Jump directly to the Content
March 8, 2012Leadership, Missiology

The Permanent Revolution: An Interview with Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim

Alan Hirsch has been a friend for many years (we worked together on the Missional Manifesto, among other things). His work is always provocative and passionate, and The Permanent Revolution is no exception. You can download a sample here.

Alan is writing on the "apostolic" focus and function. I've written on apostles before, here and here, but Alan's take is different. Over the next two days, I will share an interview with Alan and Tim Catchim, his coauthor of the book. They will be by to interact in the comments, so if you have any questions or comments, please share them below.

1. You say in your book that you wrote The Permanent Revolution to highlight the apostolic assignments named in Ephesians 4 (APEST). Describe your growing conviction about this specific section of Scripture.

One of the challenges in writing this text was finding substantial materials on the Ephesians 4 text. In large part, there simply isn't any out there. This alone was a key indicator that something significant is missing from our ecclesiology. If we were to ask Paul to lay down his most thorough understanding of the church, he would undoubtedly slap the book of Ephesians down in front of us.

The letter is described by Barth as the constitution of the church. It contains our richest formulations of ecclesiology in the New Testament. Our convictions about the significance of Ephesians is also weighted by its historical setting in the Jesus movement. It was written to a burgeoning church planting movement that swept across the Asia Minor province. This letter is not only most substantial treatise on ecclesiology, it is also his most movemental letter we have record of.

Regardless of where you locate the date of Ephesians within the corpus of Paul's letters, the fact that Paul mentions the apostolic vocation as an essential component to the churches maturity and capacity to grow into the fullness of Christ should alert us to it's axiomatic function in the ongoing life of the church. The progression of unity in the one God (4:1-6) provides the platform for APEST (4:7-11) which in turn provides the basis for the church to be what Jesus actually intended us to be--mature and functioning as the extension of his ministry on the earth (4:12-16).

We can no longer afford to rip Ephesians 4:7-11 out if its context and relegate its relevance to a bygone epoch of church history. It's just plain dishonest exegesis, manipulative politicizing of the text, and dangerous undermining of our capacity to mature fully as God's people.

2. Why aren't more theologians writing on the apostolic ministry of the church?

Two things come to mind: Language and our localized notion of the church. As far as language, the word apostle literally means to "be sent." The Latin form of the word is missio, and it is where we get our word mission and missionary from. Therefore all talk of missional church in de facto talk about apostolic movements.

There is undoubtedly some reservations when it comes to integrating the word apostello into our vocabulary of leadership and ministry. For whatever reasons, even the denominations that pride themselves on being biblical and using biblical frameworks and language to carry on contemporary discourse about ecclesiology have for some reason felt the need to edit this language out of their lexicons and formal discourse. The word is right there staring us in the face, along with at least eight other people in the New Testament being called apostles outside of the 12.

Whatever reservations are there, the biblical evidence warrants a re-integration of this terminology into our language of ministry and leadership functions within the church. Until the word is accurately translated (rather than transliterated into Latin) we say that we should opt for the language being used in scripture. Since when did we Protestants prefer Latin to Greek??

The second being our overly localized notions of the church. The church clearly has a local expression, no one can doubt this. However, the church also has a city wide, regional and global dimension as well. If we expand our notions of the churches to fit the biblical (movemental) proportions, than ministry and leadership are no longer restricted to the more parochial interests of the local dimension.

It seems that the local dimensions of the church have eclipsed our understanding of the church and monopolized our imaginations. This has, inadvertently, pre-scripted the scope of and nature of what can rightly be called legitimate forms of ministry and leadership. In other words, if the local church is THE model of church, the exclusion of the citywide, regional and global dimensions, the leadership and ministry of the church will be limited to what can happen and take place within that local setting.

Seeing that the apostolic function has a trans-local dynamic built into it's very nature, a strictly localized notion of the church will inevitably de-legitimize the forms of ministry and leadership within the church that operate outside of the localized parameters - the apostolic being case in point.

From this angle, the apostolic ministry, outside of foreign missions, has literally been off the map for most people. The more localized notions of the church have all but edited this function out of our imagination.

3. You point out in the book that some might, unfairly, critique your approach as anti-institutional. To be honest, I will not be surprised if you hear that often. So, in what ways would you say integrating APEST into a missional strategy actually builds structure?

This a good question. We are not opting for no structure or organization. In fact, the reader ofThe Permanent Revolution will discover that around 50% of the book dedicated to organizational dynamics and the structural dimensions of church. It is the type of structure that matters! As we say in the book, organization is a mobilization of bias. In other words, we design our organizations to achieve a certain goal or purpose. If we think about this conversely, then we can tell a lot about an organizations goals by looking at how it is designed.

We suggest that the most effective way of organizing for apostolic movements is going to be a combination between what Ralph Winter describes as modalic (local-nurturing) and sodalic (regional-pioneering) structures. Currently, the church is primarily structured around the more modalic functions and needs to expand its organizational structures to include the more trans-local, networking functions of the sodalic structures.

Another way of saying this is to expand our vocabulary and notion of the church as a dialectic between the center and the edge. The center exists to resource and empower the people of God who are journeying towards the edge of organizational, geographical and cultural boundaries with the gospel.

Once we insert the notion of a center and an edge, we begin to catch a glimpse of the landscape in which we must operate as an organization. Structures at the center are often not responsive to the critical kind of ministry that goes on at the edges. This needs correction if we are to expand Christianity in our day. It's not that we don't need structure--we do--the issue isthat we need a different kind of structure and organization than the prevailing forms.

4. If one has a base gift in the area of teaching, does that mean they are off the hook for evangelism? How do you encourage the church to engage in every part of its apostolic calling?

We are certainly not off the hook when it comes to representing Jesus. However, we have to recognize the diversity within the body. The central teaching of Ephesians 4 is that the inherent diversity in the body is what provides us the essential resources and relational frameworks to grow into the fullness of Christ.

If someone has a base ministry/gifting as a teacher, they need access to an evangelist, or an evangelistic ministry in which they can spend time learning how to function evangelistically. Granted, the teacher may not be the best at evangelism, but it is the task of the evangelist not only to do evangelism, but to equip the other members of the body, including teachers, to learn how to do what they do at a a certain level of efficiency and effectiveness. This is how the giftings equip the other parts of the body for works of ministry. This kind of equipping normally happens over an extended period of time, years really.

So we can say that while not everyone is a teacher, everyone is nonetheless called to share what they know from the scriptures; not everyone is a shepherd, but we are all called to care; not everyone is an evangelist, but we are all called to share the good news; not everyone is a prophet, but we are all called to listen to God; not everyone is an apostle, but everyone is called to live a sent life.

--Part 2 coming tomorrow--

The Exchange is a part of CT's Blog Forum. Support the work of CT. Subscribe and get one year free.
The views of the blogger do not necessarily reflect those of Christianity Today.

More from The Exchange

Christianity Today

The Permanent Revolution: An Interview with Alan ...