"Ivan Illich was once asked what is the most revolutionary way to change society.
Is it violent revolution or is it gradual reform?
He gave a careful answer.
If you want to change society,
then you must tell an alternative story."
Passionate.. idealistic.. imaginative... seminal.. incisive.. visionary.. these are some of the words that come to mind as I consider my six weeks living with "The Shaping of Things to Come." A gripping exegesis of culture, church and history, with some careful theological reflection along the way, Frost and Hirsch contribute to the dialogue on innovation and mission and end up with re-imagining eccelesiology against the backdrop of emerging culture.
The book is organized into four sections and twelve chapters. Instead of an intro a subheading appears: "You must read this bit first." This section is like a manifesto where the authors declare some of their bias - toward missional efforts rather than revitalization (outward vs inward) - that the small and experimental groups around the world may be the best hope of Christianity - that they intend to reshape ecclesiology around mission. The authors consider themselves missionaries more than academics.
In this short section they define two important terms: institutional and missional. Rather than a sociological definition they use a functional one: the church has been an institution to which outsiders come in order to receive a certain product. They argue that the church must redefine itself in terms of mission: to take the gospel to and incarnate the gospel in specific cultural contexts.
Part One "The Shape We're In"
1. Evolution or Revolution?
2. The Missional Church
Part Two "Incarnational Ecclesiology"
3. The Incarnational Approach
4. The Shape of the Missional Church
5. The Contextualized Church
6. Whispering to the Soul
Part Three "Messianic Spirituality"
7. The God of Israel and the Renewal of Christianity
8. Action as Sacrament
9. The Medium Really is the Message
Part Four "Apostolic Leadership"
10. The Genius of APEPT
11. Imagination and the Leadership Task
12. Organizing the Revolution
Chapter 1 argues that tweaking the system will be of no avail. We do not need an evolution, we need revolution. The authors quote Einstein that "the kind of thinking that will solve the world's problems will be of a different order than the kind that created those problems in the first place." We need to step out of the box of Christendom.
Christendom, as opposed to the movement Jesus initiated (Christianity), has been the dominant religious force in the world for 1700 years. Under Constantine Christianity moved from a subversive, marginalized and persecuted movement to the favorite religion of the empire. "Christianity moved from being a dynamic .. movement.. to being a religious institution with its attendant structures, priesthood and sacraments."
The authors note that GOCN has elucidated twelve features of the missional church. Frost and Hirsch propose three more, over-arching principles that give energy and direction to the twelve. These are:
1. The missional church is incarnational, not attractional, in its ecclesiology. By incarnational we mean it does not create sanctified spaces into which believers much come to encounter the gospel. Rather, the missional church disassembles itself and seeps into the cracks and crevices of a society in order to be Christ to those who don't yet know him.
2. The missional church is messianic, not dualistic, in its spirituality. That is, it adopts the worldview of Jesus the Messiah, rather than that of the Greco-Roman empire. Instead of seeing the world as divided between the sacred (religious) and profane (nonreligious), like Christ it sees the world and God's place in it as more holistic and integrated.
3. The missional church adopts an apostolic, rather than a hierarchical, mode of leadership. By apostolic we mean a mode of leadership that recognizes the fivefold gifts detailed by Paul in Ephesians 6. It abandons the triangular hierarchies of the traditional church and embraces a biblical, flat-leadership community that unleashes the gifts of evangelism, apostleship and prophecy as well as the currently popular pastoral and teaching gifts.
"We believe the missional genius of the church can only be unleashed when there are foundational changes made to the church's very DNA, and this means addressing core issues like ecclesiology, spirituality, and leadership. It means a complete shift away from Christendom thinking, which is attractional, dualistic, and hierarchical."
Part Two opens with a chapter on the incarnational approach, and the quote that I used to open this review. The authors argue that coming to grips with being incarnational requires an entirely new paradigm. The western church has been primarily attractional, and has stood apart from culture and invited people to "come in."
Frost and Hirsch find four characteristics of the incarnation. It involved,
the Beyond in-the-midst
the Human image of God
From these characteristics they conclude that "the Incarnation provides us with the missional means by which the gospel can become a genuine part of a people group without damaging the cultural frameworks that provide a sense of history and meaning" and that "in reaching a people group we need to identify with them in all ways possible without compromising the truth of the gospel itself." (p37) They note that the danger of failing to practice incarnational mission is cultural imperialism.
Chapter five is "The Contextualized Church."
"Don't think church, think mission!" the authors often announce in their lectures as part of the FORGE Mission Training Network. In contrast to the cultural imperialism of many past missional efforts, the authors advocate a "radical rethink about the symbols, language, metaphors, vernacular and idioms we employ when presenting Christ to our world."
Part Three - Messianic Spirituality
The Bible of Judaism... makes one contribution to Christian faith. It is the profound conviction of these ancient rabbis, whom Jews revere and call "our sages, of blessed memory," that Scripture forms a commentary on everyday life-- as much as everyday life brings with it a fresh understanding of Scripture.
Jacob Neusner, p.111
"So much reflection on Jesus portrays a man who is overly serious, who wrung his hands a lot.. rather, his was a very attractive spirituality.. He was notorious for hanging out with the wrong types.. We need his model of holy laughter, of his sheer love of life, of his infectious holiness, of his common people's religion... We partner with God in the redemption of the world." 114-115
The writers argue that an alternative, missional approach to being and doing church is best supported by an alternative approach to Christian spirituality. This makes perfect sense. Western dualism has resulted in a gnostic approach to life and to salvation, a damaging influence that has undermined the very foundations of the gospel itself. The result has been an ontological Christology, divorced from history and from life.
The author's sense of dis-ease has taken them on a journey of discovery. Alan Hirsch's Jewis heritage took him back to those sources, and Michael Frost's Catholic heritage took him to Benedictine thought on the sacralizing of the everyday. This in turn resulted in both discovering the work of Abraham Heschel and Martin Buber. The rich early traditions of the Hasidic movement opened a deep resonance with Scripture.
Under broad categories, key differences are these:
Hellenistic thinking is speculative in nature, whereas the Hebraic spirit is much more concrete. As Philip Yancy wrote, the church affirmed that Jesus was "the only begotten Son of God, Very God of Very God.." but those statements were light years removed from the Gospel accounts of Jesus growing up in a Jewish family in the agricultural town of Nazareth.
Second, the Hebraic spirit is a religion of time. The Hebrew Bible describes history as the primary source of revelation of God and God's will for the world. History is where we must do our work to advance the kingdom.
From this point the author's move to speak of the redemption of the everyday. The Jewish people have preserved a profound ability to celebrate life: L'chaim!
Frost and Hirsch point to films like "Chocolat" and "Babette's Feast" as potent parables of the poewr of pleasure to redeem and reconcile. "It is not for nothing that the covenants -- new and old -- were sealed in full meals, replete with four glasses of wine... It is unredeemed or undirected pleasure that destroys life."
The authors rely heavily on the work of Abraham Heschel and Martin Buber. Buber's work "I and Thou" was floating around seminary in my early days there in 1980. I remember it as a profound work of reflection on the meaning of relationship and identity and humanness. Buber comments that, "He who does a good deed with complete kavanah, that is, completes an act in such a way that his whole existence is gathered in it and directed in it towards God, he works on the redemption of the world, on its conquest for God.
Part Four - Apostolic Leadership
In this fourth part Frost and Hirsch continue their imaginative and reflective theological work. Some will find chapters eleven and twelve worth the price of the trip. This section could almost demand a review all its own. Chapter ten begins the tour with "The Genius of APEPT."
For three or four years now I have been uncomfortable with talk about the "five fold ministry." I've had difficulty identifying my discomfort, but I'll bet many of you are ahead of me on this and could give me many reasons why it doesn't work for you.
It seems that the phrase is mostly used in charismatic circles as part of a package that sells a certain understanding of authority.. hierarchical and positional, founded around office and status in the community, and aimed at maintaining a clerical management culture. Unfortunately, that particular conception of authority is part of the reason that the modern church got stuck, and the places that talk a lot apostles and prophets are too often old paradigm.
As I have completed my read of Frost and Hirsch, "The Shaping of Things to Come," I have found myself asking some old questions about vocation and its relation to gifting, and gifting and its relation to position, and of course, questions about the relationship of leadership and authority in this matrix.
It seems to me that we have three urgent tasks in the emergent church in relation to the biblical revelation on gifts and authority.. we have to disentangle leadership and authority, we have to disentangle biblical language about gifting from the cultural morass of Christendom, and we have to find a way to embrace the diversity of gifts in the body. If we attempt to do one of these without the other, we will probably slide back into a familiar clerical mode with centralized and positional authority.
Frost and Hirsch run the five gifts through the grid of organizational and social research. While at first glance this may seem pedantic, it is really helpful. They make the following connection:
entrepreneur/innovator - the apostle
questioner - the prophet
recruiter - the evangelist
humanizer - the pastor
systematizer - the teacher
This is helpful for two critical reasons:
1. it pushes us to see the function of these gifts in any church team.
2. it moves toward disentangling these biblical terms from the muck and mire of cultural religion
There is more to say.. grab the book!