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Transforming Mission by David Jacobus Bosch
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David Bosch's Transforming Mission, now available in over a dozen languages, is widely recognized as an historic and magisterial contribution to the study of mission. Examining the entire sweep of Christian tradition, he shows how five paradigms have historically encapsulated the Christian understanding of mission and then outlines the characteristics of an emerging "postmodern" paradigm dialectically linking the transcendent and imminent dimensions of salvation. In this new anniversary edition, Darrel Guder and Martin Reppenhagen explore the impact of Bosch's work and the unfolding application of his seminal vision.… (more)

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Thesis:
Mission is not primarily the object of the church’s action, but rather it is the subject of the church’s own being. “Christianity is missionary by its very nature, or it denies its very raison d’être” . Mission thus finds it origin in the missio Dei and cannot therefore have a life of its own apart from the Father sending the Son by the Spirit and being sent by the Son in the power of the Spirit back to the Father and in turn being sent into the whole world. However, Mission is not a timeless enterprise, rather Mission is the church participating redemptively and incarnationally in the kingdom of God within their very particular sitz im leben. We participate in God’s sending Christ and in turn the ekklesia (the body of Christ) into the word for the sake of the world. Primarily, we are called out ones who are to recognize God’s reign and rule in the world (God’s kingdom) and announce it with “a thing of power and action”, that is, “the language of love”.
However, as this is not a timeless enterprise, we must take seriously the incarnational nature of mission and allow the “Word to become flesh in every new context” . In allowing this we must acknowledge that a shift in knowing always means a paradigmatic shift affecting all of perceived reality. Thus, “a paradigm shift always means both continuity and change, both faithfulness to the past and boldness to engage the future…both tradition and transformation” . We are in such a time of paradigm change now, moving from modernity to post-modernity or better from colonialism to post-colonialism. And “neither extreme reactionary nor excessively revolutionary approaches…will help the Christian church and mission to arrive at greater clarity or to serve God’s cause in a better way” . Thus, as we move forward, the modus operandi is “one of reform, not of replacement” . We must be faithful to the “logic of the ministry of Jesus” while simultaneously allowing the Spirit to help us create new ways of expressing love locally. So, “in light of a fundamentally new situation and precisely so as to remain faithful to the true nature of mission—mission must be understood and undertaken in an imaginatively new manner today” .
Evaluation of Sources:
David Bosch’s work here is nothing short of extraordinary. There can be little doubt that this work must be considered a serious and scholarly work. Throughout the text, he utilizes an extensive amount of citation in building his case. What is interesting and surprising, is the generous inclusion of what would be typically conflicting sources to complement one another and to allow each to balance out the heresy of the particular end into a blended and newly orthodox whole. Bosch has a way of taking the contributions of each, cutting away the misguided premises, and building his structures upon what he believes to be the positive contributions of each paradigmatic era. It is truly an ecumenical work of epic proportions. Thus, based upon its unique use of varied sources and its frequent citation of sources, I believe that this book in particular is one that may be trusted as a source of the highest sort for scholarly work.
Tracing The Main Idea:
Bosch begins his work by attempting to plot a trajectory of mission based on his observances of the New Testament which he identifies as essentially a “missionary document” . It testifies to the being of the church as mission and faithfully confirms not only the reality, but also the necessity of contextualization of mission in each new situation. Rather than being a univocal testimony to MISSION, it is instead a multi-voice witness to the reality of God’s kingdom breaking into the present in each different space and time. One thing, however, remains consistent—the body of Christ is sent into the world for the world’s sake to announce the kingdom of God.
The above thesis hinges on an epistemological shift from the perceived necessity and possibility of certainty toward a knowledge that admits its limitations. This epistemology functions with a certain humility that allows the knower to believe and act on the current perceived knowledge, but is continuously open to further knowledge and truth as it is revealed. Nothing is ever held as foundationally certain, but rather the foundation is built upon relational categories beginning with the person of Christ. This development takes seriously Jesus’ statement that “…I am the truth…” and recognizes the personal nature of knowledge as a relational and dynamic category rather than an objective and static one.
Without this epistemological shift, one may argue that the modern notion of collected facts and points of certainty must be the starting point for mission. This would also necessitate the absolute continuity with all previously discovered ‘certain knowledge’ moving forward. However, allowing that our knowledge may be contextually defined releases us from having to adhere to all claims to truth made prior. This frees us up to participate in the missional faithfulness we are called to, even if the structures of fixed knowledge in modernity would stand in the way. Indeed, it indicts the present for claiming to know the unknowable God at such a level that all action may be dictated. This is not to say that there is not to be continuity with the past, but rather that there must be at one and the same time both continuity and change. Where faith produced faithfulness, we celebrate that reality, and where our perceived certainty caused us to worship before false idols, we repent. It is only in this way that the incarnation of the Word may be brought to bear on the present.
Bosch’s functional epistemology ultimately boils down to:
“an admission that we do not have all the answers and are prepared to live within the framework of penultimate knowledge, that we regard our involvement in dialogue and mission as an adventure, are prepared to take risks, and are anticipating surprises as the Spirit guides us into fuller understanding. This is not opting for agnosticism, but for humility. It is, however, bold humility—or humble boldness. We know only in part, but we do know. And we believe that the faith we profess is both true and just and should be proclaimed. We do this, however, not as judges or lawyers, but as witnesses; not as soldiers, but as envoys of peace; not as high-pressure salespersons, but as ambassadors of the Servant Lord” .
I have spent so much time on the epistemological commitments here because it is so essential to what Bosch is trying to accomplish. It is this framework that allows him to brilliantly employ paradigm theory in the ensuing discussions of missiology, ecclesiology and theology . Recognizing that “the present era is fundamentally different” from previous ones, we are bound by missional faithfulness to “prolong the logic of the ministry of Jesus and the early church in an imaginative and creative way to our own time and context” . Indeed, “this is another way of saying that the biblical faith…is ‘incarnational’, the reality of God entering into human affairs” . In each new era then, Christ followers must determine what “the Christian faith and, by implication, the Christian mission” means for them.
Based on these commitments, Bosch goes on to recount the various paradigms of each epoch of the ekklesia. The changes in each context further illustrate the author’s claim that mission must be both inculturated and contextualized. “From the very beginning, the missionary message of the Christian church incarnated itself in the life and world of those who had embraced it. It is however, only fairly recently that this essentially contextual nature of the faith has been recognized” . Though, while not yet recognized, Bosch has shown that in each epoch, the missionary character of the church was indeed fleshed out according to the context.
Bosch also posits that we are currently experiencing a shift in the dominant paradigm model away from Enlightenment thinking that many term “post-modernism” . Thus, what is needed is a fresh and faithful re-appropriation of mission for today’s new context. This new understanding of mission Bosch hopes will “rekindle an all-embracing faith, hope and love in the ultimate triumph of God” . Moving beyond reductionistic either/or thinking is a necessary extension of this new paradigm. Instead, what is needed is a generous orthodoxy that allows the true the good and the beautiful to emerge from the ashes of both the liberal and conservative faith commitments as something organic begins to grow anew. Among many other examples is this: that the liberal protestant agenda too closely identified the reign of God with social justice, where the conservative protestant agenda negated the need for justice at all as it couched salvation only in terms of the individual soul . What is needed is a new way that recognizes the helpful contributions from each, while leaving the dualistic either/or type of thinking behind as we enter into the center of the unexplainable paradox of the incarnation and allow that to guide us to a higher level of practice and discourse.
Of course, I cannot even begin to scratch the surface of what this must mean for the self-understanding of the church as it lives into the missio Dei as Bosch has so beautifully laid out in his final 2 chapters. However, the above gives much of the backbone of the commitments Bosch holds to. The implications of that are fleshed out nicely over the last 150 pages of his work.
Personal Reflections:
What is most immediately striking about this study is how relevant it is to the current discussions on modernism/post-modernism. This text was written before any of the “emergent” materials and commitments were made, and yet it seems to provide much of the necessary framework for the current discussion today. I find his thorough and systematic theological treatment of this subject rather refreshing. I enjoyed the read, though it was difficult to navigate through some of the Latin, Greek, German and other language employed, not to mention the often obtuse verbiage. However, I would rank this text very easily within my top five books and it would compete well for a place in my top three. Overall, this is hands down the best book I have read in 2007. How unfortunate that Bosch has left us so early. Who knows what other extraordinary works would have been possible. ( )
  jesposito | Aug 7, 2007 |
big book, small print heavy reading but a lot of sense ( )
  vicarofdibley | Oct 1, 2006 |
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