David Bosch on the Lausanne Covenent

September 26, 2008

With Scot McKnight, Dan Kimball, and others starting their new network based on the Lausanne Covenent, it might be a good time to again reflect on the thoughts of David Bosch on the Lausanne Covenent. This was written in 1974, so Bosch knew about it, and wrote about it quite a lot. Regarding the current conversation about the term emerging, let’s just say that I don’t think the term is dead, and others are starting to say similar things, and that coming from different sides of the conversation.

I’m not gonna put references into the post, but you can follow his argument by reading Witness to the World and Transforming Mission, and checking the index to see where he is talking about Lausanne, and then his article titled The Scope of Mission publiched in the International Review of Mission, January 1984 (page 17-32). I’ll be spending some time on this in chapter three of my dissertation, which will be published on the wikispace I created for it next week, better references can be found there.

Time and again Bosch critiques the Lausanne Covenant for making evangelism primary and service secondary. This critique will be found from the late 70’s, right through the 80’s into the early 90’s, when Bosch died. Although Bosch admits the advantage of the “evangelism plus social responsibility” approach, he rejects it in the end. Now, on many occasions Bosch took the time to recognize points of Lausanne that he agreed with, but differed when it came to the primacy of evangelism part, which seem to be what is important in the current conversation, since so much of it concerns evangelism.

Interesting is that Bosch, even after knowing that Luke 4, rather than Matthew 28, was becoming the primary mission text, still seem to opt for the Matthew text. But he then points out that Matthew should not be understood within this view of evangelism being primary, but rather within the framework of teaching people justice-love. For Bosch the ultimate mission is the establishment of justice, and he doesn’t believe that if individuals have a personal experience of Chris in traditional pietistic terms they will automatically become involved in the changing of society.

Bosch wasn’t against evangelism. He wrote about it frequently and passionately. But Bosch helps us to put evangelism within a balanced perspective. Maybe all of us, no matter from which side of the emerging conversation we come from, need to again sit down and read what this great thinker of mission have written.


7 Responses to “David Bosch on the Lausanne Covenent”

  1. Steve K. Says:

    Cobus, thanks so much for this. This is extremely helpful. It’s yet another reminder that we must be holistic in our expression of the Gospel. I’m excited to spend some time on the Bosch wiki you’re maintaining.

  2. Cobus Says:

    A number of us will be starting a Bosch reading group next year, hopefully that will be bringing some more of Bosch’s thoughts to the table.

  3. Tom Smith Says:


    I would love to be part of the reading group.

  4. cobus Says:

    We would love it if you are part! Will keep you updated.

  5. […] fashion grab onto the evangelical visions of the mid-20th century (see an earlier post on the Lausanne Covenent) and earlier and let this fill the meaning of what missional is about (obviously the same can be […]

  6. […] There might however be another way in which the neo-missiologists is surfacing in South Africa: The Partnership for Missional Churches. Alan Hirsch is an important guy for those in this network, and I have a feeling growing in importance. These guys have a great respect for the work of David Bosch. Nelus Niemandt in his book Nuwe Drome vir Nuwe Werklikhede (Chapter 1 – only available in Afrikaans) seem to make a very strong connection between them and the Emerging Church. If Matt Stone is correct that the neo-missiologists have the same thinking on Lausanne than the blenders, then looking at how people think on this document might help us in understanding them. I’ve written on David Bosch’s thoughts on Lausanne here. […]

  7. […] because that is what we believe the gospel to be. In the writings of Bosch you can look at his reactions to the 1974 Lausanne covenant to see his reactions to the idea that what was called evangelism is somehow the […]

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