David J. Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991)
For being slightly old as a book trying to assess recent cultural changes, it seems relatively right on twenty years after it was published. The book traces the way the Church understood and practiced its “mission” throughout history: the early church, the Eastern Church, the Medieval Catholic Church, the Reformation/Protestant Church, and the post-Enlightenment Church. Bosch then tries to describe the emerging paradigm and some of the features of contemporary mission, offering some great insights about how the Church should think about and live out it mission in our present-day situation.
It’s a LONG book and feels a bit like a textbook. It took a while to get through, but it was worth it. But I’m into this kind of thing, so, it was fairly easy for me. But I really need to read some fiction soon.
Here are some of the book's standout ideas. Also, I realize that my almost 4-year old nephew Donny is not capable of really understanding what follows. In light of this fact, Donny—if you are reading this—I’ve tried to simplify the following ten points in a way I think maybe you might understand. Also, be extra nice to your Mama right now, and don’t worry, she won’t always be pregnant.
1) On mission in the Gospel of Matthew: “For Matthew…being a disciple means living out the teachings of Jesus…mission is not narrowed down to an activity of making individuals new creatures, of providing them with “blessed assurance” so that, come what may, they will be ‘eternally saved.’ Mission involves…making new believers sensitive to the needs of others, opening their eyes and hearts to recognize injustice, suffering, oppression, and the plight of those who have fallen by the wayside.” (81) This appears to be written with the assumption that many people don’t really believe that this is what discipleship is about. Though I feel like many communities and movements are popping up these days seeking to more seriously and actively practice virtues, spiritual disciplines, and acts of compassion and justice.
Simplified for Donny: Jesus wants you to let your little sister play with your toys, too, Donny.
2) On mission in the wake of the Enlightenment: “Advocates of mission were blind to their own ethnocentrism. They confused their middle-class ideals and values with the tenets of Christianity. Their views about morality, respectability, order, efficiency, individualism, professionalism, work, and technological progress…were without compunction exported to the ends of the earth. They were, therefore, predisposed not to appreciate the cultures of the people to whom they went—the unity of living and learning; the interdependence between the individual, community, culture, and industry; the profundity of folk wisdom; the proprieties of traditional societies—all these were swept aside by a mentality shaped by the Enlightenment which tended to turn people into objects, reshaping the entire world into the image of the West, separating humans from one another.” (294) Does it seem like there are still remnants of this mindset in how we think about our faith in relation to others, even if we are trying to or know we need to move away from it? I’m working in an intercultural community, and still struggling to train my mind and heart to be receptive toward and appreciate the way foreigners think and act.
Simplified for Donny: Donny, instead of thinking “what does Donny want?” try asking, “what does Mama want?”
3) On epistemology and rediscovering mystery and enchantment: “Neither science nor theology ‘proves’; rather, they ‘probe.’” (353) I think this is what I love most about teaching, when it happens—inspiring the curiosity of others, encouraging them to learn and inquire and wonder. I think I possess this curiosity and hope it only deepens with time.
Simplified for Donny: While adults like me often find your statements absurd, Donny, don’t stop making them…your sense of wonder and incredible imagination is a gift that many lose when they grow older.
4) On conviction and commitment: “Nobody can really survive without (conviction and commitment). What is called for is the willingness to take a stand, even if is unpopular—or even dangerous. Tolerance is not an unambiguous virtue, especially the “I’m ok, you’re ok” kind which leaves no room for challenging one another.” (362). I think I’m a fairly tolerant person, but know I often err in two opposite ways—intolerance, which often looks like being judgmental, arrogant, and closed-minded , and what I’d call indifference, meaning I don’t let others call me on my mistakes, challenge me, push me toward excellence, nor critique or challenge others where that might be appropriate. “Just accept me for who I am” seems to be one of cries of my generation and culture—which can be an opportunity to love, accept, and understand, but perhaps in some cases reflects stubbornness or laziness.
Simplified for Donny: Just because we love you Donny, doesn’t mean you can do whatever you want. We don’t tolerate your tantrums because we don’t think this is a healthy attitude. You’ll understand some day. Hell, maybe you do understand now. (Also, don’t say “hell” Donny, it’s not polite.)
5) On interdependence: “The ‘me generation’ has to be superseded by the ‘us generation.’” (362) This is Bosch summarizing his suggestion that our health as individuals and communities, Christian or not, depends on thinking more collectively and holistically. It’s not a praise of socialism and a condemnation of capitalism, but it certainly seems to endorse more cooperation than competition. Or at least more selflessness than selfishness.
Simplified for Donny: You are important, Donny. SO important. But this is not the “Donny story.” Donny is not the main character. But you are a very important character.
6) On individual, personal salvation: “In a world in which people are dependent on each other and every individual exists within a web of inter-human relationships, it is totally untenable to limit salvation to the individual and his or her personal relationship with God. Hatred, injustice, oppression, war, and other forms of violence are manifestations of evil; concern for humaneness, for the conquering of famine, illness, and meaninglessness is a part of the salvation for which we hope and labor.” (397). I really appreciate this kind of systems thinking; it challenges me to remember that I owe the character of my present life to others who’ve influenced and shaped me, and to consider in what ways I am obligated to others.
Simplified for Donny: When you’re naughty, it doesn’t just affect you, Donny. It affects Mama and Daddy and Evie, too.
7) On technological development and progress: “Even if humans could live by bread alone, there is simply no longer enough bread for all because of structures which appear to be unalterable. We have, in addition, become conscious of the real possibility that our technological and scientific know-how may lead to our irreversibly ruining the ecosystem. We are, reluctantly, arriving at the conclusion that not everything that is technologically possible should be manufactured.” (398) That includes time machines for me. I don’t think we should make time machines, even if we find we can. More than anything in life, I’m afraid of disappearing like Marty McFly. Please, no time machines.
Simplified for Donny: Just because you can wet yourself, Donny, doesn’t mean you should.
8) On not judging others “standing” before God: “I can never be so confident of the purity and authenticity of my witness that I can know that the person who rejects my witness has rejected Jesus.” (413) This makes me want to be so much more humble, so much more gracious, so much more earnest in my following of Jesus.
Simplified for Donny: It’s not that I don’t want to play with you, Donny. I just didn’t think the way you asked me was very polite. It's not you, Donny, it's how you presented it. Try again.
9) A slam on starting new churches (ouch!): “This Protestant virus (the proliferation of new churches) may no longer be tolerated as though it is the most natural thing in the world for a group of people to start their own church, which mirrors their foibles, fears, and suspicions, nurtures their prejudices, and makes them feel comfortable and relaxed.” (466). I don’t hear in this a full-on condemnation of church planting, but I do hear a challenge to the attitudes of “we can do it better, the right way, the ‘hip’ way, the truly effective” way, a mindset of which I think church planters (myself included) can be guilty.
Simplified for Donny: Just because Evie isn’t playing the way you want her to, doesn’t mean you need to go in the other room and play. You can learn to play with her. You might find you like it! (Donny generally plays VERY well with his sister, for the record).
10) On the source and scope of salvation, from a statement by the World Council of Churches: “We cannot point to any other way of salvation than Jesus Christ; at the same time we cannot set limits to the saving power of God…we appreciate this tension and do not attempt to resolve it.” (489) This reflects the spirit of many trying to express how we can hold firm beliefs and convictions in a postmodern setting that is suspicious of ultimate truth claims. Bosch uses the term “humble boldness.” Newbigin has elsewhere called it a “proper confidence.” The point is to be comfortable that we know only in part, and to not let this lead to fear but to a sense of adventure, even trust.
Simplified for Donny: Donny, I know that you’re convinced your eating preferences need no altering. But, you know, not everybody agrees with you that an exclusive diet of gummy bears is the healthiest choice. What does that do to your understanding of what is good and right? Do you feel angst?