Notes on _The Forgotten Ways_

I just finished reading The Forgotten Ways, by Alan Hirsch. Matt Newman paraphrased a section from the book recently at Mosaic (audio download), and when I asked him where the quote came from, he dropped the book on me.

For completeness, the quote (as Hirsch wrote it, with apologies to Newman for wrecking his paraphrase, and including a footnote of Hirsch’s from the book):

There is something about middle-class culture that seems to be contrary to authentic gospel values. And this is not a statement about middle-class people per se—I myself am from a very middle-class family—but rather to isolate some of the values and assumptions that that seem to just come along as part of the deal. In a previous chapter, I noted that much of what goes by the name “middle-class” involves a preoccupation with safety and security, developed mostly in pursuit of what seems to be best for our children. And this is understandable as long as it does not become obsessive. But when these impulses of middle-class culture fuse with consumerism, as they most often do, we can add the obsession with comfort and convenience to the list. And this is not a good mix—at least as far as the gospel and missional church are concerned.1

If that doesn’t rattle your cage a little bit…

Now, The Forgotten Ways isn’t a new book, nor are the ideas therein. I’ve been chewing on these things for more than a decade, though mostly in the deep recesses of my mind and heart. But I’m a different person now than I was when I first encountered this mode of thinking. The combination of old ideas and new me seems destined to work itself out in action that I couldn’t have undertaken in a healthy way 12-14 years ago. I don’t know yet what form my response will take. I’m still processing the book, and much of where I go will depend on how those around me respond to these same ideas. At a high level, though, here are some of my takeaways:

  • Context, proximity and availability are important: I need to be ready to meet the people who are already around me on their turf, and that means I need to make myself available for them on their timeline.
  • I have a long (and bumpy) history with my local church. No matter where I go from here, it involves them. Hirsch does a fantastic job of calling rock-throwers like me to balance. Rather than abandoning the institutional church, we need to call her back to New Testatment models of ecclesiology.
  • I’ve long identified with Old Testament prophets, but until reading this book, I never really embraced the idea that the role of the prophet was still active in the body of Christ, and that it was not only active but necessary to her growth and health. I don’t know how to exercise that gift in a healthy, balanced way; I’m inclined to burn bridges, throw haymakers and hand-grenades, and generally cause a ruckus… which is fun, mind you… just not constructive. Lots of room to grow here, for me and the church. I have to learn grace and balance. The church… well, the church doesn’t have a good track record for embracing the prophet, does she? Yay. I’ll probably drop a few bucks on Hirsch’s site to see if I can get a little more insight into my gift mix. Just not tonight. :)
  • I want to launch into something — anything — now at 100 mph… and that’s not constructive, either. I’ll need to exercise restraint and patience above and beyond what I’m capable of or comfortable with. Everyone’s going to be uncomfortable, and that’s OK.

I’ll land the plane with one last quote from the book (emphasis Hirsch’s):

… most established denominations, including the more evangelical ones, are also built squarely on Christendom assumptions of church and therefore, like all institutions, are facing significant threat and need to be led to the edge of chaos. It is there, by living in the tension that it brings, they will find more authentic and missional ways of being God’s people. So leaders, turn the heat up, but manage it.

I can’t recommend this book highly enough. I passed the paperback Newman gave me on to a good friend of mine and finished reading the Kindle edition. Fair warning, though: If you’re a Christian who was raised in — and continues to go to — a relatively traditional church, you’d better buckle up. It’s going to be a bumpy ride…

1. Robert Inchausti relates that Nikolai Berdyaev saw middle-classness at its most debased level as “a state of the soul characterized by a degrading clutching after security and a smallmindedness incapable of imagining a world much larger than one’s own. [For him] the bourgeois didn’t worship money per se, but they were addicted to personal success, security, and happiness. For these things, they willingly compromised their honor, ignored injustice, and betrayed truth, replacing these high values with trite moralisms and facile bromides that blur important distinctions and justify selfish actions. … The word bourgeois became synonymous with mean-spirited wealth, narrow-minded technological know-how, and a preoccupation with worldly success. The cultural ideals of the knight, the monk, the philosopher, and the poet were all superseded by the cultural ideal of the businessman. The will to power had been usurped by the ‘will to well-being.’ … The bourgeois did not repudiate religion but reinterpreted its value in terms of utility. The love of the poor moved to the periphery of the faith and was embraced only insofar as its didn’t clash with one’s own personal economic interests” (Robert Inchausti, Subversive Orthodoxy: Rebels, Revolutionaries, and Other Christians in Disguise [Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2005]), 42-43.