Review | Transforming Mission by David J. Bosch


Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission is a in-depth study on missiology (mission) from the New Testament to what can now be described as mission in a post-modern world. David Bosch is a great writer, very intelligent, and is very good at explaining multiple sides of one story while still keeping true to his own beliefs.

About David J. Bosch

David Bosch was professor of Missiology and a lecturer at the University of South Africa from 1971 to 1992, after working as a missionary in the Transkei province since 1957. Amongst other roles he had been that of general secretary for the South African Missionary Association, editor of the Missionalia journal and chaired various national Christian assemblies in South Africa. He died from a tragic road accident on April 1992. He was married to Annemarie Elisabeth.

The Book is split up into three sections whilst covering five major paradigm shifts throughout history. The three sections are:

1. New Testament Models of Mission

2. Historical Paradigms of Mission

3. Toward a Relevant Missiology

This Book is what I like to call a ‘fountain on knowledge’. I have never read a book that is as in-depth while also covering thousands of years of church history. Transforming mission is not a ‘light read’, you are going to want to take your time to understand what he is trying to say.

One of his main points is that mission is everything within the right context so Bosch defines what exactly he means when he talks about mission. David writes,

“Mission is, quite simply, the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus, wagering on a future that verifiable experience seems to believe. It is the good news of God’s love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world” P.519

However, the underlying argument tends towards agnosticism about the possibility of an agreed meaning for the word and concept of mission. This is explicit early in the book:

“Ultimately, mission remains indefinable. . . . The most we can hope for is to formulate some approximations of what mission is all about.” P.9

First, he argues that the Bible itself does not offer a single mission theology but several, and he distinguishes the approaches of Jesus, Matthew, Luke-Acts, and Paul. Consequently he suggests that it is impossible to build a single biblical theology of mission on which to base contemporary practice. There is a lot of debate whether that is right or wrong but I would view that as a caution when reading this book.

Bosch’s approach has been influential, but it moves towards a relativist and subjectivist approach to mission. This is essentially due to his pessimism about the possibility of a unified biblical theology of mission. However, while the diversity of the biblical testimony cannot be disputed, but by having a sceptic view about the basic unity of its witness, either with respect to mission or anything else. You could argue that the Bible offers a fundamentally unified picture of the mission of a God who, from Adam’s first act of sin, pursues rebellious people to redeem a people, a purpose whose realization is portrayed in John’s vision of “a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb”(Rev 7:9). That mission he now carries out through his church as it makes disciples of Jesus Christ.

Despite my concerns I would highly recommend Transforming Mission by David Bosch. It is a key reading in most missiological studies and Bosch challenges a lot of preconceptions about mission and gives valuable reflections and answers.

Transforming Mission is available from Amazon.