Do you ever feel like you are not doing enough for God? Do you struggle with guilt or even shame in your Christian life? If you work a so-called “secular” job—a bank teller, engineer, paper salesman, and so on—do you ever wonder if you need to quit so that you can work more directly for Jesus? Do you wonder if your simple life is not “radical” enough, or if you are “sold- out” to Jesus? If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then season 4 episode 8 of the Eudo Podcast is for you. We are going to explore how discipleship in Christ affects all aspects of our life. In other words, we want to explore what faithfulness to Christ looks like in this day and age if we reject this so-called secular and sacred split. We want to push back on the idea that there are super-Christians—pastors, missionaries, worship leaders—and then the rest, those ordinary, boring, sit-in-the pew Christians. There is no such thing as a first and second class Christian: all of us, as followers of Christ, are called to daily pick up our cross and follow Jesus in whatever sphere of life we find ourselves.
Why are we talking about a theology of the ordinary?
American evangelicals, like Americans in general, are fascinated with being great. We long to live a great life. We want to make a difference for Christ. There is nothing wrong with wanting to live a great life: God has called us to live a life full of dignity and destiny. The problem, as noted by Julie Canlis in her excellent little book, A Theology of the Ordinary, is that many of us, especially in America, think that we become “great” when we are radical or fervent or extraordinary. We must do crazy things for Jesus if we want to be a great Christian. But what about the more mundane parts of our lives? Can we be radical or fervent or extraordinary when we wash the dishes, fill out an expense report, or go out to dinner with friends? In an age obsessed with greatness, what might discipleship look like in all areas of our lives, including the mundane? Is it possible to be faithful to Jesus and be ordinary?
Julie Canlis argues that we should reject the dualism of the ordinary and the extraordinary. All of life ought to be lived under the banner of Christ. We want to live great lives, to be sure, but greatness is not measured in terms of passion only. Rather, as the Apostle Paul puts it in Romans 12:1, we are great when all aspects of our lives are offered to God as “a spiritual act of worship.”
In A Theology of the Ordinary, Canlis seeks to articulate a “robust Trinitarian theology of the ordinary [that] will not undermine being passionate or sold-out but will ground and purify it” .
Two events in American history that have led to the dualism between extraordinary and ordinary spirituality.
Canlis notes two events that took place around 1792, just as our country was in its infancy that have shaped modern evangelicalism.
The first was a sermon, preached by the Baptist Preacher and Missionary William Carey in 1792. In this sermon, Carey said, “Do great things for God; expect great things from God.” From this sermon, the modern missionary movement was born, and along with it an activist impulse, understood particularly as the opportunity to do something great for God.
The second thing, according to Canlis, was the ministry of Charles Finney in New England in the late 18th century. Finney preached revivals up and down the New England coast focusing on a kind of emotionalism that was engineered to produce conversions.
These two factors have shaped modern evangelicalism in at least three ways:
- Focus on emotionalism and sensationalism
- The rise of anti-intellectualism
- A truncated view of spiritual formation: what is needed in the Christian life is not growth in Christ by slow and deliberate degrees, but rather, personal revival.
The problem, according to Canlis is this: “Without a theology that values slow growth over dramatic change and the ‘ordinary’ as essential to our spiritual maturity, we are in danger of living in a burned-over district or a burned-over spirituality” .
What is this robust Trinitarian theology that Canlis discusses in her book?
First, Canlis begins with a doctrine of creation, noting two things, things we’ve already discusses: the universe God has made is good and it is a cosmic temple. According to Canlis, there are two competing “Garden of Eden” stories, or ways of understanding Genesis, amongst Christians.
On the first, God gifts to creatures a good world.
The Garden of Eden is a place of communion— with God, self, others, and nature. God’s gift to humanity “is the space to be itself—to be a creature of God and not to be a puppet or slave of God” . As creatures, we are finite; we have limits. We have been created with bodies and so we grow tired, hungry, and old. But these limits are a good thing; for they imply our need for others—our need for relationships. Humans, as priests and priestesses, ought to view all of life as spiritual.
The second part of this Trinitarian Story of God – we have a resounding “IT IS GOOD” tumbling down to us from Genesis to our present lives. But, there is a challenge to the claim that creation is good, however. Because of sin, we now live in a fallen world; a world full of the good, true, and beautiful, but also of evil, suffering, and death. Man lives life “away” from the Garden of Eden. This world is not the way it is supposed to be. For those obsessed with greatness, we would expect God to fix things in a big—extraordinary way.
But in this second movement of our Trinitarian story, the inhabitation of the Son in ordinary life helps us see that the ordinary is the rule, not the exception. In fact, what we find in the incarnation is God the Son entering this world, taking on a human nature, in a rather ordinary way and in a rather ordinary place. This is how God works. Man’s fundamental need is to be reunited with God. Sin is the problem, but payment for sin is only part of the story; Jesus came to draw us, along with all creation, back to God. Jesus’s mission is to reclaim every aspect of ordinary human experience back to him. We don’t leave our ordinary life behind to follow Jesus, rather we follow Jesus within our ordinary life, and that is extraordinary.
The third movement of this Trinitarian story – with the incarnation, the extraordinary/radical/epic thing has already happened: God has infiltrated, re-created, and redeemed. We no longer need to carry the burden of being great or radical or sold-out. Rather, we are truly radical by living our ordinary lives in Christ. But how, exactly do we do that? According to Canlis, “The Spirit’s mission is to put us in Christ—to unite us to Him, and let His life flow into us” . Ordinary life is “the Spirit’s Playground” . We do not become “spiritual” by removing ourselves somehow from the world. Rather, the spiritual life just is “a life lived by and in and through the Holy Spirit” . Ordinary Christianity is not ordinary after all. The spirit is present and active in the world, the Church, and in our lives, helping to unite all things in Christ.
We live in a sacramental universe. God does not seek to remove us from this world, rather this world is God’s home, and as we grow in Christ, we will become more “at home” in God’s good world. And that extraordinary! As Canlis summarizes here book, “When we live our lives as ordinary persons, we become an extraordinary picture to the world of what we were intended to be: God and humanity united together in heart and purpose” .
- Canlis, Julie. A Theology of the Ordinary. Wenatchee, WA: Godspeed Press, 2017.
For a the free e-book from our season 4 sponsor, click this link: “101 Works of Art to Inspire Your Imagination (That Aren’t by C. S. Lewis or J. R. R. Tolkien)”
 Julie Canlis, A Theology of the Ordinary (Wenatchee, WA: Godspeed Press, 2017), 3.
 Ibid., 8.
 Ibid., 14.
 Ibid., 50.
 Ibid., 66.