Tony Merida. Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down. Nashville: B&H, 2014. 137 pp. $12.99.
Church and Ministry
Have we inadvertently sensationalized the Christian mission? Have we exalted “rockstar” Christians – those who live radically as missionaries and pastors – leaving ordinary folk believing they can be nothing more than fans? Have we missed that loving justice and doing mercy is an ordinary activity for ordinary people?
Tony Merida thinks so. Now, before you regrettably assume that this is a reaction to the message of David Platt’s Radical, let me dispel this error. Platt and Merida are friends; their messages harmonize. Merida says, in regards to Platt, “Platt has encouraged me for years, particularly with his emphasis on global missions. I hope to echo much of Radical in Ordinary, with some of my own applications” (xi).
Likewise, you might have come across Michael Horton’s recent book, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical Restless World, and wondered: “How are these two books with same titles distinct? Should I bother with one, the other, or neither?” Now, I admit I’ve read Merida’s book and not Horton’s. But I have interacted with reviews of Horton’s. Knowing Horton’s general knack for popularizing New Covenant Theology and his smart cultural engagement, his is probably the book that wrestles through megachurch, rockstar apostle, and rogue Christian angst with theological acumen.
Merida, on the other hand, doesn’t present a reactive posture – which there’s nothing wrong with; we should react against novelty methods that evaporate like dew. This book is just not about that. Ordinary presents how you, Everyday Ellen and Joe Shmo, don’t have to be Dressey Bessey and Dapper Dan of radical missions. Compassion, hospitality, loving orphans, advocacy, and humility are ordinary demonstration of Christian living, and each of these topics – this remarkable pastor of Imago Dei Church in Raleigh, North Carolina – presents in five sequential chapters.
To simply put the thesis of Ordinary before you, Merida says:
“Ordinary is a call to, like Job, wear justice. It’s a call to live with a social conscience at all times. It’s a call to care for the vulnerable, not merely on mission trips, but in the ordinariness of our days. It’s a call to conduct our everyday affairs with honesty and integrity. It’s a call to work the character of God deeply into our hearts so that we will care about what God cares about. But it’s not a call to be radical; it’s a call to be ordinary. It’s a call to a new normal.” (10)
Benefit for Pastoral Ministry
One thing I love about Ordinary is how Merida presents this new normal alongside Aristides report to the Emperor Hadrian in AD 125. Aristides tells Hadrian that Christian’s ordinary activities include loving the vulnerable and practicing cheerful, loving hospitality. Non-Christian leaders in AD 125 saw Christians living for a different King, King Jesus, and were astonished by the social transformation that occurred. Though we don’t take our cue from doing what is effective for affecting the world, we do not shy away from doing what the world clearly recognizes as biblical. The question we ought to ask is, “Do world leaders see Christians today as Aristides and Hadrian saw Christians in AD 125? Do they see us faithfully living out our biblical principles?” If not, then we should read Ordinary with an extraordinarily keen level of attention.
Merida doesn’t have to build a bulletproof case from Scripture for compassion, hospitality, loving orphans, advocacy, and humility. Who would argue against those values? Still, he wastes no opportunity to overwhelm with storehouses of texts from both the Old and New Testament. These texts reinforce an attitude of gospel proclamation that produces gospel mission. A singular example from Merida’s second chapter on Kingdom Hospitality suffices. Merida says, “For Jesus, the table was a place for friendship, welcome, gospel communication, and mission” (41). Pages 42 through 48 unpack this principle regarding Kingdom Hospitality from Old Testament through New. Other chapters, similarly, include tables, bulleted sections, or litanies of scriptural evidence to support the proposition undergirding that chapter.
You won’t close Ordinary without hearing about William Wilburforce, a portrait that points to the essential necessity of a humble heart. “William Wilburforce was an ordinary Christian … What made him great? Answer: God-centered humility” (105-106). Though he wasn’t a man of stature, Wilburforce was pivotal in fighting the slave trade. Others throughout Ordinary, who adopted, gave compassion, or advocated for the voiceless will inspire you. But Merida doesn’t stop with touching stories, he unpacks practical principles, even as simple as offering a list of websites to find more information about how you may help (127-128).
The peril of any book that focuses on doing is self-righteousness or self-justification. Not with Ordinary. This review ends with an anchoring concept from the book’s beginning, a gentle reminder for each. Jesus didn’t head to Jerusalem because you loved your neighbor well. It’s quite the opposite. “He’s going to the cross because no one completely loves God and neighbor the way the Bible Demands” (24).
Essential — Recommended — Helpful — Pass It By
Tony Merida in Ordinary astutely reminds you that humble, compassionate love is ordinary living for every Christian.