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Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World Paperback – October 7, 2014
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About the Author
Michael Horton (PhD, DD) is Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary in California. Author of many books, including The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way, he also hosts the White Horse Inn radio program. He lives with his wife, Lisa, and four children in Escondido, California.
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True, ordinary is simple, isn't flashy, has no bells and whistles, and doesn't sell. However, Michael Horton reminds us that the ordinary means of grace is precisely how Christ has worked for over 2,000 years to bring the extraordinary gifts of the forgiveness of sins, and the promise of the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting to people bruised, beaten, and battered by their sins, and the sin of the world.
Full of wisdom and ever winsome, Horton takes the reader through the challenge facing the North American Church today--letting the culture set the tone for the life and ministry of the church. He explores the over sensationalized church with all of its law oriented demands and juvenilization, and points her back to the beauty and the joy of the ordinary manner of her existence where the extraordinary message of the Gospel is routinely, regularly, and ordinarily proclaimed, delivered, and administered through Word and sacrament: "Why do we seem to think that churches need to imitate the perpetual innovation of Microsoft instead of the patient care of a good gardener? Chasing the latest fad for spiritual growth, church growth, and cultural impact, we eventually forget both how to reach the lost and how to keep the reached. The ordinary means of grace become yesterday's news. Like pay phones, so we are told by the emergent entrepreneurs, ordinary churches may still be around here and there, but nobody uses them. In olden days believers may have gathered for `the apostles' teaching and the fellowship...the breaking of the bread and the prayers,' but that was before iPads. In past generations, Christ's fruit-bearing vines may have been tended with daily family disciplines of catechism, Bile reading, and prayer, but with my schedule? And to say that the apostolic method of church growth--in breadth as well as depth--is preaching, teaching, baptism, the Lord's Supper, and accountability to elders is likely to provoke the response: `are you serious?' "(p.178-179).
Horton insightfully tracks how the evangelical church has gone from understanding the "ordinary" to demanding everything be "extraordinary;" how "ambition" was historically and biblically always a vice (and sin), but has not been elevated to a virtue; how "contentment" was always a biblical virtue but has now been made into a vice (of mediocrity); how the "contractual" American mentality and way of life has replaced the "covenantal" biblical mentality and way of life; and how "passing away" is the preferred mode of speaking rather than talking of the death and resurrection. All these ordinary ways of talking about and proclaiming the Good News have been remade and replaced.
But make no mistake about it. Horton is clear that ordinary does not mean mediocre. "In fact, far from throwing a wet blanket on godly passion, my goal is to encourage an orientation and habits that foster deeper growth in grace, more effective outreach, and a more sustainable vision of loving service to others over a lifetime. This is not a call to do less, but to invest in things that we often give up on when we don't see an immediate return. The fact that `ordinary' has come to mean mediocre and low expectations is a sign of the problem I want to address" (p.28). Always focused on the next big thing, movement, or fad in the church, Horton says the church actually fails to focus on the truly next big thing--the second coming of Jesus. Until Jesus returns, Horton reminds us that the ordinary things like catechesis (catechism) and liturgy (hymnal), Word and sacrament, are part of the wonderful ordinary way that faith has been passed on and taught for centuries and invites the reader to celebrate the ordinariness still today.
Sadly, what is often given up on is the "ordinariness" of the Good News itself. Namely, that Jesus Christ came to atone for the sins of the lost and the found; that baptism is a gift of God's grace; that the Lord's Supper gives the forgiveness of sins. When these ordinary means just don't seem to be doing what we think they should be doing in the right now, at this moment, immediate demands of our time, they are abandoned for something more flashy, more relevant, and more radical.
However, Horton takes joy in lifting up the ordinary message that so many Christians find as inadequate: "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 (Rom. 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. `For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus sake,' (2 Cor. 4:5)." (p. 40).
Amen to that! There are far too many well-intentioned but misguided methods, manners, and techniques that in the name of innovation, accommodation, and determination disparage the ordinary means of God at work through his Word and sacraments, and yes even in the liturgy, catechesis, and the pastors of the Church. "They're not enough" we're told. So something new must be invented and remade. However, Horton unequivocally, biblically, and theologically demonstrates that they are indeed powerful and more than enough: "CNN will not be showing up at a church that is simply trusting God to do extraordinary things through his ordinary means of grace delivered by ordinary servants. But God will. Week after week. These means of grace and the ordinary fellowship of the saints that matures and guides us throughout our life may seem frail, but they are jars that carry a rich treasure" (p. 149).
What is more, not only are they enough, but Horton also points to how the ordinariness of our daily lives (the ordinariness of our daily callings/vocations) is also something to be celebrated as part of God's good creation, and are in fact the means of maintaining a "faithful presence" to "enjoy our neighbors" rather than using them to achieve superstardom in the new ways of doing church: "It is easy to turn others in instruments of our ambition rather than loving them for their own sake, as fellow image bearers of God. They become supporting actors--if not props-- in our life movie. Loving actual neighbors through particular actions every day can be a lot more mundane as well as difficult than trying to transform culture. Regardless of the role or place in society to which God has assigned us by our calling, we are content. Our identity is already determined by our being `in Christ,' not by our accomplishments. The measure of excellence is daily love for our neighbors during this time between Christ's two advents" (p.161).
Horton has provided an absolute gem for our times. As one who reads every new thing out there, this book was a breath of ordinary fresh air to fill my lungs. This book is a phenomenal and encouraging read! Before any pastor thinks he needs to start new, join the latest fad, or hire a consultant, he needs to read this book. In fact, it should be required reading for all pastors and aspiring pastors, it's that good and that timely. Thank you Michael Horton for putting out such an important, needed, and ordinary book!
Rev. Dr. Lucas V. Woodford (LCMS)
Ordinary is something that, as a mid-20s single guy, that I have been needing to hear and wish I could've heard several years ago. It's something my generation, on the tail-end of burnout from an era of trying to make our lives count from radical living, desperately needs to hear as well. Horton does a fantastic job of showing how my generation's impulse to the next big thing, or to living a unique and extraordinary life as the only means of making life count, is ultimately a lifeless and harmful impulse and that true freedom - and the true challenge - is faithfulness to the Lord in the ordinary vocations and callings that He has given us.
I'm hesitant to recommend this book to my friends, though, because the editing is quite sloppy in places. This review is actually based on my second time through the book, and even the second time through there are plenty of places where I struggle to connect the dots between paragraphs. His transitions are very weak at times, and you often wonder "what does this have to do with what he just talked about?" Although you're able to get a sense of the big picture as you read along, it's not always the easiest thing to track along with. I'm an avid reader of difficult books and this was a challenge to read and comprehend at times, and hence I struggle to recommend this to friends who need to read it but would probably end up scratching their heads in several places.
"Ordinary", despite it's difficulty at times, is still a very beneficial and worthwhile read, and will be a book I revisit multiple times in the future. Just be prepared for some of the sloppiness, and you'll be just fine.
Horton was his usual self with many pithy phrases that were quite memorable and as always the Gospel was prominent in his message.
You will want to read this work as it will encourage you that holiness often looks ordinary. Being sold-out to Christ doesn't necessarily mean your life has to resemble Francis Chan's. Radical obedience may look like a stay-at-home mom that spends her days quietly wiping noses and bottoms.