Featured Reviews, VOLUME 10

Alan Hirsch – 5Q [Feature Review]

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A Review of 

5Q: Reactivating the Original Intelligence and Capacity of the Body of Christ.
Alan Hirsch

Paperback: 100M, 2017.
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Reviewed by Chris Schoon
Relying on Ephesians 4, one of my early mentors taught: “Ministers are not hired to do the work for the church; they are called to equip God’s people to do works of service.” In light of that teaching, I have followed missional discussions of the five-fold gifts of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor/Shepherd, and Teacher (APEST) with great interest. From Frost and Hirsch’s The Shaping of the Things to Come to Hirsch’s other work in The Forgotten Ways and The Permanent Revolution to works from a few other missional theologians, this conversation has kept my attention. As such, I eagerly engaged Hirsch’s latest exploration of APEST through 5Q.

Hirsch’s perspective unfolds in two parts. The first section, “Mapping the Genome of the Body of Christ,” argues that APEST is coded into the church’s DNA and creation itself because APEST emerges from God’s very identity. He then contends that APEST is primordial, it “continues to shape, not just the church, but all human culture,” (20) functioning as a fractal running through every aspect of our existence. Drawing from Carl Jung and Joseph Campbell, Hirsch asserts that APEST expresses five archetypes evident throughout human history, especially among our heroes. He concludes this section by arguing that Jesus, as the fullness of God, the ultimate hero, and the perfect embodiment of each of the APEST giftings, is the model for all culture, every church, and each Christian.

The second part presents a vision for each of the fivefold dynamics, particularly how they can be identified, measured, and developed. Distinguishing between organizational functions and personal callings, Hirsch describes the communal tasks associated with the church’s purpose. He explains practical dimensions of the (a) apostolic responsibility for mission, (b) prophetic commitment to covenantal relationships with God and others, (c) evangelistic zeal for communicating and getting responses to the gospel, (d) shepherding passion for communal well-being and healing, and (e) teaching dedicated to practical wisdom within a biblical worldview. Hirsch contends that APEST has “symmetry, proportion, and interdependence” that mark the church as truly being the church. (117, 128-129, 137) Hirsch say the challenge is to activate the latent APEST gifts embedded within the church and within each respective person. He concludes by introducing approaches to communal and personal assessments of APEST functioning.


Way Too Big of a Claim

My primary concern with 5Q is not with APEST as a model for assessing an aspect of church health. Rather, my central critique is that Hirsch presents APEST as the lens above all others for understanding God, creation, culture, Jesus, and the church. In concluding the first section, he asserts that his theory is “almost a silver bullet” for everything wrong with the church. But even more so, his argument implies that his 5Q system is the closest humanity has come to discovering the theory of everything. (24-25, 31, 33)

By employing language like “I discovered that 5Q, operating like the DNA at the core of every living organism, was always present,” (23) and “once APEST is connected to God in this way, we are dealing with truly primordial forces at work in our world” (58), Hirsch asserts that he has rediscovered what the church has overlooked for 1700 years. On a couple occasions, Hirsch comes dangerously close to claiming that 5Q is equal to God and Christ (xxxiv) and even labels the APEST categories as “divine personas.” (74)

Hirsch also gushes into prideful language. He writes: “I’ll be honest and admit that I’ve blown my own mind just by writing all this, so don’t worry if you don’t fully get it at this point.” (29) To this end, Hirsch repeatedly refers to readers as “padawan” and “grasshopper” –  both of which come across as particularly condescending. These claims and this posture run contrary to the gospel. How can the whole body be built up when one part keeps reminding the rest of his unique contributions? Hirsch is absolutely convinced he has discovered the ecclesiological secret of the millennia. I’m convinced that such a belief has distorted Hirsch’s capacity to assess the significance of the APEST model with sober judgement.

Though I see benefits in the second part of 5Q, I’ll limit my remarks here to three questions that surfaced while engaging the first part.


What ails the church today?

Hirsch asserts that abandoning APEST is “the fatal flaw buried in the heritage of the Christendom form of church.” The consequence of this flaw has been “Sisyphean despair,” as the church is caught in a cycle of “endlessly repeating the same futile task” without making any sustainable progress. (14) But I wonder: Has Hirsch overlooked something in his diagnosis?

I suggest that Hirsch is focusing on a symptom and not the fatal flaw. I can agree with Hirsch that the Western church (if there is such a monolithic entity?) would benefit from giving more attention to the APE roles. But is it possible that the apparent exclusion of these roles is symptomatic of an underlying distrust of the Holy Spirit? Are the ST roles (as we’ve practiced them) “safer” for a lingering modern allegiance to rational thinking? It seems to me that the absence of APE giftings is a symptom of distrust or uncomfortability with the Holy Spirit. We can treat the symptoms with Hirsch’s approach, but that doesn’t mean we will have dealt with the underlying distrust of the Spirit.


Where has the Spirit been for the past 1700 years?

One of Hirsch’s subtle, but persistent, comments is that the church lost the full APEST during Christendom, which made the church dysfunctional. I remain unpersuaded by this blanket dismissal of 1700 years of church history. Even Hirsch’s examples of robust APEST engagement (St. Patrick, John Wesley, and even sixteenth century reformers) involve people and communities within Christendom. (94)

Perhaps more pointedly, has the Spirit really been restricted and completely sidelined by the Western institutional church’s over-reliance on the ST gifts? If so, how is it that any of us have faith in Jesus Christ or a desire to embody his character today? Broadly beating up on the historical church for its faults, while selectively choosing which heroes to elevate, shifts attention to human efforts – and away from the ongoing presence and work of the Spirit. It is a daily miracle that the Holy Spirit works in and through anyone, including those of us alive today.


Is APEST Jesus?

Hirsch asserts “APEST is an intrinsic part of the genetic codes of the church in the same kind of way that Jesus himself is.” (7) He later remarks that “Jesus himself acted in accordance with the fivefold pattern and purpose.” (82) Still further, Hirsch states: “APEST is the very means by which [the church] attains to Christ’s fullness.” (94) This language is dangerously close to implying that APEST is Jesus. What’s more, Hirsch’s arguments leave the impression that he has mastered how to definitively test for Jesus’ presence, and that Jesus’ fullness can now be produced in those who (literally) buy into his 5Q system. (23, 125, 148-151)


Closing Thought

The idea of a book dedicated to exploring APEST implications and functions still holds merit – the second part of 5Q could have been developed into a beneficial book on its own. However, I am disappointed with Hirsch’s claims and presentation of APEST in the first half of 5Q. His attempts to ground APEST in God’s character and the creational order are certainly not strong enough – nor careful enough – to carry the comprehensive, primordial weight he ascribes to them. Moreover, Hirsch’s insistence that the church can be perfected – made wholly Christ-like – through the 5Q system neglects the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in the church and in each disciple. Finally, Hirsch’s approach constricts our vision of Jesus Christ to APEST, which is much too small a container for the whole height, depth, breadth, and length of the fullness of God found in Jesus Christ.

Chris Schoon (ThD, Wycliffe College) serves as Lead Pastor of First Hamilton CRC, an urban church rooted in the Durand and Kirkendall neighborhoods of Hamilton, ON. Along the way, Chris has taught courses at Redeemer University College and Calvin Theological Seminary. He blogs regularly for Reformed Worship and has published essays with Catapult, Comment, Perspectives, and  The Banner You can find him on Instagram and Twitter: @chrisjschoon



C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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