Michael Horton, Ordinary: Sustainable faith in a radical, restless world. Zondervan: Grand Rapids, 2014. 221 pages.
Christ did not found a movement. He is building a Church.
In Ordinary, Michael Horton argues that the ‘next big thing’ is not a radical endeavor, but the slow work of Christ in his church. While the situations faced by the church are always new, God’s promise to grow disciples through the ordinary means of grace remains constant. Yet, as Horton points out, we are often suspicious of the ordinary, particularly in relationship to the experience of faith. We are encouraged to seek new and ever deeper experiences by radical efforts to follow Christ and perform his work in the world. But, Horton believes, this frantic activity only leads to burn-out and a lack of depth in our discipleship.
Instead of rejecting the ‘ordinary,’ Horton calls for the church to embrace it as God’s means of growing disciples. In the first half of the book, Horton seeks to diagnose our restless culture by tracing how we transformed such vices as avarice and ambition into virtues, and turned contentment into a vice. In particular, he unmasks our discontent with the ordinary means of grace through which God chooses to grow disciples (word, sacrament, and discipline). Instead, we seek methods we believe we can control with predictable results, including an incredible amount of anxiety and burnout. Conversely, we fall into inaction as we wait fervently for revival. Avoiding the poles of frantic action and passivity is the slow, patient work of growing disciples.
In the second section, Horton draws from a wide spectrum of Scripture to cast a vision for contentment rooted in God’s work through the means of grace. We do not need to be extraordinary or do extraordinary things – Christ has already died for the sins of the world and will come again. Instead, we are called to receive his gifts and live in gratitude. Like a garden, God chooses to use ordinary means in order to grow something extraordinary. There are no shortcuts in gardening or in our souls. No amount of Miracle-Gro will make there be tomatoes in our gardens tomorrow. We must wait and patiently plant, tend, and weed the garden, trusting God will provide the growth. There is a lot of work for us to do, but most of it is routine. In the same way, through the preaching of the gospel, the celebration of the sacraments, and accountability in the Christian life, Christ forms us into his disciples. It is not automatic, but it is ordinary.
I loved every inch of this book. Having read Horton before, I was not surprised to find him clear, insightful, and encouraging as he articulates the call to embrace the ordinary. I expected depth of biblical insight and theological precision. I did not expect, however, the impact that Ordinary would work on my affections. Upon finishing the book, I found myself loving my ordinary people more, loving my ordinary place more, and loving my ordinary work of word, sacrament, and discipline more.
Most of us are ordinary. We live in ordinary places, with ordinary neighbors, and, frankly, ordinary pastors. We need Horton’s voice, because we need to embrace these people and these places. It is easier to run off after something more exciting, when the real call is to hear the gospel again today – to love our extraordinary God and our ordinary neighbors.