Book Review: On the Verge by Alan Hirsch

Jul 14, 11 • BooksNo Comments
Neither Alan Hirsch nor Dave Ferguson are strangers to the missional church conversation. Hirsch has authored several seminal books on the theory of missional praxis while Ferguson has previously written two books based on his journey of planting churches and leading missional networks. In concert with the Exponential 2011 conference (“the largest gathering of church planters on the planet,” according to promotional materials), the co-authored On the Verge (Zondervan, 2011) was published as a guiding resource for the conference’s desire to connect the dots between the new imagination of missional thinking and the current realities of American church structures. 

While the book is broadly applicable to any church or leader interested in the missional conversation, it was written primarily with missionally-inclined megachurch leaders in mind (a group Hirsch and Exponential call “Future Travelers”). The examples, stories, and profiles are drawn from this church demographic as the chapters explore what it looks like for these churches to “journey into the apostolic future of the church” (the book’s subtitle).

Structurally, the book is divided into four parts: Imagine, Shift, Innovate, Move. Each section has two or three chapters written either by Hirsch or Ferguson, with the other offering a response to each chapter. Hirsch’s theory drives the first two parts of the book, while Ferguson’s practical groundedness rounds out the book’s final two sections. Co-authoring worked well for this book; the division of voices is clear and consistent throughout, with Hirsch and Ferguson each bringing their own strengths to a unified whole.

Early in the book, the authors acknowledge their largely white, suburban, and middle class readership and state that “one of the biggest cultural shifts of our time is the increasingly multicultural nature of the West” (27). After recognizing this massive shift, this issue of multiculturalism receives little direct mention throughout the book (with the exception of an appendix listing further resources on the topic). Like most books in the missional stream, On the Verge deals with multiculturalism as a compartmentalized peripheral issue rather than as a significant and central reality that churches, missional or otherwise, must respond to.

While I appreciated the book’s organization, focus, and message, there is not a great deal of uncharted ground covered here. Much of the book seems to focus on further unpacking much of the missional language Hirsch has coined and developed in previous books, and I am not sure that On the Verge completely overcomes the obstacles moving from theory to practice. Ferguson’s practical voice is helpful, but I wonder if readers will still struggle to fully grasp, translate, and integrate Hirsch’s specific theoretical ideas into their own context.

This leads to a wider question of whether the missional conversation has reached (or soon will reach) a saturation point of ideas and information. Particularly for the white, middle-class, suburban audience of On the Verge (and most other evangelical Christian publications), an addiction to information can continually distract us from the actual missional transformation that we so desire. Though it is hard for pastors to hear (and even more difficult to do), at some point we need to stop reading the newest books about the church’s future and start leading and living into that future.

Despite the reservations noted above, On the Verge is a helpful and engaging book. Hirsch and Ferguson push pastors and leaders forward in the area of creativity, imagination, and risk taking. The book’s design and structure is conducive to not only dreaming and envisioning new realities, but also moving through the process of change to implement new realities. Particularly in a church landscape where one model too often reigns supreme, On the Verge’s best contribution to the wider conversation is it’s call for leaders to recognize this need for new ways of thinking that will push into territory uncharted by the standard structures of American churches.

Dave Kludt (30 Posts)

Dave Kludt is a bivocational pastor working with Kairos Los Angeles in East Hollywood and Fuller DMin in Pasadena. He likes reading, riding bikes, and really good food.

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