How Do You Live a Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World? — An Excerpt from Michael Horton's "Ordinary"
Transformative. Impactful. Life-Changing.
Emergent. Alternative. Innovative.
The Next Big Thing.
Sound familiar? They should. Because as Michael Horton explains in his new book Ordinary, they are influencing a “frantic search for ‘something more’” in the Christian life. (125)
At root in our quest for The Next Big Thing is “a basic discontent with God’s Word. We begin to look for programs and personalities that will make us winners in a sprint, instead of running the long-distance race with the assurance that Christ has already won the prize for us.” (125-126)
What’s a Christian to do?
In the excerpt below Horton argues we need to turn to an unlikely source in order to shift our attention from “something more” to “something more sustainable.”
Read it, pass it along, and then add Ordinary to your nightstand to learn how to cultivate a sustainable faith in a radical, restless world.
The cure for selfish ambition and restless devotion to The Next Big Thing is contentment. But like happiness, excellence, and drive, contentment is not something you can just generate from within. It has to have an object. There must be someone or something that is so satisfying that we can sing, “Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also.”
The gospel is truly radical: “the power of God for salvation” (Rom 1:16). Through this gospel, the Holy Spirit creates the faith to embrace Christ with all of his benefits. We are delivered from condemnation and are made part of the new creation in Christ. Filled with grateful hearts, we look for ways to glorify God and to love and serve our neighbors. We are eager to grow. Fueled by gratitude, we look for opportunities to glorify God and to love and serve others. Yet it is easy to take the gospel for granted. Then we find ourselves running out of that high-octane fuel, running out of gas in the middle of the busy highway of myriad calls to get in the fast lane. In the zeal created by the gospel itself, we can leave the gospel behind as we gravitate toward various calls to “something more.”
Of course, there is something more to the Christian life than believing the gospel. The gospel keeps our eyes fixed on Christ, while the law tells us how to run the race. But our tendency is always to add our own doctrines to the gospel and our own commands and expectations to God’s revealed Word. No longer content with the gospel and the commands of Scripture, we begin to look for something more. All the problems that I have described up to this point — and many others besides — result from a basic discontent with God’s Word. We begin to look for programs and personalities that will make us winners in a sprint, instead of running the long-distance race with the assurance that Christ has already won the prize for us.
My thesis in this book 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 the gospel as God’s power for salvation. We also need to be content with his ordinary means of grace that, over time, yield a harvest of plenty for everyone to enjoy.
A relative newcomer, “sustainability” has entered our everyday language mainly from environmental science and economics. We’ve become increasingly aware that we can’t just consume natural resources. At some point they run out or give out or are so changed by our manipulation that they become threats. The quarry becomes our grave. Even our attempts to save, recover, or build healthy ecosystems from scratch can yield unintended effects that are in the long run more damaging.
Applied to Christian discipleship, sustainable development is neither an oxymoron nor an impediment to progress. We should all be in favor of growth — both in numbers and in quality, in our personal lives and as churches. Where disagreements emerge is over what growth means and how it is sustained. The danger of a mere conservationism is that it values “land” (the tradition) more than people who are now living on it and depend on it for their growth.
At the other end of the spectrum are those who favor radical schemes that take little note of the spiritual ecosystem that has flourished for generations. Instead, according to this outlook, we need to focus on this generation and whatever it takes to create rapid growth. External forms are seen as restrictive. Churches and families can be viewed as hothouses where plants suffocate instead of replicating. So the solution is to get rid of the old vines and trellises. Start from scratch. You may have to lose a lot of people in the process, but that gives you a chance to start fresh without sheep slowing down the shepherds.
Or, to change the analogy, some will suggest that if you want to do something significant, you need to break away from the herd. Of course, in breaking away from one herd we inevitably join another. Instead of belonging to a local church — a flock determined by familiar routines that seem to make little measurable difference — we become part of the stampede of some new movement. Like most stampedes, we will tear up verdant pastures and gardens that have taken a long time to develop. Like “alternative music,” we imagine that we’re being countercultural and asserting our individual initiative when in fact we’re still followers of the marketplace. Today’s “radical” is tomorrow’s “ordinary.”
In most cases, impatience with the ordinary is at the root of our restlessness and rootlessness. We’re looking for something more to charge our lives with interest, meaning, and purpose. Instead of growing like a tree, we want to grow like a forest fire. (125-127)
By Michael Horton
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