The Next Christians: Seven Ways You Can Live The Gospel And Restore The World
Reviewed date: 2013 Jun 10
I found The Next Christians to be a frustrating book. Lyons describes a new generation of American Christians who are more excited about the messy work of restoring the world and spreading God's love than they are about picketing, protesting, and fighting a culture war. These are the next Christians.
Lyons places previous Christians into two main groups:
- Separatists, who prefer to withdraw from the unbelieving culture, or to fight to change it
- Cultural Christians, whose Christianity is largely based on symbols, tradition, and a general appreciation for philanthropy but not for Jesus.
Then Lyons proposes another, better kind of Christians: the restorer. The restorer doesn't hold himself apart from the world like a separatist, and doesn't compromise like the cultural Christians. The restorer gets out into the world and makes it a better place.
Lyons says this is something new, a seismic shift in Christianity that will usher in a new church epoch. Five hundred years after Christ we had the fall of Constantinian Christianity; around AD 1000 we had the great East-West schism; another 500 years and Luther kickstarted the Reformation; now, 500 years later, we're due for the next big thing.
The problem is, Gabe Lyons's next Christians look very much like yesterday's Christians and today's Christians. The generation of Christians that he's disparaging--Evangelicals--has been busy restoring the world for decades. The church has already been feeding the hungry, caring for the sick, showing up with aid when disasters strike. Christians serve in soup kitchens, as social workers, as counselors. Christians are active in their communities. So why does Lyons think we're all doing it wrong, and the next Christians will be different?
Language and terminology. Lyons (and the next Christians) do the same kind of stuff, but talk about it differently. They talk about restoring the world, seeing "how things ought to be" and working to "[turn] back time" to "before sin." And they do this through authentic relationships (the next Christians love authenticity, which yesterday's Evangelicals don't have), by telling stories (they love stories!), and by reading the Bible as a grand narrative of God's restoration.
Evangelicals do the same sorts of things that the next Christians do, but they don't talk that way. The difference seems to come down to eschatology.
American Evangelicalism has a strong element of premillennial dispensationalism. In that model, we expect the world to get worse and worse, until Christians are raptured, the Tribulation breaks loose, and the wicked world essentially destroys itself. Evangelical Christians work to feed the poor, heal the sick, and improve people's lives, but they don't talk about restoring the world. That isn't an option in a premillennial dispensationalist worldview.
Lyons's language has a strong element of postmillennialism. In that view, the Christian church works to improve and restore the world, and once the church has completed its work of restoring the world, Christ will return to reign for a thousand years.
Both premillennialism and postmillennialism are valid, orthodox Christian understandings of the end times. Having a premillennial understanding doesn't prevent Christians from doing good things, but Lyons portrays those with the wrong mindset (i.e., those who don't talk about restoration) as an inauthentic charlatans.
I'm sure Lyons would disagree, but everything in The Next Christians boils down to eschatology. Lyons is promoting a new type of Christianity--which is identical to the current Evangelical Christianity except that it is postmillennial, not premillennial.
That's the only difference.
I don't think Lyons has presented anything of value here.