October 2, 2012 by cbbeard
The Permanent Revolution:
Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church
In The Permanent Revolution, Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim (2012) suggest a revolution in ecclesiastical model based on the New Testament passage of Ephesians 4:1-16. The authors propose that the undeniable statistical decline of the Western church is due in large part to the neglect and dismissal of the fivefold ministry of the church (which includes the roles of apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers; given the acronym “APEST”) as instructed by the Apostle Paul in that passage. They further propose that these ministerial functions must be present in the church if it is to fulfill its God-intended purpose as a missional movement, and that the key to restoring the missional nature of the church is the recovery of the apostolic function.
Hirsch, who is a leader in mission strategy and missional movement thought, and Catchim, a grassroots church planter and consultant; with contributions from Mike Breen, another leader in ecclesiastical missiology, provide a thorough description of how restoration of the apostolic function into the church can mobilize a perpetual missional movement, indeed a “permanent revolution.” The book is structured into four parts that move from the theological foundation for the reinstitution of APEST, to the individual aspects of apostolic ministry specifically.
Part One: Ephesians 4:1-16 – Frameworks for Ministry
Part One is vital in that it provides the theological argument needed to justify a renewed interest in the apostolic function within the church. In this section, the authors discuss the language and context of Ephesians 4:1-16 to show that the Apostle Paul is speaking specifically and authoritatively regarding the inherent nature of the church. It is argued that the fivefold ministry of APEST is already built into the church (viz., the people) and that when all five functions are present, the church fully reflects the ministry of Jesus Christ. The authors suggest that the five functions of APEST are spiritual gifts, but are differentiated from spiritual gifts mentioned in other passages in that they are vocational (a “calling”) rather than situational or practical. Therefore, the APEST is part of the “DNA” of the church because APEST is part of the “spiritual DNA” of each person who is a part of the ecclesia. Additionally, the authors identify “ST” (shepherd and teacher) as the current primary functional emphasis in the Western church, preventing the church from experiencing the “synergy” that is created when all five functions are working together to create a missional movement of believers.
Part Two: Apostolic Ministry
In Part Two, Hirsch and Catchim (2012) move to the apostolic function specifically and define the role of the apostle in the contemporary church. They clarify that the contemporary apostolic ministry is modeled after the biblical archetypes, but is not a replacement or expansion of the “big ‘A’ Apostles” in scripture (Hirsch and Catchim, 2012, p. 99). The apostle as defined by the authors is not an institutional office; rather the apostle is the guardian and custodian of the gospel and the “DNA” of the church as a “sent” body. Within the apostolic role, the authors use the New Testament examples of Paul and Peter as two important yet distinct variations. The Pauline apostolic ministry is pioneering; this person takes the gospel into new places. The Petrine apostolic ministry focuses on renewal; this person is responsible for sparking the dormant ecclesia to the missional movement God intended.
Part Three: Apostolic Leadership
The authors make a shift in Part Three from a description of apostolic ministry to a discussion of apostolic leadership functions, specifically missional innovation. The apostolic leadership required for the revolution the book proposes is characterized by innovation and entrepreneurship. One especially helpful aspect of this section is the identification of traits that are required of an apostolic leader (flexibility, comfort with a certain amount of risk and ambiguity, improvisation, etc.) if that leader is to navigate the landscape and lead the ecclesia forward missionally.
Part Four: Apostolic Organization
Finally, in Part Four, Hirsch and Catchim (2012) discuss the structure of an organization with apostolic drive. This section provides what could be considered the most practical aspect of the authors’ proposal. Philosophically, the authors show that structure and organization will help the church become a missional movement (through “mobilizing bias” (Hirsch and Catchim, 2012, p. 207.)) when it is sustainable and reproducible. The authors also discuss the theoretical parts of a process for initiating and maintaining missional movement, and identify apostolic forms that should be present to maintain apostolic (and therefore missional) effectiveness.
The major strength of The Permanent Revolution is that it lays the theological and philosophical groundwork for the church as a missional movement, and identifies the missing piece under the current paradigm. The authors claim that writing this book was necessary due to a lack of substantial resources regarding the APEST model of Ephesians 4 and the apostolic function of ministry. To that end, The Permanent Revolution succeeds. With an overall tone of persuasiveness, the book presents an argument for the need of a paradigm shift and ecclesiastical revolution, and then presents a plausible and convincing solution: the reinstitution of the fivefold ministry of APEST and the reintroduction of the apostolic function specifically. This book is a strong presentation for ecclesiastical revolution.
Readers of The Permanent Revolution, however, might be found wanting in some areas of what this book is not. This book is not a theological treatise per se. While a good deal of material is dedicated to the theological foundation of Ephesians 4:1-16 and the fivefold ministry of APEST being prescriptive for the church, this theology challenges conventional thinking held by many groups in such a way that more discussion may be needed. The authors do address some of the opposing viewpoints to this theology (such as the canon of scripture or the institution of the church replacing the apostolic function), and the Appendix, “A Question of Legitimacy: The Restoration of the Apostolic Ministry” (Hirsch and Catchim, 2012, p. 255) adds to the theological reasoning. But with a paradigm shift of this magnitude comes an inherent scrutiny of foundational theology and principles. That is not to say that the theology is incorrect, simply that more support may be necessary.
Additionally, this book is not generally pragmatic in nature. This is not surprising, as the “missional” movement is often more about theology and philosophy, leaving the details to be determined by the ecclesia in partnership with God. However, mission-minded leaders (of both the Pauline and Petrine variety) may be left wanting if they are in pursuit of ways to launch this revolution in their own context. The pragmatic material that does appear in The Permanent Revolution consists of general themes and characteristics that the apostolic leader must apply for himself or herself. One could suggest, however, that any further detail in methodology would be an affront on the very apostolic function the book proposes.
Finally, The Permanent Revolution is an important text because it challenges the status quo for the ecclesia and the Western protestant evangelical church in particular. It is suitable and highly recommended for study in a wide variety of contexts and would fit in nicely at a seminary or in the college classroom, particularly in the study of missiology and ecclesiology. The book would be a very valuable resource for church planting organizations that are coaching Pauline-type apostolic leaders and sending them out to pioneer, as well as prove to be revolutionary for the local congregation searching for renewal spiritually and missionally. Academia, ministry practitioners, missiologists, lay leaders, and indeed, anyone concerned with the decline of the Western church and a thirst for biblically-based missional remedies, will appreciate the challenge for ecclesiastical revolution presented in The Permanent Revolution.