Hsu’s message is an important one, and he is a good person to give it. Hsu has a balanced appreciation for and caution about the suburbs. Christian suburbanites need, after all, more than my cry to “flee, flee while you can!” I was particularly humbled and challenged by his reminder that the suburbs are here to stay, and that we need Christians to bring something of the light of Christ to the darkness within the suburbs every bit as much as we need Christians in the city, or in rural communities, to do the same. Besides, there is power in the suburbs—money, commerce, economic and political clout. And we do need Christians to actively channel that power toward good ends that impact people far outside of the suburbs.
Hsu wisely and carefully challenges ways Christians can be more intentional about how they live and think about life in the suburbs. His tone is vulnerable and inviting, educational, and punctuated nicely with personal illustrations. He talks about the individualism of the suburbs—the loss of community and even of a sense of neighborliness because suburbanites tend to spend so much time commuting, consuming activities and things, or shutting themselves up in their air conditioned homes. Suburbanites drive to go to work, to worship, for their entertainment, and to shop. Even if they wanted to walk, the streets are not usually conducive to it. In every chapter Hsu offers some practical steps suburbanites can take to minimize the negative characteristic he has just discussed. Occasionally these seem trite—not particularly helpful except to offer readers something to do. Other times his recommendations are substantial, offering readers significant suggestions for how they can live in more Christlike ways in the suburbs, that is, in ways that pursue justice and mercy.
In Hsu’s discussion about consumerism, he talks about how distant consumers have become from the producer of our various goods: the farmer and the food we eat, the seamstress and the clothes we wear. He calls us to a more conscientious consumption, one that requires us to become better informed about where products come from and the exploitive practices under which they are made—knowledge that encourages us to choose to consume locally when we can, and that counters the entitlement mentality that blurs the line between what we need and what we want. Hsu’s topics include product branding, megachurches, and attempts to create community at places like Starbucks (which is a gathering place of sorts—filling a gap left with the absence of other civic gathering places—but which is still, after all, primarily a place of consumption).
He also addresses challenges to the spiritual life. People in the suburbs seldom experience scarcity and that makes us less likely to depend on God for provision. This shapes how we think about ourselves in relation to God and others. We can escape most struggles and hardship, and we can develop an indifference toward God as our provider, protector, and sustainer. Hsu invites readers to create space for God, to rediscover or learn how to sense God’s presence, and to remember our place in God’s created order. He reminds us that we are part of an interconnected whole that includes urban, suburban, and rural communities, and also global communities.
The Suburban Christian is inspiring and hopeful, even as it also challenges assumptions and raises awareness of some of the pitfalls of suburban life. I recommend it particularly to those residing in the suburbs, though much of what he says also applies to those of us living in small towns and urban areas.
P.S. I also just came across this brief snippet from Evangelicals for Social Action: "Albert Y. Hsu, The Suburban Christian: Finding Spiritual Vitality in the