I’ve always been a fan of Alan Hirsch and his wife Deb. I like that they have risked a lot in their lives, lived a lot among “the least of these,” that Deb is now a pastor in the city of LA, that they read incessantly. Alan is much more irenic than I. I like that too. I think Alan’s gift is his ability to read a lot of things, condense them and make them concrete to missional living. I don’t always agree with him on everything (duh). I think a lot of our disagreements come from him being a missiologist and me being primarily a pastor/theologian. I’m theologically driven ( I admit it) and Al is missiologically driven (which makes him holier).
All this to say that I read Alan and Deb’s newest book, Untamed on the plane ride home Saturday. I jotted down some highlights I’d like to share. Here goes.
The Hirsch’s book is about “reactivating a missional form of discipleship.” On page 99, they describe the modus operandi of the book: “this book has to do with overcoming obstacles inherent in our thinking about God, present in our culture, and programmed in our psyches. It is a book about idolatry, false worship, deception, and the lies we tell ourselves to get off the hook.” I like and applaud this approach to discipleship. I found it helpful.
The book runs through some of Alan’s signature themes (I recognize the book is written by Alan and Deb here BTW but up til now these themes have beem articulated by Alan et. al.)) and, I might add, what have become dominant themes in the missional world. You know them as “Christology precedes missiology,” “the bounded set centered set,” as well as others. These ideas are reflected upon here as to their implications for discipleship. The way these themes work themselves out is via four central ideas: 1.) Jesus shaped spirituality: Jesus comes first Christology precedes missiology and missiology precedes ecclesiology. 2.) Shema spirituality: a discipleship based on Jesus’ commandment to love God – love your neighbor .. of course Deb and Alan are beginning with Deut 6 here, 3.) No Mission No Discipleship: Discipleship cannot happen unless the invitation to participate and be formed by the Mission is central, and d.) the deconstruction of idolatry as a core practice of discipleship. Can I say AGAIN! – this is an excellent outline of what discipleship can be and I highly recommend it!! And the Hirsch’s do a extraordinary job of fleshing out what this looks like within the missional life of a community. Again, it’s well worth the read.
Allow me to mention a few more highlights. I like Allan/Deb’s question on page 45 “what is it about holiness of Jesus that caused sinners to flock to him like a magnet and yet managed to seriously antagonize religious people?” I like the Hirsch’s chapter on sexuality. Coming from a significant ministry and life among the sexually hurting, this chapter is substantive and really helpful. I appreciated their soft chiding on the place the family has taken in American culture (ch. 6). Thank-you thank –you. Thank-you. These ideas will help me in discussions within my own home and around us as we are in the midst of planting missional communities.
So, all in all, this book is a good contribution to discipleship in missional communities. It’s not a manual or a specific method or strategy. It’s a bunch of creative ideas about discipleship we should be thinking about as we plant missional communities. It’s good and I’m glad I read the book, especially because I’ve been pondering the issue of discipleship a lot lately at our church.
Of course, there are some theological issues here that I am unsettled about. But this is not Alan or Deb’s problem. I don’t think they would self-describe themselves as putting forth theological foundations for the missional movement. Yet I still think we need these foundations badly.
For instance, I continue to growl when I see the “Christology precedes Missiology precedes Ecclesiology” theme. This theme is of course foundational to the book. NOW I KNOW that when Alan or others use the term ‘ecclesiology”in this way, they are talking about the form and function of the church. The form and function of the church should follow from the gospel’s engagement with the context because mission defines the church. Mission isn’t a program of the church, it is the church. In this sense, I agree. But for me there’s a significant unrecognized problem with following this logic. By splitting Jesus from His ongoing incarnation in the “body of Christ” the church; i.e. by saying Christology precedes the church, we are left with the epistemological problem: how do we know Jesus? To Alan and Deb, maybe this seems obvious –i.e. by reading the gospels, praying and allowing the Spirit to teach us. This seems to be in line with charismatic evangelical epistemology they are already comfortable with. But without the church as the manifest ongoing social embodiment of orthodoxy grounded in Christ and the apostles by the Spirit, do we not leave ourselves open to self-creating Jesus in our own personal image – the very problem Alan and Deb wish to remedy. Are we not open to all the cheesy consumerising of Jesus all us missional types deplore? Without the organic body, in succession, working out the gifts in check “one with another,” are we not left to our own psyches and or exegesis of the gospels. The Spirit certainly works this way yet there must be more. I contend there is a prior order and shape to the church that runs all through history that makes possible the incarnation of Christ into the world again and again. The charismatic individualized receiving of Jesus can really only happen within this ongoing shaping body of the church. So to put Jesus or missiology before ecclesiology opens the Christian to the same grand epistemological problem. This is why John Howard Yoder famously pronounced that the church must “precedes the world epistemologically.” Priestly Kingdom, 11.
When Alan and Deb put forth the problem that “we tend to create Jesus in our own image” 40, that we domesticate him for our purposes, that we need to “free” Jesus from these cultural, Christianized boxes, what Alan and Deb must answer is “how do we know that “the wild Messsiah,” the Untamed Jesus, is not the Jesus created by Alan/Deb Hirsch?” This is the question I have posed before right? Alan is not surprised by this. He’s heard (or read) me blather on about this elsewhere. Do they find the true Jesus through better exegesis? better cultural analysis? Is it through the direct Holy Spirit illumination as one reads and prays the Scriptures?
I contend Jesus becomes present in the practice of His Table, the proclamation of the Word (not the informationalizing of it) and the practice of the gifts, the resolving of difference and conflict, of fellowship etc.i.e. the core practices of becoming His people in the world. Jesus incarnates Himself in the world via the community, as it carries on in succession from Christ Himself as His body into the world. Out of this place of His presense at the Eucharist, the proclaimed Word, and the gathering of gifts, binding and loosing (Matt 18), His authority, His forgiveness, His reconciliation, His life giving renewal and healing of all things, His very presense is incarnated into the world. From this place, Jesus manifests Himself uniquely for each context and pushes us out as His Sent presence in the world. This is the defined ecclesiology which, for better or worse, Yoder says precedes the world epistemologicallyTHIS IS THE LOGIC OF INCARNATION INTO THE WORLD.
We can avoid the whole problem, therefore, by simply saying that ecclesiology is missiology (or vice versa) and that without Jesus as the incarnate center of each, they are empty and void.
Despite any theological push backs on the nature of missional ecclesiology, I continue to advocate leaning on Alan and Deb for their marvelous missiological explorations. I recommend this book. Anyone else read the book? Any other great nuggets from the book out there you care to share? Questions? Push back? Debate?
What do you think the greatest theological challenge is for the missional church and its authors?
In the meantime, thanks to Alan and Deb for a job well done. Keep er going!
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