Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World

Written by Michael Horton Reviewed By Robert Davis Smart

Author Michael Horton states that the contemporary Western Christian has a particular fallen condition that is not in alignment with the gospel; namely, “an impatience and disdain for the ordinary” (p. 18). Horton believes the Christian subculture is so generally passionate about superlatives that the unintended effect is “a growing restlessness with this restlessness” (p. 14). Constant calls to a “radical,” life-changing choice “to trail-blaze new paths to greatness” are tiring out listeners (p. 12). The author quotes Tish Harrison Warren as an example of a Christian who wondered if an ordinary life was even possible: “What I need courage for is the ordinary, the daily everydayness of life…. Giving away clothes and seeking out edgy Christian communities requires less of me than being kind to my husband on an average Wednesday morning or calling my mother back when I don’t feel like it” (p. 15).

This book encourages ordinary pastors that “super-apostles,” heroes, and gospel celebrities are not needed, nor even helpful. Rather, what is needed, is the courage to live out one’s calling as a member in a local church that practices the right use of the ordinary means of grace with continuity for a long time towards maturity.

How refreshing it is that the author admits his own fear of the ordinary in another day of life! Horton confesses that “ordinary callings to ordinary people all around us is much more difficult than chasing my own dreams that I have envisioned for the grand story of my life” (p. 15). The pressure to dazzle with successful efforts from bridal magazine-like weddings to “groundbreaking” academic research is not something that is only felt by others; Horton refreshingly admits that he himself feels the pull to an extraordinary life. “In fact,” he admits, “I find myself drawn to these same adrenaline rushes and enticing getaways” (p. 54).

Part one, “radical and restless,” addresses and qualifies the problem. “We have drifted from the true focus of God’s activity in this world. It is not to be found in the extraordinary, but in the ordinary, the everyday” (p. 18). The author is not giving an excuse to be comfortable (p. 19), nor advocating mediocrity (ch. 2). Rather, he calls for selfish ambition’s death in our hearts (ch. 5).

Part two, “ordinary and content,” puts forth his solution. “The thesis in this book,” he states, “is that we must turn from the frantic search for ‘something more’ to ‘something more sustainable.’ We need to stop adding something more of ourselves to the gospel. . . . We need to be content with his ordinary means of grace, that, over time, yield a harvest of plenty for everyone to enjoy” (p. 126). Contentment is found in the gospel; namely, living an ordinary calling determined by our identity in Christ. Horton put it well: “The real difference is whether our choosing is ultimate, whether our choices determine our identity (which God chose for us) determines our choices” (p. 149).

The more recent and tragic sins in the dangerous and toxic contexts of well-known pastors in mega churches ought to make this book a timely remedy for many readers. It shouldn’t surprise readers to discover Horton is consistent with his earlier writings in two ways. First, he promotes “loving service” over the “unrealistic call to cultural transformation” (pp. 155–61). Two, he views revival as “an extraordinary blessing on God’s ordinary means of grace” over against staging and managing evangelistic ingenuity with predictable results similar to Charles G. Finney (pp. 74–81).

With any good book, the readers are left with questions: How can we use the word radical rightly, as John Stott did in The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010)? How might we pray and seek God for an extraordinary blessing on the ordinary means of grace with holy longings without being ungrateful for God’s ordinary ways in providence? How can we avoid justification by “ordinary ministry righteousness” and love pastors with extraordinary gifts and church resources? Is there room for more discussion and debate to enhance an appreciation for the cultural transformation approach that also affirms loving service?

Robert Davis Smart

Robert Davis Smart
Christ Church
Normal, Illinois, USA

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