Title of Work:

Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical Restless World

Author of Work:

Michael Horton


Pastor Joseph Fricke

Page Number:


Format Availability:

Paperback, Kindle




Ordinary Resize CoverHorton brings relief for the beleaguered pastor who wonders why his ministry doesn’t seem to be as powerful and impactful as the ministry of others.  He attempts to encourage us in a world that is filled with “Radical. Epic. Revolutionary. Transformative. Impactful. Life-Changing. Ultimate. Extreme. Awesome. Emergent. Alternative. Innovative. On The Edge. The Next Big Thing. Explosive. Breakthrough{s}” (11) ministries by pointing us to the ordinary. His book is aimed at American Evangelicals. Yet, the confessional Lutheran can take his warnings and encouragements to heart. He takes Evangelicals to task for being so focused on extraordinary methods and results, that they have forgotten the main focus of Gospel ministry, i.e. proclaiming the Word. Horton also seeks to debunk the theory that there is an undiscovered way to have a highly successful and highly impactful ministry. Although his background is conservative Calvinist, he speaks from a theological viewpoint that Lutheran pastors can understand and appreciate.

The author takes us back to the fundamentals. He helps the reader understand how culture has infected the church. In the visible church, both Baby Boomers and their mantra of “Change your life” and Millennials whose mantra has become “Change the world” (18) seem to have missed the point. “We are called to grow in our personal relationship with Christ. We are also called to love and serve others – our fellow believers and our neighbors. And yet the evangelical Movement has always been to prioritize extraordinary methods and demands over the ordinary means that Christ instituted for sustainable mission” (18).

Horton spends the first half of the book identifying the problems inherent with the evangelical mindset toward ministry and Christian living. He identifies how the church has been obsessed with culture and demonstrates that the culture has infiltrated the church. The Church does not need innovation, but rather, “The key to maturity is time and community” (64). He criticizes Evangelicals for becoming so accustomed to “Radical. Epic. Revolutionary. Transformative. Impactful…” and so on, that they have forgotten the main thing. He takes us back to the heart and soul of the ministry. “The most important thing to keep our eye on is not religious experience itself, but the faithful ministry of God’s means of grace” (83). In concluding the first half of the book we are warned against ambition in the Church. After quoting 2 Corinthians 4:5,7 he states, “It’s the message, not the messenger” (107). He further speculates, “I think that if Jesus were to return today, he might tell us to stop taking ourselves so seriously” (119).

In the second half of the book Horton leads the reader back to Scripture and God’s intent for our work. Contentment in the power of the Gospel is the path that God has laid out for his Church. We find our contentment in what God has made us, rather than what we accomplish. “We return to our baptism daily to find our true identity in Christ rather than in ourselves” (128).

Horton demonstrates how the Church has flourished over the ages by contrasting the old wisdom of the historical church with the relatively recent culture of evangelicalism. The evangelical movement tends to ignore history and idolize youth and all that goes with it. He draws that distinction by showing how the culture of the Church is a culture founded on grace not on a contract. As an example of “contract” thinking he uses this illustration: “If our relationship with Jesus is like a contract, then we bring the same logic with it to the church…Instead church leaders will bend over backwards to make sure people (at least the right people) are happy, because they know that you can go to the church down the highway, one that has a wider menu of options” (132). On the other hand he says, “Our identity is no longer something we strive toward, based on an ambiguous standard and dependent on the approval of others…I no longer have any reason to treat others as tools of my self-esteem and self-validation… My brothers and sisters are no longer instruments of my ambition, but gifts – coheirs of the inheritance that we all share together in Christ” (133). With this foremost in our minds, ambition in ministry is replaced by striving to be faithful, and seeking to use our lives to bless others with God’s gifts.

God does not call us to always do extraordinary good works, but rather we are called to serve our fellow man in ordinary ways. “What did you do for the kingdom today?… a quiet reference in the coffee room that provokes a coworker weeks later to ask a question about life or death…You made lunch for the kids and got them off to school on time” (208). What makes them extraordinary is they are done by God’s people motivated by God’s grace. (It sounds like Martin Luther’s Table of Duties, doesn’t it?)

I feel the most important part of this book is that Horton reminds us we live in an “economy of grace” not an “economy of contract” (work for reward).  He touches on the inherent trouble with most evangelical evangelism methods. They are based on a “decision” contract economy.

Michael Horton does a great job of analyzing American Evangelicalism and its decision theology and helps the reader to see how Evangelicalism fits into American culture. American Evangelicalism is so wrapped up in American culture that it has gone down a road that leads us to look away from Christ and his ordinary means of grace. The chasing after the new and novel will place us in a world that is antithetical to living a life of grace and offering ourselves as “living sacrifices” to God.  He demonstrates from Scripture and church history how the extraordinary work of God has been accomplished through the ordinary preaching of the Word and administering of the Sacraments.

While it is clear that Horton is a Calvinist, he addresses issues that tug at Lutheran pastors today. He analyzes the tension between living in a culture of new and ever changing with the culture of the Church, which is and always has been based on God’s unchangeable Word.

Despite a smattering of Calvinist theology, I feel this book is a great read for the Lutheran pastor. He clearly does not have a Lutheran view of the means of grace. Nevertheless, if you read the term “means of grace” with a Lutheran definition, the book still has many good things to ponder. It reminds us to stick to a ministry focused on the means of grace, as we have been taught by the apostles and prophets. Trust the means of grace (from a Lutheran view), and the Holy Spirit to do his work. The ministry of the Word has rarely been glamorous throughout history, yet the kingdom of God still grows and marches on. Horton emphasizes well our desire to be faithful to the Word and to proclaim Christ in an ever-changing world. Stick to what God says works, rather than letting culture tell us what works. There is no silver bullet to “success” in the ministry. “Success” is in the hands of God. For a few dollars spent online, this book is well worth the price. Ordinary will not sit on the shelf and gather dust.

Michael Horton is a professor at Westminster Seminary California. He has written over 30 books and also hosts the White Horse Inn broadcast/podcast and is editor of Modern Reformation magazine.