David Bosch and the South African emergence (part 1)

March 30, 2009

Mark Sayers (Australia) has brought some conversation to the table by classfying many different “neo-“movements within the emerging stream. Andrew Jones (UK) consider himself something of a neo-missiologist or a blender and Jonny Baker (UK) simply considered it to be a normal and not problematic if you look at it from a network while Brother Maynard (Canada) can’t seem to place himself. In the South African conversation Steve Hays has already mentioned that Sayers definitions doesn’t really fit our own scene, and that reality might be a bit complex. All over there seems to be a general feeling that people might not really fit exactly into these categories.

I’m not going to say much about the “death of emerging” conversation last year, which in the end concerned mainly the American conversation. I had some links to what I consider to be  important posts here, and Andrew Jones had some here and here. Within Sayers’ division, the two sides to the coin within the American conversation at that stage might have been neo-liberal (a very bad label indeed) and blenders.

Steve Hays asked a bit about the South African conversation. Where are we? Here’s some thoughts from me, a 20-something Dutch Reformed pastor and student of theology. Linked with this conversation for about 2 and a half years, and part of the network that probably got together through emergingafrica.

For I believe a growing group of us, the work of David Bosch is becoming key to the emerging conversation in South Africa. He’s had an important influence on thinkers such as Alan Hirsch and Brian Mclaren, he is South African, he wrote brilliantly, and on the questions that we are currently asking. So in attempting to answer the question I’ll refer to my own and other’s interpretation of Bosch, and show where I believe Bosch is guiding us at the moment.

David Bosch was trained in Europe, in New Testament under Oscar Cullman. Ons of his greatest contributions to the church (in my humble opinion) was that he provided the tools for conversation between the evangelicals and ecumenicals wintin the 70’s and 80’s church scene. He provided very strong critique of anyone who emphasized either evangelism or social justice as having priority over the other.

For me one of the most important keys to understanding where Bosch found himself comfortable is the 1982 article in the Journal of Theology for Southern Africa, titled: How my mind has changed: Mission and the Alternative Community. In the article Bosch find himself comfortable in combining the ecclesiology of the Anabaptists and the Reformed tradition in their understanding of the relationship between the church and the world. “The more identifiably seperate and unique the church is as a community of believers (Anabaptism) the greater significance it has for the world (Calvinism)“. This would allign most closely with Sayers’ neo-anabaptism. His neo-calvinism is however something totally different, Bosch didn’t think that an emphasis on mission would be contrary to Calvinism, he rather understood Calvinism to be inherently missional, although drawing to direct a line between church and world (the Charismatic and American Evangelical influence on neo-Calvinism might be responsible for proponents of this network to not see this traditional Calvinist ecclesiology as being missional).

Steve Hays has pointed to the fact that many in the South African conversation seem to be reacting against Calvinism. Tom Smith has maybe pointed to some of the discomfort South Africans experience with Calvinism, in that we see Calvinism as undervaluing orthopraxis. Bosch didn’t undervalue Orthopraxis however (see the posts appearing from our recent discussion on chapter 2 of Transforming Mission for this). In a country where the Afrikaans community (which make up the majority of the white population) has historically been 99% Reformed, we’d have to see how our relationship to this historical faith plays out in the emerging conversation.

OK, this post is becoming long. Let’s summarize by simply saying that neo-anabaptism rather than neo-calvinism seem to be the stronger emphasis from where I’m coming from, and in how I read Bosch up to now. More tomorrow.

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6 Responses to “David Bosch and the South African emergence (part 1)”

  1. Steve Says:

    Cobus,

    I don’t think I see Reformed people in SA defining themselves against Calvinism as such, but rather against the neo-Calvinism of people like Dooyeweerd and Kuijper, which was used (or misudes) by some in South Africa to justfy apartheid. I don’t think David Bosch followed that line, and so I would count him among those who reacted against it.

    But in David’s earlier book Witness to the world you can see him reacting against the DRC missional ecclesiology of 20-30 years earlier, which he grew up with, and was reacting against. That was the ecclesiology of “mother” and “daughter” churches, which he mentions quite a bit in that book. Willem Saayman once told me that the DRC missional ecclesiology and impetus for mission of that era (the 1950s) was shaped by the Tomlinson commission, which was the blueprint for apartheid. And so Bosch writes from within that tradition, and shows why he thinks it is no longer adequate (if, indeed, it ever was adequate).

    I grew up in an entirely different tradition, with a very different missional ecclesiology — the Anglican, or Anglo-Catholic tradition, which had an entirely different conception of “mother” and “daughter” churches and several other things which it would take too long to explain here. It took me a long time to understand what David Bosch was talking about, even though he writes quite clearly, because much of his writing (even in “Witness to the world”) assumes a theological background that I lacked.

    So I don’t think Sayers’s categories, like “neo-Calvinist” make much sense, because I think it is very different from what many people think of as “neo-Calvinist”, especially in South Africa. I think people like David Bosch and Beyers Naude were inluenced by the Anabaptist tradition (people like John Yoder) — not that they stopped being Calvinists, but they rejected neo-Calvinism.

  2. cobus Says:

    The DRC response to Calvinism is like one of those things that’s just not talked about… but there is definitely some discomfort with it, or at least a sense of that it would be easier to just ignore Calvinism.

    The neo-calvinism that someone like Mark Driscoll is talking about is something different from Kuijper et al. He links it more to the early American evangelical movement with Graham and them, which Bosch would also not be comfortable with.

    So I think that neo-calvinism is used in many different ways in this conversation, and calvinism is understood in many different ways.


  3. […] You may want to take me to task for making a connection between Lesslie Newbigin and Brian McLaren but before you do that I would like to draw your attention to an even more shocking notion that is making headway in the ranks of our new generation of South African pastors, one that needs to be taken very seriously, and that is the view that David Bosch is having a major influence on the emergent church in South Africa. The following very telling statement appears on Cobus van Wyngaard’s blog My Contemplations […]


  4. […] In the midst of the Purpose Driven craze and an apparently sleeping church, Brian McLaren has endorsed a book that calls the doctrine of the Cross a vile doctrine. (p. 168, Reimagining Christianity – Alan Jones) (Emphasis added). You may want to take me to task for making a connection between Lesslie Newbigin and Brian McLaren but before you do that I would like to draw your attention to an even more shocking notion that is making headway in the ranks of our new generation of South African pastors, one that needs to be taken very seriously, and that is the view that David Bosch is having a major influence on the emergent church in South Africa. The following very telling statement appears on Cobus van Wyngaard’s blog My Contemplations: […]


  5. […] church in South Africa. The following very telling statement appears on Cobus van Wyngaard’s blog My Contemplations: […]


  6. […] You may want to take me to task for making a connection between Lesslie Newbigin and Brian McLaren but before you do that I would like to draw your attention to an even more shocking notion that is making headway in the ranks of our new generation of South African pastors, one that needs to be taken very seriously, and that is the view that David Bosch is having a major influence on the emergent church in South Africa. The following very telling statement appears on Cobus van Wyngaard’s blog My Contemplations […]


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