In his book, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America first accurately diagnoses the problem facing Christianity in America and then offers an excellent 10-point outline of characteristics that are common of the Christians he believes, and rightly in my estimation, are going to be the best bet in turning that tide.
Many reviewers of Gabe’s book seem to get hung up on the opening line of the book where Gabe makes the case that it is often socially awkward if not downright embarrassing to be identified as a Christian in America. I wonder if these reviewers have had many lunch encounters like I have. There we are, sitting around the table laughing and cutting up and generally having a good time and then someone goes and makes a comment to the effect of “oh come on guys, its not like ANYONE believes ________ anymore”. You can fill in that blank with just about any Christian position but the one that I’ve seen most frequently cited is intelligent design which is commonly confused by non-Christians as merely an alias of young earth creationism.
I mention that not to take a pot shot at YEC but rather to demonstrate the insight found in Gabe’s conclusion that things are rapidly changing and we, Christians, must adapt to the prevailing social landscape.
After outlining the cultural shifts that face us, Gabe tells the story of meeting with a Hollywood movie producer who, after noticing the success of Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, wanted to gain some insight into the Christian market. As a side note, I wonder if this meeting, with Lionsgate executives, is what influenced to brought about the movie “The Book of Eli”.
Gabe describes to them, and us, two major groups and their immediate subgroups. They are:
- Culture Warriors
Gabe outlines each group and what characteristics differentiate them from the rest. This grid is valuable and might be worth the price of the book by itself. As some reviewers have noted, The Next Christians is a further contribution to the Christ and Culture series started by H. Richard Niebuhr’s “Christ and Culture”, and then Craig Carter’s “Rethinking Christ and Culture”, which are great if you want further reading on how Christians relate to the culture they’re in.
At the end of this section Gabe introduces a third overall archetype of Christian which is the main focus of his book, The Next Christians. Overall we can classify these Christians as “restorers”. Christians who aren’t interested in either separation or immersion in culture. They are, in short, culture makers. Subversive agents who seek to use culture where appropriate and transform it gradually to be more Christlike.
Gabe shares numerous anecdotes to illustrate his points. Gabe introduces us to ministries like “To Write Love on Her Arms” which gives a good example of how the Next Christians are characterized by rolling up their sleeves and getting their hands dirty in the brokenness in the world. This isn’t altogether different than how Jesus, his earliest disciples, and many Christians throughout the ages have approaches the cultures in which they live.
Throughout the book Gabe gives good examples of how Christians should tactfully engage the world around them. Navigating the current cultural current by not being too abrasive nor being too complicit. But allowing Christ to work in them to transform hearts and minds.
To that end I was thrilled when Gabe made the observation that the next Christians are people who see every aspect of their lives as sacred. A great example Gabe gave on this point is a couple who moved out to California from the south and decided that since no Christian community existed where they moved that they would create one.
I believe Gabe hits the nail on the head when he writes about how the Next Christians are not interested so much in inviting their friends to church to sit through an event. Not that doing so is horrible per se. But the Next Christians are more interested in bringing Christ to the culture around them. Of being the church in the world.
Overall I found Gabe’s book to be a blessing. It is encouraging to hear how Christians are recognizing the changing landscape, are planning ways to deliberately confront the culture in more winsome ways, and finally, how they are throwing off the shackles of unbiblical traditions which have been dragging us down for quite a while now.
The Next Christians serves as a great field map to help us keep our cultural interface in check so we can more effectively engage with people around us.
And for anyone looking for encouragement about the future of Christianity in America, his book provides it in spades.