Mission and Bosch

Below is a brief refelction I wrote a few years ago of David Bosch’s outstanding Transforming Mission – paradigm shifts in theology of mission.

transforming-mission-bosch-david-j-9780883447192Bosch’s work has been given the highest praise, with such eloquent descriptions as immense, great, comprehensive, magnum opus, summa missiologica and magisterial, among others, for his book Transforming Mission.  This is worthy praise for the work of a man held in such high regard for his loyalty and commitment to mission in the church and the mission of the church.  It is very important to understand that these nouns and adjectives of praise for his book do not in any way suggest that all is well with the world of mission, or that Bosch has in fact covered every angle and said all that needs to be said about mission, and especially about what he calls “Elements of an Emerging Ecumenical Missionary Paradigm.”  This sentiment was well expressed in an article by Bevans and Schroeder when they compared the theological genius of Aquinas with the outstanding missiological contribution of Bosch, suggesting that as theology ‘need always to be done after Aquinas,’ likewise, missiology need always ‘be done after Bosch’ (Bevans & Schroeder 2005:69-72).

Some of Bosch’s most insightful critics are among his closest friends and colleagues, and it is within these critiques that we discover areas that Bosch may have overlooked or been completely blind to in the first place.  We will return to some of these voices in due course, but first a broad brush stroke is in order.  Bosch’s insights, written in the late eighties and published in 1991 reflect a profound and well thought out view that many Christian authors and missiologists especially in the West are still struggling to define, namely post-modernism.  For Bosch to elucidate this slippery concept at such an early stage in the way he does has really set the scene for much discourse on this subject.  We observe this because it is inevitable that with any description of a culture in flux, which is essentially what a paradigm shift is, and attempts to fully explicate at such an early stage, at least earlier than many other cultural analysts were writing, would surely be frustrated, even assertions that it could be fully comprehended would surely be naïve.  Bosch does not presume to have done this primarily because he knows he is referring to something that is happening now, it is in a sense live, and subject to unpredictable change.  Since this is still the case in our day, how much more in his day?

Although referred to as comprehensive in its scope, and one reason in fact why it is still, in the words of Newbigin from the back cover of Bosch’s book, ‘the indispensable foundation for the teaching of missiology,’  it is not as comprehensive as some would have liked.  Bosch sees how the significant events of the twentieth century all point to the necessity of a new and still emerging paradigm within which the mission of the church is to take place.

Events such as rising nationalism, the end of colonialism (at least in one form, since colonialism is now re-branded under the guise of a dominant, expansionist capitalism); technology seen as a curse and a blessing, arguing that just because mankind has the capability of technological advancement does not mean that we blindly invent and create just because we can; the environment and the huge growth of Christianity in the non-Western world.  It is within the light of these events, linked to an understanding of the previous paradigm shifts in world history which is something of paramount importance, that Bosch not only raises the fact of a paradigm shift, he attempts to answer what mission will look like within this emerging paradigm and, as interestingly, by doing so attempts to actually shape what that will look like within an ecumenical framework.

Bosch express it thus,

It is, in fact, the thesis of this book that the events we have been experiencing at least since World War II and the consequent crisis in Christian mission not to be understood as merely incidental and reversible.  Rather, what has unfolded in theological and missionary circles during the last decades is the result of a fundamental paradigm shift, not only in mission or theology, but in the thinking and experience of the whole world (Bosch 1991:4).

In order to expound and develop his ecumenical proposal, Bosch borrows a historico-theological framework from Catholic theologian Hans Kung, who had in turn been influenced by the scientist Thomas Kuhn’s theory of paradigm shifts.  No doubt Bosch refers to the ‘consequent crisis’ as a means of the church coming to terms with the rapidly changing global paradigm, a crisis beyond the church since it includes all things, such as culture, economics, worldview, politics and attitudes, to name but a few.

With the collapse of Enlightenment rationale, Bosch, under the sub-heading ‘A Fiduciary Framework’ brings out precisely what is taking place within this crisis, that despite the innocence of humanity being lost to the advantage of gaining enhanced critical powers, we must still seek a way forward rather than long for ‘our earlier innocence.’  And yet, since the Enlightenment paradigm influences today’s world immeasurably (for both good and ill), most notably as the plausibility structure by which a person interprets all of reality, whether scientific, religious or ideological, this very structure can provide immensely powerful shock absorbers to make everything fit the plausibility structure by which a person operates.  Thus, ‘the worldview one embraces may not be “true”.  It may, in fact, be the Big Lie’ (:360).

It is because of this breakdown of plausibility structures that the scientist Kuhn even uses religious language to describe what is taking place, such as ‘scales falling from the eyes’.  It is the event of these scales falling away that creates the crisis within any paradigm shift, since all that has been known and believed previously was simply unravelling.  Bosch describes this process as one playing chess and another checkers on the same board (:184).  One cannot fully exist under one plausibility structure and simultaneously under another, it is either one or the other, but where plausibility structures collide during a paradigm shift, there is inevitably a crisis.  In the mission context, part of the church is playing chess, while the other is playing checkers and both are insisting they play by their rules.  This creates what Bosch calls an abiding tension that finds its resolution within the expertly phrased and mysteriously challenging ‘Creative Tension’ (:381).  Bosch’s creative tension under his ecumenical proposal would have the church take the best from their ‘plausibility structures’ and invent a new game with an open-ended rule book.  It is here that Bosch brings together the ‘word and deed’ models of mission and argues against an achievement driven model that ‘robs the gospel of its ethical trust’ on the one hand, and ‘robs it of its soteriological depth’ on the other (:382).

More specifically, the tension is understood as two apparent opposites that, as far as the Church is concerned, cannot survive if separated, but more than this, the one – service, mission and evangelism is born from the other, the sacramental life of the gathered worshipping community (:385).  It is the essence of the gospel imperative, ‘Come to Me and I will give you rest’ and ‘Go and make disciples of all nations.’  In a patchwork of references, Bosch writes,

The Christian mission is always christological and pneumatological, but the New Testament knows of no christology or pneumatology which is not ecclesial.  Mission is moored to the church’s worship, to its gathering around the Word and the sacraments.  ‘The visible coming together of visible people in a special place to do something particular’ stands at the centre of the church.  Without the actual, visible procedure of meeting together there is no church (:385).

It is from the gathered Body that the life of the church therefore, finds it’s meaning and purpose, and one aspect must never be divorced from the other, since at any point this happens, the church finds itself playing chess and checkers on the same board again.

Therefore, the church is a body of ‘tensions’, called to hold together in ‘redemptive tension’ it’s dual orientations of gathering together for praise, fellowship and spiritual nourishment, and dispersing, to serve wherever the dispersing leads (:386).  This vital aspect brings Bosch closer to the central  affirmation of who does the mission in the first place, but before we arrive there, Bosch reminds the church why this ‘redemptive tension’ is a precursor to what is central.

‘It is only the church that goes out from its eucharist centre,’ as the World Council of Churches declared in 1983, that it has any effectiveness for redemption in the world at all.  In this way it is both ‘different from the world’ whilst being in the world, or ‘in the world without being of the world’ (:386).  By maintaining this duality, the church finds her uniqueness, a uniqueness partly illuminated by holding the tension together, and one that opens her up to reform and renewal, acts that allow world changing paradigm shifts themselves to be absorbed on the shock-absorbing buffers of God’s life giving redemption.

It is here that Bosch picks up on Barth’s own insights into mission.  It is by recognising that the church itself is always a repenting and reforming body, that one can see the importance of the missio Dei, that mission is ‘an activity of God himself’ (:389).  Barth thoroughly rescued Trinitarian theology from the Enlightenment conditioned theologians, especially Schleiermacher, who though is remembered as the father of modern theology, was embarrassed enough about the doctrine of the Trinity to barely mention it, except occasionally in footnotes.

If Schleiermacher is the father of modern theology, Barth must be the father of postmodern theology, not only in rediscovering for the Church the vitality and centrality of the Trinitarian doctrine, but  locating the missio Dei within that Trinitarian framework.  On this, and with astonishing understatement, Bosch quotes Agaard, ‘As far as missionary thinking was concerned, this linking with the doctrine of the Trinity constituted an important innovation’ (:390).  Kirk, discussing the importance of definition writes, ‘When Christian communities speak about God, by definition they have to speak about Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  There simply is no other God.  Therefore to speak of the missio Dei is to indicate, without any qualification, the missio Trinitatis’ (Kirk 1999:27).

What this means for mission is itself a kind of internal paradigm shift for the Church, but one that actually shapes how the church responds to the worldwide paradigm shifts occurring in history.  Thus, rather than the Church viewing itself as the one who ‘has a mission of salvation to fulfil in the world,’ it is actually the ‘mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church’ (:390 italics mine).  Therefore, the Church participates in what God is already doing and mission is now viewed as a movement from God to the world.  The church, by holding together the tension of the inward life and outward purpose creatively, becomes an instrument for that mission (:390).

Rowan Williams expresses the same priority thus,

If we want to speak adequately of mission, we have to speak of the trinity, of God’s life as communion.  To engage in mission is to be touched by the life of the trinity, to be engaged in what the wisdom of God purposes, the polyphony of diverse created voices, human and non-human, reflecting back to God his own generous outpouring (Williams 1994:257).

It may be this being ‘touched by the life of the Trinity’ that Bosch has in mind for his call for the Church to be transformed first before getting involved with mission to the world, a mission which, within a new paradigm would require what he calls ‘transformational hermeneutics’ (Bosch 1991:189).

It is important at this juncture, to warn against perfectionism.  The Church is certainly called to unity and communion, but it must not be understood that she can only partake in the missio Dei when she has finally and fully grasped the truth of, and actually realised the fullness of her inner transformation.  It would be naïve to suggest that if only the church sharpen up her theology, that ecumenical unity would be an inevitability.  The Church is, by definition, a gathering of redeemed sinners, confused and yet simultaneously friends of God, rather like the disciples, as Sinclair Ferguson relates,

I’ve often reflected on the rather obvious thought that when his disciples were about to have the world collapse on them, our Lord spent so much time in the Upper Room speaking to them about the mystery of the Trinity.  If anything could underline the necessity of Trinitarianism for practical Christianity, that must surely be it (Letham 2004:1).

This is somewhere near where Bosch, via Barth, is driving at, since to highlight the vital importance for Trinitarian theology as central to theology is the key for the Church to understand her participation in the mission of God as He is in Trinity.  Ecumenically, this was expressed with great simplicity by the Roman Catholic Robert Fastiggi who said, ‘If Christians go to the heart of reality – the One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit – they cannot help but draw closer to each other’ (Cutzinger 1997:9).  Yet the lack of drawing closer to each other has been the de facto disappointment especially between evangelicals on the one hand and ecumenicals on the other, with prejudice and stereotypes allowed to take root.

It is however, this Reality of Trinitarianism that should protect against ignorant sectarianism or misplaced optimism in a world that actually needs saving from itself.  C. Rene Padilla identifies this precise tendency of the Church to polarize their own positions at the expense of all others.  Padilla, writing shortly after Bosch’s death argues against this ignorant sectarianism, calling for a ‘holistic mission’ that allows for different views to compliment each other rather than criticize.  After highlighting important aspects of the ecumenical and evangelical perspectives, expressing how they compliment each other, not exclude, she writes, ‘ Ecumenism without the gospel is secularism, it is the world of projects of social redemption centred on the human being without reference to God; the gospel without an ecumenical dimension is logos asarkos, the doctrine of salvation without incarnation’ (Padilla 1992:382).  Mission in this framework becomes more than and different from what Bosch calls ‘recruitment to our brand of religion’ (Bosch 1995:33), it is the reign of God being manifest through the unity of the differing parts.

Marsh agues along the same lines as Padilla, suggesting ‘this aspiration [of unity] has been increasingly undermined by a proliferation of evangelical denominations, many of them quite small, but each with their distinctive emphasis, each striving for doctrinal purity and each possessive and separatist… driv[ing] Christians apart and motivat[ing] them to set up their own versions of the kingdom’ (Marsh 2007:412).  This sad reality makes an ecumenical paradigm shift all the more urgent, and as Corrie elucidates in his introduction, what is needed more than ever is ‘creative and missiological thinking’ (Corrie 2007:xv), and this is located in wholistic mission.

This is why Padilla suggests, as does Bosch, that the church must be both evangelical and ecumenical at the same time. It is this diversity of opinion within the Church, that when it understands that the root of it’s mission is one of participation in the Triune Godhead, that the creative tension can be healthily maintained.

So rather than allowing the prominence of opposing theological views, whilst recognising the falleness of the world that needs good news, Bosch is right to remind the Church that ‘the history of the world is not only a history of evil but also of love, a history in which the reign of God is being advanced through the work of the Spirit’ (Bosch 1991:391).  In other words, the promise to the Church is that God is already active in the world, and the invitation to the Church is one of participation.   Thus, wholistically, under an ecumenical paradigm, where word and deed are integral to each other, ‘nothing is therefore ruled out of missiological consideration… the agenda is universal’ (Corrie 2007:xvi).

Having outlined the foundational dynamic of Bosch’s proposal, we will now turn to two areas of concern that will test the creative tension to its very limits, first, that of the ministry of women, and second, in more detail, what Bosch calls the theologia religionum, and how Christianity relates with other religions, which he calls  ‘the epitome of mission theology’ (Bosch 1991:477).

Ordination of Women

What we have said so far draws on the foundational aspects of Bosch’s proposal, one which there is widespread agreement.  However, there is legitimate concern over some curious omissions of his work, as suggested earlier, to which we will now turn.  This does not, as Sugden points out, ‘imply a weakness’ (Sugden 1996:140), but rather an opportunity to ‘build on the foundation.’

When proposing an ecumenical paradigm for the life and mission of the Church, one that has already acknowledged the problems inherent in the dominance of the Western theological academies, it is a curious omission on Bosch’s part, especially as a South African, that he does not seek to let the voices of non-western theologians and missiologists have a more prominent place.   This is more pertinent if  ‘the average Christian today is female, black, and lives in a Brazilian favela or an African village’ (Bevans & Schroeder 2005:70), and accords with his Western history bias throughout the first ten chapters.  Moreover, Bosch admitted to knowing ‘almost nothing’ about the mission history of women within his own Dutch Reformed Church tradition, which goes some way to explaining why he was ‘strangely silent about the contribution of women to the mission of the church’ (Robert 1996:94-95).  This is a significant omission given Roberts’ assertion that ‘one of the key factors that made a mature missionary movement possible in the Dutch Reformed Church (DRC) was the participation of women in the enterprise (:95).  Bosch does in fact refer to this in just two sentences on pages 470-1, despite the statistic offered by Ross that today there is ‘an estimated twice the number of women missionaries as men’ (Ross: 2007:434).

It would be grossly unfair to advocate a sinister reason behind these remarks, especially given the integrity and stature of Bosch within the Christian community.  But one who grew up a South African being taught to hate the English and view all blacks as non-persons, people who were ‘part of the scenery but hardly part of the human community’ people who ‘belonged to the category of ‘farm implements’ rather than to the category of ‘fellow-human beings” (Livingston 1999:26-32), is probably going to have culturally determined blind spots towards women too!

Despite his childhood indoctrination, and although Bosch is ‘strangely silent’ about many categories of women in ministry and mission, yet he does insist that regarding the role of the ordination of women that ‘a new model of church is of great significance for the entire debate’ (Bosch 1992:472).  This is because of the movement away from the monopoly of ordained men towards ministry as a responsibility for the whole people of God, ordained or not (:467).  ‘The days are over’ writes Nussbaum, summarizing Bosch, when ‘the clergyman-priest, enshrined in privilege and central position, remained the linchpin of the church’ (Nussbaum 2005:120).  This reveals Bosch’s commitment to ecumenism, albeit in a minimalist manner in his book, as far as women are concerned, but not in his mind regarding the language used and the ‘shape’ of his writing in general.

Whatever omissions in this regard, there are few specific areas of theology that will not feel the full force of what Bosch refers to as ‘evolutionary and revolutionary’ (:366) forces of the paradigm shift.  Although there has been some very encouraging progress within the Church to do with women in ministry, it will require nothing less than the excellent paradoxical maxim ‘bold humility’ on the part of the worldwide church to maintain this particular creative tension.  If Bosch’s paradigm theory is not only correct but vital for understanding our own times, then part of the boldness required by the church is captured by the comments of John XXIII, ‘Today’s world, the needs made plain in the last fifty years, and a deeper understanding of the doctrine have brought us to a new situation . . . It is not that the Gospel has changed; it is that we have begun to understand it better’ (:367).  Women in ordained ministry, in senior positions of leadership, is a perfect example where this maxim is true.

Inter-Faith Dialogue

We have already seen how important Bosch viewed mission as a witness to people of other faiths by stating it as the epitome of mission theology, with the challenge of religions being even more important than secular ideologies (:477).  Indeed, mission theology is a relatively new discipline, emerging in the 1960’s (:474).  Bosch’s proposals for eight perspectives that seek to avoid what he calls the sterility of ‘a comfortable claim to absoluteness and arbitrary pluralism’ (:483) are well furnished, so rather than rewrite these, I will seek to critique one area of omission in his framework.

After a historical tour through Roman Catholic dogma ‘outside the church, no salvation’ with a Protestant twist ‘outside the word no salvation’, via the crusades (which were in fact a Christendom reaction – albeit savage and utterly unChristian –  to the Islamic decision to ban pilgrimages to holy sites, an unheard of act especially when one considers that shared holy sites as well as economic interactions between Christian and Muslim were common-place.  Bosch is inaccurate in his account that the crusades were simply about Christianity wanting to crush Islam (:475).  This idea certainly evolved later on, but it was not present before the Islamic ban, nor the reason for the first crusade); and Enlightenment, the church today is faced with unprecedented challenges.  Chief among them, following Kung, Bosch suggests the ‘two largest unsolved problems for the Christian Church are its relationship (1) to world views which offer this-worldly salvation, and (2) to other faiths’ (:477).

Incidentally, there appears to be a dispiriting tension that exists between the lack of any theology of religions in theological institutes compared with the ‘deluge of books and articles that have been published [with] no end of this torrent is in sight’ (:477), and surprisingly, Bosch does not comment on this apparent contradiction with reasons why this may be.

However, looking at the unsolved problems named above, Bosch is once again indebted to Kung as he elucidates three “fundamental positions” of ways in which understanding a theologia religionum is attained, (i) exclusivism, (ii) fulfillment and (iii) relativism.  Sadly, Bosch refuses to talk about a fourth position, atheism, on the grounds that ‘it is not a view entertained by any branch of the Christian theology of religions’ (:478).  To be fair, Bosch may have written before atheism became a threat of any meaningful significance, but we still take issue with this, especially in present day Britain some twenty years after Bosch wrote his book, because atheism, or the new-atheism as it is known, headed by people such as Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchins, is too much of an influence to simply dismiss because one of the primary foci of attack is any and all forms of religion, especially Christianity.

This particular omission is significant in the light of the comment by Toynbee that human nature abhors a vacuum, ‘so if one religion goes, another takes its place.’  Supporting this, Barth, quoting Calvin suggests that the human being is an ‘idol factory, and the idol thus manufactured is religion, Christian or otherwise’ (:478).  Therefore, if there is no “faith”, i.e. atheism, and human nature will not live with the vacuum of nothingness, always seeking to find replacements within its instinctive ‘idol making factory,’ then atheism must not be ignored, even if ‘it is not a view entertained by any branch of the Christian theology of religions’ (:478).  It should be.  Atheism’s lack of recognition by the academy is no reason to dismiss it, especially in a secular culture with rising, even militant atheism growing in popularity and influence.

Within the same chapter from Church Dogmatics, Religion as Unbelief (Barth 1963:297-325), highlighting the seriousness of underestimating atheism decades before Bosch, Barth writes,

Atheism … hurls itself against religion in open conflict.  It loves … the refutation of dogmas, and, of course, moral emancipation.  It denies the existence of God and the validity of a divine law.  And its whole interest is in the denial as such.  …It fails to see … that absolute denial can have no meaning except against the background of a relative affirmation… It is satisfied to deny God and his law.  It fails to see that, apart from religion, there are other dogmas of truth and ways of certainty, which may at any moment take on a religious character… Atheism nearly always means secularism … and usually allies itself with secular authorities and powers in the conflict with religion, with God (:321).

So here we have atheism and secularism linked intimately together, specifically for the purpose of denying religion and undermining it.  Barth agrees that atheism brings religion into crisis by its confrontation, which makes the dismissal of atheism by Bosch and other missiologists all the more staggering.

The naivete of atheism, for Barth, is in its failure to understand the nature of revelation, something Bosch does advocate in the difference between ‘religion as a human fabrication with revelation, which is something totally new, coming directly from God’ (:479).  Moreover, ‘revelation singles out the Church as the locus of true religion’ (Barth 1963:298) which is another way of asserting the primacy of the connection between Christianity and the ‘grace of revelation.’ The reason why this is a vital task which makes the atheist omission more salient is because the Church, especially in the West, will deal with as many people who are atheists than those of other faiths.  It is precisely because of this that the church responds to atheism/secularism by understanding all it can about it, and then by applying the bold humility required for engagement with those of other faiths.

Assessing the Contribution of Bosch to Contemporary Mission

Bosch has clearly taken a lead from the Catholic radical, Hans Kung, who himself championed the position that the scope of ecumenism is far wider than the Christian denominations.  For Kung and Bosch, the ecumenical calling of the Church embraces the whole earth, including all faiths and none (secularism).

As an evangelical and an ecumenical, Bosch embodied the very expression ‘creative tension.’  Corrie is right to define this term positively since otherwise is remains an unexplored enigma (Corrie 2001:99), that would no doubt serve to keep people apart.  So within a still emerging paradigm, unity between churches and denominations was paramount.  Given his high regard for scripture, something evangelicals would be especially pleased about, Bosch encouraged the Church to move beyond polarization that characterize and stereotype differing groups, by demonstrating how throughout the previous paradigm shifts, mission can (and must) be faithful to scripture and simultaneously relevant where and whenever it is found.  This commitment was driven by what Livingston calls ‘a deeper biblical foundation for mission’ (1999:28), explaining how Bosch’s frustration at the lack of common understanding of  ‘how the Bible functions as the authority, basis and frame of reference for the church’s missionary thought and practice’ drove him to expose the weakness and failure of proof-texting.  Unfortunately his frustration did not extend to including John’s Gospel in is theology of mission, which no doubt would have shaped his responses, especially, as Nussbaum highlights, ‘has immense implications for our understanding of Christianity to other faiths’ (2005:151).

Despite this, the purpose of course was dialogue, within the Church and with the world was always for reconciliation.  Given his experience of living through apartheid, and commitment to the WCC, the Church can, and to some degree has learned, that dialogue must be a participatory attitude of mutual respect, care and sharing of stories.   Martin Buber commented that ‘where there is no dialogue, no sharing, there is no reality’ such was the high price he placed on dialogue.  Bosch saw right into the heart of this too.  His influence can be seen more specifically expressed in the WCC statement on inter-faith dialogue,

‘In our increasingly pluralistic societies, more inter-religious dialogue and cooperation are needed if conflict fueled by religion is to be constructively addressed … We need new ways to understand both particularity, universality and plurality; we must learn to live our faith with integrity while respecting and accepting each other.

This understanding of dialogue as an active attitude of mutual respect will be one of the major contributions of Bosch to the on-going development of ecumenism.  Within this perception is the recognition that different beliefs, practices and traditions form an essential part of human culture, hence his determination to engage those of other faiths, not superiority, but in the bold humility required for a people participating in the mission of God because of the grace of God.

However, dialogue is one response to the multi-faceted question of mission.  Hoedemaker identifies two defining points that shape the direction and content of mission.  The church as bearer of a message of redemption and a call to conversion sets itself in and over against the world.  Alternatively, if the church is missionary by word and deed on behalf of the world, then the church’s mission is associated with the world for better degrees of humanization.  This delineates the nature of the “ecumenical crucible” we find ourselves in (1995:161-2).

One of the contributory factors that reveal the struggle for ecumenism is where mission agencies and individuals are divorced from church centeredness.  When this happens, ecumenism and mission both fall short.  It is this lack of integration, he argues, where the ‘evangelical views of salvation history, which are too narrow, and the views of ecumenical and liberation theologians, which are too broad’ (:449) that is still with the Church today.  The importance of holding the two approaches together was summed up by Karl Rahner who said ‘church and mission is the incarnational dynamic of grace’ (:160).

It is hear that the critique of missio Dei is introduced.  Ecumenically it is clearly of great value, a reason why Bosch used it as a hermeneutical grid.  Hoedemaker however, despite recognising its value for missiology and ecclesiology theology, he calls it an ‘artificial device’ (:162).  Where Barth and Bosch et al, draw on the obvious positive connotations, Hoedemaker refers to the ‘passive’ aspect of referencing it to “Trinity” and the ‘dogmatic’ term “missio” so that to link it to the sovereignty and independence of God’s work in redemption is to link ‘two heterogeneous notions of missio,’ a link he calls ‘confusing’ (:163)

This is important because as an ecumenical, Hoedemaker recognises Bosch’s contribution, but not the ‘flag of missio Dei that has been flown on ships carrying a broad range or cargoes’ (:164).  Clearly he sees the uniting of evangelicalism and ecumenism being located elsewhere, since although there have been advantages to the understanding of missio Dei, the missio suffers ‘some loss of substance’ because all forms of mission in joining in with the ‘world-relatedness of God himself’ become merely instrumental (:164).

The continuing polarization of “ecumenical” and “evangelical” is evidence still that the harvest of ‘a balanced relationship’ has been poor.  The major summation is simply that missio Dei is ‘too open in all directions to be fruitful’ (:165).  In this regard, Bosch has been simultaneously enormous in contribution and frustrated in result, a creative tension he would not have liked.

Nevertheless, a final word goes to the simplicity and power of a faith committed to the love of the “other” because of the grace of Christ in the believer.  In the context of operating within the framework of “inter-faith dialogue” bold humility becomes an “on the ground” reality for those who are sent to and are in a lost world.

My friend and former pastor relates it thus,

Most important of all, Mazhar loves people regardless of their faith orientation.  Being “people centered,” he does not see “Muslims” or “Christians,” but rather simply people made in God’s image and journeying toward God to greater or lesser degrees.  Once in North Africa, Mazhar recalls his friend Muhammad asking him, “Will you still be my friend when I reject your message?”  “Of course” was Mazhar’s reply; but it did show a perception that many Muslims have of Christians that they are only “friends” for the agenda of conversion.”  (Chandler 2007:135-6)

This does not mention anything ecumenical because Mazhar was in prison for his faith.  It does mention the perspective of mission Bosch advocated in his closing words, that ‘mission is the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus … the good news of God’s love’ (:518).  As an advocate of this, Bosch’s contribution seriously attempts to maintain the unity of the brethren for the sake of the lost; a legacy most Christians would be proud of.


Barth, K., Church Dogmatics I/2, The Doctrine of the Word of God, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1963)

Bevans, S., & Schroeder, R., Missiology After Bosch:  Reverencing a Classic by Moving Beyond, International Bulletin of Missionary Research, 2005, Vol. 29, No. 2, 69-72

Bosch, D., Believing in the Future, Toward a Missiology of Western Culture, (Leominster: Gracewing, 1995)

Bosch, D., Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, (New York: Orbis Books, 1991)

Chandler, P., Pilgrims of Christ on the Muslim Road, (Plymouth:  Cowley Publications, 2007)

Corrie, J., (Ed.), Dictionary of Mission Theology: Evangelical Foundations, (Nottingham: IVP, 2007)

Creative Tensions in the Mission of the Church, Anvil, Vol. 19, No. 2, 2001

Cutsinger, J. S., (Ed.) Reclaiming the Great Tradition:  Evangelicals, Catholics and Orthodox in Dialogue, (Downers Grove: IVP, 1997)

Hoedemaker, L. A., in Verstraelen, F. J., Missiology, An Ecumenical Introduction, (Michigan:  Wm. B.

Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1995)

Kirk, A. J., What is Mission?  Theological Explorations, (London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd,


Letham, R., The Holy Trinity:  In Scripture, History, Theology and Worship, (New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2004)

Livingston, J. K., in Anderson G., Bonk, J., & Coote, R., (Eds.) International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Jan. 1999, Vol. 23 Issue 1, 26-32

Marsh, C., ‘Unity’, in J. Corrie (Ed.) Dictionary of Mission Theology: Evangelical Foundations, (Nottingham: IVP, 2007)

Nussbaum, S., A Readers Guide to Transforming Mission, (New York: Orbis Books, 2005)

Padilla, C. R.,  Wholistic Mission: Evangelical and Ecumenical, in International Review of Mission, vol. LXXXI No. 323, July 1992

Ross, C., Women in Mission, in J. Corrie (Ed.) Dictionary of Mission Theology: Evangelical Foundations, (Nottingham: IVP, 2007)

Saayman, W., & Kritzinger, K., (Eds.) Mission in Bold Humility, (New York: Orbis Books, 1996)

Williams, R., Open To Judgement, (London: Darton, Longman and Todd Ltd, 2001)

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