One might call Q Ideas the “Christian version” of TED Talks, and there’s some merit to the comparison: both feature talks by compelling thought leaders from practically every sphere of society. But unlike other “Christian versions” of popular cultural artifacts, Q (“a learning community that mobilizes Christians to advance the common good in society”) features content that is fresh, original, and generally believable.
The guy behind Q Ideas is Gabe Lyons, considered by many a leading voice on the relationship between young Christians and U.S. culture. Five years ago, he co-wrote unChristian, a bestseller that took a look at the negative perceptions young Americans have of Christians. His second book is The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (Doubleday).
One of the things I love about The Next Christians is that the book’s premise is based on the big story of the Bible: creation, fall, redemption and restoration. He lays that groundwork because, in his view, while Christians in recent decades in the U.S. have held on to the middle parts — fall (sin) and redemption (salvation) — they’ve downplayed or missed the profound, world-shaking significance of creation and restoration. Without properly recognizing that all creation was created good and that one day God will restore all things, our understanding of the Bible and of our lives as Christians is only a “half story.” The Christians he’s writing about are rediscovering the full story, and that’s an exciting thing.
As Lyons puts it, many Christians in recent years have been separatists, removing themselves from the world while critiquing culture and bemoaning its decadence. On the other hand, many others blend right in with the world around them, not offending their neighbors but not making any distinct contributions to culture either. Fortunately, Lyons writes, there’s a new kind of Christian who doesn’t fit neatly into any of these categories, and this is where the big story of the Bible comes back into play:
I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. They recognize that the world will not be completely healed until Christ’s return, but they believe that the process begins now as we partner with God. Through sowing seeds of restoration, they believe others will see Christ through us and the Christian faith will reap a much larger harvest. (p. 47)
He then lays out several characteristics of these restorers who see the Christian faith as vital to thriving in every sphere of society, and he introduces us to a handful who embody each trait. I won’t fully summarize all the characteristics, but will quickly list them:
- Provoked, not offended
- Creators, not critics
- Called, not employed
- Grounded, not distracted
- In Community, not alone
- Countercultural, not “relevant”
Okay, right about now you may be thinking: Great, here’s another arrogant, young jerk who knows exactly what everyone before him has done wrong and is sure that his generation has finally got it all figured out. But I don’t think that’s his intent. He expresses hope that good things are happening among these “next Christians” (young and old alike), but he also writes humbly, in my view, careful not to flippantly disparage anybody.
He calls us all back to the gospel of Christ, and urges us to keep first things first and second things in their proper places. Social justice, creation care, entrepreneurship, the arts — so many of the wonderful things these “next Christians” are doing as restorers where they live and work — are second things. They’re hugely important, and they matter a great deal. But when they become first things they become distractions, or even idols. We need to keep first things first:
The first thing for the Christian is to recover the Gospel — to relearn and fall in love again with that historic, beautiful, redemptive, faithful, demanding, reconciling, all-powerful, restorative, atoning, grace-abounding, soul-quenching, spiritually fulfilling good news of God’s love… It is critical that this come first. (p. 192)
Will these “next Christians” go down in the history books as “restorers” as Lyons predicts? It’s hard to say. Certainly some will, just as some have throughout the history of the church. I do think a new thing is happening among this generation of Christians, and it excites me. But Lyons is absolutely right that if restorers aren’t rooted in the gospel, it’s nothing but a passing fad, and the worst stereotypes may only be further reinforced. This generation is certainly marked by its declared intent to change the world; I hope we’ll also be marked by a humble faith.
Do you see these changes taking place where you live, work and worship? Are you skeptical about these “next Christians”or hopeful?