Lyons, Gabe. The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring The Faith. New York: DoubleDay, 2010. $19.99. 230 pages.
I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review
There is “a fresh, yet orthodox way of being Christian” according to Gabe Lyons (page 68).
In his work, The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith, Gabe Lyons is persuasively articulate in presenting inspirational stories of how some American Christians are redefining the faith. His stories are personal. The categories describing aspects of Evangelical life are insightful (chapter three). While appearing emergent in his presentation, Lyons claims orthodox traditions of Christianity that are being restored, making The Next Christians worth discussing.
My first impression of this work is apprehension. Lyons’ telling of his encounter with Billy Graham comes across as a desperate attempt for legitimacy. The author is a young leader of a new Christian organization (not a ministry) who travels up the mountain to gain insight and approval from the wise sage of Evangelicalism. Giving respect to Dr. Graham is honorable, but the impression is that Lyons is using his visit as a way of legitimizing his thesis, “that the Holy Spirit is working in a new way.” (page 8) Let me add here a fond respect for Dr. Graham and his insight. I do not doubt his sincerity in feeling that the Holy Spirit is working in a new way. Christian history points to this reality that the Holy Spirit will work as needed in any given time or culture. What I am pointing out is the usage of this discussion by Gabe Lyons. The placement of this story is in the thesis building phase of the beginning of the book.
But the restoration Lyons speaks of is not traditional orthodoxy. Lyons is not pointing to a restoration of reformed theology, but to the emergance of a new form of Christianity. How does one restore something new? Is not the nature of something new to have never been done before? In an evangelical environment hostile to the emerging church movement, Lyons’ movement of restorers come across as a vain attempt to incorporate emergent theology into the conservative, reformed tradition. Reformed theology is increasing among young Christians (see Christianity Today’s Young, Restless, Reformed – 9/2006 http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2006/september/42.32.html).
Lyons should be commended however in portraying positive expressions of Christianity from evangelicals who wish to live their faith rather than perform their faith. The restorers are driven by, “why they restore” (page 66). The restorers are driven to restore creation to the way things ought to be. Lyons is arguing that the next Christians will reshape Christianity that will engage their culture. This is admirable, but the caution here by traditional orthodox thinking is that there is a fine line between shaping culture and the culutre redefining Christianity. Lyon’s does not put forth a legitimate argument that restorers are changing culture. They are rather interacting with culture, living as Christians yes, changing lives one at a time, yes, but the methods described in the stories reveal what traditional orthodoxy would call compromise.
Lyons says, “The next Christians stand up for what they deem to be good, true, and beautiful.” (page 74). This is the same argument from the emergent church movement from authors like Rob Bell. Although this idea has roots in Greek philosophy, to understand what is good, true, and beautiful from a biblical, orthodox perspective would be that only what is good, true, and beautiful can be defined by God himself. God is the source of all that is good, all that is true, and all that is beautiful. Gabe Lyons says that a new definition of these transcendentals are redefined by the next Christians who, “shy away from framing their work in ‘Christian’ terms.” (page 74).
Redefining Christianity apart from Christian terms is nothing more than the sinful world redefining Christianity for Christians.
Lyons attempts to legitimize his thesis with very little scripture. Most of his support comes from contemporary stories of real Christians. He uses an incorrect translation of Luke 19:10 to support his label of restorer Christians.(page 78). The gospels are full of stories of broken people being restored by Jesus to wholeness. Jesus did draw sinners from all walks of life in his day. Lyons takes Luke 19:10, the very words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and twists them using an idiomatic translation of God’s Word to justify his terminology of restoration. Although I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s work, his translation of this one verse is not in keeping with traditional meanings of the greek.
In Eugene Peterson’s The Message, Luke 19:10 reads: “For the Son of Man came to find and restore the lost.” The word Peterson translates restore is translated save by all other english translations. Jesus says in Luke 19:10 that he came, “…to seek and to save the lost” (ESV), “…to seek and to save the lost” (NIV), “…to seek and to save that which was lost” (KJV), “…to seek and to save that which was lost” (NASB). Salvation and restoration are not the same. To save is to rescue. To restore is to return to the original. Although the gospel message does include the idea of restoration, the primary message is one of salvation. The greek word sosai, to save or rescue, is what is in the orginial text for Luke 19:10. No other greek lexicon defines this word as restore. Gabe Lyons uses an incorrect translation of this passage to support his thesis of restorer Christians. This makes his argument weaker rather than stronger.
The last major theological shift in Church history was the Protestant Reformation five-hundred years ago. Again, Lyons tries to legitimize his argument unsuccessfully. The restorer movement, “..has all the signs of being a manifestation as crucial as the Reformation was.”(page 120). The Protestant Reformation realigned the church to a Christ only, scripture aligned direction for the Christian faith. This was brought about with great suffering and sacrifice. The restorer movement is just that, a movement. It is not a realigning of the church to its orginal scriptural intent.
I must commend Lyons in calling Christians to be immersed in Scripture in chapter eight. This is one positive move that I see among younger Christians in America. They seek truth and those who are finding truth in scripture are the ones who will continue the faith correctly. Being grounded in Christian discipline is the only way to continue the Church as God originally intended. It is through these disciplines that Christians stay rooted and connected to their Lord. Christians are not lone-rangers but rather part of a larger community. This is again a positive reminder of how the Christian faith is to be lived out.
Lyons argues rightly that, “…the church should be offering an alternative way of living and being that stands out in a confused and broken world, not simply copying what it sees.” (page 172). I agree. His call for Christians to stand out as a light to a broken fallen world is biblical. To love their neighbors, living in loving community, embracing Christ and living his calling is correct. I commend Gabe Lyons on point out this very important truth. He does point out in chapter ten that the next Christians, “…are fighting for the world to redeem it.”(page 176). Lyons could have interwoven this theme of redemption into his call for restoration much more effectively. Instead, later chapters seem to be another book entirely from the earlier chapters.
Gabe Lyons’ concluding thoughts are ones I can agree with. “If you strive to be faithful to Christ, your life will paint a picture of what every human soul is longing for.”(page 181). I only wish that his form of Christianity was not a rejection of the past. Returning to orthodox roots of the faith is commendable. Separating from Christian tradition is creating a new faith and it is one that I would argue is not completely a biblical understanding of Christianity. Christians must embrace the past in order to engage the future. To discard the past is to dig a new foundation. Christ is the foundation. Let the Church instead build on what has come before and not attempt to create something new.