The good news about the end of Christian America

By Gabe Lyons Seven years ago, I quit my job as vice-president of a prominent Christian organization. I began to … Continued

By Gabe Lyons

Seven years ago, I quit my job as vice-president of a prominent Christian organization. I began to notice that perceptions my friends and neighbors had about Christians were incredibly negative, and I developed a creeping intuition that this was true of others as well. I was deeply burdened by these sentiments as well as the loss of Christian influence in our culture.

With only a few months of savings in the bank, my wife, Rebekah, and I decided I should quit my job and launch a new nonprofit. Our first project was to commission research to better understand the perceptions that 16-to-29 year olds have about Christians.

The study confirmed my fears, illustrating that young people overwhelmingly view Christians as hypocritical, judgmental, too political, and anti-homosexual, among other things. It demonstrated that not much had changed since Mahatma Ghandi said, “Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” A lot has changed since that study was released in a book ironically titled unChristian, but I’ve continued to observe people’s perceptions and how a new generation of Christians is responding.

Turns out, most Christians are equally fed up with the way their faith has come to be represented and doubtful that the trends are going to self-correct naturally. While 66% say “social action is an extremely important part of their lives,” only 28% believe they will see a significant contribution from current Christian leaders in resolving these concerns (LifeWay Research).

In response, a new generation of Christians is rising to the challenge. While rebranding Christianity is not their goal, they are turning back the negative perceptions as they rediscover the roots of their faith. They are purposeful with their careers and generous with their time and possessions. They don’t separate from the world (like the fundamentalists of the 20th century) or simply blend in (like some liberal Christians), but rather they thoughtfully engage the world’s brokenness and work to restore it. And notably, they are optimistic about what God is doing in this age despite the waning influence of Christianity in the public square.

If you ask me what they look like, I’d point you to a surfer in Florida who designed a simple T-shirt that spawned a national organization that leads the way in curbing teen suicide. Or a girl in Washington D.C. who has devoted her life to fighting sex trafficking worldwide. I would refer you to a young mom I met in Georgia mobilizing her church to serve the needs of the immigrant poor in a nearby trailer park and give you a tour of a social entrepreneur’s headquarters in southern California who has energized the business world with his innovative approach that combines designer shoes with fighting disease in the developing world. Through focus groups, interviews, and one-on-one conversations, I’ve encountered endless stories just like these.

I’ve dubbed this new generation of Christians “restorers” because they envision the world as it was meant to be and work toward that vision. In the spirit of great Christians like William Wilberforce, they seek to mend earth’s brokenness by focusing on issues ranging from war to genocide, earth care to adoption, scientific discovery to education reform. They don’t believe that good works bring personal salvation, rather they believe that these works are the outflow of salvation. Through sowing seeds of restoration, they believe the faith can reap a much larger harvest and engage millions who would otherwise never give the people of Jesus a second look.

Every generation has its blindspots, pitfalls, failures, and foibles. I am certain that these contemporaries will be no exception. Historians and theologians will doubtlessly look back and pass judgments on this generation as they now do on the generations that have come before. The question is not whether they will fail, but how.

Yet, in this generation I find great reason for hope and encouragement. Only seven years ago, I was a part of the many Christians who, in many ways, had lost confidence in the faith. Today, thanks to these restoring “next Christians,” I feel confident that our faith is finding new life in this century.

Gabe Lyons is author of The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America (Doubleday) and founder of the Q learning community.

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  • haveaheart

    “Turns out, most Christians are equally fed up with the way their faith has come to be represented and doubtful that the trends are going to self-correct naturally.”This is arguably the most important sentence in this essay because it brings to light an issue that people don’t really focus on — the nature of fundamentalist radicals in all religions.When you look at the Big Three (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam), where do you find the problems? In the radical fundamentalist wings of each.In Israel, it’s not the leftists, rightists, or middle-of-the-roadists that are causing strife. It is the extreme right-wing ultra-Orthodox sector that is tenaciously impeding any efforts at reconciliation with Palestinians. They’ve taken both their religion and the state government hostage to their determination to rebuff all efforts at establishing peace.Same deal with the Christians. It is the radical right-wing idealogues who have hijacked the Christian brand in a publicly executed coup. They have made the reputation of Christianity into something evil, grasping, judgmental, and deeply ugly. And this is nothing new. Think of the Salem witch trials. Think of the Inquisition. Think of the Crusades.Finally, let’s look at Islam. Despite being the newest of the Big Three, Islam has an honorable history of enlightened scientific inquiry, extraordinary artistic production, and compassion and kindness to persecuted Jews. Nevertheless, as we all know, it is a religion demonized for the extreme radical fundamentalist faction that spreads fear and terror throughout so much of the world today.It is worth considering how, in each case, the majority of the religion is silent while the minority is allowed to speak for everyone.Where are the Jews and Christians and Muslims who will come out against their co-religionists in order to regain the decency and integrity of their faiths’ teachings?The radicals are always a minority. As such, they can be resisted and ultimately disempowered. But that requires the majority to stand up and say something.

  • ThomasBaum

    Gabe Lyons The title of your post: “The good news about the end of Christian America”.”GOOD NEWS”, we are to proclaim the Good News are we not and just what is the Good News, is it not that God became One of us and took all of the “sins” of humanity upon Himself?”The end of Christian America”, America is not and has never been “Christian”.That is one of the beauties of America and that is that America is not set up to be a theocracy and so far, at least, it isn’t.There also is not one set of “laws” for some and another set of laws for another as, from what I hear, some are attempting to set up in some of the countries in Europe.As I have said before, the True, Living, Triune, Triumphant God is a searcher of hearts and minds, not of religiious affiliations or lack thereof and it is important what one does and why one does it and what one knows.You say that you are a Christian so what would your answer be to our Brother Jesus’s question: “Who do you say that I AM”?If it is that Jesus is God-Incarnate then it should be pretty obvious to you who the god of islam is and that the god of islam is satan.As I have said it doesn’t matter what one’s religion is or if one even has a religion, what matters is what God did for us, ALL OF US.We should follow Jesus in how we believe/know that we are to follow Him and isn’t it something that some of those that do not believe that Jesus is God-Incarnate seem to follow Jesus much better than some of those that believe that Jesus is God-Incarnate.It is important what we do here on earth but if that is the extent of our Christianity than as it is written: “We are the most pitied of men (humans)”.As Jesus said, “My Kingdom is not of this world”, so Jesus, most definitely did not wish us to set up a theocracy.The god of islam does want to set up a theocracy but in this case it would be a theowannabeocracy since he is not God but is satan.As I have previously said, we are to proclaim the Good News and if the Good News is not, ultimately, for everyone than it is not Good News but horrific news.See you and the rest of humanity in the Kingdom.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.

  • Bethesdan

    “Restoring” Christianity to America is akin to restoring cancer to a patient in remission. Any faith — whether Christianity, Judaism, or Islam — that says “my way is the only right way” is evil and the planet would be better off without it. We’ve shed too much blood and killed too many innocents because of tribal god images. God gave us the ability to reason; it’s time we made use of the gift.

  • ScottHollyHenry

    I support the right of conscience of all Americans. If they want to sin, then it’s on their own heads. Our only obligation (and right) is to warn them. Let’s try to do it in a loving manner though, okay?

  • ThomasBaum

    BethesdanYou wrote, “”Restoring” Christianity to America is akin to restoring cancer to a patient in remission. Any faith — whether Christianity, Judaism, or Islam — that says “my way is the only right way” is evil and the planet would be better off without it.”You should not have included Christianity when you purported it to say, “my way is the only right way”, Christianity teaches that Jesus is the Way, not that Christianity is the way.See you and the rest of humanity in the Kingdom.Take care, be ready.Sincerely, Thomas Paul Moses Baum.