The Ordinary Hero: Living the cross and resurrection
Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, 2009, 224pp.
When asked to review The Ordinary Hero, I imagined an inspiring biography—a tale of bravery or of remarkable achievement by someone like you and me. I was mostly wrong. This is not a biography; it proclaims the meaning of the cross and resurrection for our lives. It’s a tale of bravery, but not in the third person; it’s about you and me. It calls on us all to “live the cross and resurrection” (p. 12). For Tim Chester, this is what an ‘ordinary hero’ does, and he challenges those who claim to be Christian to live out the implications of that claim. I found his book challenging and insightful in its application of the events of the cross to our lives.
The book has five sections, each examining an implication of the cross and resurrection. Chester’s style is warm, engaging and easy to read. In the first section, he declares that the cross is the ultimate demonstration of God’s love (Rom 5, 8)—a bastion of certainty in life’s maelstrom of injustice and suffering. The cross leads us to approach God with the seemingly contradictory attitudes of humility and confidence. Chester notes helpfully that humility can’t be achieved; rather, coming from a true view of ourselves, it is “self forgetfulness” (p. 35). He also emphasizes that the cross will change our attitudes to others. While this is certainly true, some conclusions here are simplistic—for example, “if you feel condemned by other people … it may be because you feel condemned by God” (p. 41).
Chester then expounds Jesus’ call to ‘take up our cross daily’ (Luke 9:23). This is a call to die (p. 50). It may not mean martyrdom, but it will mean self-denial day by day. This is radical, given our western culture of materialism and self-fulfilment. It is also fresh air in the face of Christian ‘prosperity’ teaching. I found this section challenging and biblically well-based, but I would have been happier if the motivation to heed the call had been directed more at the heart and derived from the gospel; at times, it read (unintentionally) like a list of sacrificial exercises. In addition, I thought Chester placed too heavy a burden on his readers (particularly those with weak consciences) when he criticized various ‘excuses’ for not doing things (pp. 66-69).
In the third section, Chester examines the pattern of cross and resurrection. For Jesus, the cross must come first, but the resurrection and the victory of the new age follow. However, this pattern is not just for Jesus; it is for all creation. This world is now in the time of sin and judgement, but re-creation is coming. The resurrection is a promise: what happened to Christ will happen to the world (pp. 103-105). Chester sees the cross and resurrection as the “fulcrum of history—the point on which it turns” (p. 105). Furthermore, it is the pattern for the disciples: suffering followed by glory. In this life, we suffer, but we have a sure future hope. I found his exposition of the Calvary events eye-opening. Although I felt I understood the centrality of the cross, I had never thought about it in these terms—as the pattern, fulcrum and determiner of world history and the lives of God’s people.
The fourth section examines the implications of the resurrection for our lives now. We have God’s power, which raised Jesus from the dead (Eph 1:19-20). This is a challenging section that speaks strongly against the ‘victory’ mentality, which is taught in some churches today and which underlies many ministries. The power we have is the power to be weak—to endure suffering, to be humble. The Spirit leads us the same way he led Jesus: to service, suffering and love.
Lastly, Chester extols the beauties of heaven—creation remade; a world free of pain and death; a world of justice, joy and love. This section crystallizes the future that awaits us. It ends in a timely challenge: “Where is your treasure?” Chester asks the hard questions, and succeeded in putting me, for one, under intense scrutiny.
Chester finishes by revealing his “hero of the resurrection”. I won’t spoil the surprise, but his description of this life of faithfulness is quite moving. Chester’s hero is not a crowd attractor, but lives the life of the cross and resurrection—the life of an ‘ordinary’ hero.
The Ordinary Hero yields rich returns for the reader’s investment in time. It focuses our attention on God’s great rescue in Jesus—the centrality of the cross and resurrection in the history of the world and in the lives we live. It provides us with strong grounds for realism and endurance in the present, underpinned by hope for the future. It calls upon us to follow our Saviour into death and life. In all this, Tim Chester succeeds in the crucial task of applying the cross and resurrection to our lives and challenging us to live them.