David Bosch, Public Theology, Social Justice

April 16, 2008

David Bosch is considered by many to be one of the best South Africa theologians of the last century. Tony Jones seem to like to introduce Stanley Hauerwas with the story of how he reacted to Time magazine saying: “best is not a theological category”, probably this should be said about Bosch as well, but in history certain people has come to forward at times of need, and helped the church in an exceptional way. Bosch helped us to formulate our Theology of Mission in a time when mission was in a time of crisis.

The crisis does not seem to be over, however. Still the arguments rage on about what mission is about, what we should understand under eschatology, and what the task of the church is about (see for example the recent post of Dan Kimball), and where the challenge of social justice should lay. In am article a few years ago Duncan Forrester defined Public Theology like this:

“Public Theology, as I understand it, is not primarily and directly evangelical theology which addresses the Gospel to the world in the hope of repentance and conversion. Rather, it is theology which seeks the welfare of the city before protecting the interests of the Church, or its proper liberty to preach the Gospel and celebrate the sacraments. Accordingly, public theology often takes ‘the world’s agenda’, or parts of it, as its own agenda, and seeks to offer distinctive and constructive insights from the treasury of faith to help in the building of a decent society, the restraint of evil, the curbing of violence, nation-building, and the reconciliation in the public arena, and so forth. It strives to offer something that is distinctive, and that is gospel…”
Forrester, D. 2004. The Scope of Public Theology

This seem to imply that theology, and not the church, talk to the public about issues of social justice (the work of David Tracy, The Analogical Imagination, seem to say something similar). I might not be the worlds biggest expert on Public Theology, but I’ve never read the name of David Bosch in the works of public theologians, although the work of Bosch is having a big influence in the conversations about being a missional church, and missional in this sense is then understood as being primarily an issue of social justice, not repentance and conversion; of hope in this world.

At this point I have to get out of the closet with why I’m writing this. Maybe I’ve misused this synchroblog, because I don’t bring new insight, or practical wisdom. Today I bring my questions to the table. My interest in public theology, missiology, and David Bosch (I learned to respect this name while still in school), and the fact that I have to write a mini-Dissertation within the next few months kind of came together… or at least, is struggling to come together, because I still struggle to formulate a research proposal which can help me with the problem: “How do Bosch and Public Theology fit together, if ever they do?”.

On social justice, what I think I am starting to pick up, is that the Public Theologians are looking for ways to communicate about social justice within a pluralist and non-Christian world. Bosch, it would seem, rather wrote about what the task of the church, within this same world, is when it come to issues of social justice.

But the Bosch that the world know (Bosch the theologian, not Bosch the missionary in Transkei) was a theologian, and concerned himself with a theological response, not with practical answers (although he also reminded us that you cannot write theology without keeping missionary practice in mind). It would seem, and this is just my guess, like Bosch had a different approach when talking about the same things someone like Forrester would talk about. He rather chose to stick with the category of mission, and rethink is for a new time.

It is something in this line which I would like to research in the coming months. Obviously I’ll keep you posted as I go along, and post parts of the dissertation as I’m writing, and would love to get some feedback as I go along. But for now I only have questions as to how both Bosch and the Public Theologians can be part of our conversation regarding social justice. And on a more urgent level, I need to formulate a research proposal, so any comments and questions would be helpful.

Was this out of line for the Synchroblog? I hope not…

For more on this months Social Justice Synchroblog, also read these other great bloggers:

13 Responses to “David Bosch, Public Theology, Social Justice”


  1. […] Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations: David Bosch, Public Theology, Social Justice […]

  2. Steve Says:

    One thing David Bosch did for me, particularly in his magnum opus, Transforming mission was to get me to look at mission and theology in terms of the premodern, modern and postmodern interpretive framework. It’s probably not the only possible interpretive framework, but it does help to make sense of a lot of things that just seemed to be a jumble before.

    But I’m not at all familiar with “public theology”.


  3. […] at In Reba’s World Prof Carlos Z. with Ramblings from a Sociologist Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations Cindy Harvey at Tracking the Edge Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church Matthew Stone at Matt […]

  4. cobus Says:

    Did Bosch ever use the premodern/modern/postmodern devision? Didn’t he use Kuhn’s six epochs rather?

  5. Phil Wyman Says:

    Out of line with the SynchroBlog!? As SynchroBlog Founder I will definitively answer that question.

    Ask all the other SynchroBloggers. If they say yes, I’ll kick ’em in the shins in my next post. 😉

    Great post Cob


  6. […] at In Reba’s World Prof Carlos Z. with Ramblings from a Sociologist Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations: David Bosch, Public Theology, Social Justice Cindy Harvey at Tracking the Edge Alan Knox at The Assembling of the Church Matthew Stone at Matt […]


  7. I feel I don’t have a ton to contribute at this moment, but wanted to thank you for including Bosch- having stumbled into his work for the first time this year, I can see why he’s such a huge influence in Emergent/Missional circles. We’ve got a wonderful theologian, Susan Abraham (she’s Indian, Catholic AND a feminist) bringing discussions of mission into Harvard Divinity, which has been fantastic. I think the title scared a few people off, but the class has been wonderful and we’re hoping to see it grow in a discussion here. Mission, however you approach it is such a generative topic in the church today.

    Love to hear more about that dissertation as it develops… and I’ll let you know of any insights as my class continues.


  8. […] Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations: David Bosch, Public Theology, Social Justice […]

  9. cobus Says:

    Thanx Phil. I didn’t want people to think I was misusing the synchroblog for asking some help. But in myself I thought that my request is stimulating conversation, and isn’t that exactly what we want?

    Kieran, I think that class must be a real experience. To hear from someone with such a different perspective than we white-western-protestant-males. Please let us know of the insights a class like that bring!

    I remember a module I had with professor Piet Meiring on third world theologies. It was one of the best modules I ever had, sadly almost no white people took it. I always thought they should make it a compulsory module.


  10. Cobus- thanks, it has been a great class. My professor is Catholic, but actually grew up on the Mar Toma Syriac indigenous church, which traces its lineage all the way back to the Apostle Thomas (and faced persecutions/splits by Catholics when they first arrived). She has some amazing perspectives, and we’ve really been trying to be true to understanding several major “takes” on mission down through the tradition while also honoring many global voices.

    Love to learn more about your experiences in South Africa. We’ve been studying your so very important history in another course I’m taking on Christian reconciliation and international conflicts.


  11. […] Storrar currently, and he talk about the work of Forrester a lot, I wrote something about Forrester here. And he use the word evangelical a lot. Basically, as I can understand, it boils down to the […]


  12. […] David Bosch, Public Theology, Social Jus […]


  13. […] Cobus van Wyngaard at My Contemplations: David Bosch, Public Theology, Social Justic […]


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