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Monday, June 25, 2012

Books & Culture essay up—some background on it

I am so honored that to see that my essay for Books & Culture (B&C) is now up at their website for anyone, subscriber or not, to read. Though I was published in B & C years ago on a totally different subject (Vietnam), as well as having done a short piece for their online blog, this is certainly the most substantial work I have done for them and the lengthiest writing I have done personally since my master’s theses. Writing the essay got me going full depth on the question of apostolic ministry and I am using the research I did on the paper for a book with Cascade that I hope to see published in 2013.

The book that occasions the essay is Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim's The Permanent Revolution. Although the essay takes a decidedly dim view of the argument for current day apostles, I had originally thought this would be a much more positive piece because I knew that Alan Hirsch had nothing to do with C. Peter Wagner’s so-called New Apostolic Reformation and had a good reputation among people who I respect, including the folks at Wheaton College who are working with Alan on a masters in missional movements. I thought, in other words, that I would find a stronger, subtler argument than what I ended up finding, which is not to say the book is not worth reading and is not filled with insights on the sociology of church leadership and the call of the church to be in mission for Christ. But what became clear very quickly in the book was that Alan and Tim were going to present an argument far more controversial than I was expecting. Here they are already on page 5 under the heading Almost a Silver Bullet:

In presenting Ephesians 4:1-16, we are tempted to say that it is one of those rare things—a silver bullet: a simple, guaranteed solution for a difficult problem. Of course we do not believe that, but over time we have come to think that it is almost a silver bullet. We believe that a full appreciation and application of Ephesians 4 typology will unleash enormous energies that will awaken now-dormant potentials in the church that Jesus built.

As far as we can discern, every observable, highly transformative apostolic movement that achieved exponential missional impact has operated with some expression of fivefold ministry. We are absolutely convinced of this: it is clear in the explicit teachings of Scripture, evidenced in mission’s history and in contemporary apostolic movements in the global church and confirmed by the best thinking in the social sciences.

The quality of extreme urgency and sweeping certainty in this quote runs throughout the book and will be the subject of an additional post by me later, but for now I want to focus on the final sentence where they put forward their four evidences: “We are absolutely convinced of this: it is clear in the explicit teachings of Scripture, evidenced in mission’s history and in contemporary apostolic movements in the global church and confirmed by the best thinking in the social sciences.” Given the limits of space my review focused on the first three aspects of their argument—the scriptural, the historical and the contemporary. What makes the five-fold so urgent for Christians to adopt--according to Hirsch and Catchim necessary for Christians to adopt in order to be faithful to Jesus--is that it is supposedly unique among sociological formulas due to its rooting in Scripture, history and contemporary Christian witness. It would be fascinating, but would likely take up at least as much space as my review, to weigh Hirsch’s and Catchim’s sociological argument: Is the best of social sciences clearly in favor of a five-fold model versus the range of other models available for Christian ministry? That would be a great article to consider, but in my judgment I saw it as more important, and certainly plenty to manage, to focus the essay on the scriptural, historical and contemporary claims, especially since the authors said they were “absolutely convinced” that those pointed to the necessity of a five-fold ecclesiology and since scripture in particular holds greater authority for evangelicals than compatibility with sociology.

I am anxious to receive feedback on the essay.  A number of scholars have already sent me notes of gratitude which I hope to share at a later time. If you have comments on the article, pleases make them at the Books & Culture website or here. For now, thanks for reading and if you don’t yet subscribe to Books & Culture, now is the time!!

God is good. Peace.

1 comment:

  1. Greg, as you know I don't have the margin in my life to engage you in debate on topic. I do believe that while it is well written, it is nonetheless a biased reading, given your oft-justified antagonism to the New Apostolic Reformation guys. All I would ask is that the readers would actually read the book and come to their own conclusions on the matter. If it is done in this spirit, then I believe that the truth of the claims we make will be truly tested. What I don't want is for people to simply accept your review as the final statement on the matter.