Wednesday, February 9, 2011

The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons

As I met a friend for lunch the other day, I walked past an Apple store and saw an ad announcing their new partnership with Verizon: “This changes everything. Again.” A handset manufacturer expands to a new carrier, and the world is changed forever. Really?

Now, iPhone 4 is very cool, and Verizon customers have long bemoaned Apple’s exclusive contract with AT&T. The announcement certainly evokes celebration from them, but, “This changes everything”?

Good marketing doesn’t just inform us, it tells us a story. Advertisers convince us that bliss can be ours with a click of the mouse or a trip to the store. Marketing has become its own genre, complete with stock heroes (early adopters), villains (purists), tragedies (classicists who are left behind), and comedies (the geeks redeemed through innovation). Sadly, as I read The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons, I felt like I was reading an advertisement for the next Christians rather than a description of them.

The book is not terrible. There are a lot of cool stories of entrepreneurs using their gifts to help people and promote the Gospel. Jaime Tworkowski’s founding of To Write Love on Her Arms is the high point. Lyons also notices patterns that others have identified in younger Christians—their disdain for culture wars, their longing for community, and their desire to be countercultural—but he supports his claims with anecdotes rather than research.

The Next Christians is not what it claims to be. Promising to combine “current-day models and relevant research with stories of a new generation of Christian leaders,” it delivers a series of anecdotes without indication of their widespread relevance. Like judging an entire generation after a few viewings of Jersey Shore, we can’t stereotype the emerging followers of Jesus by relating how Nick and Josh started a magazine or how Jeremy gave up Facebook for Lent. The next Christians are more complex than that.

Lyons’ ad for the next Christians claims they “engage the dirtiness of our world without fear of tarnishing their reputations” (83), “[create] good culture” (95), “are already positioned to affect the cultural landscape in a big way” (120), “enjoy reading the Bible as much as curling up with a great novel” (136), “live in proximity to one another and often combine their resources to serve others” (163), and “try to create the most good for all people, regardless of race, class, or religion” (184). The movement “has all the signs of being a manifestation as crucial as the Reformation was” (120).

This changes everything. Again.

The Next Christians is filled with inspiring stories of creative people doing “neat” things for the kingdom of God, but we can only speculate on the significance of these stories.

I was not compensated for this review, but I was provided a free copy of the book in return for writing it.


Laura said...


I'm wondering if you think Lyons' is wrong in his analysis of the Next Christians. Is he just cheesy?

I follow his website, and I find the articles serious and engaging.

What's your take about the "end of Christian America" as Lyons puts it?

Matt said...

Hey Laura,

Sorry it took me so long to respond. As you can tell by the date tags on my posts, I haven't been attending to this blog as much recently.

I think Lyons is probably right about the "end of Christian America." I didn't read unChristian, but from what I've heard of it, he echoes what others have said. The politicized, Right-wing Christianity of the 70s, 80s, and 90s is going away.

The evangelicalism of the future will look different. It will be less political. It will be less organized/centralized. It will be more tribal, eclectic, and private. It will also be less white and more ethnic.