I return now to a response I began last month to Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim, coauthors of The Permanent Revolution. I wrote an essay for Books & Culture that engaged their book quite seriously and they responded with a letter to the editor focused on three serious charges against my essay:
1) They claim my article “engages in an injurious attempt of guilt by association” with respect to the New Apostolic Reformation.
2) They assert that I demonstrated “scholastic obfuscation” and “completely” miss “the point of their book” in order to defend “an outworn status quo” and ignore “the distinctively missional significance of our material”.
3) They label me a “reactionary” meaning someone who “opposes political or social liberalization or reform.”
I wrote a brief reply to their letter for Books and Culture and promised to respond to each charge at this blog. I have already responded to points 2 and 3 in earlier posts, but I want to take up the very serious charge that I played the game of “guilt by association” because I spoke in my essay at different points about a controversial movement called the New Apostolic Reformation. If I did do that it would indeed be “injurious” and it would cut against my identity as a writer committed to fairness and clarity. Given the serious nature of that charge against me I am going to respond at greater length to what Alan and Tim have said than my responses to points two and three. I hope that this will clear the air on this matter once and for all and help to further clarify what I think are the clear issues of substance that I raised in the essay and to which Hirsch and Catchim have yet to respond.
Was it not appropriate and potentially misleading for me to make reference to the different meanings of NAR in my review even though the term is not explicitly referred to in their book? Did I leave readers with the unfair impression that Hirsch and Catchim are advocating a vision like that of the New Apostolic Reformation? In order to answer these questions convincingly I need to lay out in some detail the contexts in which I used the term in the essay.
My first reference to the term NAR comes in the seventh paragraph of the essay, well after I have set the main parameters for my essay. The reason I did so is, I think, clear: I wanted to make sure that people did not immediately dismiss the idea of contemporary apostles out of hand because of a perception of the idea as too outlandish to ever really be put into practice. In doing so I was careful to emphasize the different uses of the term by David Barnett and by C. Peter Wagner, and I was careful to say that H&C’s view of how apostles should lead in the church is notably different from Wagner’s. Here is how I put it:
I hope that these leaders will not simply ignore Hirsch's proposal because it seems so outlandish to them. As surprising as it will be to some, the notion of a restored apostolic ministry is increasingly popular within the global Pentecostal/Renewal movement. Because the phenomenon is so new, it is hard to speak with certainty of the numbers of people worldwide that attend churches that are said to be under the leadership of apostles; the World Christian Database (WCD) estimated in their 2001 encyclopedia that of the approximately 524 million Christians that fell into the Pentecostal/Charismatic/Neocharismatic orbit, anywhere from a quarter to two-thirds were a part of churches utilizing five-fold ministry. Whatever the exact figures, it is beyond debate that the numbers are growing each year, particularly in Asia and Africa. Though by no means a household word among American evangelicals, this "Neo Apostolic Reformation," as the WCD has labeled it, is growing in popularity within the mainstream of evangelicalism to a degree that many are unaware of. For instance, it is an underappreciated fact that well before a sex and drug scandal engulfed Ted Haggard, former president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE), he was known as a leading proponent of apostolic ministry who had rewritten the bylaws of his New Life Church to reflect apostolic governance. In fact, the preeminent proponent of apostolic government of the church, C. Peter Wagner, moved to Denver, Colorado, in 1999 to co-found with Haggard the World Prayer Center. Haggard described his partnership with Wagner in his 1998 book, The Life Giving Church:
When I arrived, I met … Peter and Doris Wagner and several other recognized leaders. From that meeting, New Life Church formed its mission for the 1990s—to support … Peter and Doris Wagner specifically … a calling that led to the creation of the World Prayer Center and much more. We as a team coordinated the Prayer Through the Window series that had 22,500,000 participants in 1993; 36,700,000 participants in 1995; over 40,000,000 in 1997.
In that same book, Haggard says that Wagner has "accurately recognized the [apostolic] changes as so dramatic that they are creating an actual reformation within the body of Christ." Haggard's enthusiasm for five-fold ministry extended to his time as president of the NAE. While serving in that capacity Haggard contributed a chapter to the 2005 book Understanding the Five Fold Ministry.
I mention Wagner and Haggard's shared enthusiasm for apostolic leadership because it is all too easy to assume that radical ecclesiologies such as that proposed by Hirsch will have no appeal within mainstream American evangelicalism. In my research for this article, I was amazed at how many evangelical leaders either were not aware of the growing trend toward apostolic restoration or were so convinced it was, as one put it, a "kooky idea" that they had not given it serious thought. The Permanent Revolution should change that stereotype. While it will become clear that I find Hirsch's core arguments for apostles fundamentally flawed, I believe Hirsch is an important thinker with a deep desire for genuine renewal of the church. Hirsch frames his argument for apostolic ministry much differently than Wagner does, and he engages in a much wider conversation than Wagner ever has. More than a few evangelicals will give Hirsch a serious hearing because on subjects less controversial than his five-fold plan, his writing and speaking offer compelling insights. [emphasis added]
My intent in this section of the essay was to urge the reader to take the idea of five-fold ministry seriously because there actually is evidence that such an idea can take hold in evangelicalism, as evidenced by the New Apostolic Reformation. Now if I had not clearly differentiated Hirsch’s view of 5-fold from Wagner/NAR then I would be open to the charge of engaging in “guilt by association”, but in the section quoted above I set Hirsch apart from NAR by saying that he is not like Wagner/NAR thinkers in that he is “an important thinker” who “frames his argument for apostolic ministry much differently than Wagner does, and he engages in a much wider conversation than Wagner ever has.” Later in the essay, as will be seen below, I am similarly emphatic in the difference between Hirsch/Catchim and Wagner/NAR. I say that the authoritarianism in Wagner/NAR is “starkly at odds with how [Hirsch] envisions modern-day apostles acting” and I go to great pains to set his view apart from those of another NAR leader, Cindy Jacobs: “I have no doubt that Jacobs' writings and practices represent to Hirsch the worst of apostolic leadership, and I see nothing in Hirsch's writing to suggest that he would do anything but condemn her style of leadership.” So I think it is clear that my reference to NAR in the first section of the essay was done in a way that made the point that five-fold ministry should be taken seriously by the reader of the essay because one version of five-fold ministry has been quite popular, the NAR/Wagner version. But I clearly say that Hirsch’s vision of five-fold is vastly different than that version.
The second time in the essay that I make significant reference to NAR/Wagner is in the final section. I feel that I did so in a very clear way that indicts Hirsch/Catchim’s imprecise use of data and ham-fisted attempt to preempt criticism of their project. I admit to writing sternly and accusatorially in this section, but I think I do so with clear justification and ample evidence. Far from engaging in guilt by association thinking, I simply call out Hirsch/Catchim for wanting to associate themselves with the huge numbers of people involved in NAR, while claiming any criticism of their project will invoke the “strawman” of NAR. It is a rhetorical sleight of hand that I have no patience for and I criticize strenuously, but I refuse the accusation that I engaged in any way in an “injurious” type of guilt by association. Here is the entirety of the section as it appears in the essay:
I began this essay with a nod to the contemporary situation of the church in the West and to a growing sense of crisis that one can perceive among church leaders in a variety of denominations. This perception of crisis in the West dovetails with a growing perception of Christian triumph in the global South. Given that much of the extraordinary growth of the church globally has been in Pentecostal churches, it comes as no surprise to see earnest attempts to duplicate in the West the seeming success of Pentecostalism elsewhere. In that vein Hirsch offers, in addition to his biblical and historical arguments, a pragmatic case for five-fold ministry. Hirsch's explanation for why "the institutional church in the West" is dying and the church in the global South is rising could not be any clearer: The West's "inherited forms of church are not equipped for the missional challenges because they refuse to recalibrate their ministry along the lines suggested in Ephesians 4," whereas the non-Western world has "literally hundreds of millions of believers, hundreds of thousands of churches, and thousands of movements … that do believe in and appropriate the teaching of this text."
But while Hirsch's endorsement of contemporary apostolic ministry allows him to claim the kind of numeric success that evangelicals crave, it creates a problem he cannot solve. Simply put, Hirsch can only arrive at the staggering number of believers, churches, and networks practicing five-fold ministry by counting a vast sector of Christians identified with the Neo Apostolic Reformation (NAR) by the late David Barrett. Barrett's World Christian Encyclopedia and its companion volume, World Christian Trends, describe the NAR as a grouping of third-wave charismatics having "no interest in and no use for historic denominationalist Christianity" and "emphasizing a break with denominationalism." The post-denominational ideology of NAR churches is so strong that the historically Pentecostal denomination the Assemblies of God, hardly an example of a dying Western church, issued a sternly worded response in 2000. "Structure set up to avoid a previous structure," the AOG leadership warned in their missive, "can soon become dictatorial, presumptuous, and carnal while claiming to be more biblical than the old one outside the new order or organization." Given this sober judgment by a Pentecostal denomination, it will come as no surprise that the Christian Reformed Church saw fit to "strongly warn" its members of the "distinctive tenets of the NAR," particularly C. Peter Wagner's contention that denominations are an "old wineskin" to be replaced by the "new wineskin" of apostolic governance.
But the decidedly anti-denominational ideology of contemporary apostolic movements is not the only point of concern for Pentecostal and non-Pentecostal observers. Just as troublesome is the authority and power claimed by large numbers of these "apostles" of the global South and their North American allies, including C. Peter Wagner and Cindy Jacobs. Though silent about the NAR's anti-denominational ideology, Hirsch does comment on the authoritarian style characteristic of this movement, because it is so starkly at odds with how he envisions modern-day apostles acting. However, his attempt to distance the "hundreds of millions of Christians" that he wants Western Christians to emulate from the deplorable apostolic models he rightly characterizes as "hierarchical and elitist" forms of leadership is an exercise in sophistry. It leads Hirsch to the nonsensical argument that these authoritarian views are somehow irrelevant because they come "from the twentieth-century charismatic and Pentecostal wings of the church" when that is the very wing of the church that his "hundreds of millions" comes from. It defies all that we know about the NAR for Hirsch to claim that there is a vast group of non-charismatics in the NAR's midst practicing some sort of distinct, non-authoritarian five-fold ministry. At some level Hirsch himself clearly understands that his vision of apostles is not at all the reality of apostolic ministry among the masses; in his entire book, he never cites a single contemporary example of five-fold ministry in the global South embodying his particular vision of apostles.
Hirsch is free to imagine a Church functioning with apostles empowered to shape the doctrinal foundation of the church while not acting in authoritarian ways, but his attempt to suggest that hundreds of millions of Christians are happily living under such apostles should likewise be seen as imagination not fact. Unfortunately, rather than acknowledging the distinctiveness of his proposal within the larger apostolic movement, Hirsch chooses to blame critics of five-fold ministry for putting these authoritarian leaders forward as "straw men."
The uncomfortable truth is that some of these very "straw men" stand at the height of leadership within global Pentecostal bodies. It is, after all, not a critic of five-fold ministry but one of its most important champions, the well-respected Jack Hayford, acting in his capacity as co-chair of Empowered21, who has elevated Cindy Jacobs to a key position on Empowered21's Global Council. Empowered21 is a major new alliance of charismatic groups attempting to unite both apostolic and non-apostolic groups. The fact that Hayford sees Jacobs as representative of the apostolic movement and worthy of a place at the table within Empowered21 should be enough to demonstrate that critics of the apostolic trend are justified in seeing her as a legitimate leader.
I have no doubt that Jacobs' writings and practices represent to Hirsch the worst of apostolic leadership, and I see nothing in Hirsch's writing to suggest that he would do anything but condemn her style of leadership. But in making figures like Jacobs out to be obscure outliers within the apostolic phenomenon that he holds up as worthy of Western emulation, he does a disservice to his readers.