Book Review: On the Verge

A special thanks to Zondervan for the free copy of On the Verge by Alan Hirsch and Dave Ferguson.  Incidentally, this is also required reading for my D. Min class this fall at Fuller with Alan Hirsch, so I am able to kill two proverbial birds with one stone.

In recent years I’ve read most of Hirsch’s books (The Shaping of Things to Come, The Forgotten Ways, and, earlier this year, Untamed).  It’s his work in these volumes that has led me to enroll in the class coming up this November in Pasadena.  Hirsch brings a missiologist’s perspective to ministerial leadership.  He and David Frost’s book, The Shaping of Things to Come, is one of the more influential books I’ve read in the past five years.  My knock on Hirsch has always been that he too broadly dismissed the established church.  They say as much in The Shaping of Things to Come – the only hope is for newly established communities.

With On the Verge, his tone towards the established church (with the help of Dave Ferguson) seems to be softening.  One of the chief metaphors in the book is of blue ocean and red ocean.  The blue ocean is innovation and new directions; the red ocean is the competitive place fighting over the status quo.  Established churches are working in the red ocean (connecting to 40% of people) but the blue ocean is opportunity and has more possibilities (60% of people).  The 60/40 observation is one that I feel helps correct their over-dismissal of the established church in previous works.  Hirsch hasn’t sold out on his vision: he still believes in change, innovation, and the missional impulse (the bulk of his work in this book reflects the foundation laid in The Forgotten Ways).

Per his style, Hirsch’s portion of the book is flooded with charts, graphs, and diagrams.  Almost to a fault, Hirsch’s conceptual discourse can seem far removed from practical ministry.  However, in On the Verge, they’ve tried to balance that with Dave Ferguson’s writing, as he emphasizes Hirsch’s theory with on-the-job practical examples and stories from his ministry and the ministry of others.

Overall, the book is another helpful contribution to the missional church discussion, as it adds to the discussion by seeing relevance for the already established church while at the same time goading the church toward innovation (largely structured around the concept of building a movement).  My only critique of the book is that sometimes it seems overly diagrammed.  I still have a bias against a do this, do this, and do this to get this formula, and while I believe the authors would go to great lengths to deny this as their intent (they even verbally do so in the book in places) it still comes across that way at times.

I remain convinced that Alan Hirsch is doing important things within Western Christianity and his voice is an important one to behold.  The addition of Dave Ferguson’s voice in this particular book was a good complement and makes the book a helpful resource for ministry staffs and seminary students.