I’ve been reading a very interesting book titled, “Suburbianity: What Have We Done to the Gospel? Can We Find Our Way Back to Biblical Christianity?” (2013), by Byron Forrest Yawn, senior pastor at Community Bible Church in Nashville, TN. A synopsis of the book and a few editorial reviews on Amazon.com state the following (quote source here):
Rick Warren famously wrote, “It’s not about you.” But much of the Western church seems to disagree, having settled for a self-centered message of personal fulfillment. With incisiveness and a passionate love for the church, pastor and author Byron Forrest Yawn offers a compelling call away from narcissism and back to the powerful and transforming gospel of Jesus. He shows the difference between…
- Sunday-morning life coaches selling self-help seminars, and preachers proclaiming God’s redemptive work through Christ
- promises of prosperity and comfort, and a realistic and helpful perspective on suffering
- escape from unbelievers and their godless world, and redemptive engagement with people
As Byron exposes the false gospel of “suburbianity,” he offers readers a better alternative: to look beyond themselves and embrace God’s call to be His image-bearers and ambassadors, partnering with Him as He restores people and all creation to His original design.
“Every person, every Christian, is to some degree a product of his environment. Byron Yawn’s concern is that Christians have been unwittingly and unduly influenced by the values and ideals of suburbia. Powerful gospel-centered Christianity has been replaced by impotent gospel-free suburbianity. Byron writes not as a sociologist but as a pastor, calling Christians to be shaped far more by the timeless Word of God and far less by the changing preferences of the suburbs. May every Christian heed this call!”
―Tim Challies, Christian blogger, pastor, and author
“Suburbianity is one of the most refreshing and disturbing books I have read in quite a while. Refreshing because my friend Byron Yawn has managed to make the gospel even more attractive and alluring to me. Disturbing because he makes such a strong case for all the ways we tend to miss and ‘dis’ the gospel by settling for much of what is accepted as conservative, Bible-believing Christianity. Byron doesn’t write as a cynic, but as a man who longs to see his own heart, his congregation, and our culture come more fully alive to the grace and truth of the real gospel. This is a book for believers and nonbelievers alike because everybody needs the gospel Byron highlights.”
―Scotty Smith, Pastor of Christ Community Church, author of Everyday Prayers and Restoring Broken Things
“Suburbianity is about the life-giving recovery of the most important reality in the world―the glorious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Found herein is delightful refreshment to the weary soul bombarded by tireless pop-evangelical trendiness. Pastor Byron Yawn delivers a welcome mix of pointed sobriety, self-criticizing humility, and yes, even some gut-busting humor. I hope Suburbianity will produce a multitude of wonderfully dissatisfied Christians who will insist that pastors unashamedly and explicitly preach Christ rather than moralism masquerading as the eternal gospel. Everyone should read this profoundly Christian book. For the glory of Christ in the churches!”
―Patrick Abendroth, Pastor, Omaha Bible Church
“This is not a how-to or 12-step self-help book. Nor is it a book of character sketches from which to draw and apply life lessons in morality and ethics. If you have ever tried to bootstrap yourself into favor with God, read Suburbianity, and you’ll approach Scripture differently. Instead of seeing the Bible as a series of stories, you’ll discover the one story of Christ’s finished work of redemption. And it will transform you.”
―Perry Stahlman, Chairman of the elders, Community Bible Church
It was the title of Yawn’s book, “Suburbianity,” that caught my eye as I was glancing through the book titles on the bargain book shelves in a Christian bookstore. Personally, I’ve never actually been a part of the suburban lifestyle in America since I’ve been single all of my life and I have lived, for the most part, in apartment complexes. In other words, I’ve never experienced the house (big or small) with a garage (or carport), lawn, spouse, kids, neighbors, or been a part of PTA or homeowners meetings, etc., (other then when I was a kid before my parent’s divorce–and that’s been decades ago and there were no home owner associations way back then).
The churches I have attended over my lifetime could be described as suburban churches, and I usually gravitated to any “singles” groups that those churches might have had (some did, some didn’t). Once megachurches became popular (and a number of today’s suburban churches fit into that category), I attended them, too. However, being a professional working woman and also being single all of my life, as I got older I sometimes outgrew, by virtue of my age, the “singles” groups (as they were in a younger age category–often college age and young unmarried professionals looking to find a spouse). I did try several women’s groups (the professional women’s groups, when they were available which was rare, were the best), but many of the women’s groups catered to wives, mothers, and grandmothers, and I didn’t fit in with that particular demographic or the topics they discussed (child-rearing, husbands, grandparenting, family stuff). So as you can see, my actual experience with “suburbia” has been somewhat limited.
I read several pages of this book in the bookstore and it certainly piqued my interest, and best of all, it was on sale, and I always love finding a good book on sale. It has not disappointed me, either. Yawn states early on in his book what his book is not about (p. 36):
This book is not specifically about gospel centeredness. That message has been so well articulated by others that any addendum by me would be the equivalent of white noise. Horton, Bridges, Keller, Carson, Tchividjian, Wilson, Chandler, and others have all honed the message for a new generation of believers. They have spread the message of Jesus, Paul, Athanasius, Calvin, Burroughs, Warfield, Machen, and a host of others. I have read their works and thank God for them all. They have each helped me reawaken my own soul to the truth of the gospel.
This book is the volume before theirs (although I in no way pretend to be their equal in influence). It’s a prologue to the details of redemption they expound so thoroughly in their works. My basic message explains why messages like theirs are so important for suburban Christians to hear (quote source: Yawn, “Suburbianity,” p. 36).
Byron Yawn is the pastor of Community Bible Church in Nashville, a church I have been to a couple of times and one I have very much enjoyed. He loves Christianity, the Christian faith, but despises Suburbianity, a contemporary perversion of that faith. Every person, every Christian, is to some degree a product of his environment. Yawn’s concern is that Christians have been unwittingly and unduly influenced by the values and ideals of suburbia.
Suburbianity is the general conviction among professing evangelicals that the primary aim of Christ’s death was to provide us with a fulfilled life. We came to this perspective by persistently reading the mindset and aspirations of the suburbs into the biblical story. It relentlessly seeps into our Christianity. It comes through in nearly all forms of Christian media, including songs, books, movies, and sermons. God has big plans for you. You are important. You should not be discontented, There’s more out there for you. This is the suburban gospel. By it we’ve saved countless sinners from a poor self-image but not much else.
Of course the Christianity of the Bible is not about this at all. It is antithetical to this. “You can’t find it anywhere in the Bible. You may cite Moses, but he never meant that. Even if you make Jesus say it, He didn’t really. Jesus never commissioned anything close to this. We’ve made all this stuff up.” Powerful gospel-centered Christianity has been replaced by an impotent gospel-free suburbianity.
Yawn proposes a three-part antidote to suburbianity. The first part of the cure is to recover the true gospel and he writes three chapters on what the gospel is and why it must be central to all of Christian doctrine and practice. The second part of the cure is to recover the true and most meaningful storyline of the Bible, looking beyond the moralisms that plague today’s churches. He gives two chapters to the Bible. The third part of the cure, which receives two chapters, is to embrace the local church as God’s plan to save the world. This antidote is so simple and so obvious, yet so commonly overlooked.
In the third part of Yawn’s book which is titled, “The Church,” the cure for suburbianity is found, as Challies stated above. In the first chapter in Part 3, titled, “Hanging On Till Jesus Gets Back,” Yawn opens with this statement (pp. 175-177:
The American church is bored. You can feel it. The giant isn’t sleeping so much as it’s twiddling its thumbs. The frustration is palpable. We’ve spent so much time asking, “What’s my purpose as an individual?” we forgot to ask the greater question: “What’s God’s purpose for the church?” For all our emphasis on personal identity, we’ve no idea what our collective identity is. We’ve no real sense of what we’re suppose to be doing as a people. The reality that defines all of us has been overshadowed by the likes of us.
Boredom creates a unique sort of desperation. As others have said, it’s a very underestimated emotion. Evangelical Christians, especially the younger ones, are desperate to experience church as God intended. Younger Christians can feel pressed between the faith traditions of their parents and the shallow pragmatism of contemporary church models. The pendulum, as it always does, has swung. There is a desire to worship. D.A. Carson observed this reaction among young Christians:
We start attending meetings because it is habit, or because it is the right thing to do, or because we know that the means of grace are important, but not out of the heart-hunger to be with God’s people and to be fed from God’s Word. Sermons are filled with clichés. There is little intensity in confession, little joy in absolution, little delight in the gospel, little urgency in evangelism, little sense of privilege or gratitude in witness, little passion for the truth, little compassion for others, little humility in our evaluations, little love in our dealings with others.
There is currently an intense push back against the failed strategy of marketing techniques and the narcissistic philosophy of seeker churches [Note: Yawn discusses the “seeker-sensitive movement” which started in the church back in the 1970’s in Part 1 of his book. Also, an article titled, “How a Seeker Sensitive, Consumer Church is Failing a Generation,” by Dorothy Greco, published in August 2013 in Christianity Today, is available at this link for additional information]. The failure is now more than obvious. Designer religion for the affluent Americans only works in the suburbs and is not designed to save. The trendy suburban seeker models have left a confused spiritual wasteland in their wake. The gospel is all but forgotten. The suburbs are the new burned-over district. Christians are leaving in droves, seeking more meaningful experiences of church. The church is suddenly getting off the couch and going outside.
Christians want to be a part of churches that are disruptive forces in the culture, not indistinguishable from it. These evangelical dissidents have no interest in over-correcting and returning to the religion of their parents. The idea of forming fundamentalist conclaves and hiding at safe distances from the culture is unthinkable. They’re not seeking asylum behind the walls of traditional church. What they want is the chance to throw grenades. They are hungry for the front lines. . . (quote source: Yawn, “Suburbianity,” pp. 175-177).
Well, you get the picture. . . . And I daresay it’s not just the younger generations that feel that way, either. While I can only speak for myself, I can imagine there are a bunch of us older folks who feel the same way, too. I’ve recently had a friend admonish me as to my lack of church attendance of late as if somehow it equates to me being “less Christian” then those folks sitting in the pews on Sunday morning. This book clarifies the situation much better than I could ever try to explain to my friend. We need to start with a definition of what genuine Christianity is really all about, and Yawn has done just that in his book, “Suburbianity.”
For those who might be bored with church but can’t put their finger on why that is the case, “Suburbianity” is a good place to start. . . .
Actually, Jesus is the best place to start. . .
So bring on those grenades . . .
It’s time to hit the front lines. . . .
YouTube Video: “Lose My Soul” by TobyMac (with Kirk Franklin and Mandisa):