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A Counterculture for the Common Good

How the “next Christians” offer light to the world

In contrast to countercultures that separate, antagonize, or copy culture, the next Christians are a counterculture for the common good that is centered and immoveable. They don't concern themselves with popularity, what they can achieve for themselves, or whether the masses are following. Instead, they boldly lead.

Preserving Agents in a Decaying World

Christ said, "You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot" (Matthew 5:13). For ages, salt has been understood as the key agent for preserving and protecting food from decay or spoilage. This was especially true in the ancient world where the modern technology of refrigeration didn't exist. Jesus likely used the idea of salt to define how his followers should interact in the world.

Salt is only useful when it's good, active, and engaged—doing what it's supposed to do where it's supposed to be. Salt doesn't preserve anything by itself; it must attach to something in order to provide its life- sustaining and preservative value.

Salt is only useful when it's good, active, and engaged—doing what it's supposed to do where it's supposed to be. Salt doesn't preserve anything by itself; it must attach to something in order to provide its life- sustaining and preservative value.

Left on its own, even in proximity to meat, salt will do nothing to keep the meat from going bad. And meat left alone, without salt, will rot and be rendered useless. But when the two intermingle— when the salt is rubbed deep into filet mignon— it not only preserves the steak but expresses its greatest attributes in taste, quality, and flavor.

The next Christians see themselves as salt—preserving agents actively restoring in the middle of a decaying culture. They attach themselves to people and structures that are in danger of rotting while availing themselves of Christ's redeeming power to do work through them. They understand that by being restorers they fight against the cultural tide. But they feel called to restore and renew everything they see falling apart.

Although they know they may never see the full manifestation of their work, they honor God by living in this way. Their commitment to hold back evil, to repair systems and structures, and to heal people who are broken and suffering from the fall gives an alternative trajectory to the average life (see How Now Shall We Live? by Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey, page 33). They bring peace to situations and are constantly about the work of putting things back together.

Rather than fighting off culture to protect an insular Christian community, they are fighting for the world to redeem it. This is the essence of being countercultural for the common good.

Making Sense of the World

When I lived in Atlanta, I would often fly to New York City for meetings—sometimes up and back in the same day. Anyone who travels there frequently knows to map out his transportation plan ahead of time: which airport to fly into, the time of day to avoid gridlock traffic, and which train line to take into Manhattan. For me, this meant getting up early and catching Delta's first flight into La Guardia Airport. Once I deplaned, I'd get in the taxi line to wait my turn. If you've ever been to La Guardia, you can appreciate the scene. Out the doors and a glance to the right exposes you to a sea of yellow: hundreds of cabs lined up, drivers hanging out waiting for their turn to cash in on a $40 fare into the city. The line moves quickly as a constant flow of arrivals jump in cars, state their destination, and head to their first appointment.

Almost every time I'd leave the airport and take a cab toward the Triborough Bridge, I'd notice a strange experience happening on a slightly isolated corner of the sidewalk. Anywhere between five and ten faithful Muslims, turbans on, lay prostrate on their prayer mats facing east. Whether it was ninety-five degrees or sleeting ice, these men were committed to practicing their faith while on the job awaiting their next assignment. What intrigues me, though, is how committed these men are to their way of life. For me, it piques a genuine curiosity. I want to know more, to understand what is motivating them to be so faithful to such a culturally odd practice in the public parking lot of an airport. Even though I don't fully get it, and even though I've never felt the need to pray like this in public, I respect their countercultural commitment. The odd and curious practice of seeing a grown man put his face on a rug in the middle of a parking lot makes a statement. It says, "I'm serious about my faith. I'm committed to expressing it and don't care what anyone else thinks. I've found a better way to live!"

And this is true of the next Christians. Although you likely won't find them on prayer mats in the middle of a parking lot, they believe just as passionately that they have discovered the best way to live. They're proud of it. And others seem genuinely curious about what it is that is motivating the change. They certainly don't flaunt it in the faces of those who aren't as far along on the journey. They simply live it out and invite others to join in along the way. They live with gratefulness that they've providentially stumbled upon a better, truer, alternative way of life. Taking seriously their responsibility to embody the gospel, they trust the Holy Spirit to work through them in his time to persuade others to join up. Occasionally, that leads to others' choosing to become Christian and pursue the journey alongside them. At other times, it sheds light on a new way of being Christian to which they'd never been exposed. Maybe you've heard some of their stories throughout this book and created your own perception that these Christians, as countercultural as they are, still seem quite hip. It's a bit understandable, but don't be confused by the simple distinction. Labeling someone "relevant" is a subjective tag, usually just a matter of style; but it's the substance of these Christians' commitment to restore that's driving the curiosity of the world.

I can think of no better example of this than Shane Claiborne. As an activist-turned-author, Shane embodies this countercultural lifestyle. Living in a communal house on Potter Street in the Kensington neighborhood of urban Philadelphia, Shane chooses not to own a car. Not because he can't afford it, but because he believes it would place his level of material possession above that of his neighbor. And in his view that's not showing love at all.

He's a radical by most people's standards. He travels the world in John the Baptist-style hand-sewn clothes, doing anything he can to fight injustice, stand for peace, and genuinely love others. This has taken him everywhere from the streets of Baghdad during the initial Iraq War bombing campaign to planting a community garden in his neighborhood. Though some people disagree with Shane's theology, no one would question his commitment. Shane cares about people.

He lives out his first commitment of following what he understands to be the way of Jesus and restoring anything broken that presents itself along the way. And when he does, the world's curiosity is piqued. Shane was featured in Esquire magazine as one of their "Best and Brightest." It's not his long dreadlocks that are drawing the interest, but his oddness to believe that Jesus' way is a better way for the world. He's a Christian who has radically changed the order of his life to align with the ways of Jesus. People are curious to know what drives someone like Shane to live in such a countercultural way. They are responding to the substance and to a man whose life authentically models their greatest hopes. I think deep down most people long to have such a willingness and humility to submit to live in a better way— but it takes people like Shane to open their imagination that this kind of life is even possible.

Christians like Shane represent the type of people and lifestyles that fly in the face of the values of contemporary culture. You may not feel called to make your own clothes or protest war by placing yourself in harm's way, but as a Christian, when you restore where you are, people take notice. You become the model of a person who pursues deep relationships, lives with purpose and meaning, commits to the service of others, and reconciles injustices wherever they exist. If you strive to be faithful to Christ, your life will paint a picture of what every human soul is longing for. In turn, the world will take notice that this way of being Christian might just be a better way.

These countercultures are changing the face of Christianity in our world. No longer embarrassed by false representations of the Gospel, the next Christians are communicating something authentic and true through their lives that gives pause to those who encounter them. By being faithful to how Jesus calls them to live, they offer an attractive alternative for the spiritually hungry.

Excerpted from The Next Christians by Gabe Lyons. Copyright ©2012 by Gabe Lyons. Excerpted by permission of Multnomah Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

December04, 2012 at 8:55 AM

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