I recently had the privilege of receiving a complimentary copy of Gabe Lyons' The Next Christians from christianaudio's reviewer program.
Lyons addresses the common perception that Christianity is dying. Taking a sort of sociological perspective, he describes the shift of the Christian environment over the past century, particularly in the United States. He also discusses two primary types of Christian engagement with the culture. The first group is Separatists, who set themselves apart from the culture and have little engagement with it. They focus on faith, not works. One the other extreme are the Cultural Christians, who blend into the cultural landscape, and their faith is more of tradition and heritage than a life. They focus on works, not faith.
Then he describes an emerging type: the Restorationists. These Christians emphasize both faith and works, seeing a faith lifestyle as very different from the surrounding culture, but also seeing living within the culture as critical. As Lyons states, the goal of a Restoration mindset is to make the world "as it ought to be."
While Lyons presents the information in the book in a sort of descriptive sociological framing, he is, in fact, presenting a more prescriptive argument. In other words, he is not being objective, noting trends from the outside, but rather, he is part of the restorationist movement and truly advocating for that position.
He make this argument well. The stories he tells from his own life and those of others shows the great potential for creativity to bring restoration to a fallen world. The fact that he is the narrator for his own audiobook adds additional credibility. I also appreciate this book because it truly presents an incarnational view of Christianity, emphasizing that we are God's hands and feet exactly where we're at.
In the spirit of my blog, too, he does a nice job of deconstructing some (recent) traditional trends in Christianity of separatism and cultural Christianity. However, he does not leave the reader (or listener) with a deconstructed mess of a faith (or lack thereof). He truly provides a reconstruction through the restorationist lens. This provides a clear and newfound sense of hope and purpose.
If you are not satisfied with the way church organizations and Christians have engaged the world, but know there is still something to your faith, I highly recommend this book. It can be challenging to those who have lived the more separatist or cultural lifestyles. However, he finds strengths in each of the traditions and demonstrated how their goals were honorable. Yet there is a better way. Therefore, Lyons nicely appreciates and respects multiple perspectives and traditions, not denouncing them, but rather showing their weaknesses and how to move to something greater.
Such challenges are good when followed with encouragement. Lyons' tome really is more of an encouragement than an indictment, and I think that is a blessing.