Gabe Lyons, Q and “Restoring Cultures”
April 12, 2012
In mid-April, while many Christians earnestly scanned the Twitter stream and their favorite blogs for soundbites and one-liners from the Together for the Gospel (T4G) conference, another gathering was taking place several cities away, in Washington, D.C. Running from 10–12 April, this gathering was known as the Q Conference, and it would do each eager T4G spotter well to pay perhaps even more attention to this particular event.
The Q Conference is a brainchild of Gabe Lyons, who also helped to co-found the Catalyst movement several years ago. Lyons is also the author of the popular books, UnChristian and The Next Christians. According to the Q website,
Q was birthed out of Gabe Lyons’ vision to see Christians, especially leaders, recover a vision for their historic responsibility to renew and restore cultures. Inspired by Chuck Colson’s statement, “Christians are called to redeem entire cultures, not just individuals,” Gabe set out to reintroduce Christians to what had seemed missing in recent decades from an American expression of Christian faithfulness; valuing both personal and cultural renewal, not one over the other. Re-educating Christians to this orthodox and unifying concept has become central to the vision of Q.
We believe that inherent in Christian faithfulness is the responsibility to create a better world, one that reflects God’s original design and intention.
The claim that Christians have a “historic responsibility to renew and restore cultures” is not supported by Scripture. The Q website also does not offer any Scripture in defense of the claim that “inherent in Christian faithfulness is the responsibility to create a better world, one that reflects God’s original design and intention.”
If the responsibility of the Christian was to “renew and restore cultures,” one would expect that there would have been more such activity recorded in the New Testament. Yet, rather than reading of the apostles’ endeavors to make the world a better place, we see them preaching repentance and faith in Jesus Christ alone for individual salvation.
It is stated above that Lyons was initially inspired by Chuck Colson’s statement that, “Christians are called to redeem entire cultures, not just individuals.” The grievous errors in this statement work together to create confusion. Christians are not called to redeem anybody. Rather, believers have been called by God to share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When Christians are faithful to this mission, God works to draw someone, by the power of His Holy Spirit, into a saving relationship with Him, thus redeeming the individual from his lost state and sin. The faithful believer, however, is not responsible for such redemption. Indeed, if man cannot save and redeem himself from his own sin, how can he expect to do so for others? Only Christ saves. Only Christ can offer redemption. While it is clear that Christians are not called to redeem other individuals, it should also be noted that Scripture does not call Christians to “redeem entire cultures.” True, eternal redemption happens at the level of the individual, and it is wrought by God alone. Thus, this statement, upon which the foundation of Gabe Lyons’ Q Conference was built, is erroneous and therefore hopelessly unsupportive.
The Q event is not the typical Christian conference. Gathering leaders from various walks of life, Q seeks to share “ideas for the common good.” Why, then, do Christians need to be aware of Q and what is taking place? After all, it sounds like a noble cause, seeking to make this world a better place, reaching out to young people to encourage them to engage with the culture in order to make a difference. Why should the Bible-believing Christian be wary of the endeavors set forth by Gabe Lyons? The following paragraphs, will seek to answer that question.
As mentioned above, Gabe Lyons is an author and co-founder of the Catalyst movement. He is also the founder of Q and the driving force behind the event. Perhaps the best way to learn more about Lyons will be to examine his worldview from his own words. In the opening paragraph of his book The Next Christians, Lyons writes:
Seven years ago, I was twenty-seven years old and embarrassed to call myself Christian. This was especially odd because I was raised in a Christian home, graduated from a Christian college, and then served as vice president of a prominent Christian organization. By all accounts, I should have been one of Christianity’s biggest fans.
Unfortunately, I began to notice that the perceptions my friends and neighbors had about Christians were incredibly negative. In fact, their past experiences with anything labeled Christian had sent them running in the opposite direction. Ironically, I came to empathize with their views. Having grown up in a Christian bubble myself, I witnessed countless instances when the lives of Christ followers were incongruent with Jesus’s [sic] call to be loving, engaged, sacrificial, unselfish, and compassionate contributors to culture. The angst these experiences created would scare anyone from taking a second look at Jesus.
The Next Christians, 3
On page 5 of the same book, Lyons writes:
Research shows that over 76 percent of Americans self-identify as Christian. Yet I wonder how many of us are proud to carry that label. Are we hiding our faith in our back pockets? My guess is that many feel much like I did at twenty-seven when they encounter non-Christians at work, in coffee shops, on campus, in their neighborhoods, at weekend parties, or working out at the gym. The Next Christians, 5
It’s true, there are many people who tout the title of “Christian,” yet behave in a rather abysmal manner. Yet, does this justify an attitude of embarrassment at being identified with Christ? Should the Christian bow to the world if the world perceives Christianity unfavorably?
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? For what can a man give in return for his soul? For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” Mark 8:34-38, ESV, emphasis added
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. John 15:18-21, ESV
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-17, ESV
The Christian should not expect to be celebrated or embraced by the world. If, then, a Christian is reluctant to claim and name the name of Jesus Christ, is the issue really with the true Christian faith, or does the problem lie elsewhere?
It is interesting to note that in 1 John 2:17 (cited above), the Apostle explains that “the world is passing away along with its desires…” Indeed, this simple fact alone seems to contradict the foundational tenet of Q, that “inherent in Christian faithfulness is the responsibility to create a better world, one that reflects God’s original design and intention.” Yet, Gabe Lyons persists in the notion that there is “a new generation of Christians” whose mission it is to change —and even restore—this world. He writes:
I’ve observed a new generation of Christians who feel empowered. Restorers exhibit the mind-set, humility, and commitment that seem destined to rejuvenate the momentum of the faith. They have a peculiar way of thinking, being, and doing that is radically different from previous generations. Telling others about Jesus is important, but conversion isn’t their only motive. Their mission is to infuse the world with beauty, grace, justice, and love. I call them restorers because they envision the world as it was meant to be and they work toward that vision. Restorers seek to mend earth’s brokenness. They recognize that the world will not be completely healed until Christ’s return, but they believe that the process begins now as we partner with God. Through sowing seeds of restoration, they believe others will see Christ through us and the Christian faith will reap a much larger harvest. The Next Christians, 43, emphasis added.
This “restorer” mindset permeates the efforts of Q. Writing on the Q website in a lengthy article entitled, “Influencing Culture,” and quoting Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey’s book, How Now Shall We Live, Lyons writes:
Ultimately, it was Colson’s explanation of the cultural mandate that grabbed my mind and my heart: … “Our job is not only to build up the church but also to build a society to the glory of God. As agents of God’s common grace, we are called to help sustain and renew his creation, to uphold the created institutions of family and society, to puruse science and scholarship, to create works of art and beauty, and to heal and help those suffering from the results of the Fall.” Source
Unfortunately, Lyons offers no Scripture to support this statement. As the article progresses, Gabe Lyons speaks about the great “conversion moments” in history, such as the First and Second Great Awakening in England and America, respectively. He seems to believe that the traveling evangelists offered only a “half-story” of the Gospel by not remaining in one place and “modeling the life of a Christian over the course of years.”
It’s easy to see that when forced to convey the most dramatic parts of the Christian story in a short period of time, parts of the story are easily overlooked. In the process, Christianity was losing its profound and life-giving answers to central questions no longer representing an entire life-system and worldview. It had become relegated to a personal, spiritual decision about where you would spend the afterlife. As more evangelical Christians adopted this half-story explanation of the faith, their cultural influence began to fade. The emphasis on heavenly pursuits overshadowed the idea of living a life that offered common grace and promoted cultural influence. Source
As Lyons’ essay continues, the reader will begin to realize that one of two things is happening: either Gabe Lyons does not believe that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is enough for salvation and redemption, or he has adopted a skewed understanding of the Gospel, believing that it extends beyond one’s individual standing before God. From the quotes already examined, it seems obvious that the latter is true. Lyons continues:
The idea of culture shaping is widely debated. Most people, and until recently myself included, implicitly believe that cultures are changed from the bottom-up and that to “change our culture, we need more and more individuals possessing the right values and therefore making better choices.”The problem is that it is only part of the solution. In a widely distributed briefing that was presented to The Trinity Forum called To Change the World, James Davison Hunter asserts, “It is this view of culture that also leads some faith communities to evangelism as their primary means of changing the world. If people’s hearts and minds are converted, they will have the right values, they will make the right choices, and the culture will change in turn.”
Hunter goes on to say, “…the renewal of our hearts and minds is not only important, it is essential, indeed a precondition for a truly just and humane society. But by itself, it will not accomplish the objectives and ideals we hope for.”18 This could explain why Christianity as it is practiced by many well meaning, admirable Christians in the past decades has failed to have significant traction.
What is the solution to this problem? According to James Davison Hunter, as quoted by Gabe Lyons, “Cultures are shaped when networks of leaders, representing the different social institutions of a culture, work together towards a common goal.” For Lyons, and for Q, these social institutions include:
business, government, media, church, arts & entertainment, education and the social sector. Their combined output of ideas, films, books, theology, websites, restaurants, investments, social work, laws, medical breakthroughs and technology drive an entire nation. Source
The astute reader will notice that these spheres of influence bear a striking similarity to the “seven mountains” of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR). While Gabe Lyons is not (to this writer’s knowledge) involved specifically with the NAR movement, it is nevertheless interesting to note that the NAR holds to similar goals in seeking to redeem the culture. This simply demonstrates how widespread this particular false gospel has become.
To illustrate the combined impact that these seven sectors can have upon society, Lyons turns to the homosexual movement as an example.
In thirty years, the idea of being gay had moved from being commonly viewed as abnormal and abhorrent in society, to being an acceptable and normal alternative life-style. This illustrates perfectly the potential for cultural influence to happen when leaders throughout the seven channels of culture work together towards a common goal. Source
The misunderstanding that Christians and the Church have been commissioned to redeem and renew this earth and its cultures may lead to a disparaging view of the true mission of the Church. As a reminder, Christians have been called by Christ Himself to share the Gospel, calling sinners to repentance and faith in Christ alone for salvation. When the focus is turned away from Christ and His atoning work, and fixed instead on this temporal, transient and dying world, then the Church loses its effectiveness. Unfortunately, Gabe Lyons through his movement of Q is seemingly fixing his gaze upon the wrong thing. He says,
Sadly, by focusing on just the “spiritual” and the afterlife, the Christian church has strayed away from its potential influence in the here and now, positioning itself instead as just another subculture. Source
In response to the great gift of salvation in Christ, the Christian will undoubtedly bear fruit that manifests itself in “good works,” yet those good works are not the Gospel. To call the Church to put its energy into the “here and now” seems to contradict many exhortations within Scripture to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Indeed, the believer is told that this earth will one day pass away, and that God will create a New Heavens and a New Earth.
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.
Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.
2 Peter 3:10-14, ESV
So, why the concern? Why write such a lengthy article discussing some of the dangers of Q and of its founder, Gabe Lyons? After all, not many Christians were even aware that the event was taking place! Yet, the mindset and the doctrines of Q, which denigrate and downplay the Gospel of Jesus Christ, are beginning to permeate evangelicalism. Among the speakers in years past at the Q conference have been men like Brian McLaren and Rick Warren. In his speech, Warren told the audience that, “You are the message. You are incarnating Jesus in the world” (video can be viewed here). Are we really the message? Or is the message of salvation found in Jesus Christ?
This year, Ed Stetzer, president and “missiologist in residence” at Lifeway Research, was among the speakers at the Q Conference. Lifeway has also invited Gabe Lyons to be a featured speaker at their upcoming Collegiate Summit. As collegiate leaders gather to learn new ways to influence the college students with whom they work, may it now be anticipated that the doctrine of “renewing the culture” will begin to disseminate among our youth?
Collegiate leaders invest a tremendous amount of time in the lives of college students, be it one-on-one coffee conversations, small group Bible studies, or conferences and events. But even the best leaders need some time to recharge. Collegiate Summit is an event just for leaders, and a perfect opportunity to fellowship with peers, worship, and renew their energy and focus.
Collegiate Summit is an interactive event that allows attendees to share insights, get new ideas, and learn from each other. Large group sessions feature leading teachers like Jon Acuff, Gabe Lyons, and Pete Wilson, as well as music from Dove Award-winning songwriter and worship leader Michael Boggs. Breakout sessions focus on specific topics and allow leaders to network, make new friends, and encourage each other.
The idea that Christians must strive to redeem and renew cultures and the belief that salvation of the individual is only “half” of the story of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, these are prominent and notable threats to the true Gospel. Yet the leaders who are influencing the churches of today are more and more gravitating to this type of false gospel. Be mindful, dear Christian. Learn God’s Word and hold fast to what it says.