The Permanent Revolution by Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim: A Review

The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series)

I recently finished The Permanent Revolution: Apostolic Imagination and Practice for the 21st Century Church by Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim. It was both fascinating and challenging; eye-opening and head-scratching; theoretical and practical. As the title alludes to, they aren’t merely looking to write another informative, and perhaps, redundant piece of missional thoughts and practices. No, they are rather looking for a return to the five-fold movemental nature inherent to the Church brought about through the identification and manifestation of the apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher and their subsequent equipping of the saints.

At the outset and permeated throughout the bulk of the book, Hirsch and Catchim (along with a bit of Mike Breen thrown into the mix) warn of the nature of this writing. It isn’t for those who think they have it all together. It isn’t for those not willing to learn. Instead it is for those yearning for the missional nature inherent to the apostolic ministry found in Ephesians 4 (and elsewhere) to be brought (once again) to the fore. This is especially pertinent, in Hirsch and Catchim’s view, because of the current cultural context and state of the Western church. Steady decline has made many wonder what is the potential solution to this steady downturn. Enter The Permanent Revolution.

Central to the argument of returning the church to its apostolic DNA is the breaking away from the thinking that has gotten to us this point. As is pointed out throughout the book, the thinking and doing that got us to this point is producing that which cannot get us out of our ecclesiological rut. Again, central to their argument is the relegation of what is essential to the Church herself: the fully functioning APEST roles. As is shown in biology, if you mess with the DNA¬† of any organism you will get a distorted body. Hence, Hirsch and Catchim demonstrate, most Western churches practice a two-folded ministry focused on the Shepherd and Teacher to the extreme denial of the Apostle, Prophet, and Evangelist. This denial and relegation of these core ministries has left us wanting and wondering why the Western church has lost its movemental nature. The argument here is made that it is due to our anemic understanding and consequential practice of both the church’s being and doing in general and of the Apostle in particular. The essence of the Apostle – the key to missional movements – is at the core of this writing and will spark your imagination, even if you aren’t gifted as an apostle. For instance they say:

Exclude the apostolic, and it becomes hard to see how a fully formed, mature, and expansive ecclesia can possibly take place. Most likely the church would be limited to good preaching, groovy contemporary worship, and Bible studies. We suspect that Jesus intended much more for the movement that he started.

Does that form of church sound familiar? It should.

There is so much in this book that the reader is given a thorough overview of the current state and condition of the Western church. Taking their cues from sociology, biology, emergence theory, social movement dynamics, together with church history, theology, and Scripture, Hirsch and Catchim have developed a truly revolutionary book for both thought and practice. Their extremely well developed concepts of all of the APEST roles goes beyond anything I have seen. The relational nature of these gifts and how they are intimately related to each other is deeply examined, especially in light of the Apostle.

If you have been well-versed in the missional conversation this book will continue to expand your conception of the nature of the church and how to put feet to it. If you are just getting your feet wet in the missional conversation this book will blow your mind and then put it all back together again. Whether you are seeking to plant a church or transform your established church, this book is an essential piece of the puzzle that we need to grapple with. There is so much of value here a simple review like this won’t do it justice. Go get yourself a copy. I highly recommend it.

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