I’ve learned not to trust Amazon.com book reviews (even though I post most of my reviews on there as well) because they’re dreadfully biased and lack depth for the most part. What’s more, they are usually exclusively secular and reflect the cultural-Christian sentiment. Still I habitually read the reviews for each book I’m going to read despite my distrust, only in order to gage interest in the type of book I’m about to read. This book, “The Next Christian” by Gabe Lyons received 4.5 stars out of 5, which made me instinctively leery of what I was about to encounter.
At first, I thought my presumptions regarding this book were right on the money. I found it alarming that Lyons had a “new” take on the Christian faith, presumably throwing out thousands of years of history, of Christian doctrine that had been established and time tested. I thought Lyons and his team were like tornado-chasers, trying to catch a glimpse of the next big wave in Christianity for the purpose of planting themselves on the cutting-edge of the Christian movement. The book even had an intentionally provocative title talking about “The End of Christian America.” I felt sorry for my heart and mind having to go through the pains of finishing a book that would provide no spiritual or mental edification for me whatsoever.
The first few chapters didn’t help. Lyons seemed to be perpetuating Christian stereotypes: he categorized contemporary Christians, labeling them Separatists, Culture Warriors, Evangelizers, Blenders, and Philanthropists. I thought Lyons was being reckless with his words, essentially affirming the world’s secular judgment of what Christians were like. He seemed to agree with the seeker-friendly environment of churches as his words were sympathetic to ecclesiastical changes. I was close to discarding the book altogether. That is, until…
Until I read his gospel presentation.
Restoration. This was Lyons’ word: the category of Christians that falls in between the Separatists and the Cultural Christians were the Restorers. It is this category of the “next Christians,” the Restorers, that Lyons is writing about.
The next Christians claim that the beginning (God’s goodness throughout creation) and the ending (the restoration of all things) of the greater story [the Gospel] have been conveniently cut out, leaving modern-day Christians with an incoherent understanding of the Gospel…They suggest that this telling of the Gospel only includes half of God’s story. (50-51, emphasis and brackets added).
Later, he writes,
We can’t cut the branch of redemption off the tree of God’s story and whittle it to fit our purposes. Creation and restoration are the bookends to Christ’s earthly work and they are shaping how the next Christians holistically participate in the world.
Yes! I’m overjoyed that Lyons caught this, an issue that is quickly plaguing our society and giving nominal “Christians” false hope. This problem of the “half-gospel”—that revolves around “God is love” statements while disregarding condemnation, restoration, and sanctification—is just as serious and dangerous as any known physical disease.
This was one of the book’s most redeeming traits. Though I heartily agree with Lyons’ negative considerations of the half-story of the Gospel being promoted in the world today, his book was not without its flaws. It’s fair to say that his long, drawn out use of anecdotes became tiresome and that space would have been much more effective had some of it been devoted to illustrations from Scripture—which leads to the next flaw. Scripture was scarce throughout the book which made me wonder who Lyons’ target audience was and what the purpose of the book was overall. It could have gone either of two directions: he was either reporting to secular, nominal Christians for the sake of updating them on the current Christian landscape, or he encouraging lackluster Christians to wake up and move into faithful action. I tend to think it was the former group because of the reporter-like form of his book, providing lists of “what Christians find is the hardest discipline,” and the “Seven Channels of Cultural Influence.” If that’s the case, then it did its job well.
I’m mostly neutral about this book now (which is much better than my initial hostility towards it). I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it to people to read, but I wouldn’t rip it out of someone’s hands and toss it into a fire either. I think it is an accurate portrayal of the Christian landscape but I’m still up in the air about what the purpose of the book is other than to provide information. It wasn’t necessarily edifying for Christians, but was rather a “the next Christians are coming” type of book. If you’re looking for a good, substantial read, I might be inclined to look elsewhere.
*This book was sent for review from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing.