Earlier this year (2012) my friend Alan Hirsch released a book called The Permanent Revolution.
Like any book that challenges the conventional wisdom, Alan and his-coauthor Tim Catchim received a fair bit of criticism on their book. Among other things, Hirsch was accused of “vilifying people in the clergy” and far worse accusations.
As I’ve often said, criticizing a work on its own merit is one thing. Like me, Alan Hirsch welcomes constructive criticism. Neither of us claims immaculate perception and we’re both learning and growing . . . as are all Christians.
However, setting up a straw-man and then lighting a torch to it is another thing altogether.
As I’ve demonstrated in past posts (below), misrepresenting someone’s work is a tactic that some will pick up to dismiss an important contribution. But “we have not so learned Jesus Christ” to wield such tools (to quote Paul).
Anywho, Alan Hirsch and Tim Catchim wrote an interesting response to one critic who misrepresented their book. With Alan’s permission, I’m republishing it here.
Every reader and every author would be wise to read Hirsch’s response as it highlights the typical hand-waving tactics that are used to try and discredit someone’s work.
Point: every dubious critique has the same anatomy. Hirsch’s response, therefore, applies perfectly to all works – written or spoken – which have been misrepresented by others (such as N.T. Wright, who regularly gets distorted by his detractors).
Here it is . . .
Clearly when authors write books, especially ones that seriously challenge cherished notions of the church and its mission, they should expect responses both critical and appreciative.
Therefore our policy is not to respond to critiques of our book. If our proposal has merit, and if it is properly rooted in the theological codes of the church, then it can be said to stand on its own without anxious defensiveness on our part.
Let great ideas do their work.
However, in the case of one particular critique, we choose to break protocol because we believe it is so biased it seriously prejudices the important ideas that we wish to convey.
Given word limitations, we have had to limit our response to general concerns about the nature of the article itself and simply point the reader to the (some say “overly”) weighty book itself for the positive statement of our proposal. These are:
It is a somewhat loaded and tendentious piece of writing: A visitor to the critic’s blog will readily notice that he appears to be on something of a crusade—and we believe largely on justifiable grounds—against the so-called New Apostolic Reformation movement associated with C. Peter Wagner and others.
But because of this particular bent, our critic does not offer a neutral or objective review of the ideas presented in our book, but rather offers a tendentious and polemical essay used in furtherance of his greater perceived cause. The polemics skew the article against the distinctively missional significance of our material. We do not share the NAR ideology and agenda at all.
It’s a smokescreen: By focusing his objections on some particulars of history rather than on the broader, overarching proposal (missional ministry for a missional church), our critic ends up simply defending an outworn status quo.
He articulates his perspective well, but his focus is way too narrow and in so doing he completely misses the point of our book—straining at gnats he swallows the camel. The very weight of our proposal lies in the total argument of the book and its strategic significance in our time. This is no time for the scholastic obfuscation!
It is unacceptably ad hominem: Our critic seems to indicate that he is “playing the man” and not the ideas of the book in that he only mentions Tim’s name once and yet the name “Hirsch” appears 62 times!
Mike Breen, an active collaborator in the book, doesn’t even get a mention! How can one account for this? What is worse, by going on to associate Alan’s name with that of Wagner, Haggard, and others (with whom there are no formal or informal connections at all; relational, organizational, theological, or otherwise) the reviewer (inadvertently or not?) engages in an injurious attempt of guilt by association. This is unacceptable.
It sets up a straw man: One of the more disturbing aspects of the article is that our critic’s “Hirsch” is not even recognizable to the actual Hirsch who writes the book. But neither of us feels that we are adequately represented in his essay. Not at all.
The focus is mainly comprised of reactions to some concepts drawn largely from two chapters of the book. He completely ignores the other eleven chapters and the critical augmentation of arguments therein. Straw men are always easier to knock down.
It is reactionary and close-minded: “Reactionary” is defined as a person, organization, or ideology that opposes political or social liberalization or reform. This article is predictably traditionalist and takes a stand for the status quo, whereas we are calling readers to reassess the viability of the inherited ecclesiology in light of Scripture as well as the challenges presented by the 21st century.
Yes, we do see the current system of ministry as a disastrous reduction of what Jesus intended for his church, and yes, we do seek to bring about paradigmatic change and repentance. But we try to base our proposals squarely on the phenomenon apparent in biblical ecclesiology itself—especially Ephesians and Acts.
We suggest that at this critical juncture in history, it is to Scripture, and not just some particulars of Christendom’s history, that we must turn if we are find our way back to a genuinely New Testament ministry.
Sadly, at best our critic’s essay merely seems to validate Epictetus’ perceptive observation, that it is indeed very difficult to teach a man what he thinks he already knows. Serious attempts at reform are always resisted by those with vested interests in keeping things the way they are.
But it is in the spirit of the reforming principle itself (that the church reformed ought always to be reforming according to the Scriptures) that we present the proposals in The Permanent Revolution. Reformation is indeed needed.
Los Angeles, California
See also Jesus and Paul Under Fire