Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics at Westminster Seminary (California). His book, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World frames the following conversation.
David George Moore conducted the interview. Dave blogs at www.twocities.org.
Moore: What made you pick up the pen and decide to tackle a book on this subject?
Horton: I was motivated by a general sense, over many years of being part of and observing a long string of movements and personalities encouraging The Next Big Thing that will change us and/or our world. I gravitate toward a big game-plan and I want to make a difference, so I get the attraction. But I’m worried that it’s leading more to burn-out and dissatisfaction with long-term discipleship.
Moore: You do not mention them by name, but works by David Platt and Francis Chan seem to be among your concerns. If that is correct, why didn’t you directly interact with their books?
Horton: As I say up front on the first page, I’m the target. If Ordinary is seen as an attack on a specific book, that’s a shame. It detracts from what I see as the pervasiveness of certain habits of thought, life, and ministry that are much deeper and broader. In fact, a lot of things that David Platt calls for in Radical are crucial ingredients of discipleship: interest in missions and a critique of consumer-oriented living, for example. If there are any differences between the emphasis of Radical and Ordinary, I hope they’ll be heard more in the vein of “Yes, but let’s also remember how discipleship unfolds over the long haul.” So it’s conversation, not polemics. I’m not on a soap-box, issuing a critique from on high. Everything that I call attention to for further reflection is part of my own struggle.
Moore: “Ordinary” could be misunderstood for bland or a lack of excellence, but you are not opposed to doing good work or even work which is recognized by others, correct?
Horton: Ask the proficient athlete, artist, businessperson, or homemaker what creates excellence and they’ll all agree: a commitment to long-term goals –and with a community of mentors and fellow “disciples.” It’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s the bursts of enthusiasm that keep us from maturing, deepening, and bearing fruit that lasts. Excellence is being thwarted not only by laziness but by reckless attachment to causes, programs, and—in some cases, leaders.
Moore: You do a good job of showing the importance of faithfulness in the regular rhythms of life. I often tell people that doing free speech at places like Stanford, Cal Berkeley, and Boulder is easier to do than loving my wife when I am tired. And my wife is easy to love! Why do we fail to remember to remember that our obedience is just as important in the regular rhythms of life?
Horton: Exactly. I say the same thing in the book. It’s a lot easier to preach and lecture in Africa than to be there—really be there—when my wife needs to be heard, or when my kids need to go to soccer practice, or when somebody at church asks me for help. Why do we think that we’re “making a difference” in the big stuff but not in the everyday callings God gives us? Why are causes easier than actual neighbors and brothers and sisters? Exploring some answers to those questions is a big part of the book.
Moore: If measuring our impact is impossible to do, why are we consumed with doing it?
Horton: That’s key. “There were 2000 pastors at that conference in China”: there’s a metric. Losing a certain number of pounds, report cards, a raise at work: these offer a sense of, “Hey, it was worth the investment!” Then we carry that into our lives as Christians and into the church: What are the metrics of sanctification? “Before” and “After” testimonies abound. They can give us a burst of enthusiasm and they can also make us feel like we’re losers. At the end of the day, we need to stop thinking about what we can make of ourselves and start thinking more about who God is, what he has done and is doing in Christ for us and for our neighbors, and how he can use us and our fellow brothers and sisters to be instruments of his gift-giving. It all comes down from the Triune God, through the ordinary means of grace, and then out through us to our neighbors. Real neighbors, not the abstractions.
Moore: Do you have any specific concern for the so-called “young, restless, and Reformed?” By the way, my wife likes to say she is “older, resting, and transformed.”
Horton: What a great line! As I point out, “young” just goes with “restless.” Only a couple of years ago, my kids wouldn’t leave the line in the water long enough to catch a fish. Now they’re developing patience, skill, and proficiency. That requires care, desiring a goal that is big enough to justify the often dull routines.
Moore: Let’s close with what you say on page 58: “If you are always looking for an impact, a legacy, and success, you will not take the time to care for the things that matter.” Elaborate a bit on this.
Horton: If you want to be an athlete, there’s no way around it: You have to go to the gym. You can’t Google your way to it. You can’t find a YouTube clip to become a craftsman, friend, parent—or disciple of Christ. It’s all of grace. And to grow in that grace, you need two things: time and community. That’s what God gives us in his church, as in other areas of our life. Forget the legacy and enjoy receiving the gifts and sharing them. We’re receiving a kingdom, not building one. It’s Christ’s legacy and he doesn’t have a succession plan.