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.
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.
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.
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 :-)
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.