Contemporary Christianity seems to be overly fascinated with the extraordinary. Most Christians are most excited when they hear elaborate and exciting testimonies of God’s hand at work in this person’s life or we’re drawn to “this” person’s ministry because of their charisma and or gifting. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying those who have been gifted from the Lord. We can and should learn from such saints; however, most of us though aren’t extraordinary. Sure, we have our areas where we are strong and we can help people by God’s grace. The truth is that most of our gifting’s and talents are ordinary. Thankfully we serve an extraordinary God who uses ordinary people. This is why I was glad to see Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World by Dr. Michael Horton come out.
Ordinary may seem like a weird title for a book. When “ordinary” is used in reference to Christianity we tend to think of how boring some church services are even though we would never voice that thought out loud. Or, we might think of some other ministry we are part of and how “ordinary” that ministry is. We tend to be most excited about the most charismatic and gifted leaders in the Church. Christians flock to these types of leaders and their ministries grow rapidly as a result. Or, we find a writer we truly enjoy and soon people are attracted to that writer or blogger, and devour everything they write. On the surface there is nothing wrong with this as long as we’re opening up our Bible’s along with what the teacher is saying. In addition to this what the teacher says/writes must be biblical. All of this is precisely why we need a book like Ordinary by Dr. Horton.
Ordinary seeks to call God’s people to New Testament Christianity. That is where Christians live their lives under Christ, under the authority of His undershepherds in the context of the local church, participating as often as the church does in the sacraments, living in community, building relationships with one another and hearing the Word preached, among other activities local churches may engage in!
Ordinary has two sections: part one is radical and restless, and part two is ordinary and content. In the first part of the book, the author critiques what he thinks is wrong with how many Christians approach Christianity. In the second part of the book the author calls readers to focus on applying the truth of biblical Christianity into their everyday lives. Within this section there was one passage that I disagreed with.
The author notes, “The power of our activism, campaigns, movements, and strategies cannot forgive sins or raise the dead. “The gospel is the power of God for salvation,” and, with Paul, we have no reason to be ashamed of it (Romans 1:16). That is why phrases like “living the gospel,” “being the gospel,” and “being partners with Jesus in his redemption of the world” are dangerous distortions of the biblical message of good news. The gospel is not about what we have done or are called to do, but the announcement of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ” (39-40).
At first this may sound good to us. After all, it’s not about us, it’s all about Jesus. With that said in the New Testament the Bible uses the indicative (what Christ has done) to inform or fuel the imperative, (what we are to do in light of what Christ has done). When Horton notes that “phrases like living the gospel” and the like are “dangerous distortions of the biblical message of the good news”, and “the gospel is not about what we have done or are called to do, but the announcement of God’s saving work in Jesus Christ” our first reaction may be to cheer him on and say, “Yes!” At first, I thought, I agreed with him. After all it’s not about our works—we are saved by the finished works of Christ, as R.C. Sproul famously said.
No faithful Christian wants to say it’s about them or boast in the work they are doing for the Lord. With that said the Bible presents a different view than Horton advocates so authoritatively. He states that “living the gospel” and the like are “dangerous distortions of the biblical message of the good news”. No Bible-believing Christian would ever say they contribute anything to the sovereign work of God’s grace. The Book of Romans elaborates on the great themes of salvation that is our depravity, sinfulness, justification, sanctification (definite, progress and glorification) and much more. Throughout the Book of Romans Paul uses the “therefore” to point his readers back to what he’s already taught them. Paul spends 11 chapters of Romans teaching the great truths of salvation and Christianity and only then moves to look for three chapters at how those truths are to be lived out in the context of everyday life. Yet, Horton wants us to believe that there is no “living out” of the gospel. This may not be what Horton means to suggest but it how it comes across at least to this reader. While Horton may want to call the reader away from performance based Christianity, which is a real threat to the good news, what he does isn’t helpful. Instead of rightly noting the biblical balance between the indicative and imperative—Horton overemphasizes the indicative and neglects the imperative. The indicative provides the fuel for the imperative. This is the balance we see in the Bible.
With that critique aside there is much to benefit from in this book. Horton has a clear love for the Lord Jesus and the local church. Furthermore, Horton calls his readers to the local church and not to be people who sit on the pews and observe only but are active participants in the local church. All of that is to be commended and applauded. We need these calls to the ordinary ministry of the Word and Spirit in the context of the local church today. This book will also help Christians to find contentment and a sustainable ministry in the hidden and humble places.
Ordinary has something for Christians at every stage of their growth. Growth in the grace of God doesn’t often occur overnight but rather steadily and over long haul. We need to understand today that yes, the Lord gives His people gifted saints, but He also uses ordinary people with ordinary gifts in extraordinary ways for His glory. That truth is worth celebrating in and enjoying because our God has given the Body of Christ these saints. Whether you agree with Horton on infant baptism or his points about “living the gospel” or not, there is much to be enjoyed in this book. Ordinary addresses the problems in contemporary evangelicalism with clarity and insight. This book will help Christians to move away from a hero, and celebrity Christianity to a more balanced and biblical understanding of New Testament Christianity. It is for that reason, I recommend this book and pray the Lord would use this book to encourage ordinary Christians with ordinary gifts to begin or continue serving an extraordinary God who saves, is sanctifying, and will one day glorify His people whom He is presently using by His grace, and for His glory.
Buy the book at Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World, WTS Books, or from Zondervan.
Author: Dr. Michael Horton
Publish: Zondervan (2014)
I received this book for free from Zondervan for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”