Tag Archives: Next Christians

5 Types of Christians: Restorers (Part 6 of 6)

This article is part 6 in a series inspired by Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians. As I read this book, I felt like Lyons’ insight was particularly relevant to our discussion of evangelical involvement in the interfaith movement. Be sure to check out The Next Christians and see the links below for past articles.


Over the past month I’ve posted a series of five articles to this blog discussing five types of Christians as they are described in Gabe Lyons’ book The Next Christians. I’ve attempted to identify the problems each category of Christians encounters with respect to the interfaith movement. Some Christians take an approach that leads to an abrasive interaction with the world: we must fight for laws that reflect biblical values, fight for the acknowledgement of the God of the Bible in public spaces, or fight for the souls of our lost neighbors. This approach doesn’t cultivate relationships with people who have different perspectives – just disagreement.

Other Christians prefer to avoid friction at all costs. They seek to blend in with the rest of society or to let faith only manifest as acts of service and generosity – something with which no one can really disagree. Life can go smoothly that way, or so it seems.

But there’s something to be gained from taking a different approach – a sixth type, if you will. Something that involves a thorough assessment of the way that Jesus interacted with the world around him – and an understanding of the message he preached. So I return to words I’ve written in the past:

Jesus preached the gospel, which is to say the he preached the good news, and this good news was about something – it was about the Kingdom of God.

So Jesus preached the good news of the Kingdom of God.

And that good news is about restoration. So we might call those who live under the influence of the kingdom restorers.

Gabe Lyons says:

“I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. They recognize that the world will not be completely healed until Christ’s return, but they believe that the process begins now as we partner with God. Through sowing seeds of restoration, they believe others will see Christ through us and the Christian faith will reap a much larger harvest.”

Lyons’ description of the restorer’s vision reminds me of Scot McKnight’s description of the kingdom: “By kingdom, Jesus means: God’s Dream Society on earth” – the way the world was meant to be.

So as Christians – as restorers – we are part of a narrative that is as old as history itself. It’s a story in which a broken world longs to be restored and where followers of Jesus play a role in that restoration. It’s a story in which restoration is sought at the level of societies, communities, and relationships – including each individual’s relationship with God.

As a Christian, when you realize what it means to be a restorer life is no longer only about whether you’re going to heaven or hell. It’s about serving others. It’s about relationships. It’s about peace. The dialogue and service that comprise the interfaith movement are a part of that – and they provide a platform for communicating the message of the kingdom holistically.

In the realization of what it means to be a restorer, there is a call to action. And it includes a call to step out of your comfort zone to make real relationships with people with drastically different backgrounds, to work together with people of the same faith and different faiths to address areas of great need, and to stand up against ignorance and bigotry. It’s a call to try to look at the world through God’s eyes, to ask how things were meant to be, and to work to advance the kingdom.

Articles in this series:
Part 1: The insiders
Part 2: The culture warriors
Part 3: The evangelizers
Part 4: The blenders
Part 5: The philanthropists
Part 6: Restorers

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5 Types of Christians: Philanthropists (part 5 of 6)

This article is part 5 in a series inspired by Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians. As I read this book, I felt like Lyons’ insight was particularly relevant to our discussion of evangelical involvement in the interfaith movement. Be sure to check out The Next Christians and check back here for part 6 of this series!

The philanthropists (as Gabe Lyons calls them in Next Christians) may be the most compelled toward interfaith work while still lacking a strong call to be evangelical in the interfaith space. After all, the interfaith movement is built on shared values like feeding the hungry, ending oppression, and fighting poverty – activities that are deeply motivated by the Christian tradition.

But while I perhaps identify the most with a philanthropist of any of Gabe Lyons’ categories discussed thus far (by the way, we’re referring to the Christian who is driven to help others, not necessarily the excessively wealthy who make noble donations), the philanthropist lacks the urgency of sharing and spreading the gospel.

Here is how Gabe Lyons describes them:

“Putting an emphasis on doing good works is their defining mark. They serve in soup kitchens, clean garbage off the side of the highway, and help lead Boy Scout troops. One of their highest values is to make the world a better place. Some admit to enjoying a sense of earning God’s approval through their efforts.”

The problem, however, is that the philanthropists risk losing sight of the message that should motivate this work. Many philanthropists seem to be doing good works because Jesus did, not because of who Jesus is. Lyons explains: “what’s missing is the compelling narrative of the Gospel from which all their good works emanate.”

So what does the philanthropist offer to our interest in communicating the gospel in the context of the interfaith movement? They’re good people to know, of course, and perhaps their lifestyle of kindness can do something positive in breaking down stereotypes held by those who have had sour experiences with Christians. What I have realized through being involved in interfaith work, however, is that doing service is only part of the goal – it is just as necessary to be able to tell the story that motivates the service. The inspiring thing to me is that, while many can tell a story of how one example of good deeds motivated another, only a Christian can say that their service is motivated by God becoming man, making the ultimate sacrifice in death and rising from the dead, in part symbolizing the restoration that he offers to all of humankind.

When this message of restoration is communicated from Christian to non-Christian through interfaith cooperation, then we have discovered how to be evangelicals in a religiously diverse world. Should we as Christians lose sight of this good news, then we have lost sight also of the reason why we serve.

Articles in this series:
Part 1: The insiders
Part 2: The culture warriors
Part 3: The evangelizers
Part 4: The blenders
Part 5: The philanthropists
Part 6: Restorers

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5 types of Christians: The blenders (part 4 of 6)

A different kind of blender

This article is part 4 in a series inspired by Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians. As I read this book, I felt like Lyons’ insight was particularly relevant to our discussion of evangelical involvement in the interfaith movement. Be sure to check out The Next Christians and check back here for part 5 of this series!

So far, I’ve discussed “types” of Christians that Gabe Lyons calls “separatists.” My next two entries, including this one, will address two “types” that Lyons labels as “culturalists.”

The first of those types is the “blenders.” These might be the folks you know as “cultural Christians” or “nominal Christians.” They go to church on Sunday, but the rest of the week faith doesn’t seem to matter – there is little evidence of the characteristics that distinguish a Christ-follower from the rest of culture. Here is what Gabe Lyons has to say in Next Christians:

“This group best reflects the next generation’s values. Their lives mirror much of what everyone else is doing with little delineation between how they behave or what they believe. They are not all that interested in taking public stands for their convictions or faith: they think that’s what the ‘crazy Christians’ (the Separatists) do. Blenders have one concern: being like everyone else. They’ve seen how Christians who wear their faith on their sleeves have been alienated from the ‘in’ crowd. They have no desire to go down that path. As far as they are concerned, serious discussion about religion is a taboo topic – off-limits for casual conversation.”

While I’m not interested in judging the authenticity of a blender’s faith in this space, I would like to discuss the ramifications of the blender approach to Christianity as it pertains to the interfaith movement.

It is certainly possible that the blender would take an interest in the interfaith movement, as the prospects of interfaith cooperation as a social norm can be both apparent and compelling with just a superficial introduction (interfaith dialogue can provide a way of talking about faith that mitigates the taboo status that Lyons mentions above). As the blender enters the space of interfaith dialogue, however, the distinguishing qualities on which we rely to communicate the gospel may not be present.

What characterizes blenders is that faith doesn’t inform or transform the majority of what they do. If it did, their actions and aspirations would contrast with the rest of the world in some notable way – thus they would no longer be blenders. When these folks enter into interfaith dialogue, however, they still introduce themselves as Christians all the same.

Now, some have expressed concern over this scenario – especially various separatist type Christians – and some have even cited this as a barrier to their participation in interfaith cooperation. It is important to realize, however, that this has not been a concern in my experience with interfaith dialogue. I have found it frequently stressed that assumptions should never be made about one person representing a specific faith tradition in its entirety and that one person’s faith experience is necessarily the same as that of another person from the same tradition. Although impressions may be formed, they can be re-shaped by encounters with individuals who live out their faith more genuinely.

But the point that I’d like to stress about blender Christians in interfaith dialogue is that they lack the qualities which enable other Christians to communicate the gospel in such a unique way. Here on Faith Line Protestants, we often highlight the opportunity that interfaith dialogue provides to communicate our faith through relationships. While this often starts in interfaith dialogue, it continues in the relationships that interfaith dialogue can initiate, enable, and accelerate. But if blending into society is a higher priority than living under the influence of the radical example of Christ, what will be communicated in that relationship?

This is where the blender misses the opportunities that compel evangelicals toward interfaith work. The fascinating truth, however, is that interfaith dialogue can also be an opportunity for Jesus followers living with a profound understanding of God’s desire for restoration to communicate to other Christians – such as the blender – what is being missed.

Articles in this series:
Part 1: The insiders
Part 2: The culture warriors
Part 3: The evangelizers
Part 4: The blenders
Part 5: The philanthropists
Part 6: Restorers

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5 types of Christians: The evangelizers (part 3 of 6)

This article is part 3 in a series inspired by Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians. As I read this book, I felt like Lyons’ insight was particularly relevant to our discussion of evangelical involvement in the interfaith movement. Be sure to check out The Next Christians and check back here for part 4 of this series!

Please read my short narrative “The Good Test” before reading this post, where I describe my encounter with a man on the University of Illinois campus (“Kevin”) who was proselytizing on our main quad. Talking to Kevin was revealing of the barriers that not only kept him from being interested in interfaith work, but that made him opposed to it. I’d like to share my own perspective on Kevin’s approach to evangelism.

I believe that Kevin had the greatest of intentions to share the good news of the Christian faith. But something about Kevin’s approach shuts the door nearly as quickly as it is opened. And I hope that my conversation with Kevin has shed light on the reason for that. I also believe that Kevin is what Gabe Lyons calls an evangelizer (the third type of Christian we’ve discussed so far in this Next Christians-inspired series).

In Next Christians, Gabe Lyons describes Bill, a man who evangelizes to his neighbors by handing out Gospel tracts to trick-or-treating children on Halloween, which upsets their parents. Lyons explains:

“Bill is an evangelizer, and to be fair, he thought he was doing what was best. Driven by a desire to spread the ‘good news,’ he felt compelled to use any method possible. Thinking he was building bridges, he had actually accomplished the opposite. His plan to show love to his neighbors had backfired.”

I think that Kevin’s approach backfires too, although perhaps in a different way. His failure to make meaningful, genuine connections with other people denies him the opportunity to communicate the big picture of the faith – an it turns off many with whom he does have the chance to talk.

He was also caught up in the perception others held of him, seemingly to overlooking that fact that Jesus ate with tax collectors (Mark 2:13-17) while the religious leaders (Pharisees) whispered about him in the background. Kevin may have forgotten also how Jesus healed on the Sabbath without concern for the Pharisees’ judgment  (Matthew 12:1-14).

Where some might have stopped for fear of being perceived incorrectly, Jesus proceeded brilliantly, always communicating the Gospel of the Kingdom of God: that Jesus offers restoration, and that his followers are called to restore and be restored.

This is what the evangelizer is missing. His or her message is only about hell and the decision that can save you from it. But the gospel is about the restoration of the individual (yes, from sin and the punishment of hell to life to the full) as well as the restoration of the whole world. This is what Jesus demonstrated in his healing and relationships. This is what the Pharisees never understood. But this is what the Kingdom of God is all about.

The evangelizers that Lyons describes don’t fit into the interfaith movement because the movement doesn’t mesh with the techniques people like Kevin employ to communicate the gospel. But the gospel message will be told when we as Christians take our place in the Kingdom of God narrative: a narrative of restoration – the child suffering from malnutrition, the community destroyed by an earthquake, the sinner in need of forgiveness.

Remember how Jesus communicated the message? Service, storytelling, and relationships.

And if you ask my friend Adam (mentioned in my last post), I bet he’d tell you which approach is more effective at communicating the message. If I’m wrong, I guess I better get my business card updated…

Articles in this series:
Part 1: The insiders
Part 2: The culture warriors
Part 3: The evangelizers
Part 4: The blenders
Part 5: The philanthropists
Part 6: Restorers

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5 types of Christians: The culture warriors (part 2 of 6)

This article is part 2 in a series inspired by Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians. As I read this book, I felt like Lyons’ insight was particularly relevant to our discussion of evangelical involvement in the interfaith movement. Be sure to check out The Next Christians and check back here for part 3 of this series!

The Culture Warriors

Do you remember what Nicholas Kristof had to say about evangelicals in the wake of Rev. John Stott’s death? Kristof demonstrated an incredible sense of insight as he compared and contrasted the compassionate, gentle work of Stott’s ministry with the blowhards of the Christian Right like Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson.

To me, Falwell and Robertson epitomize the culture warriors.

Gabe Lyons gives another example – the protestors who fought to retain “Roy’s Rock,” a monument of the Ten Commandments that met controversy outside of an Alabama courthouse several years ago. He explains in Next Christians:

“Culture warriors, many of whom are sincere and well-intentioned, simply don’t know how else to promote the ideals of their faith in the public square. Yet they are often unaware of how their tactics are perceived by others. This view motivates many of them—like the Roy’s Rock angry supporters—to ensure that societal values and cultural artifacts reflect Christian beliefs. Even when society no longer behaves, thinks, or seeks the Christian God.”

As I am reminded of the rhetoric of such an approach to “living Christian in a religiously diverse world” (as our tagline reads), and am often concerned by what I hear (remember the Falwell-Robertson explanation for 9/11)?” I pray that the next generation of conservative leaders can find another way, as Gabe Lyons’ puts it, “to promote the ideals of their faith in the public square” (although we’ve had a few scares).

Not surprisingly, when it comes to the interfaith movement, the culture warriors seem more interested in debate than dialogue. But when you consider the goals of evangelicals — to communicate the message of the Christian faith — does it communicate the message of the Kingdom of God to blame the suffering for their pain or to refuse to acknowledge other traditions and worldviews in the public square?

A good example of where this attitude hits home can be found in the various mosque controversies that have sprung up around the country over the past year. When it comes to the way that the Christian community behaves toward communities of other faiths, is it more loving to vehemently oppose our neighbors, or to welcome them? It seems that the culture warrior mentality says making a welcoming gesture is not the Christian thing to do. But which response better reflects the attitude of Jesus?

As Cameron and I have attempted to describe numerous times on this site, it is possible to show kindness to people of other faiths without compromising one’s own beliefs. To the culture warrior, however, kindness seems out of the question – and that’s why interfaith relationships won’t mesh.

My hope is that the culture warriors aren’t the image by which the general public stereotypes the evangelical Christian tradition. After all, here’s one follower of Jesus who is willing to trade a granite monument for relationships – because relationships are how I get to show others what my faith is really about.

Articles in this series:
Part 1: The insiders
Part 2: The culture warriors
Part 3: The evangelizers
Part 4: The blenders
Part 5: The philanthropists
Part 6: Restorers

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5 types of Christians: The insiders (part 1 of 6)

This article is part 1 in a series inspired by Gabe Lyons’ The Next Christians. As I read this book, I felt like Lyons’ insight was particularly relevant to our discussion of evangelical involvement in the interfaith movement. Be sure to check out The Next Christians and check back here for part 2 of this series!

Click on photo for credits

 

I’ve never found it sufficient to simply state that I’m a Christian when meeting someone new. Inevitably, saying so always leads to a question of brand or persuasion that, more often than not, seems to be accompanied with an assessment by my new acquaintance. People draw many conclusions from one’s denominational affiliation, and in the case of meeting other Christians, they want to know whether you are “one of theirs” or not. After all, we’ve all met that Christian who we just can’t quite stand to be around, right?

The sociology of Christianity fascinates me, and the only thing preventing me from writing a doctoral thesis on the subject is a lack of calling (and the fact that I’m currently training as an engineer and a physician, so don’t get your hopes up). The way that Christian doctrine has manifested itself in Christian living varies so greatly from person-to-person that it’s mind-blowing – something Gabe Lyons recognizes during a consulting gig with a film producer described in his book, Next Christians.

Despite the complexity of it all, Lyons provides a brilliant assessment of Christians in America that will enlighten our discussion on evangelicalism and the interfaith movement, and I’d like to jump right in.

Lyons describes two major types of American Christian, each followed by more specific sub-types: “separatist” (including “insiders,” “culture warriors” and “evangelizers”) and “culturalist” (including “blenders” and “philanthropists”). I’ll unpack each of these as we discuss this analysis in light of the interfaith movement. I’ll begin with the label that best describes my childhood: the insiders.

The Insiders

In general, I grew up an insider. My favorite time of the week was Sunday night youth group, with Wednesday night dinners at church coming in a close second. My friends were almost entirely from the church crowd – and in a small congregation like ours, that meant I hung out with the kids from the five or six families I saw every Sunday morning.

My first CD purchase was a Jars of Clay album, and for a while I owned nearly all of the Steven Curtis Chapman albums (or at least the ones that had been released since I was born…). I had the WWJD? wristband, the cheesy Christian slogan t-shirt, and a set of home-made Bible verse magnets I had created on the computer. Sounding familiar to anyone?

As an insider, I lacked a sense of the religious diversity around me. When I thought of the brown-skinned guy in my reading class, I thought that being Arab and Muslim were the same thing. When the Thai girl in my homeroom was teased for being Buddhist, I didn’t even think of speaking up.

As an insider, I didn’t care about my classmate’s beliefs and traditions. To me, the only real world was the world of the church. I still can’t remember how I conceptualized a lifestyle centered on a different god, or, for that matter, the absence of one. It didn’t matter to me, almost as if those people didn’t have any real depth – as if they lacked real values. And although I was involved in community service throughout high school, the “why?” discussion about the motivation behind the action didn’t matter to me. I didn’t realize that others might cite reasons to serve that were different from my own.

It is incredible to see how my lifestyle – and my faith – has changed from being an insider. From eagerly awaiting each day spent at church (Wednesdays and Sundays) as an elementary school kid to finding excuses to skip campus fellowship meetings in college because I was increasingly irritated with the lack of interest in what was happening outside of our doors – people in need of restoration, relationships we were called – as Christians, as “restorers” – to build (a major theme in Next Christians).

It was when I came across interfaith dialogue that I realized there was so much more to people than what I observed from within my cultural “bubble.” It was also when I learned that Jesus called me to sacrificial service that I began to care why others were driven to serve as well.

Yet I still encounter the insiders. And the lack of interest in interfaith cooperation is all too familiar. It makes me wonder if the bubble which makes us comfortable on the inside is also keeping the “outsiders” out.

Articles in this series:
Part 1: The insiders
Part 2: The culture warriors
Part 3: The evangelizers
Part 4: The blenders
Part 5: The philanthropists
Part 6: Restorers

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The end of Christian America?

Something is being whispered about in daring conversations around the country. You may have heard it mentioned in editorials, on the covers of magazines, and in blogs. It seems that the evidence is there, although it hasn’t necessarily been aggregated and analyzed. If it wasn’t for my own personal experiences, I might have tried to deny it too, but there’s something about it that resonates strangely, like a poorly-articulated pop song to which you finally were able to decipher all the words.

The church is losing its influence in society.

But is it really a bad thing? Gabe Lyons, founder of Q Ideas and co-author of the bestselling UnChristian, speaks explicitly to this reality in his new book Next Christians. I’m going to use this text, as I have with other books in the past, to guide a discussion over the next several weeks.

Lyons paints a symbolically rich picture in his opening chapter of a visit he paid to the legendary evangelist Billy Graham at Graham’s home in the winding roads of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As the two chatted while reclining in rocking chairs on the back porch and enjoyed warm cookies from the oven, Lyons finds Graham in a place of rest, comfort, and solitude – Graham’s work, though both tremendous and inspiring, is over.

A fitting scene to set the stage for a book subtitled: The Good News about the End of Christian America.

Lyons is on to something. If you read back through our archive of posts on Faith Line Protestants, you’ll be able to infer that Cameron and I sense that the “Billy Graham” method of evangelism is becoming, to some extent, culturally obsolete.

Let me clarify: I affirm the ministry of Billy Graham. I believe that Reverend Graham, like few people in his generation, responded wholly and obediently to the mission to which God had called him, and did so with tremendous success. But Billy Graham witnessed to a generation of Americans in stark contrast to the present generation.

In general, it seems that Graham spoke to a nominally-churched generation. These were people who may or may not have called themselves Christians, but perhaps recognized the Church as an authority and the Bible as a source of insight, giving traction to Graham’s stadium-revival and radio-show approach to communicating the gospel. The truth about my generation, however,  is that most are disenchanted with the Christian Church– a fact possibly most apparent on college campuses and in metropolitan areas.

Some may blame secularism, but it’s also largely because of pluralism. America is becoming increasingly diverse. Among my closest peers at the University of Illinois, the majority have been raised either in another faith tradition or in a non-religious household. The Church and its scriptures carry little or no influence, simply because of their upbringing.

So if we are called as Christians to communicate the message of the gospel, and we desire to be heard by the current generation of young adults (and perhaps their parents, but certainly their children), it will not suffice simply to hold stadium revivals, deliver inspiring sermons on the radio, and stage teary-eyed altar-calls.

To communicate the gospel, we have to live the gospel.

I’ll leave you with the words of Billy Graham as quoted by Gabe Lyons in Next Christians:

“Back when we did these big crusades in football stadiums and arenas, the Holy Spirit was really moving—and people were coming to Christ as we preached the Word of God.  But today, I sense something different is happening. I see evidence that the Holy Spirit is working in a new way.  He’s moving through people where they work and through one-on-one relationships to accomplish great things.  They are demonstrating God’s love to those around them, not just with words, but in deed.”

I have found that the interfaith movement cultivates these relationships. Don’t let the end of Christian America get you down; there are exciting times ahead.

During my next several entries, I’ll discuss Gabe Lyons’ analysis of Christian interaction with current culture, which provides insight on living Christian in a religiously diverse world and sets the stage for an understanding of what it means to live life seeking restoration through engaging those around us.

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