140 of 142 people found the following review helpful
Using studies by Rodney Stark, Hirsch calculates that the early church grew from 25,000 in AD 100 to about 20,000,000 in AD 310. How did this happen? What was going on in early Christianity to experience this type of growth? To illustrate that this phenomena was not just an early church experience Hirsch shares the example of the church in China. When Mao Tse-tung took control of China there were approximately 2 million Christians. However, when the Bamboo Curtain was lifted some estimated the Christian population in China to be near 60 million. Moreover, the number of Christians in China today are around 80 million. Once again, how did this kind of growth happen?
Hirsch states some qualifications:
1. They were an illegal religion throughout this period.
2. They didn't have church buildings as we know them.
3. They didn't have scriptures as we know them.
4. They didn't have an institution or professional forms of leadership.
5. They didn't have seeker-sensitive services, youth groups, worship bands, seminaries, etc.
6. They actually made it hard to join the church.
In chapter one, titled "Setting the Scene" and subtitled "Confessions of a Frustrated Missionary" Hirsch tells a bit of his own story as leader of South Melbourne Restoration Community. Hirsch shares how he and his wife were brought to the church as a kind of last ditch effort to revive a church that had experienced birth, growth and decline in its 140 year history. Through the process the Hirschs came to the conclusion that they wanted to be involved in a church that was highly participatory (much more than the 20:80 rule) and missional.
Hirsch provides a good contrast between the typical church growth principles that are used today to grow a contemporary church and the essential components that best describes the nature of the church. Hirsch states "if you wish to grow a contemporary church following good church growth principles, there are several things you must do and constantly improve upon:
1. Expand the building for growth.
2. Ensure excellent preaching that relates to the life of the hearers.
3. Develop an inspiring worship service with an excellent band.
4. Make certain you have excellent parking facilities.
5. Ensure excellent programs for children and youth.
6. Develop a program of cell groups rooted in a Christian ed model.
7. Make sure that next week is better than last week.
In contrast to the above, Hirsch discusses the nature of, or innate purpose of the church according to scriptures:
1. A covenanted community
2. Centered on Jesus Christ ("Jesus is Lord").
3. Worship, defined as offering our lives back to God through Jesus.
4. Discipleship, defined as following Jesus & becoming like him.
5. Mission, defined as extending the mission of God through the activities of the covenanted community.
In the last section of the chapter, and my favorite, Hirsch discribes the practices that their faith community "came up with" as:
1. The basic ecclesial (church) unit was to become much smaller so as to transform from the active:passive ratio from 20:80 to 80:20.
2. They would not devleop a philosophy of ministry per se, but rather a covenant and core practices.
3. Each group had to be engaged in a healthy diet of spiritual disciplines, following the TEMPT model:
T: Together we follow -- community focused.
E: Engage Scripture -- integrating Bible into life.
M: Mission -- missional activities bring cohesion.
P: Passion for Jesus -- worship and prayer.
T: Transformation -- character development & accountability.
4. They would organize the movement in three basic rhythms: a weekly cycle of TEMPT groups, a monthly regional meeting of TEMPT groups, and a biannual gathering of all the groups in a movement-wide network.
5. Each TEMPT group would covenant to multiply itself as soon as it is organically feasible and possible.
In chapter two of "The Forgotten Ways" author Alan Hirsch proposes that the decline of the church in Western culture can be attributed to defaulting to a Christendom mode of thinking. Moreover, because of our Christendom default mode we don't even know that there is a better alternative.
Quoting Bono from U2, "we are stuck in a moment and now we can't get out of it." Or from one with few more academic credentials; David Bosch in Transforming Mission states: "Strictly speaking one ought to say that the Church is always in a state of crisis and that its greatest shortcoming is that it is only occasionally aware of it."
For Hirsch the root of the problem is Christendom and our inability to adequately deal with the very assumptions on which Christendom is built and maintains itself. Relying partially on Stuart Murray's excellent Post-Christendom: Church and Mission in a Strange New World, Hirsch provides a convincing summary of the significance of Constantine's decisions. Just a few of the Christendom shifts include:
1. The movement of the church from the margins of society to its center.
2. The assumption that all citizens were Christian by birth.
3. Sunday as an official day of rest and obligatory church attendance.
4. A generic distinction between clergy and laity, and the relegation of the laity to a largely passive role.
5. The defense of Christianity by legal sanctions to restrain heresy, immorality, and schism.
6. The division of the globe into "Christendom" or "heathendom" and the waging of war in the name of Christ and the church.
7. A hierarchical ecclesiastical system, based on a diocesan and parish arrangement, which was analogous to the state hierarchy and was buttressed by state support.
Hirsch states: "This shift to Christendom was thoroughly paradigmatic, and the implications were absolutely disastrous for the Jesus movement that was incrementally transforming the Roman world from the bottom up."
He follows this up with a fantastic quote from church historian Rodney Stark: "Far too long, historians have accepted the claim that the conversion of the Emperor Constantine (ca. 285-337) caused the triumph of Christianity. To the contrary, he destroyed its most attractive and dynamic aspects, turning a high-intensity, grassroots movement into an arrogant institution controlled by an elite who often managed to be both brutal and lax."
On page 64 Hirsch offers an excellent comparison table (which was previously published in "The Shaping of Things to Come" p. 9) between three "church modes." He compares the "Aposotolic & Post-Apostolic Mode" (AD 32 to 313), the "Christendom Mode" (313 to present) and the "Emerging Missional Mode" (past 10 years) in six different categories.
The characteristics of the Christendom mode include:
1. Locus of gathering: Buildings become central to "church."
2. Leadership: Institutionally ordained clergy/professional guild.
3. Organizational structure: Top-down.
4. Means of grace: Sacraments experienced only "in church."
5. Position in society: Church is perceived to be central to society.
6. Missional mode: Attractional and extractional.
The characteristics of the Emerging Missional mode (and in most cases parallels the Apostolic mode):
1. Locus of gathering: Rejects need for "church" buildings.
2. Leadership: Pioneering-innovative, 5-fold ministry.
3. Organizational structure: Grassroots, decentralized movement.
4. Means of grace: Redeems/ritualizes new symbols, including Lord's Supper.
5. Position in society: Church is once again on the fringes.
6. Missional mode: Incarnational-sending and missional.
Hirsch offers (p. 75) a short introduction to the second section, in which he presents the core piece for the rest of the book - mDNA (missional DNA). He states on p. 76:
"With this concept/metaphor I hope to explain why the presence of a simple, intrinsic, reproducible, central guiding mechanism is necessary for the reproduction and sustainability of genuine missional movements. As an organism holds together, and each cell understands its function in relation to its DNA, so the church finds its reference point in its built-in mDNA. As DNA carries the genetic coding, and therefore the life, of a particualr organism, so too mDNA codes Apostolic Genius (the life force that pulsated through the New Testament church and in other expressions of apostolic Jesus movements throughout history)."
So what are the key elements of Apostolic Genius? The six distinctives identified by Hirsch (and illustrated more extensively in the diagram above which you can click on for a larger view) are:
1. Jesus is Lord
2. Disciple Making
3. Missional-incarnational Impulse
4. Apostolic Environment
5. Organic Systems
6. Communitas, Not Community
After introducing these six elements Hirsch then moves in chapter 3 to the heart of Apostolic Genius (and the reason it is at the core of the diagram) - "Jesus is Lord." I found much to like about this chapter. I enjoyed Hirsch's insights on how the early church, in order to survive in the context of persecution, had to "jettison all unnecessary impediments" such as an institutional conception of the church. Additionally, in the midst of persecution Hirsch maintains that the church had to "travel light" in regards to a simple Christology (essential conceptions of who Jesus is and what he does).
I also appreciated Hirsch's discussion on the Shema and the consistency that is to be found between it and Christ. Moreover, the implication that "christocentric monotheism" has for bringing to an end the false dualism of things sacred/secular. However, for sake of brevity I thought the best summary of Hirsch's overall purpose for this chapter was in the following paragraph from page 94:
"At its very heart, Christianity is therefore a messianic movement, one that seeks to consistently embody the life, spirituality, and mission of its Founder. We have made it so many other things, but this is its utter simplicity. Discipleship, becoming like Jesus our Lord and Founder, lies at the epicenter of the church's task. It means that Christology must define all that we do and say. It also means that in order to recover the ethos of authentic Christianity, we need to refocus our attention back to the Root of it all, to recalibrate ourselves and our organizations around the person and work of Jesus the Lord. It will mean taking the Gospels seriously as the primary texts that define us. It will mean acting like Jesus in relation to people outside of the faith."
44 of 48 people found the following review helpful
Alan Hirsch offers a critique of Western Christianity and encourages Christian leaders to return to the ways of the early church in order to reach the missional field of the West. Hirsch has fifteen years of experience pastoring churches and leading ministries in Australia. During that time, he has moved from working within a traditional denominational structure to helping develop more outreach oriented ministries that go to the unchurched with the gospel. His focus throughout the book is on identifying the "Apostolic Genius" of the early church and showing how Christians can discover it within themselves and apply it to their contexts. His assertion is that the established church must become a missional one that lives on the edge of chaos and has only the necessary organizational structures.
I think Hirsch conveys some insights that are crucial for readers to take away from this book and instill in their own ministries; however, I also think that Hirsh's critique and way forward must be tempered by a perspective that takes into consideration a larger picture of church history, theology, the human condition, ecclesiology and spiritual warfare. My honest response to this book is that it is poorly written and seemingly unedited; I think its narrow scope neglects important issues to bear in mind when considering that Hirsch seems more than once to suggest the jettisoning of the ordained priesthood, liturgy and institutional churches. Although Hirsch might respond that this is not what he meant; his book certainly seems to suggest that this is what he is saying.
For me, Hirsch's positive message is summarized in a quote from Hans Kung that Hirsch uses to introduce one of his chapters. Kung writes:
"A church which pitches its tents without constantly looking out for new horizons, which does not continually strike camp, is being untrue to its calling. ... [We must] play down our longing for certainty, accept what is risky, and live by improvisation and experiment. "
Hirsch's idea of Apostolic Genius includes six key actions/elements that reflect the early church's and China's underground church's distinct nature that leads to growth and expansion. These are the missional-incarnational impulse, an apostolic environment, disciple making, organic systems, and communitas. When these elements are in a dynamic relationship to each other, Hirsch contends that challenges acts as catalysts serving to generate Apostolic Genius. He elaborates on all of these elements. At the core of the Apostolic Genius is the Holy Spirit, his inspiration, gifts and invigoration.
As he critiques the church of the West, Hirsch identifies some real problems. I think his main concern is the consumerist ideology adopted by the church. Hirsch fears that consumerism has become the driving force within our churches. This force has caused the development of the "attractional" model of the evangelical church. Hirsch rightly exhorts readers to accept a new understanding of the way we do church.
An additional critique that I hope resonates with readers as it has with me is the lack of discipleship in the church. Hirsch discovered this neglect of disciple-making in his own ministry and realized that the church in general is entertaining and feeding the people without engaging them and forming them into disciples who can and will carry out the mission of the church. He also notes that the culture fills this void left by the church.
Hirsch calls churches to transform themselves from being "attractional" to being "sending" churches. Similarly, he calls for the end to the partitioning of what the church treats as "sacred" space versus "secular" space. This differentiation only serves to alienate the world from the church and prevents evangelism and mission. As churches become sending and missional, they also become incarnational, Hirsch calls attention to the four aspects of the incarnation that is a model for the missional-incarnational church:Presence, Proximity, Powerlessness and Proclamation.
When it comes to ecclesiology, Hirsch looks very Puritan in his ways. He emphasizes the irreducible structure and nature of the church and is critical of anything beyond it. Further structure is sketched as stodgy institutionalism. He defends this approach by appealing to the early church and underground church in China. Although these appeals provide insights about those churches, they are also narrow and neglectful though not entirely off the mark. But the early church also found the need to develop liturgies, leadership, structure, discipline and theologians. Hirsch's idyllic picture of the early church is too limited in scope. It ignores the dangers in a structureless spirituality such as false prophets, poor teaching, cultism, unaccountability, etc. Instead, Hirsch associates the shortfallings of the Western church with post-Constantinian Christendom & institutionalism instead of with sin, Satan and human nature--all of which are also present in the organic, grassroots, missional churches advocated by Hirsch. He ignores the positive benefits that the early church and the contemporary church gain from structure and a sacramental liturgy with ordained clergy.
I think Hirsch also treads into ambiguous and tenuous territory when he defines what is and is not an "authentic Jesus movement" or a "more authentic church." These types of claims are indicative of Hirsch's attempts to define the best way to do church. His way of describing the ideal church is somewhat like identifying the best year of a person's life and then admonishing others to live that way in that state all of the time without maturing. He prescribes living on the edge of chaos, but ignores the dangers; whereas, some readers will recognize that living on the edge of chaos will lead to many falling over the edge into the chaos. Taking adequate precautions to avoid this danger should not be neglected.
For Hirsch, mission is the starting and ending point for the church. He asserts that mission is the mother of all good theology. This is a somewhat naïve view of mission and theology. The early church that Hirsch highlights had to deal with the bad theology of Marcion, Arian, the Gnostics, the Judaizers, etc. during its times of great expansion. I think Hirsch would have a difficult time arguing that study of Scripture and true worship are somehow subject to missional enterprises. These are not opposed to each other, but I think they need to go hand-in-hand with each other. The Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are not lacking in mission zeal and endeavors, but their theology is awful. This point is just indicative of Hirsch's general failure to take into account the larger scope of what he writes.
The concept and picture of transforming the church from attractional to sending-missional-incarnational is surely the key factor of Hirsh's book and the one that can be implemented in the institutional church without the church ceasing to be a member of the institution. I believe that the sending-missional-incarnational church can be church with a priest, liturgy, orthodox theology, sacred space and discipline, just as it can be home churches, underground churches and grassroots movements.
Below is a list of descriptors taken from the various places in the text that Hirsch uses for the church of Apostolic Genius (make of them what you will):
* metabolic growth and impact are catalyzed
* distinctly higher and more authentic form of ecclesia
* primal and uncontrollable nature
* defining encounters with some fringy people
* leaders with an apostolic gifting, an innovator's audacity, and an uncanny ability to see things organically
* fluid, adaptive, adventure-based, and formed in the context of a common purpose that lies outside of itself
* it codes its life and makes it transferable by all members of the group
* true and authentic organizing principle is mission
* a simple Christology
* does not limit the presence of God to spooky religious zones.
* a translocal apostolic-prophetic team held together by a common purpose and friendships
* edge of chaos
* metabolic, organic, missional movements
* life-oriented approach
* living systems
* innate capacity
* activate latent intelligence
* less programmatical
* dynamic network-a web of life
* constantly relating
* learning/ adaptive
* catalyze its built-in capacity to adapt
* distributed intelligence is cultivated and focused through information.
* meaningful interrelationship
* relationally networked
* bringing diversity into a functioning unity
* grander perspective
* on a learning journey and in missional mode
* responsive and response-able
* in-form itself
* natural discipling friendships, worship as lifestyle, and mission in the context of everyday life
* a living network "in Christ" that can meet anywhere, anytime and still be a viable expression of church
* leadership authority is decentralized.
* maintaining a movement ethos
* grassroots people movements
* dynamic social movements
* has a seminal vision/idea
* fluidity, vision, chaos and dynamism
* edges of society/culture
* reawaken a virile movement ethos
* responsive to that increasing fluid dimension of our culture
* overarching beliefs provide a central ideological and operational coherence (fit) that allows for wide tactical decentralization (split)
* significant or "dense" communications to hold it all together
* metabolic growth
* hyperbolic growth in action
* do mission organically, traversing the rhythms of life, memes, and relationships
* reproduction and reproduce-ability
* ecclesial genetic variety
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on October 18, 2007
Hirsch dose a masterful job in showing how the church of the western world has forgotten the way to be a Christ follower. As Hirsch puts it, "... all God's people carry within themselves the same potencies that energized the early Christian movement and that are currently manifest in the underground Chinese church." (Hirsch, 2006, p. 22) Hirsh then introduces the term: Apostolic Genius which the primary missional strength of the gospel and God's people. He expresses that this strength lies dormant in each Christian and local church that seeks to follow Jesus faithfully in any time. The problem, he rightly recognizes is that today's Christian culture has forgotten how to access and trigger it. Hirsh writes this book to help reactivate it so Christians can transform the world by living transformed lives.
Hirsch identifies in the book six simple but interrelating elements of missional DNA, forming a complex and living structure. They are: 1) Jesus Is Lord: At the center and circumference of every significant Jesus movement there exists this very simple confession. 2) Disciple Making: This is the life-long task of becoming like Jesus by embodying his message. Hirsch believes that this is perhaps where many of our efforts fail. Disciple making is an irreplaceable core task of the church and needs to be structured into every church's basic formula. 3) Missional-Incarnational Impulse: Hirsch examines missional movements that seed and embed the gospel into different cultures and people groups. 4) Apostolic Environment: This relates to the type of leadership and ministry required to sustain metabolic growth and impact. 5) Organic Systems: Determining appropriate structures for metabolic growth. 6) Communitas, not Community: Too much concern with safety and security, combined with comfort and convenience, has lulled us out of our true calling and purpose.
Hirsch wisely spends much attention as to how in the modern and the postmodern situation, the church is forced into the role of being little more than a vendor of religious goods and services. Which is why many of it's members have become passive. The church is supposed to radically change society and to do so we must tell an alternative story
Hirsch ends quoting church consultant Bill Easum. Easum is right when he notes that "following Jesus into the mission field is either impossible or extremely difficult for the vast majority of congregations in the Western world because of one thing: They have a systems story that will not allow them to take the first step out of the institution into the mission field, even though the mission field is just outside the door of the congregation." (p. 252)
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
on April 29, 2007
Review: Alan Hirsch, 'The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church'. Michigan: Brazos Press, 2006.
Ivan Illich was asked what he thought was the most radical way to change society; was it through violent revolution or gradual reform? He gave a careful answer. Neither. Rather, he suggested that if one wanted to change society, then one must tell an alternative story.
And for Christians the alternative story has to do with the evils of institutionalism and clericalism. A quote from sociologist Robert Merton jumped out of a Masters' degree I once did at the University of Sydney: `The evil in institutions is greater than the sum of the evil of the individuals within them.'
Martin Buber warns that `centralization and codification, undertaken in the interests of religion, are a danger to the core of religion.' This is inevitably the case he says, unless there is a very vigorous life of faith embodied in the whole community, one that exerts an unrelenting pressure for renewal on the institution. C.S. Lewis observed that `there exists in every church something that sooner or later works against the very purpose for which it came into existence. So we must strive very hard, by the grace of God to keep the church focused on the mission that Christ originally gave to it.'
In this exciting, readable and provocative book, `emerging church' missiologist Alan Hirsch tells an alternative story by unlocking the secrets of the primal `pre-Christendom' apostolic church - and the church in modern China. Why were/are they so dynamic, whereas mainline churches over time suffer from what sociologists call `the routinisation of charisma'?
Historians have often accepted the claim that the conversion of Emperor Constantine (ca 285-337) resulted in the triumph of Christianity. To the contrary, he destroyed its most attractive and dynamic aspects, turning a high-intensity, grassroots movement into an arrogant institution controlled by an elite who often managed to be brutal and lax.
Hirsch suggests that the prevailing expression of church (Christendom) has become a major stumbling block to the spread of Christianity in the West. The `Christendom paradigm' doesn't work very well any more.
On the other hand the Chinese churches grew in spite of the following:
1. They were an illegal religion.
2. They didn't have church buildings.
3. They didn't have scriptures (the Chinese had underground, partial copies).
4. They didn't have any central institutions or professional forms of leadership.
5. They didn't have seeker-sensitive services, youth groups, worship bands, seminaries, or commentaries.
6. They made it hard to join the church.
One commentator has said that in this book Alan has challenged our thinking, our vocabulary, and `hopefully our way of doing church in this century' - particularly with the `Jesus yes, Church no' generations. Thus we have the phenomenon again where more people are coming to faith in small informal groups but don't want the organized part of the religion to be part of the deal.
Alan has several things going for him. He's read and digested the thinking of great missiologists like David Bosch. He was a missionary pastor - of an `alternative' church: the `South Melbourne Resoration Community'. I've spoken at this church (`church?'), and spent a weekend away with them. It was truly one of the rare communities of faith and hope which I could recommend to those on the `margins'.
He was also, later, a `denominational officer' who tried to plant these ideas into the thinking and praxis of established churches, with, he says, mixed success. And he is now the founding director of the Forge Mission Training Network.
How do we discover our missional DNA (mDNA)? What caused the early churches to grow from 25,000 to 20 million in 200 years? How did the Chinese underground church grow from 2 million to over 100 million in sixty years despite considerable opposition, and without professional leaders, training facilities, or buildings?
Hirsch identifies six elements of Missional DNA:
· Jesus is Lord
· Disciple Making
· Missional-Incarnational Impulse
· Apostolic Environment
· Organic Systems
Wonderful principles, which are very hard to apply in practice. Why? My contention would be that the radicalization of family-units which imbibe a Western consumer culture with their muesli every day is a very challenging and difficult task. Parents want a `safe place' for their children - in `church', as everywhere else. They want peer-reinforcement of Christian faith and values for their teenagers. They look to the weekly gatherings of the Christian community to provide spiritual food for the journey, which in terms of work-stress or family-stresses may be a real battle. So they bring expectations `to church' as they do to every other facet of their privileged lives.
Christian communities come in four varieties (as do commercial retail enterprises) - megachurches (= shopping malls), boutiques, franchises, and `parish churches' (= corner stores). Many `emerging church' folks I meet despise the megachurch model, but they shop at supermarkets, for convenience and to save time. They're at home with technology - they have lots of powerpoint presentations, and audio-visual effects - but are (healthily) wary of multiplying committees and programs. Above all, they know that re-jigging the `ministry mix' won't bring life and health and peace to their community-of-faith. But on the other hand, they too can easily form `clubs-for-people-like-us' and forget their missional mandate.
Alan Hirsch writes: `We cannot consume our way to discipleship.'. (On this see also Ron Sider's `The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience' and Robert Webber `Ancient Future Evangelism'). The alternative? A covenantal approach to discipleship.
We have in Alan Hirsch an idealist, who is also a pragmatist. There are many diagrams, and excellent footnotes for further study.
Alan Hirsch is coauthor, with Michael Frost, of The Shaping of Things to Come: Innovation and Mission for the 21st-Century Church. Another good read.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on January 10, 2007
It's a powerful followup to The Shaping of Things to Come. Alan builds on the imagination and passion of the earlier work with Michael Frost to offer a vision for reinvigorating a missional movement that became an unholy alliance with the state under Constantine. With the legacy of Christendom rapidly becoming a piece of history, we have an opportunity to discover our missional DNA (mDNA). What is the dynamic that caused the church to grow from 25,000 souls to 20 million in 200 years? What similar dynamic empowered the Chinese church, while existing underground and outlawed, to expand at the same rate... without professional leaders, training facilities, or buildings? Is there hope for the Church in the west, mired as we are in modernity, in love with our buildings and comforts? Perhaps Roland Allen, in a quote offered by Hirsch, offers us a clue: "The spontaneous expansion of the Church reduced to its elements is a very simple thing. It asks for no elaborate organization, no large finances, no great numbers of paid missionaries. In its beginning it may be the work of one man, and that a man neither learned in the thigns of this world, nor rich int he wealth of this world.. What is necessary is faith. What is needed is the kind of faith which unity a man to Christ, sets him on fire." At the heart of the transition toward rediscovering this mDNA established communities made these changes: 1. the basic ekklesial unit becomes much smaller - not mini churches but meta church or house church. 2.not a new philosophy of ministry per se, not renewed vision and values, but a covenant and core practices. 3. each group becomes engaged in a set of disciplines 4. the movement exists in three rhythms - a weekly cycle of house meetings, a monthly tribal meetingm and a biannual gathering of all tribes in the network. 5. each group covenants to multiply itself.
Alan is his usual calculating self here.. there are many diagrams and tremendous fodder for the imagination, many examples and diagrams and charts. In short, its a sweeping and integrative attempt to reimagine the church around her mission - what a novel thought!
23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2011
The missiologist Alan Hirsch's book, The Forgotten Ways, is a call for the Western church to become "missional" in its thinking, orientation, and action toward a culture in the ruins of Christendom. Just what it means to be a "missional" church-planting movement in the West is the subject of the book.
Hirsch begins by recounting his own story as he orients us to his work on the ground as a church leader in Melbourne, Australia, as well as the shifts in his thinking as a student of movements, organizations, and scripture. It was Hirsch's 15-year experience as the leader of South Melbourne Restoration Community and all of its missional experiments that has led to his concepts of "Apostolic Genius " and "mDNA " that he unpacks throughout the book. "Apostolic Genius" refers to the "unique energy and force that imbues phenomenal Jesus movements in history ," the components of which are referred to as "mDNA," or "missional DNA."
The chief whipping boys of the book are the usual suspects for those who believe in an early fundamental corruption of the church: Constantinianism, Christendom's "attractional model" of the church, and institutionalism. Constantinianism is a term that has been used in many different senses, but here refers to the alliance of the church and state that began with the Roman Emperor Constantine in the fourth century (it was the Emperor Theodosius who made Christianity the official religion of the empire; Constantine's Edict of Milan established religious tolerance for Christians in the Empire). Hirsch defines "Christendom" as the "standardized form and expression of the church and mission formed in the post-Constantine period (AD 312 to present) ." In other words, Christendom is the churchly expression of Constantinianism whereby the church was the central cultural force and, because of this arrangement, assumed an "attractional" posture with respect to missions. The idea, according to Hirsch, is that churches attracted people because the church was central in the culture; today in our post-Christian (Christendom) culture, the church exists on the margins of culture, and now must be a "sending" church that treats missions in our own culture as cross-cultural work.
Hirsch is rightly critical of "church-growth" models, which he views as rooted in the Christendom mode, as they tend to reach only those of the same middle-class, suburban demographic of which the church is a part. For those outside this demographic, the "attractional" model of ramping up the light shows, concert production values, and entertaining messages, simply isn't effective in drawing these people. In fact, as Hirsch points out later in the book, the globalized market has now superseded the state in terms of its position as the central driving force of our culture (and most every other culture in existence), and the church has willingly and uncritically participated in the market's dominion over all of life. This is especially evident in the church's alliance with the market in producing a consumer religion that specializes in religious goods and services.
The evolution of Hirsch's church involved experiencing the brutal reality of moving from a missional movement to the lost on the margins of society to a middle-class hipster haven that prized the middle-class values of comfort, convenience, safety, and security over the inherent riskiness of the Gospel and its values. Ironically, Hirsch's church reached out to the decidedly "uncool" by our culture's standards and ended up becoming a "cool" church that got too comfortable as a hang-out for those disaffected by traditional Christendom expressions of the church.
Hirsch diagnosed the failure of his church to back a missional experiment involving a café and lounge in Melbourne called "Elevation" as involving spiritual immaturity on the part of the church, his own bad decisions, and a need to articulate a biblically faithful understanding of the nature and purpose of the church. Hirsch's project throughout is driven by what he takes to be a return to "the irreducible minimums of a true expression of ecclesia ." In particular, Hirsch asserts that a faithful church is a covenanted community centered on Jesus resulting in worship, discipleship, and mission. Hirsch's statement that "the way we define church is crucial because it gives us a direct clue to the critical elements of authentic Christian community ," hints toward his problematic view of the church as an entity in a constant state of re-invention (when it's healthy) in later chapters. At this point, I simply ask: Why does Hirsch believe the "true church" consists of just the above elements? What about the biblical practices of the Lord's Supper and Baptism--aren't the sacraments an essential aspect of the "true church?" What about the historic marks of the church (one, holy, catholic, and apostolic)--do these fit in his definition? If not, why not?
Further, Hirsch is anti-institutional ("the church was never meant to be an institution ") and anti-hierarchical authority throughout the book, yet the New Testament and early church were hierarchical in structure. The apostles were at the top, and then the apostles' co-workers (e.g., Timothy, Titus) oversaw several churches and appointed elders over the local churches; there is no sense of a purely congregational polity in the New Testament. It gets worse for Hirsch when one looks at the evidence of the early church, which reveals that the apostles passed on their authority to bishops (e.g. Ignatius of Antioch in the second century).
Hirsch's list of grievances also includes: church buildings, ordination, and ritual. On one of Hirsch's seemingly endless charts in the book, he writes that during the apostolic and post-apostolic period, the church "doesn't have dedicated sacral buildings ," that the Christendom church saw church buildings as central, and that the emerging post-Christendom church "rejects the concern and need for dedicated church buildings ." Again, this is skewed and over-simplified history. The early church wasn't opposed to dedicated church buildings because these weren't in line with "Apostolic Genius," but because Christianity was illegal! The early church didn't want to draw attention to its worship if it didn't have to because Christians desired to worship peacefully. The early Christians weren't establishing any timeless theological principle by worshipping in homes; this practice was pragmatic in nature. Further, during the apostolic period, believers worshipped in the synagogue (at least until they got kicked out), so the notion that the "true church" rejects any kind of "dedicated church building" reflects a basic ignorance of the biblical material.
Further, Hirsch writes of the sacred/secular division: "Church is largely conceived as a sacred space: the architecture, the music, the liturgies, the language and culture, all collaborate to make this a sacred event not experienced elsewhere in life in quite the same way ." Now, it is true that some Christians have little to no awareness as to how their faith connects up with the rest of their lives, but this isn't a problem with liturgy or ritual per se, but rather with poor teaching or lack of a desire to learn the significance of the liturgies and rituals of the church. Contrary to Hirsch, liturgy is to life what poetry is to language--an intensified form of life that, when functioning properly, ought to seep into our souls and reverberate in our lives throughout the rest of the week.
Every church, from low-church Pentecostal to high-church Episcopalian, has liturgies; it's just that some churches openly acknowledge this, while others don't. Human beings are inherently ritualistic. Just try to ask church members to sit in a different seat on any given Sunday! It's for this reason that I don't think Hirsch's emphasis on re-inventing church and its practices is a good idea. Hirsch writes: "But we must be willing to significantly realign resources, invest in the future, take a journey, and experiment like mad ." This theme of rampant experimentation in every area of church life reverberates through the pages. Throughout the book one gets the impression that Hirsch believes he has a bead on inaugurating true Christianity after 1700 years of its corruption by Christendom. Hirsch writes, "The Christendom church is fundamentally different from the NT church "--are we really to believe this? If this is Hirsch's claim, it is hard to see this as anything other than arrogance and hubris. Jesus promises His people that He Himself establishes His church and that the "gates of hell will not prevail against it [Matthew 16:18]." The true church wasn't stamped out by Constantine or Constantinianism, and if it was, wouldn't this make void Christ's promise to Peter?
In fact, Christendom was an attempt at culture-making in line with the cultural mandate of Genesis 1:28. Of course, Christendom fell greatly short--more often than not it was the church that was in the empire, and not the empire in the church, but it still was a powerful (albeit very imperfect) expression of Christ's lordship over all of life, including the political. It was Christendom and its articulation of Christian society that brought us venerable institutions such as hospitals, orphanages, and universities. In other words, Christendom wasn't a universal failure by any stretch, contrary to Hirsch's strident claims.
Speaking of institutions, Hirsch routinely criticizes the church's institutional character in Christendom throughout. Hirsch writes of the church, which he calls an "organic people movement ": "It was never meant to be a religious institution ." Hirsch says that the "apostolic mode" of the church is fundamentally different from the form the church took in the fourth century. This is a straw-man, since no church believes that the institution itself is the church; Even the Roman Catholic Church understands the church to be the people of God. Churches have institutions, but they themselves are not institutions fundamentally. The nature of all social movements is to move toward institutionalization. Of course, institutions can be clunky, slow, and unresponsive, but they need not be. Take, for example, the Anglican Mission in the Americas, this church-planting movement is still connected to the hierarchical and institutional Anglican Communion. In other words, one need not and should not adopt "either-or" thinking; without institutions, movements become undisciplined and disorganized, and ultimately dissipate.
The bulk of Hirsch's book is an unpacking of the six elements ("mDNA") of "Apostolic Genius:" (1) Jesus is Lord; (2) Disciple-making; (3) Missional-Incarnational impulse; (4) Apostolic environment; (5) Organic systems; (6) Communitas, not community. This portion of the book is the real substance of the book, and contains a number of healthy insights that church leaders would do well to heed, though intermingled with some highly questionable material.
The "Jesus is Lord" chapter speaks to the need for the church to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ over all aspects of life. This chapter makes the observation that many Christians lack awareness of how their faith in Christ impacts every corner of life, resulting in "being practicing polytheists ." I take Hirsch's point, though I don't see the implication that this means "sacred space" must go. How does Hirsch make sense out of the detailed divine requirements given for the Tabernacle and Temple in the Old Testament, not to mention Jesus' own zeal for His Father's house: "Take these things away! Do not make My Father's house a house of merchandise [John 2:16]!"
Further, on an experiential and personal level, I have found that spaces intended solely for the worship of God help me enter into a deeper level of emotionally engaged praise (The "worshipping in spirit" of John 4); something I have a harder time doing (though not impossible by any stretch) while worshipping beneath a basketball hoop in a multi-purpose room. Of course, financial constraints make anything less than multi-purpose rooms for corporate worship impossible for many churches, but the point is that the notion of sacred space itself is not inherently problematic. Many worshippers find participation in the rich liturgy of the church in the context of a holy space set apart for the purpose of worship to profoundly shape their lives outside the walls of the church building.
Hirsch's chapter on disciple-making contains some excellent criticisms of consumer culture and its impact on discipleship. In short, Hirsch says, "we simply cannot consume our way into discipleship ." The influence of the market on all of life as we experience it has shaped churches into distributors of religious goods and services--much like picking up a latte at Starbucks--in fact, in some churches one can do just that while worshipping! Hirsch argues that consumer culture is fundamentally at odds with Christian discipleship, and that the overarching values of the market: convenience, comfort, safety, and security have distorted the nature of true Christianity in the church. Again, the chapter also contains some simplistic binaries, e.g. pitting Hebraic thought against Hellenistic thought, inspirational leadership against any form of hierarchical authority, but the overall critique of consumer religion is very good.
The chapter on the missional-incarnational impulse highlights the book's call for Christians in the West to be missionaries to our own culture. Hirsch has some good words here regarding the need for Christ-followers to identify with those we are trying to reach with the gospel. This means leaving the church walls and taking the church to the people, ministering God's presence through our lives, which has the powerful effect of communicating that "God actually likes them ." Hirsch writes, "From Jesus we learn how to engage with people in an entirely fresh `non-churchy' way. He hung out with `sinners,' and he frequented the bars/pubs of his day ." Again, I agree with Hirsch here, but this is where I would want to stress the need for the basic worship structures and practices of the historic church to form the community in order to be properly grounded in our identity in Christ. Too often, I have seen brothers and sisters in Christ become more like their pagan friends rather than those friends becoming more like Christ. Hirsch is right, the culture will disciple us if the church fails, so I just raise a caution here that we be firmly grounded in our identity even while we go out into the world to reach out to the lost.
The chapter on apostolic environment critiques the "pastor-teacher" mode of church leaders as insufficient in and of itself to meet the challenges of our post-Christendom context. What the church needs in these times, according to Hirsch, are those with the "apostolic" gift of Ephesians 4:11. This spiritual gift is not limited to the original Twelve, but is reflected in those "pioneer missionaries and working theologians " in our midst that can help the church navigate the difficult waters of a post-modern environment. This flattened-out, non-hierarchical, organic approach to church is, according to Hirsch, "truer to, and more consistent with, the inner structure of life and cosmology itself ." This statement contains a footnote referencing prominent New Age physicist Fritjof Capra for support. I have no problem with "plundering the Egyptians" when it comes to gleaning insights from other worldviews, but to approvingly cite Capra, a proponent of Eastern mysticism, as possessing the proper understanding of the "inner structure of life and cosmology itself" is grossly irresponsible.
Hirsch's chapter on "organic systems" continues his animus toward all things institutional and further articulates his understanding of "movements." Since I've already addressed his anti-institutionalism above, I'll only make one comment. Hirsch writes of any particular group of God's people, "they have everything in themselves (latent DNA) to be able to adapt and thrive in any setting...the task of missional leadership here is simply to unleash the mDNA that is dormant in the system and help guide it to its God-intended purpose ." This language of potencies and latent powers sounds more like that of New Age philosophy, particularly Theosophy, rather than anything biblical or rooted in the Christian tradition. This sort of thinking comes out of the New Age worldview, which is diametrically opposed to the theistic Christian framework. Why doesn't Hirsch draw upon the Christian tradition's rich Trinitarian theology to articulate his viewpoint here? The Christian faith has all the resources within itself to articulate a theology of movements; one need not, and should not, root around in a New Age garden to undergird a theory.
The final plank in Hirsch's mDNA is a chapter called "communitas, not community." This was a particularly strong chapter that drew upon anthropologist Victor Turner's work on rites of passage among African people groups to argue that the church on common mission undergoes a shared ordeal and challenge that creates a powerful bond of togetherness and has a maturing effect on a community. The contemporary church esteems the market-society's ultimate values of comfort and security, and thus the inherently risky call of the gospel is left behind. Hirsch calls the church to press into the shared mission of the gospel together, following Christ out into the world on the Adventure of all adventures.
In sum, Hirsch's book is a mixed bag of excellent insights, challenging applications, false dichotomies, and irresponsible and dangerous reliance on thinkers and worldviews alien to the Christian faith. It is important to remember that Christ's Church has persisted for two thousand years, while new models for "doing church" come and go like so many fads and trends. Hirsch confidently (again using the language of alien philosophical categories) asserts: "Apostolic Genius (the primal missional potencies of the gospel and of God's people) lies dormant in you, me, and every local church that seeks to follow Jesus faithfully in any time. We have quite simply forgotten how to access and trigger it ."Hirsch offers some helpful insights in these pages, but read critically, and never forget that Christ builds His church by His Spirit, not a mechanistic formula or algorithm.
Reviewed by Anthony Lombardo
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on January 1, 2007
Alan Hirsch nails it and nails it right with The Forgotten Ways. With deep thought and deep heart he has written what most surely will become THE primary text that will be used by missional church planters, trainers, and agencies for years to come. The combination of scholarship and practical example brings the much needed orthopraxic manual for missional development that so many of us have needed and desired. If you dug Shaping of Things to Come by Frost & Hirsch you will be hard pressed to lay TFW down even to eat. Alan has developed a great interactive online course as an essential tool based on The Forgotten Ways. The course can be found on The Forgotten Ways website.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on May 16, 2011
Sometimes when you have a problem it is good to have someone else look at the issue with new eyes as they can sometime see things you can not.
Alan Hirsch does this every thing with his book The Forgotten Ways. Instead of focusing on the negative side of the decline of Christianity, Hirsch began with asking what would be left if all the Christian seminaries, school, books, NGOs, buildings and 501-C3s were removed. Then, drawing insight from the first 200 years of the Christian church and the modern underground church in China, he developed a model doing `church.'
This model is centered around one crucial element: Jesus is Lord.
While this statement may sound trivia or Sunday shcoolish - it is in fact the center of the entire Bible. Jesus is Lord, King, Ruler of everything. It was this understanding that drove the early church onward in the face of persecutions and death. As such, it should be the center piece of everything a Believer does.
Spreading out from this center are five different intertwined elements that help fill out the model:
1. Disciple Making - This does not mean simply gaining salvation numbers; it means teaching people who have been delivered out of darkness to live in the Kingdom of Light. It means mentoring and caring for them in a personal fashion instead of bulk, mass-media type training.
2. Communitas, not Community - Believers are more then just a community. They are a communitas; a group of people with a purpose and a vision: To follow Jesus as Lord.
3. Oapostolic-geniusrganic Systems - The church the West has become highly
institutionalized with buildings, doctrines, salaries, hierarchies, etc. Sadly enough it wasn't always like that - nor does it have to be like that. Instead, the church could be more organic in its structure, allowing more room for God to move and direct things instead of human minds.
4. Missional-Incarnational Impulse - For years the church in the West as had the privilege of ministering to a culture build upon Judeo Christian values. This is no longer the case. As such, the church must recapture the value of going to the people as one of the people in an effort to show them Christ in their culture.
5. Apostolic Environment - Even though different groups through out church history have embraced the five-fold ministry, the bulk of the church has disproportionately focused on the teacher/pastor. Hirsch is calling out for a embracing and a redefining of the five-fold ministry (you can read more about that here).
As I read The Forgotten Way, I couldn't help but think about how right on Hirsch was. He has developed a theological model that could help guide the way forward while staying true to the core of the Gospel message. This is extremely important as there are many different voices in the marketplaces today promoting models that disregard certain aspects of the Good News of Jesus (most notably among evangelical fundamentalism and the emerging church movement).
Let me put it this way: three days after I finished reading a borrowed copy of the book, I went out and bought myself a copy - and then promptly loaned it out. It is that important.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 12, 2009
When I first read The Forgotten Ways, I told my friends I had found a book that had ruined my life. And I meant that in the very best way possible. Hirsch gives teeth to overused terms like "missional" by relying on the example of early Christianity for theology and methodology. Having a definite restoration focus in my theology, I've always looked to the history of early Christianity for inspiration, but this book comes as close as anything I've ever read to actually re-introducing us to what made the early faith so powerful. This is not just your standard postmodern deconstruction of modern Christianity. It is a scholarly, wise, and practical search for the DNA of ecclesia. I literally had to read it a few pages at a time in order to digest it all. And it is well worth the effort.
Others have written plenty about the book's content, so I won't bother with that. Instead, I will warn you that this book is dangerous. You really have to be disenchanted with the church as it is to accept these missional concepts. And even if you accept them, implementing them may prove extremely difficult - especially if, like me, you find yourself in an established church environment where too many people are content with much of the status quo. For me, this has widened the divide between the church as I have known it, and the church as it could (and should) be. But it is a tension I believe we need to endure. And there is hope, as Hirsch himself began this journey in an established church setting.
Much of the western church remains in denial about the decline we are in. Small churches tend to remain staunchly within their comfort zones, and mega churches rarely question the nature of their own methodology. Missional ideology seems destined to remain on the fringes for now. But not for long. The future hope of the church lies in her missional, spirit empowered past.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 2007
I remember feeling this feeling...it was 28 years ago when I first read C.S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity"...when things I had formerly just "known intuitively" were suddenly jumping off the page in waves of recognition! I also remember having to read slowly without skimming or jumping ahead. C. S. Lewis was a very intentional writer. There was a plan to his pace that demanded respect.
I have encountered this phenomenon again with Alan Hirsch's "The Forgotten Ways." No quick skim through the Table of Contents to what catches my eye will do. I must follow Alan's carefully crafted train of thought, if I am to mine this book for its many treasures.
For those impatient ones who are widely read on this topic, I refer you to Leonard Sweet's prophetic statement at the end of his Foreword: "There are only a few books good enough to read to the end of time. "The Forgotten Ways" is one of them." This statement is true because the many concepts, stories, charts, graphs and tables in this remarkable book are examples of what Alan calls the "simplex"--simple enough to immediately resonate, yet complex enough to continue to yield nuanced gems for those willing to get their hands dirty and dig deeper.
I expect to be "cleaning under my nails" for a very long time, indeed!