Equipping God's People to Create Missional Culture

The The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch – A Literary Review

Over the next few weeks you will probably see a number of literary
reviews. One of the differences between a literary review and
a straight up book review is that literary reviews are written to help
with future research. So I am writing with the idea that this will
guide me to what I want to go back and study.  There are various
approaches to literary reviews, but here will be mine.

I basically start with my sense of the author’s thesis, followed by a
general overview of the book, and then I focus on themes that are
pertinent to my research. With that said, here is my review.

Hirsch’s central thesis in The Forgotten Ways is that God has implanted a missional DNA (mDNA) in every church that seeks to follow Jesus in any time. This mDNA comes in the form of six simple but interrelating elements and forms a complex living structure- that, when identified and activated, creates an apostolic movement that spontaneously expands.

Hirsch begins by sharing how his experience of founding a church planting movement in a city, working at a strategic and translocal level, as well as his study of the early church and the church in China, provided him the environment and understanding to discover what he calls the Apostolic Genius.  Throughout the rest of the book he lays out the structure of the Apostolic Genius – the six interrelating elements that make up this mDNA.  These six elements must be looked at as an interrelated system in order to experience spontaneous expansion.  Not one of these elements can be left out.  The six interrelated elements include: (1) Jesus is Lord; (2) Missional-Incarnational Impulse; (3) Apostolic Environment; (4) Disciple-Making; (5) Organic Systems; and (6) Communitas not Community.

In this book, Alan Hirsch is calling the church in the West to totally reconsider how she is doing church.  The reason is that the non-Christian population reports a high interest in God, spirituality, Jesus, and prayer, and at the same time with regards to the church, they have a high degree of alienation. (34).  From current research in Australia and what can be intuited from Barna’s statistics in the U.S., he suggest that the current ’market appeal’ of the contemporary church growth model in the US, might be up to 35 percent (as opposed to 12 percent in Australia) (36). In light of this research, for strategic and missional reasons, he is calling us to radically rethink our approach.

Strategically speaking, he believes “that a vast majority of evangelical church, perhaps up to 95 percent, subscribe to the contemporary growth approach” (36). This means most churches are ’competing’ for the same slice of a shrinking pie.  It doesn’t make sense to him that this is the only arrow in our quiver.  Missionally speaking, if a vast majority of the population reports being alienated from this form of church, how can we continue to do more of the same?  I think these are very good questions to be asking in our day.

Hirsch makes a radical proposal of what he calls the apostolic genius.  He gives an informative overview of each element of the apostolic genius on pages 24 and 25, and includes a descriptive chart on page 79, which makes for a great review for those who have read the book.  The key to this apostolic genius, in Hirsch’s view, is that each of these six elements mentioned previously is necessary for this approach to be viable.  This book builds upon the previous work of The Shaping of Things to Come, yet is radically different in that he is proposing an interconnected living systems approach in this new form of church.  This book is more prescriptive than descriptive.  And as Alan says, “Suffice it to say here that in exploring these ideas I feel that I am peering into things that are very deep, things that, if recovered and applied, could have considerable ramifications for Western Christianity.  I say this as someone who is not claiming something as my own.  If anything, like all who receive a grace from God, I feel that I am the humble recipient of a revelation, an unearthing of something primal, in which I am privileged to participate.”  After my first read of this book, I can say that this is a revelation worth putting to the test.

5 Responses to The The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch – A Literary Review

  1. Dan Bovenmyer says:

    I picked up this book from a conference with CMA (outflow movement from Neil Cole’s Organic Church). I really enjoyed it too. We are already a house church ministry in Iowa City, and we have found both these books very useful to steal ideas from…

  2. JR Woodward says:


    So how are you liking the house church model? How are things going for you guys?

    Also, the best that I understand Hirsch’s idea, is that it is quite different than simply a house church, but incarnating into a host community where the community that you are intentionally connecting to determines the form, which can vary. Have you guys experimented with that?

  3. Chris Garner says:

    Hi JR

    yeah i’m with you on that – have you read Shaping of things to come?
    I think it outlines well the design of church biblically to be far more than a set structure, whether denomination or repsonse to the limitations they carry – but rather as a missional outworking between people in church community who have a likemindedness in terms of their calling and the commission…meaning that by simply setting up a house church it is not, in essence, any more missional than the next church (hirsch uses a great Aus illustration of watering holes instead of boundary fences to keep people together)
    i could write for ages about it..for now just wanted to see (and for Dan too) if you guys have read ‘Shaping’?

  4. JR Woodward says:


    Yeah, I have read shaping of things to come and did like the water hole analogy as well. I will be posting a literary review of that book in the next week or so.

    Dan, have you read it?

  5. Pingback: Dream Awakener » A Primer on Today’s Missional Church

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