The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church
368 pp., $24.95
A New Apostolic Movement?
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. In The Permanent Revolution, I found his exposition of the differences between Peter's and Paul's apostolic ministries quite suggestive, as was his rich explanation of "sodalities" and "modalities." I am in Hirsch's debt for making me aware of Markus Barth's commentary on Ephesians, and I agree with Hirsch that Barth's work deserves a wider reading. I am sure that all thoughtful readers of Hirsch will find themselves moved, as I was on numerous occasions, to prayer for the church and repentance for their own narrow vision of her mission. But while I commend The Permanent Revolution for these strengths, I strongly disagree with the agenda that drives the book. While few evangelicals would disagree with Hirsch's cry for what has in the past been called "apostolic zeal," fewer still should agree that this renewal of missionary vision requires contemporary apostles leading an overthrow of "the iron cages of oligarchy" that currently obstruct the "holy chaos" Hirsch envisions from his revolution. I believe his analysis of the Western church and his argument for apostles today is based on a narrow reading of Scripture and contemporary biblical scholarship, a shallow reading of church history, and a mistaken interpretation of Pentecostalism's growth.
I disagree with four interconnected claims about Scripture stated explicitly and implicitly by Hirsch throughout the book. First, that "there is nothing in the New Testament itself to suggest that" apostles were to be limited to the early church; second, that because of the absence of arguments against ongoing apostolic ministry it is obvious that the five-fold APEST ministry of Ephesians 2 and 4 is the definitive teaching on ecclesiological ministry; third, that Hirsch's understanding of apostles as people who "individuals" and "churches" relate to "only because it is meaningful for them to do so" is consistent with the New Testament's description of apostolic authority; and four, that the only reason these three claims are not obvious to biblical scholars and church leaders is because they have a vested interest in maintaining the power of the "STs" (Shepherds and Teachers) at the expense of the "APEs" (Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists).
What is so frustrating for the reader is that his final claim about the bias of New Testament scholars gives Hirsch a rationale for his failure to engage in a substantive way with even the most elementary New Testament texts that challenge his first three claims. So, for instance, this crucial passage from 1 Corinthians Chapter 15, which seems to suggest if not demand the conclusion that Paul saw himself as the final apostle, receives no comment:
For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received … that Christ was raised on the third day … and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time … then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles." [Emphasis added]
The Letter to the Galatians, where Paul responds to a direct assault on his apostleship, is another key text that Hirsch gives scant attention to. This letter, so crucial to any understanding of Pauline conceptions of apostles, seems to emphasize an understanding of apostolic authority at odds with Hirsch's, while also affirming the Corinthian sense that apostles are those who have personally encountered Christ. You will recall that the critics Paul responded to in Galatians claimed that Paul could not be a true apostle because he had not seen either the pre- or post-Resurrection Christ. If Paul held the view of apostles that Hirsch holds, namely that such an encounter is not necessary to being an apostle and apostolic authority is not central to Pauline conceptions of apostles, this would seem like the place for Paul to say so. Instead we have Paul saying in the very first verse that he is "an apostle—sent not from men nor by a man but by Jesus Christ and God the Father," and later saying, "I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel that was proclaimed by me is not of human origin; for I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ."