We have thus far seen (part 1, part 2, part 3) how Mr. Lyons’ vision for Christianity is not a centering vision but a centrifugal one. By removing Christ’s visible Church and replacing it with an amorphous one, Mr. Lyons’ ‘next Christians’ are not going toward the Promised Land but away from it. He has thrown out the maps, for he feels that trailblazing is better alternative, and by reducing the sacraments to artifacts, he has failed to provide his ‘next Christians’ with any provisions for their long journey. His Christians may be productive, and will likely do much worldly good, for brief time — but spiritually they may be fruitless.
Mr. Lyons’ Christian vision fails because it circumvents the pursuit of sainthood. Charles Peguy once lamented that “life holds only one tragedy, ultimately: not to have been a saint.” For the ‘next Christian’ this is not a tragedy, but rather it is a topic that is never broached. The eschewing of sainthood results from an immense misunderstanding of it. In fact, it seems that Mr. Lyons assumes all Catholic nuns or priests are saints. In recalling a story by a friend of his, Mr. Lyons calls a nun of the man’s acquaintance, Sister Marie Reginald, a saint (41). Allow me to save you the trouble from looking this woman up on the internet; she is not a canonized saint. Other than this mishap and the mishap (though not as far off) of referring to Mother Teresa as a saint, the word is never mentioned again in the book.
To be fair, Mr. Lyons does not leave his ‘next Christians’ without some tools to maintain their morality while they’ engage the culture. Mr. Lyons’ spiritual discipline consists of five practices: immersion in Scripture, observance of the Sabbath, fasting for simplicity, choosing embodiment, and postured by prayer (135-144). The immersion in Scripture consists of the encouragement to read and meditate on the Bible daily. For the ‘next Christians,’ accessible, paraphrased translations, such as The Message, are endorsed (136). Observing the Sabbath, for the ‘next Christian,’ means to take a break from daily activities and enjoy the company of loved ones. Fasting for simplicity and choosing embodiment encourages the ‘next Christian’ to live a life of simplicity and parsimony. Lastly, postured by prayer involves the participation in daily prayers and meditations. Largely, this list of spiritual disciplinary practices is commendable. However, it lacks the necessary ‘fuel’ to engage in these commendable activities. It lacks the invigorating and transformative grace that one receives in the sacraments, a crucial component to leading a life of holiness. And it is absent any discussion of sin.
Although the reality of sin is tacitly admitted throughout the book, the explicit, and much needed, admonition against it is severely lacking in two areas: the personal lives of the ‘next Christians’ and the people that they ‘restore.’ Forget the disparity in the idea of confession between Protestants and Catholics, Mr. Lyons does not even mention the importance of seeking forgiveness from God. I highly doubt Mr. Lyons’ would deny the need for this if asked; presumably, the forgiveness of sins has some place in his faith. However, if this book is supposed to be a touchstone for the ‘next Christians,’ not to mention a systematic depiction of what the next generation of Christians will look like, then omitting a discussion of personal sin as well as of the sins of the world is alarming.
The primary mission of these ‘restorers’ is to ‘get their hands dirty’ and ‘restore’, which requires entering into the ‘nucleus of sin.’ More importantly, they are going into this with a tenuous rope tied to their waist. The foundation on which Mr. Lyons has built his movement is weak and unstable, and without the serious admonition to play close attention to one’s own pursuit of holiness, the restorers will surely fall. Furthermore, the restorative actions, certainly noble in and of themselves, lack the full salvific message of Christ, for although they are certainly restorative with regard to physical needs, they neglect spiritual needs. I do not say that with condemnatory smugness, but I say it with a candid concern. For the salvific message of Christ, the Kingdom of God, which He came to establish on earth as it is in heaven, cannot be conveyed without the fullness of His message. As Blessed John Paul II explained in his encyclical, Redemptoris missio, ‘the kingdom cannot be detached either from Christ or from the Church’ (no. 18).
Mr. Lyons is bordering on doing both, for by detaching himself from the Church, he is also issuing a ‘beheading’ of Christ from the Church. Without holiness and the tools given to us by the Church to attain it, the ‘next Christians’ movement will not bring people to His Kingdom. Even if they become Christians, will they be sanctified? Will they even want to be?
It is hard for me to view this new movement, if it ever comes to fruition, as following the same trajectory of the Church that began at Pentecost, for its roots are almost untraceable. They claim to be rooted in Scripture, but they have uprooted themselves from the institution that gave it to them. They claim to be rooted in Christ’s mission, but they have uprooted His Church from that mission. They seemed to have stumbled upon something new, yet old. They claim that their mission has always been ‘the mission’, and that alas, it has been forgotten until they rediscovered it. They have practically forced themselves to perceive it this way. Since they have extracted themselves from the Church, the only other thing left to extract themselves from is the churches – the ‘ecclesiastical flea market’ that is Protestantism. And with that extraction, they do not become a restored Christianity, but a homeless one. If they want true restoration, they need to bring their movement under Christ. Authentic movements (like the charismatic movement) proceed under the auspices of the Holy Catholic Church. Here is where the ‘new Christians’ – as countless old Christians have done – will find the true Restorer.