Sunday, 6 February 2011

The Next Christians

Disclaimer: *I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review*

In The Next Christians: How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith Gabe Lyons desires to show how the next generation of Christians are engaging with culture in a new way- and in doing so providing hope for the future influence of Christianity in America.

His premise rests on a few assumptions- one, that Christianity is dying in America, two, that the "old way" of "being Christian" has failed, and three, that there is one particular way of practicing of Christianity that is vitalized and pushing the faith forward, offering hope (and a model to follow) for believers. While I don’t entirely disagree with many of Lyon’s assessments, I found them to be too simplistic, particularly the negative stereotypes of "old" Christians that he sets up to argue against. In the Second Chapter, "A Parody of Ourselves" Lyons shares that he is employed as a consultant for people who wish to understand major trends in Christianity. As part of his work in this field he has categorized different "types" of Christians- complete with diagrams and synopsis of each. Interestingly, since he includes the word "parody" in his chapter heading, each of his descriptions reads like a parody, they feel mocking and lack grace, are sometimes belittling, and lean heavily on the faults of each group. Although I can think of people I know that probably represent each "type" none of them fully fit the negative assumptions listed, and most have much more depth then the simple typology allows for. I understand that Lyons did this make his argument seem more important and novel, but the tone is too negative for a man who desires (and I believe him) to prompt people to work together to become restorers. For someone so focused on "restoration" the first third of the books feels too heavy on classification and division.

The tone of the book shifts a bit with the second division in the book, as Lyons moves on to his thesis about what the next Christians are (these descriptions double as chapter titles): Provoked, not Offended; Creators, not Critics; Called, not Employed; Grounded, not Distracted; in Community, not Alone; and Counter-cultural, not Relevant. Again, the comparative design of his explanation- that next Christian’s actions can only be understood in contrast to the negative patterns of other Christians- detracts from the positive aspects of Lyons’ message. I think his argument would have been stronger if he focused the discussion on what the next Christians are, instead of emphasizing what they are not, which he does better in some chapters than in others. For example, in "Grounded, not Distracted" Lyons sets up his chapter by describing a "next Christian" who loses his way but then returns to his vision to serve God. Because Lyons keeps his argument within the context of who the next Christians are and how they can stay grounded within their callings instead of comparing them to other types of Christians, this chapter has a more encouraging and instructive tone. It would have been nice had the entire book been written that way, because Lyons has a few interesting points to make and some encouraging stories to tell.


mary said...

I get really tired of the bashing that the new Christians do to the old. What happened to "they will know we are Christians by our love?"

Robin said...

It's always a mistake to lump people together and categorize too much because, back then, as now, people were unique and individual and what they did worked for their time, just like his ideas are more suited to this time. Someday his ideas will be lumped together with the negatives that were produced, which will also seem unfair. Thanks for the review, Amy.