Today I got the chance to here Alan Hirsch talk at Grand Rapid Theological Seminary. These folks are constantly bringing some good people into town to stimulate conversation all across the theological spectrum of thought. This is a good thing. No they aren’t paying me to say that.
Now on to Hirsch. I read the shaping of things to come a couple years ago and used it when I taught a class on the missional church at GRTS a year ago. I own but have not finished reading Hirsch book the Forgotten Ways. It was helpful to hear him share his thoughts first hand. Hirsch talked about four critical shifts for the church to stay relevant and not die in the current context for ministry
- recovery of the centrality of Jesus
- recovery of discipleship
- recovery of incarnational missional impulse
- recovery of apostolic ethos and movement
I think I have heard or read most of this stuff before. Some of it I have been saying myself for years. (Not that that means anything.) But what was interesting to me is how different his perspective on these issues were as opposed to whatI have heard coming from those who love his writing. The people who have talked to me about Hirsch’s SOTOK approached it in such an either or manner that I got the feeling that if I didn’t buy into every he said and follow is right now I was part and parcel of the death of the church.
Don’t get me wrong there is a prophetic urgency to Hirsch voice but he presents it with a much broader fuller, perspective and graciousness than many of his adherents (at least the ones I know) have. Maybe this is the way that books on this subject have to be written so that people will buy them. But after listening to Hirsch I didn’t get the same eiither or feeling about what he is proposing that I got reading the book. Instead I find myself in agreement with Hirsch that we need to learn how to rediscover what it means to be fully Christian fully human, and fully the church.
I beilieve he is correct when he challenges us to appreciate the fullness of the gospel and Jesus message and not simply attach to the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus like some kind of a “cosmic fire insurance”. Or place so much emphasis on the ethos of Jesus that we make him into a nice example for good living. As Hirsch said many times in his talk that is not the whole picture of Jesus. Jesus is lord. he is lord of the church, Lord of our lives, and the author and finisher of our faith.
In this regard I find Hirsch to be completely orthodox in his thinking, His methodology my be radically different but we are in radically different times. It was refreshing to hear him talk about the way the evangelical church has subverged the message and minstry of Jesus with our subjective interpretation of Pauline theology. This amounts to what he calls Paulism not Christianity. If we are to be Christians then Christ/Jesus must be at the center of everything we do. As Hirsch said Paul would be disturbed by what we have done since he specifically taught that this faith we live was not about him but about Jesus. I think our emphasis on Pauline theology and only the death and resurrection of Jesus rather than his whole life and mission provided a convenient means to fit the Christian faith in a western North American US box. Buy my ticket follow the rules and I will be home free. The reign and kingdom of God is much more than that.
Now in case you think that I have become a Hirsch groupie let me say that I was a little disappointed in his response to my question which followed some others about how all this translates into a multi-racial pluralistic culture. He basically said the US was another animal all together because of the long history of segregation and slavery. Yep knew that. He also said the kingdom of God is multi-racial/multi-cultural. Then he asked I thought. So here goes.
Writes like Hirsch must challenge their readers to a broader cultural and contextual understanding of their thoughts. The readers especially anglo readers to must learn to see the implementation of these thoughts those lens other than their own discomfort and disconnect the the modern western church. We all must learn to ask what if their are perspectives other that those I am familiar that shape the way that I think about how church looks feels, tastes and smells. Finally we must avoid at all costs taking our interpretation of any writer and elevating it to an absolute (by doing this we avoid the cult of personality that seems to be developing in much of the emerging/missional church conversation) . More on this to come in another post.