The Next Christians, by Gabe Lyons

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Before I get into my response to this audio book, I thought it might help you to know the angle I'm coming from: Firstly, I'm not a trained theologian or minister or an expert in ecclesiology (theology of the Church). But I guess you could call me a hobbyist, and my interest in these things is sincere, so by all means, speak up and share your ideas about this stuff, whatever they might be. :-)

Secondly, as a pastor's kid I've heard of revivals, scandals, trends and dangers within Christendom for more than 20 years. So I have to admit, there is a small, exasperated voice in my head saying, "What new twist is someone putting on my faith this time?" But that isn't the only thing bouncing around in my head when I meet a new book about the Church. The other voice, which is much more compelling (and friendlier!), reminds me to stay curious, humble, and open to whatever God might want to teach me. And it reminds me that I've had my own doubts about Church and western Christianity over the years, and just maybe this author will help shed some light on what I've already felt in my gut about the problems I've witnessed.

That being said, the waters were a little rough for me in the first few chapters of The Next Christians, where Gabe Lyons summarizes the state of American (this could apply to Canadian Christians too, so I'll just say "NA", short for North American) Christianity. He describes the many sub-groups of Christians by the way they relate with secular society, but these descriptions seem over-simplified. While he mentions their strengths, he ends up casting each group in a rather negative light in an effort to contrast them with what he calls the "next Christians." So that's the main hiccup I ran into as I digested this book.

Moving right along, I was fascinated by his idea that over the last few decades (or the last century, even) NA Christians have put the gospel message out of balance, focusing on salvation but minimizing the other half of the story: the restorative piece of God's work. God's end goal is not just for us to be saved, but He also restores our souls, minds, hearts, and relationships in the process, and He will bring restoration to the world at the end of time as well.

Bringing restoration back into focus alongside the message of salvation, Lyons says, helps regular Christians (like me!) finally understand our natural impulse to create things that are beautiful and to fix things that are broken, like our neighborhoods, homes, workplaces, hobbies, (Facebook pages?), and anything we can get our hands on to beautify. This point really hit home for me, especially because I still carry a little bit of the shame of being thought of as 'liberal' (in the sense that people want to spit after saying it) because of my relentless drive to preserve that which is beautiful (like nature) and speak up for people who are down on their luck or oppressed. So in my case, it's refreshing to be reminded that God created us to enjoy and want to do these things, because by doing so we're reflecting His nature; we were made in His image, after all!

The rest of the book delves into the many different attitudes and activities these "next Christians" engage in. His stories inspire me and they've got me brainstorming about changes I might make to my own life. Gabe also narrated the audio version of his book, which added a personal touch.

Now obviously, I can't summarize all the angles or the depth of the author's points in the confines of my short review, so you'll just have to pick up a copy for yourself to see exactly what Lyons is trying to say. ;-)

Many thanks to christianaudio for providing a free audio download of this book for review.