As a product of separatist Christianity, young evangelical leader Gabe Lyons says he is excited about the death of the current American Christianity and the rise of the “Next Christians” that will replace it.
In his new book, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America, Lyons paints an optimistic future for Christianity in America. While the current system of Christianity in America is dying, he writes, a new generation of Christians that seeks to restore the world as God intended is rising.
These “restorers” see the whole Bible story: creation, fall, salvation, and kingdom of God. For too long, Lyons contends, Christianity in America has only told part of the story – the fall (sin) and salvation – but failed to tell the grand narrative. As a result, Christianity in America has been dominated by a sense of us (Christians) against them (secular world), and promotes the narrow view that conversion is the only mission on Earth. While saving souls is indisputably important, Lyons contends, Jesus also calls on Christians to restore the broken things to how it ought to be.
“The next generation [of Christians] understands restoration as connected to the Gospel. They are motivated by the fact that Jesus restored their own soul and is constantly in the process of restoring them,” explained Lyons in a recent interview with The Christian Post. “That is driving them to go out in the world to fix things that they come into contact with that are broken.”
Instead of separating from the world, the Next Christians are engaging the world and going into the darkest places to shine the light of Christ. As they do so, the world will gradually change its negative view of Christians as judgmental, hypocritical, too political, anti-homosexual, etc.
Throughout the book, Lyons shares about young Christians who are embodying the Gospel and engaging the world for Christ. He told the story of Jamie Tworkowski, founder of the non-profit To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA). The ministry works with young adults struggling with drug addiction, suicide and depression.
TWLOHA was founded after Tworkowski met Renee, a 19-year-old who was addicted to drugs and a victim of sexual abuse. The young hipster Christian and his friends talked Renee into going to rehab, but she asked for one more night at her home. That night, she locked herself in her bathroom and carved the word “F-*-*-*-U-P* on her arm. She had cut herself some 50 times before that night.
The next day they took a bandaged, bloodied arm Renee to the rehab clinic. The budget-tight clinic, however, rejected Renee, saying she was “too great a risk.” So the group of young Christians rehabilitated her themselves by building a community of compassion, love and grace around her. Tworkowski said their goal was to replace her own self-image carved on her arms with the word love. Renee’s struggle and full recovery inspired Tworkowski to quit his comfortable job in 2006 and start the non-profit To Write Love on Her Arms (TWLOHA).
Lyons contends that Tworkowski, who was a regular Christian working in the fashion industry, is not an exception in the next generation of believers. Next Christians have a restoration mindset where if they see something broken they want to be God’s hands and feet and restore it to how it ought to be, he said. They also see the image of God in everybody and are not offended by the fallen world in the sense that they want to separate from it. Restorers want to transform the culture by injecting God’s goodness into it.
“Jesus wasn’t offended by their actions or broken lives; he was provoked to engage them,” writes Lyons. “He sought them out to find a way to restore them both physically and spiritually.”
“The fact is, where Christians restore, people get saved,” Lyons says. “They know that today’s typical outsiders aren’t likely to be reached through persuasive argument but instead through first experiencing an authentic Christian: someone who’s willing to roll up his or her sleeves and restore alongside them.”
While the previous Christian generation often engages the world by boycotting, condemning or separating, the Next Christians live “dangerously on the front edges of pain in the world” to offer comfort and restoration to the hurting.
“Is it possible to call a ceasefire in the culture war and still win the world?” Lyons asks in his book. If the future of American Christianity is the Next Christians, then the ex-separatist believer says yes.