Transforming Mission

Transforming-Mission-BoschDavid Bosch’s Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission stands as a heavyweight in regards to historical-missiological studies. Matter of fact, anyone that wants to take up studies in missiology should plan on reading this text at some point.

It stands in at a whopping 600+ pages and covers the theological history of mission like no other I’ve come across.

Let me share some brief thoughts and feedback on the text.

Early in the book, Bosch does reference mission from an Old Testament perspective. However, his preference is to forego such a discussion, possibly for reasons that are questionable. He states, himself, that the “traditional understanding of mission” is not found within the Old Testament context.[1] Yet, knowing the book already weighs in at 600+ pages, it is simply practical to reference Old Testament mission, while moving on to a more detailed discussion of mission within the New Testament construct.

In his discussion of the New Testament’s contribution to our understanding of mission, Bosch hones in on three particular people and their writings: Matthew, Luke and Paul. While most will run to the “Great Commission” when discussing mission within the Matthean context, Bosch makes clear the whole gospel writing comes to us as a missionary writing:

“Our first gospel is essentially a missionary text. It was primarily because of his missionary vision that Matthew set out to write his gospel, not to compose a ‘life of Jesus’ but to provide guidance to a community in crisis on how it should understand its calling and mission.”[2]

This compels one to keep an eye out for Matthew’s contribution to the missio Dei on every page of the first gospel.

While the “centrality of mission”[3] is to be found in Luke’s writings, Bosch prefers to analyze the Gentile doctor’s writings because of just that – he is perhaps the only Gentile author of the New Testament writing to a predominantly Gentile Christian community. As would any decent missiological study of Luke’s writings, Bosch covers both the gospel assigned to Luke’s name and his early church history in Acts.

Last, but not least, Bosch offers a survey of Paul’s missiological focus within his epistles.[4] Above all, Bosch contributes the perspective that Paul’s practice of mission is not simply a flowing from his theological theory, but rather that “his theology is a missionary theology.”[5] It’s not hard to imagine such an angle in Paul’s writings. For, as the great apostle of the first century Mediterranean world, standing only second to Jesus Christ himself, it’s a good reminder that his whole theological framework is permeated with missional thinking, from justification to election to union with Christ and the whole gamut of theological concepts found within his letters.

Bosch, then, spends the rest of his work focusing on the paradigmatic changes in missiology from the second to the twentieth centuries, a large period to cover, no doubt. Still, he accomplishes this quite well. He particularly tracks six epochs, playing off the Catholic theologian, Hans Küngs’, own work. Those epochs are as follows:

  1. The apocalyptic paradigm of primitive Christianity.
  2. The Hellenistic paradigm of the patristic period.
  3. The medieval Roman Catholic paradigm.
  4. The Protestant (Reformation) paradigm.
  5. The modern Enlightenment paradigm.
  6. The emerging ecumenical paradigm.[6]

I find this particular historical assessment helpful, especially in providing insight into how mission has developed down through the centuries. It’s not unlike Phyllis Tickle’s socio-religious assessment of Christianity from Christ to the present-day, all seen in five 500-year cycles expressed in her book, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why.[7]

  1. The Great Transformation – the coming of the Son of God and the beginning of the proclamation of the gospel.
  2. Gregory the Great – one who led the church into a time of ecclesio-political coherence as the empire of Rome came to its full collapse.
  3. The Great Schism – the time when the church officially split into west (Roman Catholic) and east (Eastern Orthodox).
  4. The Great Reformation – championed by Martin Luther and many other protestant reformers such as Calvin, Zwingli, Knox, etc.
  5. The Great Emergence – currently taking place in the early 21st century.

Or one might consider the three historical epistemological developments in Kenton Sparks God’s Word in Human Words: An Evangelical Appropriation of Critical Biblical Scholarship.[8]

  1. Pre-modern era – roughly everything before and up to the 14th century
  2. Modern era – beginning with the Renaissance and including the Enlightenment
  3. Post-modern era – starting in the late 1800’s and continuing into today

Identifying an historical development in the midst of our theological perspectives, religious identity, philosophy, mission and more allows for a better assessment of where we have been and where we are going as the church.

Accordingly, in covering the church’s journey from the second to twentieth centuries, Bosch provides a helpful historical context and analysis of understanding the church’s role in the mission of God. And, no doubt, through such an examination, we notice the proverbial good, bad and ugly of our forbearer’s and our own missiological perspectives. Bosch does fine job here.

Finally, in his third and final section of the book, Bosch provides insights on how to contextualize the gospel and the church’s mission within the emerging, postmodern context of our present-day world. He even dedicates a particular section to this: “Mission as Contextualization”. In all, Bosch continues his evaluation process, looking at the modern missiological methods, both within Protestant-evangelicalism and without (he does well to engage in Roman Catholic perspectives post-Vatican II, including the rise of such movements as Liberation Theology).

In all, there is no doubt Bosch has provided an integral work in the study of missiology, from both a theological and socio-historical setting.

[1] Bosch, p16-17.

[2] Ibid, p57.

[3] Ibid, p84. Also, note Bosch’s quotation of Ferdinand Hahn, who remarks that mission is “the dominating theme” for Luke. Mission in the New Testament. London: SCM Press, 1965.

[4] It is worth noting that Bosch restricts himself to the 7 letters regarded as indisputably Pauline: Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philemon. See Bosch, p123.

[5] Bosch, p124.

[6] Bosch, p182-183. Paradigm #1 would have already been covered by Bosch in his previous chapters of the book.

[7] Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence: How Christianity Is Changing and Why. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2008. Tickle continues thoughts on the “Great Emergence” with her more recent release Emergence Christianity: What It Is, Where It Is Going, and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2012.

[8] Kenton Sparks, God’s Word in Human Words. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.


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