Each year we give a gift to those who went on our Senior High Winter Retreat. Examples include shirts with that year’s theme and recycled bookbags made by those rescued from trafficking. This year, we handed out the Next Christians by Gabe Lyons. If you are following this blog, you might remember that I picked this as one of my favorite books of 2010 (it was picked by just about everyone).
Which begs the question, what’s so special about this book and why would senior highers be interested in it? In some sense, you may not find anything special or unique about it. Many in the emergent conversation have been offering similar perspectives for years. Others may dismiss this as just another book on how Christians need to make a difference in their world and honoring God and so forth while citing illustrations and providing commentary. It’s true that many of these have been written already.
But for me, here’s the important difference – it’s genuinely hopeful. It could be that Gabe’s natural disposition is optimistic but what I really think is that he’s inspired by what he sees God and others doing in the world and is dedicated to contributing as well.
He’s also in a unique position. He’s extremely well-connected for a younger evangelical and has access to so many stories of what people are doing. You might think he’s a name-dropper and that may be true if his organization was called “Gabe Lyons International Ministries” or something but it’s called Q (it stands for “Questions”). And the Q Conference is quite the showcase of what many diligent Christians are doing in the 7 Sectors of Culture. If you can get to one (next one is April 27-29 in Portland), I highly recommend it and if you can’t, check out presentations from previous years on their website.
All that said, this is not a cheerful naive book. How could it be when the subtitle is “The Good News About the End of Christian America” and the book opens with the line “A few years ago, I was twenty-seven and embarrassed to call myself Christian.”? Mentioning his strong Christian upbringing and contrasting his experiences in the world, he was among countless that saw the disparity between the Christianity described in the Scriptures, what’s going on in the world and the Church’s involvement in it. Referencing the research of UnChristian, a book he cowrote with his friend Dave Kinnaman, he shares what many think and feel towards the term Christian.
Many high schoolers already know all about this. In fact, in some ways, they may know it better than anyone because they have never been a part of “Christian America” (at least not the version of it that children born in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s know of it). After all, the Millennial Generation’s first words out of their cribs were”I’m spiritual but I don’t believe in organized religion.” While that line could create an entire set of posts, I’ll jump ahead to what Gabe’s main themes which calls for “Relearning Restoration”.
I highly appreciated Part 2 – “The Restorers” where each chapter calls for a better way of Christian engagement with the world. They include “Provoked but Not Offended” “Creators, Not Critics”, “Called, Not Employed”, “Grounded, Not Distracted”, “In Community, Not Alone” and “Countercultural, Not Relevant”. They include accounts from people like Jaime Tworkowski, the founder of To Write Love On Her Arms (a non-profit trying to bring awareness to teen/young adult cutting. Their t-shirts are worn in every high school and mall in America) and discusses global crises like AIDS and human-trafficking (issues that today’s young people are very concerned about).
Between the stories (postmoderns love a good story) and the insights (postmoderns appreciate wisdom), there’s a lot here for everyone including teenagers. Even in my youth pastor fantasies, I know that not all of our students will read it. But the book is very much about them and some will really resonate with it. Like last week, one of our 9th grader girls “tweeted” that she loved the first two chapters – I was so proud. I’m telling you, it’s a different world and high schoolers understand more than we realize about it. If we as a church can challenge, equip and guide them, we may be a real asset to them as they discover life in the Kingdom.