Something new is going on in Christianity. There are various titles given to it, such as the Emergence, the Next Reformation, or even the Reformission. Millions of Christians are part of this movement, many of whom do not even realize a movement is going on. They just know that something is leading them in a direction that is different than where the traditional church is going. If you have been feeling some discontent with your church, or the things your church is doing, you may already be part of this movement.
Various leaders and church experts have tried to describe this change that is sweeping worldwide Christianity, but there is not a whole lot of consensus on what the central values or goals of this movement are. One book I recently read, however, seems to provide a good description and analysis of this movement. The book is The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons. His previous book, unChristian, painted a fairly dire portrait of modern Christianity. It was somewhat depressing. But this book holds out the hope and vision for the future of where Christianity is headed. If the old style of Christianity is dying, it is only because a new style is being born.
Here is one good description from the book of these next Christians:
They see themselves on a mission, partnering with God to breathe justice and mercy and peace and compassion and generosity into the world. …Instead of simply waiting for God to unveil the new heaven and new earth, [the Next Christians] give the world a taste of what God’s kingdom is all about — building up, repairing brokenness, showing mercy, reinstating hope, and generally adding value (pp. 59-60).
Gabe Lyons rightfully points out that although many traditional Christians accuse this new breed of Christians of abandoning the gospel for “social justice” issues, the exact opposite is true. First and foremost in the thinking of these Next Christians is the rediscovery that the gospel is not just about evangelism so people can receive eternal life and go to heaven when they die (cf. pp. 66, 192). The gospel is much broader and more far-reaching than that, involving truths and ideas which affect all areas of life. The Next Christians do not abandon the gospel; they embrace and live it to the fullest extent possible.
Based on this, Gabe spends the majority of the book exploring six areas where the Next Christians live out the gospel in the world. The Next Christians are:
Provoked, not offended
Creators, not critics
Called, not employed
Grounded, not distracted
In community, not alone
Countercultural, not “relevant”
I found his descriptions to be accurate, fair, and balanced. I also appreciated several tips for how you and I can move in the direction of being a Next Christian (cf. pg. 123ff).
The only criticism I have of the book is in the examples of Next Christians he chose to write about. Almost all of them are rich, powerful, and famous. They were CEOs of companies who chose to leave their business and start nonprofit organizations. They were at the top of their field in the music, art, or sports industry, and chose to put their skills and abilities toward the mission of God. They were megachurch pastors who led their thousands of people into more focused community service. What about the rest of us? What about the small, insignificant people? Isn’t that the central starting point of the gospel, that God uses the “nobodies” of the world?
Admittedly, he does say that he is
…not suggesting that every person’s calling is to start a nonprofit organization to a address huge global problem. For you, it probably doesn’t mean leaving your job or career at all. It simply means restoring right where you are (p. 126).
I agree, and I’m glad he said it, but I wish he had given us some examples. To say that, and then on the very next page begin talking about the “influential filmmaker” (p. 127) seems disingenuous. It makes it seem that Gabe is not really aware of any “normal” people like you and me who are trying to live the gospel among our neighbors and coworkers without millions of dollars and thousands of powerful contacts at our disposal.
But all in all, I loved the book and highly recommend it for anyone who wants to understand what God is doing in the church today.