Monday, January 5, 2015

Book Review: Ordinary

In his book Ordinary: How to Turn the World Upside Down, Tony Merida states his goal on page 9:  "Throughout this small book, I want to identify some 'ordinary things' that ordinary people like us can do, and if we do them with gospel intentionality (speaking and showing the gospel), then we can make an extraordinary impact."

Good works are part of a Christian's sanctification process, but the ultimate goal of a Christian is to glorify God (1 Cor. 10:31).  The author agrees that good works should be done in conjunction with sharing the Gospel (p.28), but his book leans more toward a Pharisaical how-to guide as he focuses on what Christians should do and never talks about guiding conversations to Jesus Christ and sharing the Gospel as they love their neighbor.  The good works that I do to love my neighbor do not look anything like the list the author laid out in his book; therefore, I did not find it helpful.  However, I was encouraged to examine my Christian walk and inspect how I am loving my neighbor because as a believer I am "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we [believers] should walk in them," (Eph. 2:10).

Mr. Merida explicitly states that salvation is a gift of grace (p. 24), so he is not describing a works-based system of salvation.  I agree with the author that "[s]aving faith is an active faith," (p. 26).  However, where the Bible is silent on how Christians obey the command to love their neighbor, the author has added his own how-to list (emphasis mine):
  • "My point is that we must have an open heart/home toward people that extends beyond what's comfortable, culturally normal, and exclusive," (p. 41).
  • "We need to adopt this same missionary posture [rejoicing when a local non-believer comes to their home for dinner]," (p. 53).
  • "Believers should be asking, 'Why shouldn't I do foster care?'" (p. 56).
  • "You should also consider ways to serve and love veterans, and those with mental and physical needs," (p. 59).
  • "Your local police force is another group that you should consider serving," (p. 59).
  • "Every Christian must do something to care for the orphan," (p. 80).
  • "For all of us, orphan care ought to be expressed through very ordinary means," (p. 80).
  • "Obviously, becoming a foster parent is something every believer should seriously consider," (p. 80).
  • "Sometimes we must do emergency relief; but we must also tend to the matters of restoration and development," (p. 82).
  • "So we must help provide financial aid," (p. 84).
  • "First, churches must strengthen their relationships with orphanages," (p. 85).
  • "Further, we must help our Christian businessmen and women get a vision for orphan care," (p. 85).
In just over 40 pages of Ordinary, Mr. Merida itemizes at least twelve things that Christians must do to love their neighbor.  But the Bible does not include such a list that applies universally to all Christians.  Jesus Christ says that "If ye love me, keep my commandments," (John 14:15).  His commandments are summarized in Luke 10:27: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart...and thy neighbor as thyself."  The command to love your neighbor is a summary of the second table of the Moral Law, or the Ten Commandments.  Christians are to obey the Moral Law which was further expounded by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5).  These laws are to be kept in spirit and truth.  There is no list of how to keep these laws in the Bible, which is why Mr. Merida's book is Pharisaical in nature because he has added to God's Law just like the Pharisees of Jesus' time.  Christians are to love their neighbors by caring for the poor, the widows, the orphans, etc.  But that looks different for every Christian because God has determined the times and bounds of our habitations (Acts 17:26).  "Good works are only such as God hath commanded in His Holy Word...Their [Christians'] ability to do good works is not at all of themselves, but wholly from the Spirit of Christ," (1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith, Chap. 16, para. 1, 3).

In contrast to the things that Christians must do, Mr. Merida also mentions sharing the Gospel on page 83 (emphasis mine):  "Let's do what we can to see that these kids are hearing the gospel [sic], being loved, and are receiving the best possible care."  His comment on the Gospel is glaringly weak in light of his bold admonitions on how Christians are to keep the command to love their neighbor.

Even though he did not emphasize this point, the author talks about the need to not only serve, but also to share with those you are serving (p. 28).  He writes about alleviating the present sufferings of the weak and then telling them about "the King, who will usher in a new kingdom of complete shalom, where the lion plays with the lamb," (p. 30).  This is not the Gospel.  This is not what Christians should be sharing with the world.  The Apostle Paul gives a clear summary of the Gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:1-4: "Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you the gospel which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand;  By which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain.  For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures;  And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures."

In describing the salvation process, Mr. Merida states that "He's [Jesus is] going to the cross because no one completely loves God and neighbor the way the Bible demands.  Except one: Jesus Himself!  Jesus lived the life we couldn't live and died the death we should have died.  Luke is showing us that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ crucified alone...Jesus Christ can forgive you entirely, and give you His perfect righteousness," (pp. 24-25).  Again, this is an incomplete Gospel presentation because sin and Christ's resurrection are missing.  The biblical truth that conviction of sin leads to repentance and saving faith in Jesus is sorely lacking in this book, and the closest idea to the resurrection is the author's statement regarding the apostles who "were eventually consumed with truth that Jesus vacated a tomb," (p. 9).  This is not biblical language.  It is confusing and even implies that Christ may not have died.  I understand that the author is mainly writing to Christians, but a complete Gospel picture must be given every time; not only for the unbelieving reader, but also as an example for those who go, serve, and share the Gospel.

The only way to turn the world upside down is to share the Gospel because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God (Rom. 10:17).  True Christian faith is not passive because faith is shown by good works.  However, the key to good works is not the service provided, it's the focus on God's glory by sharing the true Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Therefore, I cannot recommend Ordinary by Tony Merida since his book emphasizes what Christians should do and does not adequately describe or prioritize the Gospel.  "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (Mark 8:36).

Full Disclosure:  I received a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.