American exceptionalism—the belief that our country stands apart from other nations in divine favor, potential, morality, etc.—has been imported to the church, personalized for the individual and then sanctified and elevated to a virtue. Each person—it is suggested—is born with a seed of greatness. Accepting mediocrity, ordinary-ness or normalcy is an offense against the God who made you for greatness and wants to “unleash” you into your “destiny.”
In many conferences, books and TV programs, this is presented as the essence of Christianity. Biblical characters like David and Paul are normative models for Christian life—sans the adultery, stonings, shipwrecks and imprisonments, of course. Speakers and authors will artfully weave their own life stories into the narrative to reinforce the principles they applied to achieve their dreams.
This is nothing more than the baptism of selfish ambition, and it leaves no room for the countless obscure, persecuted, poor, unempowered and mediocre people (from the world’s standpoint) whom God has called to be a part of His family. From their birth until their death, they have no dreams beyond “living quietly,” “minding their own affairs” and “working with their hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Counterintuitively, these are the people with whom God is building His Kingdom.
As I heard Tullian Tchividjian say recently, “The gospel frees me to be ordinary.” This is why the gospel was relevant to the slaves, women, immigrants and outcasts that composed much of the early church, and it is why it is relevant to the idolatrous, ambition-drunk narcissists of the 21st century.