Lately I’ve been struggling with the concept of what I’ll call, “suburbia chrisitianity.” That is, in part, John Piper’s fault. Our small group Bible study has been reading through his book Don’t Waste Your Life which confronts the idea that we can live a safe, comfortable, happy “American” life and have it be meaningful. I’m not entirely sure if my “struggle” against this concept is as pure or sincere as his is, though. I’m aware that part of it could be disillusionment finally coming to a head; mild bitterness at unfair expectations going unmet; or even downright stubborn selfishness that what I want is not just unhad, but not right to want.
Maybe part of my difficulty is melding the radical ideas the Piper presents with the reality of the way that appears to be lived out today. I just… don’t see it.
I do see sold-out missionaries leaving the country. I see people leaving the suburbs to go serve in the ghetto.
My question is, can you stay in the suburbs and really be sold out?
Can you have the best of both worlds?
There is Scripture that seems to make it pretty clear that you can’t: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God… but woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full.” (Luke 6:20, 24). But Scripture also gives instruction to rich Christians (OTHER than “Go and sell all you possess and give to the poor.” Mark 10:21): “Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy.” (1 Timothy 6:17)
I’ve heard plenty on the idea that God doesn’t just need missionaries in third-world countries, but everywhere – where God has you, right now, even if it is the cushy, suburb life. I don’t think that is wrong. I think there is truth to it. But I do think that argument can be used wrongly.
How many people really stay in the suburbs because they feel a call to serve God there and are finding ways to actively live it out? Versus staying there because it’s comfortable, what they are used to, and easier than being open to a different call or even a deeper call where they are?
I am NOT saying that Christians in suburbs can’t or don’t serve. I’ve seen it. I’ve seen heartfelt service and gospel truth spread through neighborhoods. I’ve seen the truth of God brought to light in suburbia. But… sometimes it’s hidden, if not hindered, by the SUVs, jet skis, and armloads of shopping bags from Super Target. Clarification: jet skis are not sinful. Clarification: shopping at Target doesn’t destroy your witness.
But… do those kinds of things show we are embracing anything different than the rest of the world? I had to ask that of myself. And let me tell you, the answer wasn’t pretty.
I don’t like the situation that that puts me in. Being fairly newly-married, open to buying a home and settling down, and still pursuing an established career for my husband and even myself – what am I supposed to be looking for?
The world around me – including the church at large – is telling me that it’s the house with a two-car garage and a play set in the backyard, in a safe neighborhood supported by a husband working a 9-5 job while I stay at home with our 2.5 kids and possibly a Pampered Chef gig on the side. And I’m all for that!
But then I feel conflicted about being all-for-it. For one, because I’m already aware of the subtle yet strong temptations towards complacency and “comfortable” Christianity that brings.
And sometimes I get angry at the rest of the church for living like that and giving the impression that that’s the way we all should live – even if we aren’t all there yet. I know they aren’t trying to do so. I know they would wholeheartedly commend sacrificial service. But would they join in? Would I? I’m not so sure, and that’s a big part of the struggle.
And as much as I am disheartened with what’s become traditional Christianity in the suburbs, I’m also disheartened with the flip-side of that. The people who seem like they want to make a change in that, but eventually take that change too far.
Case in point – Derek Webb, christian musician. He has a refreshing point of view, singing in what has become his most controversial song, “What Matters More” on a similar theme to what I have here. His song argues that Christians get too wrapped up in “discussing” issues – such as homosexuality – that we aren’t out there actually serving. The problem with that song is that he felt it absolutely necessary to include a swear word: “Meanwhile we sit just like we don’t give a sh**/About 50,000 people who are dyin’ today.” It does make the point that I believe he was trying to make. And I think it was a point well worth making. But I also believe it was made inappropriately, if not solely because it could be placed in the category of “causing Christians to stumble.”
What does matter more? Physical needs or spiritual needs – even if of the “weaker’” brothers?
(And if you want to read a good analysis of this song in light of legalism and Christians being controversial, I stumbled across one while searching for the lyrics: Aletheia.)
I still appreciate Derek Webb as a musician and what he’s trying to stand for – but there are things that I can’t agree with him on and they seem to be increasing the more as time goes on. And he’s not the only one I’ve noticed like that.
Which is discouraging if not disgruntling. Is there no middle ground? Can you question tradition, religion, etc. without eventually neglecting crucial aspects of it? It’s like you open the door for fresh air – fresh ideas that may question tradition – and you let in the flies of false truth and liberal interpretation. And as small as those flies may seem when they sneak in, they soon become a large pest.
But as my closing thought – when I sat down at the computer it was originally to prepare a Sunday School lesson for high school girls. I somehow got distracted on this train of thought and wanted to write it down before I lost it. I was going to wait to post it until I had a chance to read it over later, so I returned to the Sunday School lesson just to discover Elizabeth George’s commentary on Colossians 3:1-2 (“Set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things.”) In A Young Woman After God’s Own Heart, she says, “How do we resist the pull of earthly things? Answer: We look up. We look into God’s Word. And we pray.”
It’s amazing how all my “deep thinking” can be answered by the simplest truth. And sometimes I hate that it’s so simple – because it doesn’t often feel simple. But it’s certainly a starting place that will prove much more effective than just mulling over it.