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A New Apostolic Movement?

Thank you for the important and insightful article, "A New Apostolic Movement?", by Gregory Metzger [July/August]. Often, Books & Culture focuses—as it should—upon key books and discussions in the academic arena. But there are times when a thoughtful, critical engagement is necessary for a book that is having an impact on the church, even if it is not having much impact on the academy. Metzger's thoughtful critique of the excesses in the thought of Alan Hirsch and the new apostolic movement is timely, significant, and illuminating. As a scholar who seeks to serve both the church and the academy, I say a hearty "Amen!" to his call to discernment.

J. Todd Billings
Associate Professor of Reformed Theology
Western Theological Seminary
Holland, Michigan

Clearly when authors write books, especially ones that seriously challenge cherished notions of the church and its mission, they should expect responses both critical and appreciative. Therefore our policy is not to respond to critiques of our book. If our proposal has merit, and if it is properly rooted in the theological codes of the church, then it can be said to stand on its own without anxious defensiveness on our part. Let great ideas do their work. However, in the case of the article by Greg Metzger, we choose to break protocol because we believe it is so biased it seriously prejudices the important ideas that we wish to convey.

Given word limitations, we have had to limit our response to general concerns about the nature of the article itself and simply point the reader to the (some say "overly") weighty book itself for the positive statement of our proposal. These are:

It is a somewhat loaded and tendentious piece of writing: A visitor to Greg's blog will readily notice that he appears to be on something of a crusade—and we believe largely on justifiable grounds—against the so-called New Apostolic Reformation movement associated with C. Peter Wagner and others. But because of this particular bent, Greg does not offer a neutral or objective review of the ideas presented in our book, but rather offers a tendentious and polemical essay used in furtherance of his greater perceived cause. The polemics skew the article against the distinctively missional significance of our material. We do not share the NAR ideology and agenda at all.

It's a smokescreen: By focusing his objections on some particulars of history rather than on the broader, overarching proposal (missional ministry for a missional church), Metzger ends up simply defending an outworn status quo. He articulates his perspective well, but his focus is way too narrow and in so doing he completely misses the point of our book—straining at gnats he swallows the camel. The very weight of our proposal lies in the total argument of the book and its strategic significance in our time. This is no time for the scholastic obfuscation!

It is unacceptably ad hominem: Metzger seems to indicate that he is "playing the man" and not the ideas of the book in that he only mentions Tim's name once and yet the name "Hirsch" appears 62 times! Mike Breen, an active collaborator in the book, doesn't even get a mention! How can one account for this? What is worse, by going on to associate Alan's name with that of Wagner, Haggard, and others (with whom there are no formal or informal connections at all; relational, organizational, theological, or otherwise) the reviewer (inadvertently or not?) engages in an injurious attempt of guilt by association. This is unacceptable.

It sets up a straw man: One of the more disturbing aspects of the article is that Metzger's "Hirsch" is not even recognizable to the actual Hirsch who writes the book. But neither of us feels that we are adequately represented in his essay. Not at all. The focus is mainly comprised of reactions to some concepts drawn largely from two chapters of the book. He completely ignores the other eleven chapters and the critical augmentation of arguments therein. Straw men are always easier to knock down.

It is reactionary and close-minded: "Reactionary" is defined as a person, organization, or ideology that opposes political or social liberalization or reform. This article is predictably traditionalist and takes a stand for the status quo, whereas we are calling readers to reassess the viability of the inherited ecclesiology in light of Scripture as well as the challenges presented by the 21st century. Yes, we do see the current system of ministry as a disastrous reduction of what Jesus intended for his church, and yes, we do seek to bring about paradigmatic change and repentance. But we try to base our proposals squarely on the phenomenon apparent in biblical ecclesiology itself—especially Ephesians and Acts. We suggest that at this critical juncture in history, it is to Scripture, and not just some particulars of Christendom's history, that we must turn if we are find our way back to a genuinely New Testament ministry.

Sadly, at best Metzger's essay merely seems to validate Epictetus' perceptive observation, that it is indeed very difficult to teach a man what he thinks he already knows. Serious attempts at reform are always resisted by those with vested interests in keeping things the way they are. But it is in the spirit of the reforming principle itself (that the church reformed ought always to be reforming according to the Scriptures) that we present the proposals in The Permanent Revolution. Reformation is indeed needed. We do tremblingly believe that the future health and viability of Christianity in the West is somehow tied in with our capacity to recalibrate along more explicitly missional (and therefore more biblically consistent) lines. At core, and following the explicit logic of Ephesians itself, we argue that what is at stake is nothing less than the comprehensive ministry of Jesus expressing itself in and through the body of Christ. We suggest therefore that authentic Christian ministry must be fivefold in form because Jesus himself was the embodiment of each apest ministry. In other words, st on its own can never hope to express the fullness of Christ's ministry in and through the church, precisely because it has reduced Christ's ministry to only two of the original, and prototypical, five.

These issues are fraught with theological significance, and the stakes are high in terms of the capacity of biblical Christianity to thrive in the 21st century. It was with some urgency that we wrote this book. We encourage all those in positions of leadership and influence to prayerfully read the book and judge for themselves whether we have made a strategic case or not.

Alan Hirsch
Los Angeles, California
Tim Catchim
Clarksville, Tenn.

Gregory Metzger replies:

During the course of working on my essay, the following announcement from Wheaton College's Masters in Missional Movements Department came to my attention: "The new Masters is the culmination of a partnership between Alan Hirsch and Rick Richardson. Both will be involved in teaching and in continuing to shape the degree." While I am tempted to simply ignore Alan and Tim's analysis of my essay, I feel that Alan's rising stature within evangelicalism in general and the missional movement in particular calls for a reply to their charges against my work.

I will refer interested readers to my "crusading" website (debatingobama .blogspot.com) for a sustained reply to three serious charges made by Tim and Alan:

1) They claim my article "engages in an injurious attempt of guilt by association" with respect to the New Apostolic Reformation.

2) They assert that I demonstrated "scholastic obfuscation" and "completely" missed the point of their book in order to defend "an outworn status quo," ignoring "the distinctively missional significance of [their] material."

3) They label me a "reactionary," meaning someone who "opposes political or social liberalization or reform."

In the space given me here I want to draw attention to one particular charge that is unfortunately representative of a style of discourse typical of their book. "Serious attempts at reform," they write, "are always resisted by those with vested interests in keeping things the way they are." This noxious claim to have discerned my motivations to such a degree that they do not need to give evidence of their charge puts me in the company of three scholars who they similarly dismiss in their book: Arthur Patzia, John Calvin, and Alan Roxburgh. On the basis of an "analysis" lasting less than a page, Hirsch and Catchim feel perfectly justified to make the sweeping charge that in their interpretations of Ephesians 4 all three engage in "hermeneutical gymnastics" that "demonstrate how deeply biased the Christendom system is" (p. 19). This method of making wholesale judgments of individuals, movements, and in some cases entire eras of history on the basis of discerning "bias" and "vested interests" carries itself to the concluding paragraph of the book, in which readers are encouraged to "allow some holy chaos to enter so we can break free from the iron cages of oligarchy and engage the missional challenge."

In my essay I did my best to clearly spell out my disagreement with specific interpretations of Scripture, church history, and contemporary trends presented in their book. Whether my writing places me in the "iron cages of oligarchy" with the vast majority of Christians is something I will leave to readers to judge.

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