Friday, September 4, 2020

The Next Christians - A Book Review by Sutton



   Gabe Lyons  2010

Reviewed by

   Geoffrey W. Sutton

How do young Americans perceive Christians?

Lyons reports the results of a study he commissioned to "understand the perceptions that sixteen-to twenty-nine-year-olds have about Christians (p. 3)" In the eleven chapters, Lyons explores these findings in the context of anecdotes and other research to suggest changes that appear to occur among Americans who self-identify as Christians. The book is a highly readable report of survey findings likely of interest to anyone following trends in American culture and religion. This book extends Lyon's previous interests reflected in unChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity and Why itMatters, which he coauthored with David Kinnaman.

I would characterize Lyon's approach as Purpose Driven Research. In the first part of  the book he outlines his case for the problems with contemporary American Christianity. He draws on survey data, quotations from various Christian leaders, and stories to  support his view that American Christianity is in decline. Examples include the removal  of symbols from public places like the Ten Commandments, the popularity of  Christopher Hitchens's atheist polemic, god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons  Everything, and the decline in church attendance (31%) among Protestant teens.

He opines that Christians have largely participated in the culture in one of five ways: Separatists live in a Christian bubble ('insiders'), cultural warriors fight against the loss of Christian dominance in society, and there are cadres who proselytize (evangelizers). Some have tried to fit in with others in the culture (blenders) and other Christians have focused on good deeds, (philanthropists). 

His focus (Part II) is on the Next Christians identified as restorers. Lyons describes their six characteristics in separate chapters. I will report the key qualities so you can have a sense of his thinking about Christians who are engaged in restoring society. First, they are provoked but not offended. They are keenly aware of people with serious needs such as addiction and other lifestyles often characterized as sinful. Rather than being offended by the behavior patterns, they participate in rehabilitation efforts. 

Second, they are creators and not critics. Instead of condemning various cultural expressions (e.g., film, music), next Christians are actively involved in creating culture that reflects God in beauty and craftsmanship. 

Third, they are called rather than employed. Next Christians reject traditional distinctions
between professional ministers and other vocations. For the next Christians, all vocations represent ministry. 

Fourth, they are grounded and not distracted. Recognizing the temptations and distractions in life, next Christians rely on the known spiritual disciplines such as immersion in scripture and prayer, taking a Sabbath rest, and fasting as replacements for the common distractions of contemporary culture such as high levels of television watching, increased productivity, and consuming food and other goods. 

Fifth, they are in community rather than alone. They are people who open their homes to neighbors and get involved in helping others with various activities ranging from moving to childcare.

Sixth, they are countercultural rather than relevant. One way to capture Lyon's concept of relevant methods of engaging culture is to consider examples of churches that employ large screens, contemporary music, video games, and other social fads to relate to youth. Countercultural approaches seek to restore individual lives, broken relationships, and damaged communities regardless of the factors linked to the decay or the destruction. 

Lyons closes with thoughts about a new era. He offers an optimistic take on a better America led by Christians who have been transformed by the gospel and possess the six qualities of restorers. As he describes this new approach, he presents contrasts such as shifts from judgment to grace and hypocrisy to authenticity, which seems to reflect his way of thinking about culture in terms of bifurcated constructs.

The book Next Christians deserves a place in many libraries. The book is suitable for group discussions and is supported with video and other resources. Several issues are relevant to undergraduate studies, especially in the behavioral science courses at a Christian College. 

Although at times, he seems to be influenced by a confirmatory bias, his perspectives are worthy of consideration and will resonate with many Evangelical Christian readers. Clinicians and pastors may find the descriptions useful frameworks to appreciate clients who feel frustrated by the gap between traditional and contemporary expressions of Christianity.

Cite This Review

Sutton, G.W. (2020, March 22). The next Christians. Sutton Reviews.


Sutton, G. W. (2012). [Review of the book The next Christians: The good news about the end of Christian America by G. Lyons]. Journal of Psychology and Christianity, 31, 176-177.   Academia Link    ResearchGate Link

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