I made my Gospel Coalition debut this morning with my review of Gabe Lyons’ enormously popular The Next Christians. Attentive readers will note that I strike a similar note to previous writings.
But one thing didn’t come through in my review was that even when I did think Lyons was being too self-congratulatory toward folks our age, I do appreciate and resonate with his optimism. Many of the organizations and individuals Lyons highlights are doing exciting things, and part of my concern in the narrative that younger evangelicals are unique and new in doing such exciting things is that we’ll cut ourselves off from the wisdom of previous generations, thereby hampering our ability to ensure that our distinctives are sustainable.
Like the church in any era, young evangelicals stand in that funny situation of simultaneously ascending and declining. I want to see us ascend further, but I’m not sure routinely critiquing our parents while trumpeting our own virtues is the way to do it.
That said, here’s my conclusion:
While we might wish for more precision in his method and clarity in his exegesis,The Next Christians is still important as an example of the ethos that makes young evangelicals fascinating to so many observers. It is a handy reference for understanding the narratives that motivate younger Christians, and the ambiguities that we thrive on. For all the differences between the generations, the “next Christians” Lyons describes are simply Christians, making a muck of things and trusting that by the mercy of God in Jesus Christ “the people of God will continue forward as they’ve been doing for two millennia so long as we keep the foundations of our faith grounded in the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Matt: You’ve written a review that rightly emphasizes the need for inter-generational relationships and the debt of gratitude we our to those who have, in the words of the prophet, walked “the ancient paths” (Jer. 6:16). As you anticipated, Lyon’s “expansive understanding of the gospel may make some readers nervous,” including this one because, like so many American Christians who are influenced by the neo-Calvinist distortion that collapses the two-kingdoms –common and redemptive – into one, he mistakenly argues that we are carrying on the cultural mandate of Adam when the last Adam – Jesus Christ – has already fulfilled it. We are not continuing God’s redemptive work, as if the new creation depends on it, because that work is complete. As David VanDrunen says, “We are not little Adams.” Instead, we are little Christs insofar as are called to be light and salt in the world, which is why I appreciate how you subordinate restoration to the proclamation of the gospel. Well done.
Thanks for the kind words. I think I might actually be more open to Lyons’ approach than most people. Add in a healthy dose of Luther and the ultimate failure of the (human) church to avoid the post-millenial “building the Kingdom” dangers and I think the broader account of redemption is right on the money.
Christopher and Matt,
I agree that there’s room to prioritize the expansive gospel (salvation of individuals is central and restoration of systems is secondary). Furthermore, the taxonomy between the two kingdoms is persuasive.
But from this pastor, what does that actually look like? Our church has been preaching through some Isaiah passages and I have to admit that Messianic and New Heavens/Earth passages seem to mix redemption between all of these things we talk about: earth, animal kingdom, human psychology, human bodies, human systems and cities, etc. A simple reading of Isaiah 35 or Isaiah 11 shows that redemption is for all, for all things, and for all of creation, but not in a particular order. What does it look like for us to see the Messiah’s reign in the church or our own hearts?
Keller, in his new book Generous Justice, quotes a line from DA Carson’s Christ and Culture Revisited, about how Christians, at certain times and at certain places, do redeem vast expanses of culture/earth. So, no matter how we parse it- whether Lyons or VanDrunen- what does it look like? Surely both evangelism and social renewal are worth it? What does it look like for the individual Christian versus a local church effort? Even more, for denominations and worldwide Christian movements?
My suspicion is that no matter how we define the balance of the objects of redemption, every individual calling will look differently and every church will have a different answer to that based on their context. Social renewal in the Denver Tech Center- where I am- will look very differently from social renewal somewhere else. But don’t I still have that social renewal mandate?