Book Review:

TRANSFORMING MISSION:  Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission.

By David J. Bosch Orbis Books, Maryknoll New York 1991. 519 pages, plus Indices, and Bibliography.

This massive work is Number 16 in the American Society of Missiology Series, written by the Professor of Missiology at the University of South Africa.


David Bosch,already well-known to students of missiology, examines five major paradigms that have described how God saves, and how people respond to God's salvation. He then outlines a "post-modern" paradigm for an emerging ecumenical mission theory.

Bosch examines the history of "mission", noting that until the sixteenth century, the term was used exclusively with reference to the doctrine of the Trinity. The Jesuits introduced the word into the vocabulary of the spreading of the faith. The new expansion of the faith throughout the world in the following period was closely associated with European colonial expansion into the non-Western world.

More recently the assumptions which underlay this missionary expansion have been modified, questioned and in some cases abandoned altogether. Bosch identifies a major crisis in mission itself, that has to do with the authority, aims and nature of the mission.

This crisis is linked with a wider crisis in the church at large. His analysis of this crisis is very informative. He lists six elements:

1. The advance of secularisation.

2. The steady de-christianising of the West - the traditional base of the whole modern missionary enterprise.

3. A change from a world divided into "Christian" and "non-Christian", to a religiously pluralist world in which the followers of some faiths are more aggressively missionary than many Christians.

4. The guilt of Western Christians because of their involvement in the subjugation and exploitation of coloured peoples.

5. The increasing gap between rich and poor, and the fact that the rich are those who consider themselves to be Christians; which leads to anger and frustration on the part of the poor, and a reluctance on the part of affluent Christians to share their faith.

6. Western ecclesial ways, and Western theology are now suspect and have been by and large replaced by various indigenous practices and theologies in the Third World. This has added to the confusion in the Western church.

Bosch attempts to show a way forward and provide a paradigm for a mission practice that takes modern realities into account.

He introduces the book with an "interim" definition of mission which the book spells out in detail. He has thirteen elements in his definition:

1. The Christian faith is intrinsically missionary.

2. Missiology is not neutral, but views the world from the standpoint of Christian theology.

3. But this must be continually reassessed, so a narrow or permanent definition is not possible.

4. A necessary foundation for mission lies in God's self- communication in Christ.

5. The Bible does not give a set of unchangeable laws of mission. Mission is an ambivalent enterprise which remains an act of faith.

6. The entire Christian existence is a missionary existence.

7. Foreign missions is not a separate entity to home missions. Both are grounded in the gospel.

8. Mission is God's mission. Missions are particular forms of participation in God's mission.

9. The missionary task includes the whole set of needs and aspects of human life.

10. Mission is thus God's "Yes" to the world.

11. Mission includes evangelism as one of its crucial elements. "Evangelism is the proclamation of salvation in Christ to those who do not believe in him, calling them to repentance and conversion, announcing forgiveness of sins, and inviting them to become living members of Christ's earthly community and to begin a life of service to others in the power of the Holy Spirit." (p. 11)

12. Mission is also God's "No" to the world.

13. The church-in-mission is a sign in the sense of pointer, symbol, example or model. It is a sacrament in the sense of mediation, representation, or anticipation.

Bosch has an extended survey of New Testament models of mission. He discusses the early church's missionary practice and considers whether there were alternative approaches that may have made the ultimate exclusion of Jews from the church less likely. He outlines missionary paradigms of Matthew, Luke and Paul.

He traces four subsequent historical missionary paradigms: that of

* the Eastern church;

* the medieval Roman Catholic church;

* the Protestant reformation; and

* mission in the wake of the Enlightenment.

The concluding section outlines elements in a post-modern ecumenical missionary paradigm. These include: Mission as the church-with-others; as Missio Dei; as mediating Salvation; as the Quest for Justice; as Evangelism; as Contextualisation; as Liberation; as Inculturation; as Common Witness; as Ministry by the Whole people of God; as Witness to People of Other Living Faiths; as Theology; and as Action in Hope.

Bosch offers a profile of what mission is in terms of six aspects of Christ's ministry: Incarnation; The Cross; The Resurrection; The Ascension; Pentecost; and The Parousia. His insights about how these great events affect the nature and method of our mission are very suggestive.

He concludes by raising again the modern criticisms of mission, exemplified in John Mott's question asked before the Edinburgh Conference, "Do you consider that we now have on the home field a type of Christianity which should be propagated all over the world?" Bosch rejects the idea that mission is merely western colonialism in disguise, and points to its origin in the missio Dei. It is not the church which undertakes mission but the missio Dei which constitutes the church - and purifies it.

"...mission is, quite simply, the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus, wagering on a future that verifiable experience seems to belie. It is the good news of God's love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world." p.519.

Transforming Mission is a mighty work, that deserves to be read by clergy and all who are thinking and planning in any area of the church's mission.

Dale Appleby