THEOLOGY & A review of David Bosch’s “Transforming Mission”

A review of David Bosch, Transforming Mission, 9/2008.

David Bosch, himself, says that when Transforming Mission was suggested as a title for this work he had misgivings about it, but in its ambiguity it has proved to be a most helpful reflection of both the major theses of the book. (Bosch: 2005: xv). The ambiguity lies in that mission is both something, which transforms and effective mission is itself something that is constantly transforming. Bosch’s argument throughout the three major sections of the book (New Testament Models of Mission; Historical Paradigms of Mission; and Toward a Relevant Missiology) is that there is no one meta-paradigm for missions, it is a constantly transforming paradigm.

Within the New Testament itself we encounter different models of mission; Matthew’s emphasis falls on disciple-making, Luke’s on solidarity with the poor and Paul’s has a definite eschatological dimension. Mission is being “transformed” and redefined by the biblical authors for and within the different contexts. The contextual nature of defining mission is a major premise for Bosch. “A basic argument of this book has been that, from the very beginning, the missionary message of the Christian church incarnated itself in the life and world of those who had embraced it.” (421)

Bosch’s aim in considering the different historical paradigms is again to show the constantly transforming nature of missions, although each paradigm is assessed in terms of strengths and weaknesses. Missions is a constantly evolving process; there exists a “pluriverse of missiology” (8). Bosch evaluates the history of missions using the Paradigm Theory of Thomas Kuhn and the six epochs of Christian history suggested by Hans Kűng. Kuhn’s original work was with scientific paradigms shifts, which he suggested were non-cumulative and revolutionary.[1]

The first two sections are a thorough laying of the foundations for the crux of the book the third section in which Bosch proposes his revised definition of missions (8), the new paradigm which will take us further. The new (or current) paradigm Bosch refers to as “post-modern” and (indebted to Kűng) the Emerging Ecumenical Paradigm. Here Bosch proposes not so much a paradigm as elements of a paradigm. These elements are diverse and are to be held in creative tension, without being forced together or polarised. Only as these elements are thus held in tension will we be able to both remain faithful to Scripture and relevant to the context. Just as in the New Testament and church history we see different models existing so we ought to recognise that the new model is a contextual mosaic rather than a meta-paradigm; “different theologies of mission do not necessarily exclude each other they form a multicoloured mosaic of complementary and mutually enriching as well as mutually challenging frames of reference.” (8)

Bosch’s work truly deserves the place it has assumed, in the last decade, at the head and as the foundation for missions studies. Embracing and straddling the fields of New Testament studies, Church History and Missiology with great competence and skill, Bosch’s work surely must be regarded as the foundation and launching point for the discussion both within and without Missiology for years to come. Bosch is at his best when he refusing to accept “either-or” thinking and calling for a “creative tension” or a third way in areas such as eschatology, evangelism and social action, contextualization and justice (Williams: 1993: 121).


BEVANS and SCHROEDER. 2005. Missiology After Bosch: Reverencing a Classic By Moving Beyond. International Bulletin of Missionary Research 29:2 (April), 69-72.

BOSCH, DAVID J. 2005. Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission. Maryknoll, New York. Orbis

KREIDER, ALAN. 2005. Beyond Bosch: The Early Church and the Christendom Shift. International Bulletin of Missionary Research 29:2 (April), 59-68.

PILLAY, GERALD J. 1990. Text, Paradigms and Context: An Examiniation of David Bosch’s Use of Paradigms in the Reading of Christian History. (In Saayman, W. and Kritzinger, K. (eds.) Mission in Creative Tension: A Dialogue with David Bosch. Pretoria. The South African Missiological Society)

SUGDEN, CHRISTOPHER. 1996. Placing Critical Issues in Relief. (In Saayman, W. and Kritzinger, K. (eds.) Mission in Bold Humility: David Bosch’s Work Considered. Maryknoll, New York. Orbis)

TOWNER, PHILIP H. 1995. Paradigms Lost: Mission to the Kosmos in John and in David Bosch’s Biblical Models of Mission. Evangelical Quarterly 67:2 (April), 99-119

WILLIAMS, BRYAN A. 1993. The South African Baptist Journal of Theology 1993, 117-123.

[1] There exist within any scientific paradigm anomalies, but these are not considered significant until the growing number of anomalies forces the formulation of a new paradigm, which better explains more of the evidence. There is then a period of transition in which public consensus is gained for the new paradigm whilst proponents of the old paradigm fight for its survival. The transition period ends when the new paradigm gains normative status and the old paradigm is now discredited and disregarded (non-cumulative). It is the social acceptance of a new paradigm and not the discovery of new evidence, which results in the paradigm shift (or revolution).

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