Tag Archives: culture

The Next Christians: A Hopeful Appraisal of Christianity’s Future

Gabe Lyons, coauthor of the insightful book UnChristian, has written a helpful book entitled The Next Christians: How a New Generation Is Restoring the Faith. I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their blogging for books program.

When it comes to Lyons’ basic premises I think he is right on target. First, any notion of America as a Christian nation is quickly coming to an end. Greg Boyd and others have been banging this drum for some time now. The idea that America is, should be, or ever was a truly Christian nation is essentially over. Second, the loss of Christian America is a (gasp) good thing! With the end of cultural Christianity the gospel is able to flourish in an environment where it can be heralded without the false assumptions and blatant hypocrisy’s of those who claim Christianity but have no resemblance to Christ.

Whether for reasons of misplaced nostalgia or poor historical recollection, there is a tendency for some, as they grow older, to glorify the past and pessimistically evaluate the present. Lyons provides a lot of hope in his description of the state of Christianity. He is able to point out the current struggles of modern evangelicalism while still observing a number of younger evangelicals who are sacrificially and whole-heartedly communicating and demonstrating the love of Christ at home and around the world.

It can be uncomfortable to hear traditions being challenged but in the midst of such challenges is the opportunity to evaluate what the Bible has to say about the gospel, the church, and the mission of God.

Lyons is well-read when it comes to scholars who have studied Christianity and culture. In addition he is particularly well-connected within evangelical circles (though his name-dropping verges on annoying). I felt that Lyons had a great grasp on how to influence culture (e.g., education, media, etc.) but might have been lacking in some areas of Biblical studies. He emphasizes key concepts in the Bible such as redemption, community, and charity. In his emphasis on more relational aspects of proclaiming the gospel he deemphasizes other equally valid Biblical models such as public proclamation of the gospel or vocal opposition to sin.

All-in-all Lyons book is easy to read and provides an optimistic look at younger Christians and the way they can shape culture by proclaiming and living the gospel. Lyons doesn’t say much that is new but his voice is well-respected among younger leaders and, therefore, his influence will be felt. I would still recommend the authors he cites (e.g., Niebuhr, Lewis, Schaeffer, Guinness, Newbigin, Carson) as more comprehensive, thoughtful, erudite, and profound but Lyons serves as an interesting entrance into the discussion of Christianity and culture.

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The Bible as Icon

Beyond doubt, the Bible for many Americans is, as Martin Marty phrases it, an “icon” as well as an object of study. With no American group is this more the case than with evangelicals… Evangelicals, by reputation and self-definition an antiliturgical folk, have nevertheless made a formulaic phrase, “the Bible says” (or its variants, like “my Bible says”), an all but essential part of the sermon. The iconic place of the Bible accounts for the fact that so many evangelicals profess belief in scriptural inerrancy, yet know little about the book’s actual content. It also helps explain why many different bodies of evangelicals continue to insist that they follow “the Bible alone” and are not influenced by historical or cultural conditioning, as they go their mutually exclusive ways in doctrine and practice.

– Mark Noll, Between Faith and Criticism

On Cynicism

The truth is that our culture is very easily drawn toward cynicism.  There is so much hypocrisy and disappointment in life that optimism seems vaguely idiotic.  When it comes to Christianity I was living a very cynical existence for many years.  Everywhere I looked I saw hypocritical televangelists or nominal believers.  I felt most pastors preferred pop-psychology to faithful exegesis.  On top of that I felt the Evangelical culture as a whole was inconsistently preoccupied with certain social issues (such as a perceived fight against homosexual marriage).

Over the years God has been slowly softening my heart.  I am not a cheery optimist and I still consider my spiritual gift to be sarcasm but I am learning to model the grace of the gospel to everyone.  When I look at the surrounding culture I balance critical realism with gospel-centered hopefulness.  I am neither blindly naïve or hopelessly jaded.

For me, cynicism came from a belief that I had all the answers.  I felt that the way I viewed the world and the way I understood God was the only possible way.  While I still have strong opinions on issues, at the core of my ability to navigate through the perceived ignorance of others is an understanding that I am not the final arbiter of what is wise or unwise.

The gospel has magnified the depth of my sin and highlighted the grace of Jesus leaving me with no response but thankful humility.  It is only the gospel that gives me hope that I can change, that God is good, and that their is a future for those that love Jesus.  That is the hope that I want to share with a jaded and cynical world.

Us versus Them: Unhealthy Insider Language

Recently I have been wrestling again with the insider language that Christians  use.  I remember reading a few different articles about Tim Keller (Pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York City) in which he discussed the importance of preaching with a non-Christian audience in mind.

So often American culture wars are couched by Christians in “us versus them” language.  Statements such as “the liberals” or “the homosexuals” really distance the people whom we want to hear the message of the gospel.

What happened to the idea that we are no better than persons with whom we disagree?  Many people have tremendous sin problems, however, “there but for the grace of God go I.”  I must always be reminded that my sin is as grievous to God as any other sin.  As I’ve heard it said, “The ground is level at the foot of the cross.”

This is reading I can recommend… @RELEVANTmag

I just sat down with the latest issue of Relevant Magazine, a fresh brewed cup of coffee, and some new music (all while the moving picture box displays the hockey game).

One of my favorite days every two months is receiving the newest Relevant Mag.  This one has stories on Bear Grylls, The Avett Brothers, Craig Ferguson, and Jennifer Knapp.

It discusses interesting issues such as the rise of urban gardening and “The Philosophy of E-Readers.”

A few article titles that catch my attention include:

“At the Root of It:  Why Knowing What You Believe Matters.”

“Stuff Christians Like:  Sometimes Faith is Funny.”

Christian Education

Tomorrow I have the privilege of speaking at a chapel service at a Christian High School.  I speak at various Christian schools somewhat frequently throughout the year.

Tomorrow I will be speaking at my high school alma mater.  I recognize that many of these students have attended a “Christian” school for many years and their view of life is uniquely shaped by this environment.  Tomorrow I hope to clearly communicate the gospel and avoid any hint of “moralistic, therapeutic deism.”  My goal is not behavior modification or indoctrination.