David Bosch Brings Welcome Light to our Cave (1st of 14)

David Bosch (1929-1992) was born in South Africa. The importance of his book Transforming Mission cannot be overstated. “It was received with critical acclaim, recognized as a magisterial work and a superb teaching tool.”[1] Bosch’s breadth of knowledge and his familiarity with mission literature is profound. This is the first of six blogs featuring David Bosch as our teacher.

David Bosch with Desmond Tutu

The [perceived] failures of the 20th century to win the world for Christ led to a profound malaise in some missionary circles. Max Warren, for many years General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society in Great Britain, referred to “a terrible failure of nerve about the missionary enterprise.” In some circles this [perception] has led to an almost complete paralysis and total withdrawal from missionary activity.[2] This cannot be how it ends, because, as David Bosch writes, “Christian faith is intrinsically missionary.”[3] We must once again sail away from the familiar shore [where Christianity has millions of adherent] to the distant places in the regions beyond. Jesus Christ’s Chief End for Christians is the conversion of the non-Christian peoples of the world.

The New Testament, a Missionary Document. Introductions to missiology tend to begin, half-heartedly, with a section called something like “Biblical Foundations for Mission.” Once these “foundations” have been established—so the argument seems to go—the author can proceed by developing his or her exegetical findings into a systematic “theory” or “theology” of mission. I wish to proceed in a different way.

The missionary character of the New Testament has not been understood or appreciated. For a very long time it was customary, says Fiorenza (1976:1), to consider the New Testament writings primarily as “documents of an inner-Christian doctrinal struggle.” Early Christian history would be, then, “a struggle between different Christian parties and theologians.” I submit (writes David Bosch) that this approach is, at least to some extent, misguided. Instead, I suggest, with Martin Hengel, that the history and the theology of early Christianity are, first of all, “mission history” and “mission theology” (Hengel 1983b:53). The beginnings of a missionary theology are therefore also the beginnings of Christian theology.” The New Testament writers were not scholars who had the leisure to research the evidence before they put pen to paper. Rather, they wrote in the context of an “emergency situation,” of a church which, because of its missionary encounter with the world, was forced to theologize. Pesch (1982:14-16) lists no fewer than ninety-five Greek expressions which related to mission: “the salt of the earth,” “the light of the world,” “a city on a hill,” and the like.[4] Our Lord’s mission is for us to not only be Christians, but to make more Christians among all the peoples of the world.


[1] David Jacobus Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1991). p. xiii

[2] Ibid. 6-7

[3] Ibid. 8. See page 9 for a profound set of “reasons” for the mission of the kingdom to go ahead.

[4] Ibid. 15-16, a lengthy quote.