I’m still looking forward to reading Michael Horton’s Ordinary. As I’ve mentioned before, the title makes me wonder a bit, but I am expecting Horton to get the balance right between the “ordinary” and “radical” themes in the Bible.
I tend to gravitate more to the “radical” theme, because I think the Scriptures do. However, the affirmation of the ordinary is nonetheless essential and a wonderful thing. For example, when the crowds asked John the Baptist what it means to repent, he didn’t command them to leave their jobs and vocations. Rather, he told them to act faithfully in the roles they already had (Luke 3:10-14).
The apostle Paul later affirms this as a key part of the Christian ethic as well (Acts 20:34-35; 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12).
Given the importance of the ordinary, why then do we need to emphasize the radical dimension of Christianity so much? Why, for example, does John Piper emphasize this so strongly in his book Don’t Waste Your Life, or why does David Platt do so in Radical?
The reason is stated well in the ESV Study Bible notes on the parable in Luke 14:15-24. In that parable, people make excuses for why they will not attend the great banquet they had been invited to (representing those who refuse to participate in God’s kingdom). What kind of excuses do they make? They all use “ordinary” things as their excuses. One had just bought a field, another had just bought some oxen, another had just gotten married.
The notes make the point of the parable very well: “These people have put the business of everyday life ahead of the claims of God and his kingdom, and they are therefore not worthy to enter it.”
This is a recurring theme in Jesus’ teaching (see also Luke 9:57-62, another key spot where very reasonable “ordinary” things get in the way of following the kingdom; Luke 12:22-34; 14:25-33; 9:23-27; etc.).
Why is this?
It is because the ordinary business of life — though highly important and affirmed by God — often becomes an excuse to avoid the other demands of discipleship, such as evangelism and following Christ even when it involves sacrifice and persecution.
God affirms the ordinary. But not when it gets in the way of his other commands, above all which is to seek him and his kingdom first.
There can be a wrong-headed tendency to glamorize sacrifice and the radical dimension of Christianity. But I don’t think that is the main temptation in the church; most who end up going through great sacrifice realize how painful it really is. The greatest temptation is to allow the ordinary to get in the way of the non-ordinary, more sacrificial demands of discipleship.
The reason for this is that it seems so reasonable to make the “ordinary” our main thing. Everyone needs to engage in the business of everyday life, and if we don’t do this well, it can make things fairly difficult or even be life threatening. So it seems very reasonable to prioritize the ordinary and think we are just being “faithful” in doing so, when in reality we are letting it crowd out other crucial gospel demands.
In other words, the ordinary business of everyday life seems so reasonable and important that it can begin to take precedence without us even being aware of it. The radical demands of the gospels and NT are designed to wake us up from that slumber.
The biblical balance is to recognize that ordinary things are important things, but not ultimate things. We are to affirm the ordinary, while also being willing to let those things take lower priority when obedience to Christ’s other commands (such as getting the gospel to all nations) requires it.