Digging In To The Permanent Revolution

Today’s post is a dynamic review of The Permanent Revolution by Len Hjalmarson

Ephesians 4:1–16: Frameworks for Ministry 3-95
Apostolic Ministry 97-157
Apostolic Leadership 159-203
Apostolic Organization 205-249
A Question of Legitimacy: The Restoration of the Apostolic Ministry 255-271

[bctt tweet=”It isn’t that they can’t see the solution. It’s that they can’t see the problem. @G. K. Chesterton #permanentrevolution” username=”5qcollective”]

In the Appendix the authors of The Permanent Revolution (TPR) tell the story of the attempts to correct the lean in a famous tower in Piza. Recent measures include placing 960 tons of lead on the north side of the tower. In June 2001, the tower had been straightened up approximately 16 inches, returning its position to what it was in 1838, about 13 feet off center!

Hirsch and Catchim believe that foundations for organizations (including churches) are just as vital as they are to all other buildings and structures. The problem? “The words apostle and its derivatives are used over ninety- five times in the New Testament, whereas now apostle has been all but edited out of our vocabulary. Though it is used only once to describe a function in the church, we use the word pastor as a catch-all title for just about every aspect of ministry.” (256) Where are the missing gifts? They note that, “We have all but eliminated the possibility of an active, ongoing apostolic function from our consciousness and vocabulary [and this] indicates that we have messed with the foundations of leadership and ministry” (256).

Hirsch and Catchim claim that current practice, and traditional interpretation, undergird prevailing ecclesiology, which has seldom, if ever, been subjected to critical review and challenge. They imply that the building is still way off center, and that adding more tons of lead is not the answer (and might sink the ship!). Instead, they argue that “radical repentance is now needed to reestablish the church on its intended foundations. (257)

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Why is this book important? Alan and Tim will affirm that the real question is this: is Ephesians 4 normative for the church today? If we answer “yes,” where are the missing gifts? Could the missing gifts be a partial explanation for the lack of power and impact in our western churches? We are great at circulating the saints: but on the whole the Christian movement in the west is a dying effort, built around a consumer culture, with only sporadic evidence of a missional recovery.

In TPR, the authors nail their theses to the door of the western church. Without a recovery of her missing gifts, the church in the west will continue her decline. TPR expresses the authors hope that the church will open her heart anew to the Holy Spirit, catching fire so the world can watch her burn.

Dynamically, this requires a recovery of sentness as apostolic mission. Practically and theologically, it requires a rediscovery of the five-fold gifts, not as a programmatic solution to the crisis of relevance or as a new method for church growth, but as a recovery of missing DNA. Socially, it is a re-legitimation of the role of apostles, prophets and evangelists (the APEs) as central in the day to day life and mission of local churches.

In the first chapter, “Activating the Theo-Genetic Codes” some of the following questions are addressed. Is the gift list – the ascension gifts – of Ephesians 4 exhaustive? Or in some sense, “special?” Do these gifts describe something we see even in people who are not Jesus followers? That is, are they a part of the imago Dei – creational and not only growing out of redemption?

The thesis, more or less, is this. God gave specific types of leadering gifts to fully equip God’s people as a dynamic, missional movement. Those gifts were neglected – sometimes quenched – in the Christendom years where the church formed the center, coming close to a civil religion in many parts of the world. But now as we recover our missional heritage, and as we find ourselves on the margins of western culture, we are recovering some old and neglected gifts.

Of course this recovery is limited. We are stumbling along in this strange new location, and much of the church is in reactive mode: trying harder to do things that no longer work instead of doing the necessary theological work to undergird a real recovery of New Testament practice. Meanwhile, Jesus, the living Head of his church, is renewing these gifts and highlighting our need of them. Lacking a functional ecclesiology, (in the last generation pragmatism ruled, as Roxburgh, Gibbs and others have identified) we rolled all the gifts into the two that fit best in a stable, modern culture – pastor/teacher.

Is the list in Ephesians 4 exclusive or special? When we consider the purpose and framing of the letter to the Ephesians, an ecclesiology that is set down as a circular letter to the churches, and the framing of Jesus ascension victory expressed in giving gifts to equip the saints, this chapter is unique (Markus Barth says this is like a “Constitution” for the church – Ephesians: Doubleday, 1974). While our understanding of exactly what makes up an apostle or prophet may change over time, and as we run these types over against our knowledge of how organizations and movements live, grow and die, the five-fold gifts tell us something fundamental about the nature of the body and the ministry of the Spirit in the body. In this sense, Ephesians 4 really is a DNA chapter.

Are these gifts also in evidence out there among non-believers? Yes. So they appear to be elements of human personality that can then be endowed also with grace and renewed purpose. And this in part is why running them through grids of “secular” organizational and personality theory can be helpful. Moreover, the old biblical language is both important, and obscure. It’s important to make connections to the world we know, while also honoring the text. This is what Tim and Alan attempt next.

[bctt tweet=”Five-fold gifts tell us something fundamental about the nature of the body and the ministry of the Spirit in the body. In this sense, Ephesians 4 really is a chapter that defines New Testament DNA.” username=”5qcollective”]

In Part II the authors focus on apostolic ministry, and in chapter six they break the apostolic function into two broad types: Petrine and Pauline, and then further break these down using the Myers-Briggs personality types.

Interesting — the ancient Celtic communities conceived broadly of the rhythm of ecclesial life as guarded by two basic leadership types: Bishop and Apostle. The Bishop (or Abbot) was the more stable, and the guardian of the internal life of the community. The Apostle was itinerant, and ensured missional imagination and outward engagement. (Alan Roxburgh did some good work describing as well as reframing the Abbot’s gifting in his book “The Sky is Falling” Allelon, 2005).

TPR breaks down this rhythm at the core of movements under two types of apostle. The Pauline apostle is more comfortable with chaos and more relational. The Petrine apostle is more comfortable with structure and with organizational life. One works at the center, (Peter) and one at the margins (Paul). I wonder if the old Celtic model isn’t just as useful. It reframes slightly, and may be a hybrid that we could frame using Petrine and Pauline.

The Celtic model placed dual leadership at the heart of the movement. Both the Bishop and Apostle in this conception are apostolic — but the Bishop (or Abbot) is more oriented toward the inner life of the community — more concerned about spiritual formation per se. The apostolic figure is the one pushing the boundaries outward. Curiously, there are churches currently in missional renewal that are effectively employing an apostolic duality in leadership (Kent Carlson and Mike Lueken, “Renovation of the Church,” IVP, 2011). TPR actually pushes in this direction in the discussion on the synergy of modality and sodality (pages 242-247).

Of course there are no pure types (see the APEST profile below). What we see in operation is people with gift-mixes, where one gift is primary and several are secondary. Many will find the discussion of “phases” and “bases” of gift (courtesy of Mike Breen) extremely helpful. The base gift does not change, but phases – experience in functioning outside the base range – help to develop and mature apostolic types.

The logical question is not addressed however: if two primary types of apostle, then why not a third type – Johannine?

John, as we know, is the apostle of the heart, even more than Paul. His Gospel and his letters have their own unique quality, and it’s him we have to blame for all the distracting charts of the last days (kidding here! A lot of people have made good livings from the visions of John and Daniel).

Part III focuses on leadership through the apostolic lens, using insights from organizational and social science. It will be helpful territory to those who have never made this connection, and it builds on similar material in The Shaping of Things to Come. The dynamics of movements, the nature of entrepreneurial leadership, the reality and dynamics of risk: all these topics and more are explored here. Rudolph Bahro’s famous words open the following chapter on innovation: “When the forms of an old culture are dying, the new culture is created by a few people who are not afraid to be insecure.”

Part IV details “Apostolic Organization,” but might equally be titled, “Apostolic Movements.” Where Part III views movements through the lens of leadership, Part IV views leaders and structures through the lens of dynamic and missional movements. But this section of the book is less about leaders than about movements. The second chapter in this section is well represented by the words of Paul Romer, “The most important ideas of all are meta-ideas, that is, ideas about how to support the production and transmission of other ideas.” (227) This chapter hits at a fundamental principle outlined many years ago by Howard Snyder in his classic, The Problem of Wineskins” (Wipf and Stock, 2005). Systemic renewal is not possible apart from the life of the Spirit and new structures to contain that new life. Other material in this chapter builds on material from The Forgotten Ways.


One element the authors could have expanded is the implications of some of the key words that occur in the chapter. The word for “equip” describes the focus of these five founding gifts. “Christ Himself gave… to equip his people for works of service [unto] the fullness of Christ.” Equipping is not a gift that some have, but rather what each is called to DO with their gift. Equipping breaks down into two quite different functions, with six word pictures in the Bible.

Three times we get a picture of repairing and three times we get a picture for preparing. The equipper as physician is here in Eph.4:12. The equipper as off-duty fisherman appears in Matthew 4:21. The equipper as stonemason appears in Ezra 4:12 (LXX). The equipper as potter in Ro.9:22 and 1 Pet.5:10. The equipper as parent in Lk.6:40. Perhaps apostolic types break down functionally into dual foci: to prepare, and to repair, with one type focused on the work of healing, and the other what we have tended to see as the main task of building competency.

Hirsch and Catchim argue for two primary types of apostle. But then why not a third type – Johannine?

And if a third type, is there a fourth?

What kind of biblical data, and what kind of observed experience of the work of the Spirit in our post- Christendom culture, could help us to frame all this? It seems to me that this is the next logical question to ask. We have a New Testament full of apostles, prophets and evangelists. It’s obvious watching the men, and a few women, (see Scot McKnight, “Junia is Not Alone”) in Acts and in the Epistles, that we have multiple types. Given John’s visions (Revelations) he might be our third type: Apostle-Prophet. And then there is Luke. The author of Luke-Acts may represent type four: the Apostolic- Evangelist. A story teller/poet with a fine gift for helping us root memory and by memory, identity, Luke’s letters were designed both to establish the church and as an apologetic for the unsaved world.


TPR is passionate, provocative, and accessible. It pulls together threads from the many previous books of Frost and Hirsch, and in some ways is a “Shaping of Things to Come, II.”

TPR, like most books involving Hirsch, is visionary and integrative. It may represent a turning point in the visibility, if not the viability, of this particular conversation. But for the book to have impact, the response must be more than new understanding, more than a sense of “I have seen the map, isn’t it wonderful?” It will require a prayerful and repentant response. It will require Christian leaders, both denominational and local, to get on their knees and ask “What do I do?” It will require a Trinitarian response: a willing submission to the Spirit as He continues to unfold His purpose. It will require all of us to humbly submit ourselves to the kingdom purposes of Jesus as active Lord of his church, laying aside our own ego-agendas and rolling up our sleeves as we go to work with the Father in finding the ancient ways, and walking in them.

[bctt tweet=”The Permanent Revolution, like most books involving @AlanHirsch, is visionary and integrative. It may represent a turning point in the visibility, if not the viability, of the APEST conversation.” username=”5qcollective”]



For a hands on, group or individual approach through The Permanent Revolution, we highly recommend the The Permanent Revolution Playbook. If you want to go deep with TPR, this is the place to start!