Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

Reactions to the Political Implications of Gabe Lyons' new book: The Next Christians

Juanita Irizarry, Mickael S. Chen


November 19, 2010

Editor: This is the second installment in a series of reactions to the political implications of Gabe Lyons’ new book, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (2010), to be followed by a response by Lyons next week.

The Next Christians as Restorers of a Broken Political System

I call myself a “Follower of Jesus” rather than a “Christian” on my Facebook info page because of my embarrassment about how the mainstream perceives our political positioning and our view of minority cultures and religions.  I was “born again” a few decades ago. After Christian college, I was inspired by authors associated with Christian Community Development.  But I found my calling in the secular community development world and in political activism in my neighborhood and my city.  I have long thought of my professional service and my community volunteerism as Kingdom work, though my every conversation doesn’t include an attempt to convert my colleagues to Christianity.  So as I juggled petition-drive responsibilities for my favorite Democratic mayoral candidate with reading Gabe Lyons’ new book, I found new words to articulate the stirrings in my soul.  I think I am one of those “next Christians.”

Lyons speaks to the decline of protestant Christianity as I knew it growing up and the rise of a new generation of Jesus-followers who are ushering in a “new normal.”  He describes “next Christians as “restorers” who see brokenness and try to fix it.  There is plenty of brokenness in American politics that needs to be restored.  Regardless of party affiliation, which Lyons never even mentions, the next Christians will find creative solutions—even from within our political system—that speak to the goodness and wonder of God.

As a personal application, I’ve recently become inspired to find a way to develop common ground between people on both sides who claim to want to minimize abortions. I haven’t met the people yet who might want to do that with me.  But there must be some other Next Christians out there who are similarly provoked to such creative restoration.  Care to join me?

—Juanita Irizarry is a Program Officer at The Chicago Community Trust.

A New Mode of Cultural and Political Engagement

Gabe Lyons’ claim that American Christianity, as we know it, is dead, implies a shift in the religious and political landscape on the order of the Protestant Reformation.  The end of the Moral Majority was not the end of moral Christianity, but rather, the end of a mode of cultural engagement.  If Lyons is right, that a seismic cultural shift is here, the political implications will actually be very subtle yet tremendously important. 

The “next Christians” will be known not merely for their stance on gay marriage, immigration, and abortion, but also for what they do to embody the love of Christ in their city or region. Action will be diffuse yet far reaching.  In the absence of a galvanizing moment like Roe v. Wade, public engagement for Christians will take place in every sphere of society and not simply at the behest of the most prominent and visible Christian leaders.  Over time, a new Christian social imaginary will emerge through political involvement siphoned through specific channels of creative leadership in media, arts, and the church—akin  to the gay rights movement. 

Again, if Lyons is correct in his estimation, the “next Christians” will, through temperance, intelligence, modesty, humor, and generosity, tangibly represent Christ in the public square first through creative acts of mercy, and secondarily through verbal proclamation or protest.  Unlikely partnerships and friendships with homosexuals, Muslims, and other cultures that are typically disdained by separatist Christians, will form in the name of the common good.  The notion that there will emerge a political party representing Christian sub-culture is gone, and as people seek what is inherently good for public life, we’ll see but a relic of “Christian” culture.  We’ll be just fine without Christian amusement parks, so I hope he is right.

—Michael S. Chen is an M.Div. graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and currently a campus minister with the Coalition for Christian Outreach in Philadelphia.

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