Suburbia is for Christians, too

From Andrea Palpant Dilley:

Exceptional!

I have the same response to the New Radical movement, led by David Platt and other pastors, which rallies western Christians to leave behind the ease of 21st-century living and return to the iconoclast vision of the early church. (See Christianity Today‘sHere Come the Radicals). The New Radicals mean no harm. In fact, they mean great good. They want justice. They want change. They want complacent Christians pushed out of their comfort zones and into the slums of a suffering world. What’s wrong with that?

Here’s what: Their vision has the potential to leave suburban moms looking like lazy Christians. It’s driven by a stereotypically male way of thinking that often values the dramatic over the mundane and loses sight of people who engage the greater good through the invisible monotony of home-making, childrearing, and other unseen acts of service. Men and women alike pine to make an impact—it’s human nature at its best and the imago Dei at work in us—but by virtue of child-bearing biology and traditional ties to the domestic economy, women have been forced to come to terms with the “mundane good” in a more systematic way than most men. (That’s changing, of course, with shifting roles in the home.) But no one gets medals or wall plaques for practicing the mundane good. By New Radical standards, we moms aren’t Christian enough unless we’re serving at a soup kitchen in the inner city or adopting orphans from Ethiopia….

I’m still trying to figure it out. My days are filled with activities that would make David Platt yawn with boredom: I change diapers. I scrub pee out of carpets. I wipe vomit off the kitchen floor. Most days, I’m lucky to get out of the house at all, and if I do, I’m usually taking my 10-month-old and 4-year-old to visit the elderly woman down the street. We take dog treats to her yippy dog, sit at her kitchen table eating pretzels, and ask about her arthritis. What greater good do I serve? My widowed neighbor feels less lonely. My kids learn about hospitality and Christian love. That’s about it….

We all need each other, and we need to serve in all spaces—both the suburban kitchen and the urban slums. With that in mind, I don’t denigrate the core vision of the New Radicals, challenging suburbanite Christians, in particular, to engage the greater good in both a global and inner city context. I simply want to expand their vision to include the moms (and dads) who serve day in and day out on the domestic ­front. I want to praise them just as they are, changing the world one diaper at a time. Suburbia needs Jesus, too.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • Ron Friesen

    I resigned from my pastorate in suburbia when I realized that my congregants thought their biggest problem was, “What do with my Phoenix Suns season tickets while I am skiing in Vail, Colorado?” I became the director of a shelter for homeless men. Today I am the pastor of an inner city church composed of refugees who, while working hard to live the American dream, remember every day where they came from.

  • David Kueker

    If we consider human psychological development to also describe spiritual development – some have written on this already – the movement you describe is the loud, wrangling voice of adolescence busy differentiating from the safe world of their parent’s church. There is a bright flashy need for something new, flashy, interesting, demanding and challenging … a common symptom of teen angst.

    Spiritual teens want to forsake the comfy world of their childhood and live out of backpacks on the mission field doing heroic things. They are not reacting against their parents as much as they are reacting because they have outgrown the play pen of their own past in the typical traditional church.

    People must go through the teen stage to reach the parent stage, where they settle down to nurture baby christians and change spiritual diapers. The dramatic and chaotic world of spiritual teenagers makes them poor parents.

    So to me the question provoked by the new radicals would be for each of us to ask ourselves: is my spirituality pre-teen or post-teen? Have I been on my walkabout yet or is it still in my future?

  • Keith Schooley

    I think the post is excellent, although I wouldn’t frame it in gender terms. Many of us are living out the life of Jesus as best we can in the social framework we find ourselves in, and I think that accords well with 1 Cor 7:17-20. I think that’s what we’re supposed to do; even Paul, with all his missionary journeys and self-described compulsion to preach the gospel, did not mandate that everyone he reached do the same thing. Life in the suburbs is not always easy. There’s a lot of pain lying inside the walls of the house with the pretty lawn. The idea that we’re all supposed to pick up our lives and do something dramatic is foreign to New Testament Christianity. Live out the life of Jesus where you are is what I see.

  • RJS4DQ

    Keith,

    The original article Andrea links (Here Come the Radicals) makes roughly the same point. Andrea takes Matthew’s point and recasts it for her world, which means suburban motherhood with young children (and therefore the gender terms).

    The end of Matthew’s article is worth a quote:

    The need for a revived attention to form is most clear in worship, which is the main theater of the church’s confrontation with God. If the people in the pews have been uncritically co-opted by the American dream (and indeed many have), let’s also point out that our worship practices have been nearly uncritically co-opted by the American emphasis on celebrity, stardom, and performance.

    For us in the pews, testing ourselves must include deliberating about our vocations and whether we are called to missions, or to a life of dedicated service to the poor, or to creating reminders with art and culture of the gospel’s transcendent, everlasting hope. Discovering a radical faith may mean revisiting the ways in which faith can take shape in the mundane, sans intensifiers. It almost certainly means embracing the providence of God in our witness to the world. The Good Samaritan wasn’t a good neighbor because he moved to a poor part of town or put a pile of trash in his living room. He came across the helpless victim “as he traveled.” We begin to fulfill the command not when we do something radical, extreme, over the top, not when we’re really spiritual or really committed or really faithful, but when in the daily ebb and flow of life, in our corporate jobs, in our middle-class neighborhoods, on our trips to Yellowstone and Disney World—and yes, even short-term mission trips—we stop to help those whom we meet in everyday life, reaching out in quiet, practical, and loving ways.

    I find that testing myself doesn’t really mean moving to the inner city or to inner Africa, but asking how can I use my abilities, education, and position “for the kingdom.” (Although testing always does include a call for generosity and a warning against the temptations of wealth and praise.)

  • Mark Stevens

    It is harder to be radical where we are (in my case boring old suburbia) than radical over there! What a great article. I know a few Mums that would appreciate hearing their lives are truly radical! :)

  • Dan from Georgia

    Good comment! I can’t think how one could be more radical as in living in an area where everybody knows you and knows your business, knows your faults, your fears, and your failings, and yet you still strive to live for Jesus. I can’t believe that those who choose to live in a 3rd world location can boast of that unless they have been there for a LONG time.

  • PJ Anderson

    This is a poor read of Platt’s Radical and it anticipates a misogyny that isn’t actually there.

    There are some things that Platt takes to an extreme, but it isn’t nearly as dramatic as the author purports. In fact, the church where Platt serves is a suburban church. He is calling on all of us to live simpler and more intentionally. That isn’t a bad thing.

    I serve in a large, suburban church in a metro area. One of the significant issues we face is people who are so owned by the things they own they have no other time for church, life, or true Chrisitian devotion. I’ve also seen most urban churches struggle with this too.

    While I appreciate the perspective of the author, I disagree with her point.


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