Monday, January 17, 2011

Hope for the Future: A Book Review

As a "professional" Christian - I'm a youth pastor by trade - I read many articles with interest about the decline of American Christianity. I read how the numbers of people who claim to be Christians are in decline, how those who claim to be Christian are actually embracing theologies that are not in line with orthodox Christianity, and how the American church is largely viewed as irrelevant, or worse, condemning of the culture we find ourselves in. Needless to say, these statistics and articles are alarming. But, Gabe Lyons presents a convincing argument that there is a new wave of Christians who are working to restore our culture in his latest book, The Next Christians.

I received this book free through Waterbrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program, and am really glad I chose it. I was encouraged to read about individuals and churches who are not separating themselves from culture (think Amish or the ghetto of 'Christian' music) nor immersing themselves in it (think people who try so hard to blend in to culture that the distinctiveness of the Gospel is nowhere to be found); instead, they are restoring the culture. They see the inherent beauty in God's creation that has been hidden and marred as a result of the Fall, and are working to reclaim that beauty instead of, as some would choose to do, sitting around and waiting until God fixes it all. These individuals take many shapes: a woman who starts a entrepreneur mentorship with hardened prisoners; a man who started an organization to free people from slavery and injustice after witnessing the horrific genocide in Rwanda; a man who started a website and organization to free people from slavery to pornography and the adult film industry; a man who had been a huge influencer in the New York nightlife scene, whose heart was broken on a humanitarian trip, who now finds himself influencing people to help provide clean water to the people in the world who don't have it; and many more.

The stories in this book were enlightening, uplifting, and challenging. I found myself questioning why I do certain things in ministry. Am I doing them to restore culture, or to make me or the ministry I lead look good? I also found challenging the characteristics Lyons lists as being the cornerstones of these Next Christians (provoked, creators, called, grounded, in community, and countercultural). I know that if these are what sets them apart, I have some work to do.

If you are a Christian wondering about the future of Christianity, read this book. I think it will encourage you. And if you are not a Christian and skeptical about what Christians are all about because of something you have experienced at the hands of Christians, read this book. I think your opinion of Christians may find itself on an upswing.