transforming mission

January 14, 2008

Some books read like a light snack…maybe a small package of pretzels on an airplane. Snacks aren’t bad, but sometimes you need a hearty feast. Transforming Mission satisfies the belly and fills the mind with memories and Ideas to revisit.

This book is a classic on mission, and rightfully so. David Bosch traces the history of how mission has been understood, and how that understanding has been shaped by context. When seeing how others have formed their understanding of mission from their context, it helps us to step back and form a more clear image of how we have rightly or wrongly understood mission in our time. This seems like such an important book for anyone in a primary role of shaping a church community, because if you get mission wrong, pretty much everything goes askew.

Here are some table scraps from my reading (heck, some of these could be a full meal by themselves) to whet the appetite of any hungry or ambitious readers out there.

  • We have to distinguish between mission (singular) and missions (plural). The first refers primarily to the missio Dei (God’s mission), that is, God’s self-revelation as the One who loves the world, God’s involvement in and with the world, the nature and activity of God, which embraces both the church and the world, and in which the church is priveleged to participate. (pg. 11)
  • Even so, personal conversion is not a goal in itself. To interpret the work fo the church as the ‘winning of souls’ is to make conversion into a final product, which flatly contradicts Luke’s understanding of the purpose of mission. Conversion does not pertain merely to an individual’s act of conviction and commitment; it moves the individual believer into the community of believers and involves a real — even a radical — change in the life of the believer, which carries with it moral responsibilities that distinguish Christians from ‘outsiders’ while at the same time stressing their obligation to those ‘outsiders’. (pg. 117)
  • There have, of course, always been Christians (and theologians!) who believed that their understanding of the faith was ‘objectively’ accurate and, in effect, the only authentic rendering of Christianity. Such an attitude, however, rests on a dangerous illusion. Our views are always only interpretations of what we consider to be divine revelation, not divine revelation itself. (pg 182)
  • it should be clear that theologies designed and developed in Europe can claim no superiority over theologies emerging in other parts of the world. (pg 189)
  • The Protestant preoccupation with right doctrine soon meant that every group which seceded from the main body had to validate its action by maintaining that it alone, and none of the others, adhered strictly to the “right preaching of the gospel”. The Reformational descriptions of the church thus ended up accenuating differences rather than similarities. Christians were taught to look decisively at other Christians. (pg 248)
  • The Enlightenment tenet that all problems were in principle solvable had an equally far-reaching effect on theology and the church. … Where God was still used as a hypothesis he had become the ‘God of the gaps’. We needed him only for exigencies such as cancer and similar incurable diseases. Step by step, however, our knowledge was expanding; the gaps were being closed. God was pushed further and further back and was becoming more and more redundant. (pg 273)
  • Mission is thereby seen as a movement from God to the world; the church is viewed as an instrument for that mission.” (pg 390)
  • The primary purpose of the missiones ecclesiae can therefore not simply be the planting of churches or the saving of souls; rather, it has to be service to the missio Dei, representing God in and over against the world, pointing to God, holding up the God-child before the eyes of the world in a ceaseless celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany. (pg 391)
  • Evangelism should never deterioriate into coaxing, much less into threat. It is not the same as (1) offering a psychological panacea for people’s frustrations and disappointments, (2) inculcating guilt feelings so that people (in despair, as it were) may turn to Christ, or (3) scaring people into repentance and conversion with stories about the horrors of hell. (pg 413)
  • Even so, the gospel is not individualistic. Modern individualism is, to a large extent, a perversion of the Christian faith’s understanding of the centrality and responsibility of the individual. (pg 416)
  • Contextualization, on the other hand, suggests the experimental and contingent nature of all theology. Contextual theologians therefore, rightly, refrain from writing “systematic theologies” where everything fits into an all-encompassing and eternally valid system. (pg 427)
  • If it is true, as has been argued throughout this study, that the entire life of the church is missionary, it follows that we desperately need a theology of the laity — something of which only the first rudiments are now emerging. (pg 472)
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