theologies of the third-way: David Bosch

October 3, 2008

I was visiting Annemie Bosch, the wife of David Bosch, yesterday to attempt to get some answers to questions I have. It was a deeply spiritual experience, in that it brought to life the theology with which I’ve been struggling for the past few weeks. Although I’ve been gripped by the writings of David Bosch for at least a year now, the conversation with her in a way deepened a personal commitment, a spiritual commitment, to that which I have been thinking about intellectually.

One story really stood out: While she and David Bosch attending a colloquem by Karl Barth, Barth said that “if I was on guard in the war, and my best friend was part of the enemy, and came walking over the bridge, I would shoot him”, to which a young man responded out loud: “No you would not”. Bosch wispered into the ear of Annemie “that man is a Mennonite”… that man was John Howard Yoder.

Bosch became good friends with Yoder, ever since the 1970’s if I remember correctly, and the theology of Yoder made a very deep impression on Bosch. It was not the only impression, and Bosch cannot be called a pure Anabaptist. From the beginning Bosch also had a very deep appreciation of Reformed theology, and found his own ecclesiology somewhere between the two, saying that that the Reformed tradition drew too direct a line between church and world, and the Anabaptists too sharp a distinction.

That was the value of Bosch though, the amazing way in which he could keep the creative tension between different perspective. All through his life the Anabaptist influence remainded, although it is not clearly visible to the reader of Transforming Mission not aware of this, since he later-on stopped using the ‘alternative community’ concept which he borrowed from the Anabaptist tradition. But if aware of this, you will find it in Transforming Mission, and even more clearly in Believing in the Future, where he reacts very positively towards Stanley Hauerwas.

Bosch’s is an approach in creative tension. His vision was that of a distinct community (the concept he used in the place of alternative community when writing Transforming Mission), but without rejecting the insights of Reformed ecclesiology, or even (in his later writings), liberation theology! Bosch could truely be considered a third-way theologian. This is clear in the way in which both Apartheid and Stuggle theologians was highly uncomfortable with him, but also had the greatest respect for him. It is especially clear in the way he interprets Jesus all through his career.

Some of this came from the research on my dissertaion. Will hopefully have  a first draft ready within 24 hours, and then upload it here. I need to print in by middle next week somewhere, but would appreciate any feedback, would obviously appreciate feedback afterwards as well, but I can consider it before printing that would be especially nice:-)

8 Responses to “theologies of the third-way: David Bosch”

  1. Thomas Says:

    I met Bosch, and studied him as part of my MA studies at Fuller Theological Seminary. I was particularly interested in his interpretation of Polanyi — and the problems that he himself could see in that.

  2. cobus Says:

    His critique of Polanyi has interested me as well, would love to see what you have written on that!

  3. andrew Says:

    fantastic. looking forward to reading it.

  4. great posts. I’ll definately take a read if you put it out there.

  5. cobus Says:

    Hopefully the first draft will be on within 24 hours, its getting to be a more complex argument than I would like…

  6. Steve Says:


    I’ve been looking at your WikiSpaces drafts, particularly on the “alternative community”.

    That interests me, because it was part of my history too. Different people may have different takes on it, but as far as I remember it was an ourgrowth of the hippie vision of an alternative society. There was a lot of talk of that in underground magazines in the late 60s and early 70s, and to Christians involved in or sympathetic to the movement this translated into the idea of the Church as the alternative community, the leaven that transforms the whole lump into the alternative society.

    Whether that fits in with “public theology”, I don’t know. The term “public theology” is new to me, and I know too little about it. But the concept of the church as alternative community was widespread and quite commonly held. One who propagated it in South Africa was Hans-Ruedi Weber, who spoke at the SA Congress on Mission and Evangelism in 1973, and whose book “Salty Christians” was translated into Zulu.

    In the South African context, too, this was translated into the church as a nonracial community, as an image or ikon of what South Africa could be if only it made grace operative rather than race.

  7. cobus Says:

    Apparently in 1979 at SACLA a number of people understood Bosch to be speaking of an alternative society when he talked about alternative community. In a part which isn’t on the wikispace yet (but should be on the blog by tomorrow morning), I point to that as a possible reason why he stopped using the term.

    I also conclude that Bosch does not fit into public theology as usually understood, but that he might help provide a way of doing public theology (theology taking part in the public discourse) which is not the classical “evangelical” and “ecumenical” divides which was very visible in public theology.

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