Isaiah 58 (in Tom’s words)

[An instruction for Isaiah]

With everything you’ve got, shout!
Use your voice and use it loud,
your sledgehammer words to hold them in their tracks.
Confront the rebellion and resistance of my people, the house of Jacob.
This has to be a hard word.

[The diagnosis]

Day after day they seek me, supposedly aligning themselves with my ways,
acting like they’re a righteous nation,
acting like they’re living in line with my commands.
They’re not.
They ask for righteous judgements, they feign delight in drawing near to me.
“Here we are fasting, don’t you see? Why bother humbling ourselves when you don’t even notice?”

You want the truth?

You fast, but even as we speak you’re utterly preoccupied with your own interests; you oppress your workers, for crying out loud! You only fast so you can quarrel, fight, and beat up on others – yes, you with the wicked fist. I’ll tell you for sure, your voice won’t be heard on high. No way. You’re wasting your time with this so-called ‘fasting’.

Do you really think that this is what I want? A day where you humble yourselves and bow your head, acting lowly and pretending like the world has fallen on you? You think this is a fast, a day that the Almighty God takes delights in?

Nope.
But try this on for size. Here is the kind of fast I choose.

[The prescription]

Loose the chains of injustice.
Undo the restraints of repression.
Let the oppressed go free, and smash down the walls of captivity.
Share your food with the hungry, your house with the homeless poor,
Honour the personhood of the naked; evict their shame, and cover them.
Stay present, attentive, and involved with your family.

[The promise]

See, now we’re talking.
Live like this, and your light will captivate the earth like the dawn;
your healing will arise quickly, as streams from the ground.
Your vindicator will go ahead of you, and God-the-magnificent will have your back. You’ll call out, and Almighty God will answer; you’ll cry for help, and he’ll respond: “I’m here!”

[Further prescription and promise]

If you demolish strongholds of fear, accusation, and evil,
if you work to keep bellies full and to satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light will rise in the darkness, your dusk will be the brightest daylight.
The LORD Almighty will actively and continuously guide you,
satisfying your needs even in the driest places,
giving you a deeply rooted strength.
You’ll be vibrant and rich like a watered garden,
like a pure alpine spring whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins will be rebuilt, and you’ll raise the foundations for the coming generations;
your name will be Repairer of the Broken Wall, Restorer of the Abundant Streets.

If you can hold back from walking all over the sabbath (the day of renewable energy) and chasing your own glory,

and delight, embrace, and claim it as a holy day of God,
if you honour it and allow your life be shaped by it (rather than using it for your agenda),
then you’ll discover deepest delight in the Lord Almighty.
I’ll cut you loose to ride on the heights of the earth;
I’ll nourish and satisfy you with all the riches and abundances of your inheritance from Jacob.

These are my words to you, my people.

I’ve said it with my own mouth.

Fresh language goes hand-in-hand with fresh thinking. By allowing fresh thoughts to become infused through life in rhythms, practices and habits, space can be made for sustained change.

Alan Hirsch has been consistent in his task to prod the church toward fresh thinking. 5Q is his most recent book, and in it he makes a broad case for the use of some specifically fresh language. The title is a play on ‘intelligence quotient’ (IQ) and other such measurements, and Hirsch has repurposed the idea to describe the form of “symphonic” communal intelligence that arises out of a combination of different perspectives, gifts and motivations.

It’s not like he hasn’t written about this before. Hirsch has basically championed the recovery of the ‘fivefold’ callings/functions (apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, teacher, Ephesians 4:11) for the missional church movement, covering the topic extensively as a co-author in The Permanent Revolution. I personally found that book satisfyingly thorough, and ahead of reading 5Q I wasn’t sure there was much else to say on the APEST gifts. But Hirsch’s writing life has been nothing if not intentional, so I was intrigued. Here’s the breakdown.

God

The APEST gifts outlined in Ephesians 4 ultimately find their source in the very substance of God’s being. God’s eternal purposes (sentness-missio), holy covenantal heart, saving mercy, loving communal embrace, and infinite truth and wisdom are ways to understand God through the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching lenses. This language is certainly fresh – or perhaps it’s this specific combination of elements making it feel new – and some people won’t like it, I guess. But all-in-all, it seems a theologically astute and comfortable claim.

Common Grace

Traces of God can be found throughout all creation, and even though there is a ‘brokenness’ to the world we can still see the image of God within humanity. Hirsch makes a great case for identifying the distinctive characteristics of God (outlined above and framed using the APEST language) throughout humanity’s founding stories. In addition to dealing with the Genesis account of creation (looking at humanity’s relationality, agency, rationality, creativity, responsibility, and communication), he also deals more broadly with mythology and archetypes. To flesh this out, he does a quick sweep across subjects such as philosophy, biology, living systems, psychology and the social sciences, history, literature and art. It’s a fun chapter. His contention is essentially that the fivefold gifts are laced throughout every aspect of human reality.

Jesus

This is pretty straight-forward. Jesus is the fulfilment of humanity, and the archetypal expression of each of the 5Q dimensions. The Father sends the Son, and the Father and the Son send the Spirit. In this classical trinitarian formula, Jesus is both sent and sender. He ignites his followers to continue his mission until he returns, and holds them to account for doing so. In all of this he is the ultimate apostle (cf. John 20:21; Hebrews 3:1). In the same way, Hirsch outlines Jesus as the ultimate expression of prophet (cf. John 1:1-14; Revelation 1:5; Hebrews 2:5; Matthew 4:1-11), evangelist (cf. Luke 19:9-10; Ephesians 2:14), shepherd (cf. John 10:11; 1 Peter 2:25), and teacher (cf. John 1:17; Romans 16:26). (Note: I’ve illustrated these points with ‘quick’ Scriptures, but Hirsch takes a much more synthesising approach.)

Followers of Jesus

Given that the church is meant to carry on the work of Christ through the power of the Spirit, then each of these dimensions of Christ’s ministry must be expressed in mature fulness throughout the whole Body of Christ. This is what Ephesians 4:1-16 is all about, and the argument is developed in full form in The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church.

Marks of the Church

Now, this is the really fun bit! This is where the prior work actually lands us, offering both diagnostic tools and a very clear ‘way forward.’ The marks of the church according to the Nicene Creed are “one, holy, catholic, apostolic.” Missiologist Darryl Guder has previously called us to understand these in the reverse order (see Missional Church), which is pretty cool. Hirsch however takes issue with the impossibility of the “catholic” part. For it to be a true mark of the church, “there must be a visible unity of structure and confession.” True catholicity may well exist in a mystical, “communion of the saints” kind of way, joining believers across the boundaries of space and time. But based on our current situation, there can be no truly structural and confessional world-wide “catholic” church. A more helpful way to think of the marks of the true church is using the APEST framework. The true church is marked by Missional impact (A), Covenant faithfulness (P), Gospel proclamation (E), Reconciled community, (S), Deep wisdom (T). I think this is rad :-)

Implications

Hirsch provides a compelling case for how the church is to be and act in the world. APEST is “grounded in God, laced into creation, redeemed by Jesus, granted to the church, lived out in the lives of its saints, to the glory of God. [It is a] ‘system’ that goes as deep as it does wide.” The book has a great flow to it, is actually quite a fun read, and comes across with a sort of light-hearted passion. Hirsch doesn’t take himself too seriously, but he takes God and God’s mission very seriously indeed. Putting 5Q into practice should lead to lots of new insights for church life ‘on the ground,’ and the second half of the book is helpful in fleshing some of these out. It will be interesting to see who picks up the challenge posed by Hirsch in the spheres of systematic and trinitarian theology and see what further explorations of 5Q might be undertaken at that level. Most of all, I’ll look forward to seeing a bit of rage (hehe) as people grapple with the fivefold ‘marks of the church’. 5Q is a clear, bold and purpose-filled proposal for the ongoing shaping of the church. I hope that Hirsch’s thesis gets ‘run through the gauntlet’ at both intellectual and practical levels. Let’s see if the implications are as powerful as they sound.

5Qcentral.com | 5Q on Amazon

A New Vitality

This is a call for release…

Release from a captivity of imagination.

Not a call to forsake true identity; a call to take it up!

Ain’t no need to whitewash skill or experience; it’s time to tether these to a new way.

This is a word with intent, determined to call forth hope. A word to look and see what is already here. To lift one’s head and survey the landscape anew. Because although the truth is close, maybe it’s different than you expected…

Look again.

Forget the former things; do not dwell in the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.

A new reality has arrived.

The first shoots of spring are breaking through; the early rays of the new dawn are colouring the sky. All that is necessary now is to get down in the dirt and pay attention… to rise from your slumber and be alive.

Awake, sleeper! Get to work, gardener!

… and let the breath of life restore you to your senses, renew your lost vigour, invigorate you with lifeblood, saturate you in splendour.

Come. Come and see. Your dreams no longer belong to the night. The hopes that were dashed are alive with new vitality.

Here is the way, the path so many longed to find. Set your eyes to the horizon and get your feet on the road.

This journey has been waiting for you.

Faith-Filled Prayer

Prayer is a present-moment activity. It requires the direction of our energies in fullness toward God, right here and right now.

But in this present moment, faith-filled prayer takes us on a bit of a time-travel. It takes us forward, into a future not-yet-seen. While we are there – actively attentive to a possibility – we take ownership of that place, in hope… before releasing it to the God who holds all time.

And he deals with it. Faith-filled prayer is:

“To enter and engage the future, and render it a past already dealt with.”

– Peter Roberson: Revival Streams

This is praying ’till you mean it,

Then trusting the One who receives it.