A great article.
A New Way of Being Christian
By Gabe Lyons | Author, The Next Christians
Over the past eight years I’ve dedicated much of my work to understanding how a new generation is applying the Gospel in post-Christian societies. That work has informed and been illuminated in my just released book, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America where I hope to cultivate a rooted optimism that the future for the church in American culture is bright.
Just looking across the pond to Europe, it’s easy to surmise what society can look like when the church loses its vibrancy. In Europe’s case, the potent edge that once catalyzed the Renaissance and much of her values became rubbish within only a few generations. It should be a stark reminder that just one generation stands between ultimate collapse towards the falling edge or a resurrection of what could be—or better said—what ought to be. So it is with the American church and our opportunity in this generation. If we have the eyes to see (and I can tell you from my experience that a new generation does) the greatest days for the church just might lay ahead.
But to understand the opportunity, we need to remember where we’ve come from.
The church of the 20th century had two dominant ways of teaching and modeling the Christian's role in society. The first was to separate. The Separatist view urged Christians to spend time and money among their own—venturing out too far from the fold could have dire consequences. The goal was to protect oneself from the corrupted nature of the world. Culture was sinful and our job was to man the fort, fight those who opposed it and in the pursuit of being faithful, win over as many converts as possible.
The second approach I call the Cultural view. Cultural Christians saw the label “Christian” as an important part of their cultural identity. They were generally good people who identified with a form of religious Christianity. In some cases, their connection to faith was no more than a genealogical hand-me-down, something they were born into. For others, their understanding of being Christian meant being good citizens—volunteering their time in schools, hospitals and neighborhood community groups. They attended church on holidays and for special occasions, but never quite personalized the work of Jesus as the main motivator for the life and work they did. In both cases, the intentions have been good, but missed the holistic mark to which the Gospel calls us forth. Which leads to the larger development at hand.
I’ve observed, and many of our churches are experiencing, a new, yet historic, way of seeing the faithful approach 21st century culture. Some aren’t quite sure what to do with it. Is this just a warmed over social Gospel or is something deeper underway? For the Next Christians I describe, taking the Gospel seriously means living within the tension of the two previously stated approaches to the world. They aren’t “throwing the baby out with the bathwater.” Instead, they are bringing a much needed gravity to what the Gospel demands from a follower of Christ in the West.
Restorers, as I’ve come to call them, hold tightly to Jesus’s redemptive work on the cross and his resurrection as the main motivator for why they give their lives to bring God’s transforming love and renewal into every area of the world. These restorers exhibit the mindset, humility, and commitment that seems destined to rejuvenate the momentum of the faith. They have a peculiar way of thinking, being, and doing that is radically different from previous generations. I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and motivated by the Good News, they work toward that vision. They are purposeful about their careers, and generous with their time and possessions.
They don’t separate from the world or blend in; rather, they thoughtfully engage. Fully aware of the sea change underway, they are optimistic that God is on the move—doing something unique in our time.
The Next Christians sit in your churches. Or maybe left a long time ago because they felt the church didn’t “get” them. But rest assured, they haven’t left God’s church and possess some of the greatest hope for how a new generation’s confidence in the Christian faith will be restored.
Sit down with them. Take them to coffee. Listen to their heart. Don’t judge their work, without understanding their motive. Mentor them, disciple them and then get out of their way. A new way of being Christian is bursting forth. Their lives are filled with tensions that demand love, discernment and engagement. When you get the chance, take them under your wing. And when they are ready to fly, unleash them to restore.
Gabe Lyons is the author of The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (Doubleday) and founder of the Q learning community.