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Engaging the Bible in Mission Theology: Scholarship, David Bosch (2)

Engaging the Bible in Mission Theology Scholarship: Scholarship, David Bosch (2)


David Bosch, Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission (Maryknoll: Orbis, 1991).

These are short notes on the mission paradigms that Bosch identifies in Church history, without comment.

Bosch argues that identifying 'paradigms' is a helpful way to understand the history of theology and mission. In this, he is developing the notion of paradigm shifts in theology as argued by Hans Küng ("Was meint Paradigmenwachsel?" in Küng and David Tracy (eds.), Paradigm changes in Theology (NY: Crossrod, 1984, 1989 ET).  Bosch finds six paradigm shifts in 2,000 years of Christian history.  He does not believe that one gives way to another so much as one is added to existing paradigms.  I will simply present his analysis briefly, noting that this remains one of the major studies in recent times of mission theology and history (even though I have my doubts about the usefulness of a paradigm study of history).

1.      Apocalyptic Paradigm of primitive Christianity

2. Hellenistic Paradigm of the Patristic Period
  a. After Constantine, Church was made of socially superior, and mission was to the socially inferior.
  b. Christian mission was understood in terms of truths to communicate more than events describing God's self-communication.
  c. Eastern Orthodox Church lost sense of urgency, imminence of end, historical (vs. vertical earth and heaven perspective).  Salvation became ascent of soul to heaven.  Good deeds in this world delivered one from hell.  Church in Eastern Theology moved from a mobile ministry (apostles, prophets, evangelists) to a settled ministry (bishops, elders, deacons).  The Spirit was not so much enabling mission as building the church in sanctity.  Thus the focus was ecclesial, not missionary (although monks were the primary vehicle of missions).  Missions was conducted by Nestorian monasticism (as far as China by AD 225), whereas Egyptian monasticism was missionary.  The patristic and orthodox missionary program was:
1. More compromised to the state than Roman Catholicism
2. Mission is thoroughly church-centred, as church is Kingdom of God on earth.  Church is the aim of mission, not an instrument for mission.  Mission is not proclaiming ethical truths or principles; it is calling people into membership of the Christian community in a visible and concrete form (207).
3. Pagans receive God's light through church's liturgy: mission is centripetal rather than centrifugal, organic rather than organized.  The Eucharist is a missionary event.
4. Mission and unity of Church go together: mission must manifest life and worship of the Church.  Great Schism of 1054 altered mission of Orthodox Church: search for Christian unity.
5. Mission founded on love of God more than justice.
6. Goal of mission is life: doctrine of theosis (cf. 2 Cor. 3.18): union with God (not deification)--a continuing state of adoration, prayer, thanksgiving, worship, and intercession, and a meditation and contemplation of the triune God and God's infinite love.
7. Cosmic dimension of new life: all creation is in process of becoming ekklesia (Church): state, society, culture, nature are objects of mission.

3. Medieval Roman Catholic Paradigm


  a. Changed context from Eastern Orthodox: redemption not pedagogical process and taking up into the divine but an overturning the sin-ridden life through a crisis experience.  Theo. not incarnational (origin, preexistence of Christ) so much as staurological (substitutionary death on cross of Christ).
  b. Ecclesiasticization of Salvation: no salvation outside the church, originally meaning (Cyprian) that one must disassociate with heretical groups (Donatists), came to mean that one might crusade against heretics but not infidels (so Aquinas).
  c. Mission btwn. church and state:  Augustine's City of God (A.D. 413-427): Rome could be sacked by Goths (A.D. 410) not because Rome turned from its ancestral gods but because there are two societies or cities in the world existing side by side.  Later R.Cath. identified the city of God with the Church.  Hence the state became the visible arm enforcing the Christian mission against heretics and pagans.  Hence the missionary wars.  Monasteries were not intentionally missionary but in fact permeated by a missionary dimension in 5th to 12th centuries.  They were independent from state, unlike in the East.  They were communal, unlike the indiv. emphasis in the East.  Monks were revered ascetics, lived exemplary lives in poverty and hard work, perpetrated education and culture, maintained their character despite barbarian invasions, helped others along the way while on pilgrimage.  English monasticism actually had purpose of missionary work.

4. Protestant (Reformation) Paradigm
  a. Mission was weak not due to concern but rather emphasis: Luther hoped for foreign mission but his emphasis was elsewhere:
1. God's work over human effort
2. Preaching over programs
3. Opposed force in mission to pagan world
  b. While Catholic nations were colonizing others, Protestants weren't.  Emphasis was on reforming the church, and energies were expended in fight with Catholic opposition.  Abandonment of monasticism meant abandonment of strongest form of missionary activity of medieval church.  Also, Protestants were torn apart by internal strife.  Later (1652), Univ. of Wittenberg submitted opinion that Lutheran church had no missionary calling; the State was to convert pagans, even through war (Bosch, p. 251).
  c. Anabaptists were missionary, though.  Unlike Luther, who upheld idea of territorially circumscribed parishes with ecclesiastical office restricted within them (don't wander outside your area into another person's territory), Anabaptists wandered everywhere, calling for a more radical reform--a restoring--and a separation of the state from church affairs.  Reformers did not see Great Commission binding, Anabaptists did.
  d. Pietists: broke from weak missionary concern of  Reformation in combining a joy of personal experience of salvation with eagerness to proclaim gospel to all (so Spener).  Nikolaus von Zinzendorf founded Moravians, a non-institutional, ecumencal missions organization.  Early pietists were concerned with service to soul and body but by 1730's concern was purely religious.
  e. Calvinist missions was more active than Lutheran, in part because of popularity in countries engaged in colonization (England, Holland, Scotland), but also because they taught that the Holy Spirit was at work not only in human soul but also in renewing face of the earth, and Christ the exalted is active on the earth.

5. Modern Enlightenment Paradigm
  a. Movements freeing state from church
  b. Forces of renewal in church--did not distinguish nominal Christian from pagan, so mission was expanded.  2 Cor. 5.14: constrained by Jesus' love was a major new motif, along with earlier concern to bring glory to God.  Saving souls and bettering society went together in 18th and 19th c.  Conviction that God chose and ordained Western nations to bear Gospel to world.  But in 1870's and after mission was taken to "bosom of ecclesial Protestantism"; people hoped to evangelize the world in their generation (America's Student Volunteer Movement).  Increasingly, imminent eschatology played role in missions (with predictions of Christ's return).
              c. Liberal Christianity characterized by following:
1. View that other religions not totally false
2. Mission work meant less preaching and more transformational activities
3. Accent on salvation for life in present world
4. Emphasis in mission shifted from the individual to society.  Confidence in social progress in 19th c. led to social gospel emphasis.  By 1917 this was on the way out and a religious universalism, based on 19th c. romanticism, replaced it.
  d. Many mission societies started in last 100 yrs.--hence new question, Should mission work be work of the Church?  But denominations, being so many, are themselves para-church organizations (Bosch, p. 329).

6. Emerging Ecumenical Paradigm
  Enlightenment paradigm is challenged in society today:
  a. Reason is not enough on which to build one's life--religion, new age movement still around in scientific society.  Science and theology probe, they do not prove.
  b. More holistic view of world
  c. Teleological Dimension rediscovered: not everything is predictable, a result of some law.
 d. Challenge to progress thinking--important in missions today
   1. The application of technology is not merely a technological matter--influenced by people's social and religious dispositions.
   2. Humans receiving aid as objects in a network of planning, transfer of commodities, logistic coordination by  development agent is criticized
   3. Power: Western nations neither would nor could relinquish power and privilege.  Liberation theology wrongly assumes good in people: transfer power and all will be well.
 e. Fiduciary framework.  One paradigm interprets facts as does another, but one must choose a fiduciary framework over another.
 f. Optimism is now chastened.
 g. Toward Interdependence: Society sees others as unimportant and beliefs as mere opinion.  We must reaffirm conviction and commitment, retrieve togetherness, interdependence, symbiosis.