their activity for Jesus as twofold: evangelism and restoration.

Lyons sees this group as the hope for America's tomorrow, where Christians will impact their culture for Jesus, restoring it instead of watching from the sidelines as it continues its downward spiral.

The problem with the Next Christians, as Lyons describes them, is that they seem to fail to evangelize hardly at all, but instead focus on living out Christ's love, grace, and gospel while just assuming that people will ask about Christ or assuming that the beauty they create in restoration will always lead others to Jesus. He says that this type Christianity is working and that "where Christians restore, people get saved." I'm skeptical and wonder how without a concerted effort to add the sharing of the gospel with their attempts at restoration, how one can assume that the person will automatically be pointed to Jesus.

Whether or not you agree with Lyons, his hope for a better future where Christians are active in impacting their world instead of cocooned away, where Christians view their jobs as their ministry, where Christians view every person as God's creation and worthy of grace--it's a hope most would share.

Layperson or minister--this simple book will leave you thinking.

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