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Faith column: Q&A with Gabe Lyons, author of “The Next Christians”

November 6, 2010

Latest faith column, an interview with the ever-insightful Gabe Lyons.

Next generation of Christians will return to roots, author says

Author and Christian leader Gabe Lyons sees a bleak future for the Christian establishment. Church attendance is down, he writes, and the public perception of Christianity is often negative. But Lyons remains hopeful about the faith.

His new book, “The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America,” finds young Christians he calls “restorers” getting back to the roots of the Gospel and striving to make the label “Christian” mean something authentic and beautiful. “The Next Christians” follows extensive research Lyons commissioned for his 2007 book “unChristian,” which he co-authored with David Kinnaman of Barna Research. That book revealed a worldview shift among young Christians. Lyons answered questions by e-mail from American-Statesman columnist Eileen Flynn.

 

Austin American-Statesman: In your previous book ‘unChristian,’ you revealed how evangelical Christianity had alienated young people. But ‘The Next Christians’ offers hope that young believers have restored the message of Jesus, are engaging the world and making real sacrifices. Does this expression of Christianity have staying power?

Gabe Lyons:We have to remember that this way of being faithful is not new. It is actually quite old. The restoration mind-set of the next Christians is similar to that of the early Christians lived. Both are consumed with loving their neighbors, serving their communities, being good citizens, and sharing the “good news” of Jesus. This way of being Christian dominated during the first 300 years of the church’s existence, which was not-so-coincidentally a time of great expansion for the faith. Because of the restoration mindset among these early Christians, our faith has survived for more than two millennia. That’s what I’d call staying power.

 

For the Christians interested in living an ‘authentic’ expression of their faith, the goal is not cultural relevance, according to your book, but about being counter-cultural. Can you explain the difference and why it matters?

“Relevance”— the almighty cool factor — has become the holy grail for many Christian industries and churches today. Many simply copy culture in an effort to be accepted and attractive, but often they produce little more than cheap knock-offs of the latest pop-culture trends.

When our goal is cultural relevance, we leave the world like we found it. A more authentic expression of the faith is what I describe in the book as a “counterculture for the common good.” A counterculture by definition is centered and immovable. And as we are seeing in a new generation of Christians, when that faith-centered counterculture cares about the good of all people, not just their own, it starts to change the conversation about what it really means to follow Jesus in a post-Christian setting. Rather than mimicking culture, we find the broken places in the world and begin restoring them. When restoration rather than relevance is the goal, it makes all the difference in how we approach everything — and ironically, makes the Christian faith more relevant to all of life.

 

Many in the tea party political movement identify as evangelical Christians who seek to restore a Christian nation. Where do they fit in this changing Christian landscape, and how are the Christians you describe in your book responding to them?

The tea party is sort of an enigma. On the one hand, it is not overtly Christian. On the other hand, it is composed largely of Christians.

A recent poll by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that most tea partiers say they identify with the Christian right or the conservative Christian movement. Essentially, they are the remaining remnants from the religious right movement of the 1970s and 1980s who looked exclusively to American politics for cultural change. But the tea party is not the future of the Christian movement in America. Many in the next generation don’t view politics as a helpful channel for real, sustainable social change. They recognize that politics falls short on shaping the larger cultural narrative at play that shapes the morals and values of the whole.

So, instead, they are putting their time and money into other channels of change like education, the nonprofit sector, music, film and new enterprises and industry.

They share a motivation to restore credibility to their faith, with less concern about debating whether our nation is Christian or not.

 

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One Comment leave one →
  1. James H. Dee permalink
    November 9, 2010 6:09 pm

    Hello, Eileen: The Statesman was unable to provide an e-mail address, so I’m seeking to reach you this way. If you’re interested in doing a piece on the phenomenon of conversion, you should look at Robert Altemeyer’s Amazing Conversions, which deals with both directions — from Belief to Unbelief and vice versa. (Altemeyer is also known for his work on “RWA” [Right-Wing Authoritarianism].) The major point of the book, which has both stats and individual (anonymous) profiles, is that many of those who moved TO religion wanted certitude and an escape from doubt & questions, while many of those who moved AWAY did so because they adhered to their parents’ insistence on the value of finding the truth (or at least the best possible answers from evidence and argument).
    Best wishes, JDee

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