The Next Christians?

Posted: December 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

The great Greek philosopher Aristotle wisely taught his students to begin every speech by flattering the audience in order to gain a true hearing.  Gabe Lyons should heed Aristotle’s advice.

Lyons, the head of a Christian leadership network called Q and author of the bestselling book Unchristian, opens his latest work by all but cheering the death of Jerry Falwell and citing uber-atheist Christopher Hitchens biting criticism of the right-wing culture warrior with some approval.  Bad call, Gabe. Many of the people Lyons undoubtedly want to reach will immediately toss the book aside at that point, which is a shame because The Next Christians is not a bad book…its not really a great book either but…

After Lyons finishes a rant aimed at the Christian right he argues that all Christians need to first build a firm foundation steeped in a thorough understanding of the Gospel then they need to go into the culture as a restorative agent rather than separate from the world around them while screaming criticisms.  Here I am in complete agreement with Lyons.  He then demonstrates what restorative agents look like with a number of decent examples culled from friendships he has formed from Silicon Valley to the ghettos of Philadelphia.

The Next Christians won’t bring anything new to the table for those on the frontline of the missional movement except for a few catchphrases, which, as a networking leader, is the area where Lyons undoubtedly excels (not to slam “catchphrases” for sometimes re-framing something does have extraordinary benefits).  

The question I have for Lyons is why is that Christians should enter into Hollywood, business, etc. to become restorative agents but not politics? After all, he cites William Wilberforce as an example of a restorative agent…was he not an early example of the cultural warrior that Lyons denigrates in his opening pages?

Certainly Lyons will object that the problem with Jerry Falwell was that he made outrageous comments that contributed to the negative view of Christianity as “judgmental,” “too political,” and “anti-homosexual” as is documented in Lyons’ book UnChristian. The problem with such an objection is that Wilberforce also deeply offended the people of his time as well. Also, as Bradley Wright notes in his book Christians are Hate Filled Hypocrites…and Other Lies You’ve Been Told, just because a large number of people have a negative impression of Christianity, doesn’t mean their impression is correct.  For example, Hustler founder Larry Flynt was, at one time, Jerry Falwell’s arch-enemy and mercilessly lampooned him in his magazines but after Flynt came to know Falwell personally they became friends.  Flynt even spoke of Falwell in glowing terms after his passing. 

I agree that there are many among the Christian right who have been far too abrasive but, frankly, they are in the minority.  As D.A. Carson points out, research actually demonstrates that the people most likely to volunteer to help the poor are not liberals, who tend to rely on government, but the same members of the Christian right that Lyons is so deeply ashamed to be associated. 

I still recommend The Next Christians but Tim Keller’s says as much as Lyons and more in his new work Generous Justice and if I had to choose between the two, I would pick the latter.

  1. I would be interested to see D.A. Carson’s research. I don’t think the results you noted are necessarily true but I could be swayed otherwise. Of utmost importance when considering such research is, “What does it mean to volunteer to help the poor?” Some volunteerism to help the poor isn’t particularly Christian (for right or left) even when some think it is. There is always the possibility that there is more harm than good in certain acts that we think are helpful.

    • Revolution says:

      I don’t recall where the research came from that Carson quotes but it’s consistent with what I’ve seen. There is a tendency among liberal churches to turn care of the poor over to the government and view “fighting for the poor” as electing fellow liberals. Yet, the Acton Institute has demonstrated that, on the whole, government action has done more harm than good. Also, read Charles Murray’s “Losing Ground: American Social Policy from 1950-1980” and Myron Magnet’s “The Dream and the Nightmare,” which support the research of the Acton Institute as well.

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