In this post I’ll deal with the introduction to section 2. Section 2 is the bulk of the book, wherein Hirsch deals with each aspect of his Apostolic Genius. The intro. to section 2 overviews the idea of mDNA, Apostolic Genius, and “missional” once more before launching into the in-depth treatment.
Since each subsequent chapter will occasion thorough discussion of Apostolic Genius, it is sufficient to review only a couple of big-picture points from the section 2 intro. One, the battle within the missional church discussion between a “truest” ecclesiology and a contextually “relative” ecclesiology is evident here. What this entire Apostolic Genius proposal is about is “the church in its most phenomenal form” (75) and “a distinctly higher and more authentic form of ecclesia” (76). Hirsch is clear that he is writing about the true church; he is making a truth claim that carries with it judgement for other ecclesiologies. As ever, the adjective “apostolic” seems implicitly to make a claim of superiority, but to be clear, he does mean that less apostolic churches are in fact less truly the church.
I appreciate that so postmodern a discussion hasn’t lost its bite. For those of us who still put stock in the early church as a compass for the present church, a renewed discussion of what “apostolic” really means is welcome. We do not presume to have articulated that meaning perfectly and universally. From one important viewpoint, then, what FW offers is a fresh, missional investigation of what constitutes the “apostolic.” That alone is well worth the read.
Pulling in the other direction is the force of his mDNA metaphor. The big idea is that there is something “organic” (over against institutional) embedded in the Christian and the church, which functions like DNA does in the body. Its components manifest together as Apostolic Genius (77) and, thus, the phenomenal (or perhaps “elemental”) church. But because this is an internal, not an external, dynamic, at the level of formal ecclesiology, there is a great deal of relativity:
If we can embed this inner meaning into our essential identity as God’s people, we will be well on our way to becoming an adaptive organization. This mission can express itself in the myriad ways in which the kingdom of God expresses itself–highly varied and always redemptive. (82)
The question, to my mind, is: When a church conforms to all the “phenomena, impulses, practices, structures, leadership modes, etc., that together form Apostolic Genius” (79), just how much room for contextual diversity and variation is actually left? When we get down to really thoroughly defining the “authentic” church, how much uniformity must creep in? Not knowing the answer to this question, I leave it for readers to ponder.
As a church planter, the thing that captures my imagination in this proposal is, in fact, the extended DNA metaphor. I’ve encountered the idea of ecclesial DNA before, most influentially in Neil Cole’s Simple Church (which Hirsch references extensively at this point in the book). But Cole’s DNA, an adaptation of which we have attempted to embed in the church in Arequipa, is not nearly as comprehensive. The idea itself, aside from the content of the DNA, is that this encoded core is what controls and compels the church rather than an outward structure. As a Restorationist who has given up on literal-logical biblicism and patternism but is still committed to non-institutional, non-hierarchical grassroots Christianity, the DNA metaphor holds out a promise for planting diverse congregations with a unifying essence more substantial than just “following Jesus.” Exploring that DNA, then, is vitally important to me.