How radical do I have to be?" the suburban mom asked. She had been reading Christian books decrying the self-centered, consumeristic nature of the American church. As a remedy, each of the books called readers to live a counter-cultural life of "radical sacrifice and mission." The books, while inspiring, left this woman feeling exhausted.

"I agree with their assessment," she explained. "We are too self-centered. But how radical is enough? Should I sell my house and car? Is it wrong for my kids to attend a private school? Do I need to move overseas and work with orphans? I want to live a real Christian life, but now I wonder if that's even possible here in the suburbs." She was looking for my pastoral advice. What I told her is not what I would have said five years ago.

I agreed that consumer culture has impacted the way many Christians view faith. Sociologist Christian Smith notes that many Americans view God as a combination of divine butler and cosmic therapist. Church is seen as the dispenser ...

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