Book Review: The Next Christians, by Gabe Lyons


Gabe Lyons’s The Next Christians is a bold, fresh piece of evangelical strategy. Lyons is a well-known Christian cultural guru, the creator of the Fermi Project. He’s made the letter Q cool—an impressive accomplishment—through Q Ideas, a kind of TED conference for the post-emergent crowd which looks to Scot McKnight, N. T. Wright, Brian McLaren and others for its theological freight.[1] Those who know Gabe, as I do, consider him to be a gracious, reflective, and forward-thinking man who desires to be faithful to Christ and his call.

The Next Christians, published with a major secular press, is intended to make a major impact. It comes highly commended, even in the exclamation point-happy world of book blurbs. Margaret Feinberg labels it “The best book you’ll read this year.” Scot McKnight testifies that “If I had to pick one leader for the next generation of Christians, it would be Gabe Lyons.”

This 230 page book is jam-packed with critical reflection on modern Christianity. I know Gabe to be a humble man, though his text is ambitious and freighted with concern for American evangelicalism in our day. Two major ideas thread their way through the text. First, “Christian America” is dead. He learned this by visiting Europe and Montreat, North Carolina:

My trip to Europe and Montreat seemed to represent the two ends of our current situation. In Montreat, I met with an icon from Christianity’s past who recognizes how the faith is presently shifting. In Europe, I seemingly caught a glimpse of America’s more secular future. Positioned between these poles was the empirical research we had commissioned and the hundreds of conversations with a new generation of Christian leaders. Each situation echoed the sentiment that many Christians have lost confidence in their faith. Our movement, as a whole, was quickly declining in the West.[2]

The second major idea is that there is another, better way for Christians to choose in this confusing situation. Lyons suggests a focus on “restoration” for those concerned by the “post-Christian” state of America:

After observing cultural trends, collecting data, and having hundreds of conversations with Christian leaders, I see a new way forward. There is a whole movement of Christians—evangelicals, mainline Protestants, Orthodox, Pentecostals, and others—asking these same questions and offering meaningful answers [to what it means to be Christian today]. They want to be a force for restoration in a broken world even as we proclaim the Christian Gospel. They want the label Christian to mean something good, intelligent, authentic, true, and beautiful.[3]

This language of seeing “a new way forward” based on a drive to restore and renew reappears throughout the book. “As we confront the possibilities that tomorrow may hold,” our author says, “I invite you to not only study the facts. I urge you to reenvision your faith.”[4] According to Lyons, the consequences of failing to heed the restorative call are grave: “I believe this moment is unlike any other time in history. Its uniqueness demands an original response. If we fail to offer a different way forward, we risk losing entire generations to apathy and cynicism.”[5]

While I will register disagreements with Lyons in what follows, I commend his attempt to be faithful and creative in working toward this end. Past evangelicals have not always steered clear of a nominal Christianity, and it is true that poorly preached Christianity yields anemic faith. As one can see, Lyons wishes to help the church find its footing in a confusing age. He wants to be a part of the solution, and toward that end he offers The Next Christians. We now proceed to ask several high-level questions of the text’s content. As we’ll see, there is room for agreement and disagreement in the answers Lyons provides to these questions.


Lyons suggests, in the first place, that the traditional formulation of the biblical gospel is “truncated.” He takes on the traditional formulation of the gospel with vigor:

By truncating the full narrative, it reduces the power of God’s redeeming work on the cross to just a proverbial ticket to a good afterlife. Is this all there is to Christianity? Did Jesus die only so we could get out of this place and go somewhere else?

While the redemptive Christ event is the apex of the story, it isn’t the whole story. The story begins in the context of a perfect garden and continues through God’s promise of restoration. We can’t cut the branch of redemption off the tree of God’s story and whittle it to fit our purposes. Creation and restoration are the bookends to Christ’s earthly work and they are shaping how the next Christians holistically participate in the world.[6]

Pair this with another strong statement arguing that the gospel is ultimately about restoration: “The restorative work of Jesus as displayed through the Gospel is the main thing—indeed, the one and only and true first thing.”[7]

It is entirely possible for Christians to “reduce” the gospel, to make it a badge card for union with Christ. Surely, some churches have made this mistake. The nominalism that appears in seemingly every religious poll run on the American populace suggests just this kind of conclusion. Poor teaching that takes little account of the thousand transformative effects of the gospel will yield people who have little interest in transformation. Research—academic and lay-level—bears this out.

While in some circles conversion and the Christian life are cheapened by a “get out of jail free” gospel, though, I wonder if Lyons isn’t reframing the gospel in his work, making it more about restoration and less about salvation. This review is not the place to clarify at length a biblical definition of the gospel and therefore the church’s mission; personally, I am thankful that Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert are attempting just that in their forthcoming book What Is the Mission of the Church? (Crossway, 2011). For our purposes, we can suggest that the restoration and renewal of all things is a glorious biblical truth. However, it is the salvation of sinners that occupies the center of this restoring work, not the other way around. It is not the renewed creation, after all, that is the point of God’s redeeming work; it is the fact that his blood-bought people will live and rule with him in a “world of love.”[8] What Lyons calls the “truncated gospel” is the gospel the scriptural authors proclaim.[9] The gospel is a simple message. It has expansive and explosive implications, but it is simple and salvifically oriented at its core.

Lyons is onto something, I think, because believers who recognize the conversionist nature of the gospel do not need to struggle to see that the gospel frees them for service. It is joyfully true that “atonement brings shalom” as Graham Cole has argued in his recent book God the Peacemaker.[10] But this is different from arguing that the gospel is about cultural restoration.

If we could push this discussion a bit further to a related quandary, there is not one category in the life of faith for gospel and another for kingdom. We don’t have a “gospel team” that preaches and a “kingdom team” that does mercy ministry. The biblical gospel is “the gospel of the kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14).[11] All that we do as citizens of God’s kingdom points to the transformative spiritual restoration carried out by the covenant Lord in order that a mass of perdition might become a multitude of praise. To fix a decaying neighborhood, to tutor underprivileged students, to show kindness to disabled people, and to make soul-stirring art—all these can and very definitely do give glory to God when done with a doxological heart. But these realities do not point to an abstract work of restoration. Rather, they testify to the power of the cross, the death and resurrection of Christ, which clears the guilty and enfranchises them to serve as bearers of the word of salvation in a thousand different spheres.


Flowing from the first critique about the nature of the gospel is a second: Lyons suggests that the mission of people gripped by the “restoring” gospel is, well, to restore. Though he does not engage deeply with Scripture on this point, Lyons cites Colossians 1 to make the case that the gospel is about more than merely saving one’s soul:

Two thousand years after the Christ event, people are still on earth and the hope is not diminished. Paul tells us in Colossians 1, that Christ’s shed blood began a restorative work affecting the eternal things of heaven as well as the here and now events on earth. More than simply offering us a postmortem destination, God commissioned us to share his whole story and become conduits for him to bring healing to earth and its residents. Like a capstone to the story of God, Christians are called to partner in a restorative work so that the torch of hope is carried until Christ returns.

He concludes the point portentously: “This is the story of God. The whole story.”[12]

Lyons is surely right that the work of Christ has implications for all of life and for all of creation. However, his contention is worth probing a bit. Nowhere in Colossians 1 does Paul explicitly state that believers are to “bring healing” to the world.[13] The point of Colossians 1 is what Christ has done. The closest it comes to discussing what we must do are Paul’s words about “proclaiming” the mystery of what Christ has done (Col. 1:28).[14]

Now, Paul says that one of the goals of his proclamation is to present believers “mature in Christ,” which, no doubt, might include the types of things Lyons is after. Still, the text simply doesn’t say that, because it’s not about that. It’s about Christ’s work. If Lyons still wants to insist that Paul means to imply all this, then he should take us to the text which says so.

The danger here is assuming that Christians are responsible to do everything which Christ himself has accomplished and will accomplish. First, we are not responsible to do everything he is responsible to do, such as die for sins or render judgment on the nations. Second, we are not responsible to do what will only be accomplished at the end of history, such as restoring the Edenic balance to nature when the wolf will lie down with the lamb (Isa. 11:6). The mistake of equating Christ’s work with ours might seem harmless when someone is calling us to recycle, but it’s hardly harmless when we begin to envision Christ as conqueror. Weren’t the Crusades justified at least in part by deducing a Christian’s conquering work from Christ’s promise to conquer? No, I’m not saying Lyons is responsible for the Crusades. I am saying that we need to be very careful about drawing implications about the church’s mission out of texts that are about Christ’s work. Lyons is rightly trying to understand the stratospheric nature of Christ’s redemption, but we need as much exegetical and theological care on this point as we do on other scriptural themes.


Jesus and Paul had multifaceted ministries. Lyons recognizes that, and so do I. But I do wonder if he reframes the ministry of Jesus and Paul to fit his restoration paradigm. He describes Jesus, for example, in terms of being loving and healing:

Sinners loved Jesus. They literally followed Jesus everywhere. They pursued him from town to town. He spent days with them, meeting their friends, eating meals in their homes, accepting their gifts, and embracing their children. They were suspended in disbelief at encounters with someone who understood truth and beauty, healing and restoration, righteousness, justice, mercy, and grace—and He genuinely loved them.[15]

The judgment aspect of the ministry of Christ is explicitly set aside:

[Restorers] work with people of different faiths to relieve social injustice in their communities. They are driven by the belief that Jesus himself was more concerned with engagement than condemnation. As John writes, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (Jn. 3:17).[16]

It is of course true that Jesus healed the sick, ministered to the marginalized, and brought beauty to an often ugly world. What glorious truths these are! But he wasn’t merely the Great Restorer. The accent of his ministry was surely one of mercy and love. However, there is also a strong note of judgment, condemnation and warning in Christ’s teaching. Jesus came not just to restore but to tear down. The “already-not yet” theme in view here applies not only to salvation but also to judgment. Consider the words of Matthew 23:32-35:

Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of innocent Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar.

One has to balance the testimony of Christ carefully, but the judgment aspect of his first coming is present throughout the Gospels. Luke 12:51 reads “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” Even as we recognize that Jesus is the one who said in John 3:36 that “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life,” we know that he followed that with this: “whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”

The same is true of Paul, whom Lyons reads as an engager:

Apart from Jesus, a better example hardly exists for the restoration-minded Christian than Paul’s. Not only did he show up and engage—he showed compassion and grace to anyone who would listen. It appears his desire for people to be restored to Christ overcame any urges to be offended by their sin.[17]

Both Jesus and Paul surely reached out to sinners with compassion. Paul is a model for us in our interactions with lost people. But Lyons’s effort to compel Christians to be “provoked, not offended,” and to ground this call in the example of these men needs a bit of filling out. Paul was certainly offended by Peter’s separation from supposedly “unclean” Gentiles (Gal. 2:11-13); he was offended by the sin of homosexuality and denounced it at length (Rom. 1); and more than being offended, he was deeply angered by sexual immorality in the Corinthian church (1 Cor. 6). Paul had great concern for holiness and so must we. Our first task as Christians is to present ourselves holy to the Lord through the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Pet. 1:16). We will do well in some cases to avoid projecting an external sense of being offended by the sins of the lost, as such is the natural outworking of our depraved natures, and so Lyons has a point here. His understanding of Jesus and Paul, however, needs more substantive biblical engagement.


In line with the foregoing, I wonder if Lyons’s conception of evangelism needs a bit of reworking as well. Consider the following passage, in which he makes the case that removing “restoration” from the gospel cuts the meaning out of Christianity for many:

The next Christians claim that the beginning (God’s goodness throughout creation) and the ending (the restoration of all things) of the greater story have been conveniently cut out, leaving modern-day Christians with an incoherent understanding of the Gospel. Many are bound to a Gospel story with a climax that feels actually quite boring. “Go tell others how to escape from Planet Earth” doesn’t feel like a compelling mission to them. Sure, they want to help others come to know the way of Jesus, but they believe their story should affect real lives and situations now. Not just in the afterlife.[18]

In the same vein, he writes at length:

Consider the discouragement for Christians when restoration—the “last hundred pages”—is removed from God’s story. According to this version, the only meaningful role a believer can play is evangelism, either through doing it or supporting it. But this version of the Gospel runs the risk of leaving some Christians in the pew feeling disconnected. More important, it leaves many with no clear way to understand the restoration mandates throughout the New Testament. We all agree that evangelism is an important part of the life of the believer, but a truncated Gospel doesn’t seem to fully utilize some appendages in the body of Christ.

Is evangelism really the only use for the millions of churchgoers in our culture?

Now, put restoration back into the story. Instantly, you’ve created millions of jobs for all the “unemployed” and bored Christians in the church—jobs they can get excited about. Now there is work to do for people who want to make the world a better place in the meantime. Instead of simply waiting for God to unveil the new heaven and the new earth, the rest of us can give the world a taste of what God’s kingdom is all about—building up, repairing brokenness, showing mercy, reinstating hope, and generally adding value. In this expanded model, everyone plays an essential role. In this way, relearning becomes exciting and personal.[19]

I appreciate an attempt to infuse daily Christian living with purpose. Many of us could use such a shot in the arm. Furthermore, I do think that Lyons is right to some extent: churches can make it seem like the only meaningful Christian activity is evangelism. That, to be frank, is not true.

But I do have some small quibbles with Lyons’s language on this point. Can we really sum up the work of the church as recorded in the book of Acts with the tagline “Go tell others how to escape planet earth?” Were the apostles “bored” by sharing the gospel with people otherwise doomed to judgment? After Jesus ascended to heaven, did they loll about, drinking iced tea, eating crab cakes, and growing discouraged over the lack of things to do?  Did they find the gospel boring, lounging in Jerusalem like some preteens outside of Hot Topic?

The Scripture says that the apostles “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) in their tireless effort to share the good news that the sin of man had met its match in the blood of Christ. In the apostolic age, when the gospel was loosed in order to fulfill the Great Commission, “awe came upon every soul” (Acts 2:43) and the people of God were “rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). This is but the smallest sampling of the sense of delight and privilege the early Christians felt in carrying out their evangelistic charge (from Matt. 28:16-20). Those who understood the gospel and its significance were electrified by it, catalyzed to risk their lives for it, and mobilized to follow their Lord into death if the spread of the gospel required it.

The passionate evangelism of the apostles and other disciples was driven by a clarion understanding of the wrath of God and the prospect of eternal torment in hell for every unrepentant sinner. This reality is not boring or vocationally deadening. In some circles, though, it is fast becoming as passé today as it was with liberal Christians of past generations. We shouldn’t think that evangelism is the only thing we can do to glorify God—we glorify him by changing diapers, in Martin Luther’s famous phrase. We also shouldn’t think that evangelism is boring. It certainly is not, and neither are its effects.


The Next Christians
has many creative ideas and is compellingly woven together. Because Lyons paints with a broad brush, though, I wonder if at times he offers a slightly skewed understanding of evangelical history. It is his contention, for example, that present-day Christians have made a fresh discovery of extra-evangelistic involvement in the world:

Common ground thinking is revolutionizing activities among present-day Christians. Entire churches finally feel free to serve their communities and the world using all their talents. Churches are beginning to feel the power of seeing all their congregants come alive, from doctors co-opting to create clinics for the poor in urban centers to stay-at-home moms starting afterschool tutoring programs for at-risk children. They’d bought in to the modern idea that the only good Christian activity was to convert others or give their money and time to those who could. Today they are discovering that their talent and creativity matter. The longing they have felt to do good in the world—even if it wasn’t explicitly connected to getting people saved—have been validated. And they are thrilled to give their time, energy, money, and life to creating and cultivating culture in a way that allows God’s love to break through on earth today.[20]

There is surely at least a kernel of truth here. I’m sure that we could dig through the past and find examples of Christians who held to a deficient view of calling. It does seem, though, that there are a good number of historic examples of Christians who desired “to do good” in the their culture and society as an outworking of their faith. Timothy George has said of the followers of John Calvin that “Like the Franciscans and the Dominicans in the Middle Ages, Calvin’s followers forsook the religious ideal of stabilitas for an aggressive mobilitas. They poured into the cities, universities, and market squares of Europe as publishers, educators, entrepreneurs, and evangelists.”[21] Evangelicals have long been on the bleeding (not the leading) edge of philanthropy, cultural engagement and entrepeneurship. George Whitefield drew much of his living from the wealthy Countess of Huntingdon. The Sunday School was founded in America by Samuel Slater, owner of textile mills. The Clapham Sect and its protagonist, William Wilberforce, were supported by numerous English philanthropists.[22] The Tappan brothers single-handedly funded a substantial portion of the evangelical abolitionist cause in the 19th century. Moody Bible Institute was founded by the largesse of Henry Parsons Crowell, the man who also gave us Quaker Oats. Evangelical history is littered with gospel-minded Christians who used their wealth for noble ends, just as the apostles were supported by rich Christians—a point in favor of managing wealth wisely, not despising it (or spiritualizing poverty, on the other hand).

Evangelicals have historically showed great generosity to the needy. Douglas Sweeney has spoken to the benevolence of Jonathan Edwards, pointing out that “Edwards never made a show of it, but he loved to help the poor.” In addition to speaking about it from the pulpit, Edwards, in the words of his pupil Samuel Hopkins, “practis’d it” in private to such an extent that Hopkins judged that “his Alms-deeds…if known, would prove him to be as great an Instance of Charity as any that can be produced in this Age.”[23] The theology of Edwards included a hugely influential and largely unknown idea called “disinterested benevolence” that helped spawn what historians call the “benevolent empire” of the nineteenth century in which countless Christians, imbued with a love for God and his gospel, gave their time and money to what were called “benevolent societies.” This movement, profiled by Martin Marty, was one of the biggest cultural phenomena of the nineteenth century.[24] The National Association of Evangelicals, formed in 1942 and helmed by Harold Ockenga, included a substantial social outreach component.[25] Even the much-maligned fundamentalists of the twentieth century devoted considerable time and attention to mercy ministry, as Joel Carpenter has shown.[26] This trend continues into the present and recent past. Jerry Falwell, whose death signaled for Lyons the “death” of “Christian America,” founded a thriving, wide-ranging, and virtually unpublicized ministry to unwed pregnant mothers called the Liberty Godparent Home, among other ventures.

I have listed a motley crew of examples, but the point seems worth pondering: the traditional gospel has not stifled philanthropy, creativity, and cultural involvement. In diverse places and times, Christians of a wide range of backgrounds, denominations and locations have sought, as an outworking of their gospel belief, to be “salt and light” in this fallen world (Matt. 5:13-16). Perhaps further engagement with the many highlights and heroes, however flawed, of the Christian past is warranted.


The Next Christians
is a provocative book. Though I have registered serious concerns with it, I found aspects of the book helpful and insightful. I appreciated Lyons’s attempt to diagnose our modern situation and to offer hope in the midst of a confusing age. I also appreciated Lyons’s robust, take-dominion doctrine of vocation. There are certainly countless ways for believers and churches to meaningfully engage their communities, cities, towns, countries and world. Even if I would differentiate what we commonly call “social justice” or “cultural engagement” from the gospel itself, I would want to say that there are all kinds of ways in which Lyons and others are engaging a lost world that excite and challenge me.

Every Christian in every calling—whether the insurance salesman or stay-at-home mom or painter or government official or small business owner or gospel rapper—can and should work honestly, excellently, and to the Lord. It is good for Christians to penetrate every level of society and to be involved to the extent they can in politics, entertainment, mercy work, business, and journalism. It is a great thing to make beautiful, God-glorifying art. It would be terrific for more Christians to have a robust view of their work and calling, for film producers to plot about how to make movies that profoundly move the viewer, for Manhattan ad executives to bring their faith to bear on their work, for community members to stand up for the voiceless folks in their neighborhood.

Lyons and many others have a heart for just this kind of work, and I love that heart. However, as I have argued throughout this essay, I would urge exegetical and theological caution on this point. We need to avoid conflating our doctrine of salvation with our doctrine of vocation. All that Christians do to glorify their Lord is a part our Christian mission, yes; but not all that Christians do is the most important part of that mission.

Let us say, though, that Christians of differing perspectives on this issue can easily fall into a gospel vs. culture dichotomy in which we favor either proclamation or action to the exclusion of the other. Too often, we seem to end up on one team or the other. But those who rightly prioritize the mission of proclamation must not end up as enemies of all activities and vocations save biblical preaching. On the other hand, those who enjoy the necessary work of cultural engagement must not lose their sense of the importance of gospel proclamation.


I want to end by saying that Gabe Lyons has identified a problem of the evangelical past. It is all too easy to take the gospel lightly, to fall into a nominal Christianity, and to leave people with little to do but check their watch (or iPhone) in anticipation of coming deliverance. Lyons sees these problems, and I agree with him that they are problems. We agree, then, on the problem, and I’m thankful that he’s raising issues that must be discussed in order to avoid past pitfalls. He’s doing so, furthermore, as a creative strategist and a gifted writer.

We do disagree on certain parts of the solution, as I’ve shown. Much as Christians should strive for shrewd, creative engagement with our modern world, we must cling to the historic gospel. Lyons is right in pointing out certain canards and half-truths of the evangelical past (and present). But in some places, he offers us a half-solution. Most significantly, I think, he suggests that we broaden the gospel to encompass restorationist themes.

What we need in a postmodern age is the historic gospel, however ironic that may be. It is this message, guarded by centuries of Christians in diverse places and times in fulfillment of 2 Timothy 1, that is the answer for our cultural moment. We don’t need a reworked newness, but a freshly grasped oldness, a message of salvation with ancient bones and trans-cultural, trans-temporal significance.

While we need always to consider attempts to think freshly and creatively about the gospel, we must also remember that the euangelion is at its core a moral, spiritual and legal message. It does not come to us as a static proposition; rather, it announces to us that we have a crisis on our hands, a crisis of the worst kind, for God requires perfect righteousness and we have none. While we come to Christ from diverse backgrounds and experiences, at some level every sinner must, like Luther, recognize this awful situation. The wrath of God is at our backs. It will consume us if we do not discover a perfect righteousness, alien to us, but freely offered in the cross of Christ.

Jesus’ atoning death and triumphant resurrection sent shockwaves throughout the created order in a thousand glorious ways, reshaping the existing order from its very foundations and overturning myriad effects of the curse. We should work to understand and appreciate these benefits even as we remember that the work of Christ solves the central crisis before us, our righteousness crisis.[27] Like Luther, once driven to the brink of madness by his lack of holiness, we are freed as Russ Moore has shown to exult in the cross-work of Jesus and to scream the “Abba, father” cry of the adopted sinner.[28] The God-man has triumphed over sin and death and enabled His people to escape wrath and to receive the righteousness of Christ.

Though the world has changed and the church is challenged today, the need of the next Christians is that of past Christians: a fresh vision of the majestic Lord who has, through the work of Christ announced in his gospel, justified the ungodly.

[1] McLaren and McKnight have spoken at the Q ideas conference that Lyons leads. See With a number of others, Lyons references Wright as a leading voice for the restorers. Gabe Lyons, The Next Christians: The Good News About the End of Christian America—How a New Generation is Restoring the Faith (Doubleday, 2010), 53.

[2] Ibid, 11.

[3] Ibid, 5.

[4] Ibid, 12.

[5] Ibid, 11.

[6] Ibid, 51.

[7] Ibid, 192-93.

[8] For discussion of Jonathan Edwards’ sermon “Heaven Is a World of Love” from which this quotation comes, see Owen Strachan and Douglas Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards on Heaven and Hell (Moody, 2010).

[9] Lyons, 60.

[10] See Graham Cole, God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom, New Studies in Biblical Theology, ed. D. A. Carson (IVP Academic, 2009).

[11] D. A. Carson has explored the ties between gospel and kingdom in his Scandalous: The Death and Resurrection of Jesus (Crossway, 2010).

[12] Lyons, 55.

[13] For one example, see Jonathan Merritt, “Creation Care: As Much as God Is,” Christianity Today, June 2010, online at

[14] The meaning of Colossians 1:15-23 has been hotly debated in the history of the church at the highest levels of scholarship. Some scholars, for example, have argued that the text teaches universal salvation. P. T. O’Brien has a careful outline of different positions on the text in Colossians-Philemon, Word Biblical Commentary vol. 44, edited by David A. Hubbard and Glenn W. Barker (Thomas Nelson, 1982). The focus in O’Brien’s commentary on the text is not on what Christians are to do but what Christ has done. “Paul affirms that this universal reconciliation has been brought about, not in some other-worldly drama, but through something done in history, the death of Jesus Christ upon the cross…The reconciliation of the principalities and powers is in mind.” (56) It is possible to attempt to construct theology which links earthly reconciliation to the ministry of Christ, but this must be done very carefully from appropriate texts. Cf. also Murray J. Harris, Colossians & Philemon (Eerdmans, 1991), 43-52.

[15] Lyons, 78.

[16] Ibid, 81.

[17] Ibid, 87.

[18] Ibid, 50-51.

[19] Ibid, 60. The entire discussion from 31-47 is disturbing for all the reasons elucidated here, as is Lyons’s conception of the “Evangelizers,” the group that comes in for some of his hardest rebukes (37). I was also personally uncomfortable with Lyons critiquing his own parents for their approach to secular culture (38). I would not be read as in any way speaking for Lyons’s parents, but I wonder about the appropriateness of such commentary.

[20] Lyons, 104.

[21] Timothy George, “John Calvin: Comeback Kid,” Christianity Today, September 2009, vol. 53, no. 9, accessed online at

[22] See Eric Metaxas, Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery (HarperOne, 2007).

[23] Douglas Sweeney, Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word (InterVarsity, 2009), 66.

[24] See Martin Marty, Righteous Empire: The Protestant Experience in America (Harper Torchbooks, 1977).

[25] See Garth Rosell, The Surprising Work of God: Harold John Ockenga, Billy Graham, and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism (Baker, 2008).

[26] Joel Carpenter, Revive Us Again: The Reawakening of American Fundamentalism (New York: Oxford, 1999).

[27] For an exploration of the many dimensions of the gospel and an articulation of the central place of Christ’s atoning work in it, see D.A. Carson, “What is the Gospel?—Revisited” in For the Fame of God’s Name: Essays in Honor of John Piper, ed. Sam Storms and Justin Taylor (Crossway, 2010). Though the gospel, Carson writes, “grounds ethics, aphorisms, and systematics, it is none of these three: it is news, good news, and therefore must be publicly announced.” (158) This chapter is the first place to go in this discussion. Right after that, readers should consult Greg Gilbert’s very helpful What Is the Gospel? (Crossway, 2010).

[28] On Luther on this point, see R. C. Sproul, The Holiness of God (2nd ed., Tyndale House, 2000). See Russell D. Moore, Adopted for Life: The Priority of Adoption for Christian Families & Churches (Crossway, 2009).

Owen Strachan

Owen Strachan is a theology professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and the author of Reenchanting Humanity: A Theology of Mankind. You can find him on Twitter at @ostrachan.

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