In some strange way pages 108-113 in Transforming Mission seem to get missed by many readers. I co-lectured a class in theology of mission this year, in which Transforming Mission was the textbook, and in the oral exams not one student could tell me what passage from Luke according to Bosch forms the basis of Luke’s mission theology. Not one. Almost all of them knew that Matthew 28 was the main passage from that gospel, but somehow Luke 4 just passed over them (if you will be attending this class in future, consider this a tip).

Transforming Mission was not the only place where Bosch talked about Luke 4, the interpretation grew on him over years, and he wrote about it a number of times. But in this book of 500 pages, covering Jesus, three biblical perspectives, 2000 years of mission history, underlying paradigm theory, and 13 elements of mission, 5 pages get spent on just this one pericopé. That alone should get some alarm to go off that this is an extremely important passage for Bosch, and getting under the skin of his interpretation of this passage is of utmost importance.

Although some of it is quite technical, and I’m not going into every detail, the main point is attempting to understand why it is that the people of Nazareth want to throw Jesus off a cliff in the gospel of Luke. And Bosch attributes this to the fact that Jesus left out the part of God’s wrath when he quoted from Isiah 61. According to his view, Hebrew parallelism makes it clear that the “year of Jubilee” and the “day of the vengeance of our God” belong together, but Jesus never mentions the vengeance.

A minority viewpoint on the translation of verse 22 follows, which I hope helps in making sense of the pericopé, but I believe the message can be communicated without this viewpoint, so I’ll give that a skip. But as if Luke wants to make absolutely clear that this is intentional, he then has Jesus use two stories from the Hebrew scriptures, both in which non-Jews find grace from God. This infuriates the people from Nazareth! They have no room for a God that can love their enemies. In short, the God that Jesus talks about has too much grace, and too much love.

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I know some serious academics might find it strange that thoughts that I would hope to publish one day simply end up on a blog. But I can’t think of withholding info from anyone, so this is my presentation from the past SAMS conference I’ve been blogging about. It’s still in draft form, and some of the thoughts I have been challenged on, and wish to refine somewhat. I sincerely hope that if you read this you will provide me with your thoughts as well! Whether critique, questions, thoughts or simply continuing the conversation.

For those who have been following this blog I can give the following summary in short:

I believe we need to understand Mclaren and other voices in the emerging church as attempts at a contextualization of the gospel in there various mostly Western cultures. If we understand this, we can better be in dialogue with them, and resist being simply re-colonized by American voices who prescribe how we should be church in South Africa, but also better understand the contribution they do make to the larger conversation (if at all). What Bosch and others in missiology call interculturation is something I notice in Mclaren’s later work, and on these grounds future dialogue between Mclaren and South African theologians can continue.

SAMS 2010 – Contextualization of the gospel in the West: The emerging church and the example of Brian Mclaren

Andrew Jones’s post on the emerging church maturing has again caused a stir in the blogosphere. He talks about the movement going mainline, and ceasing to be radical and controversial. Danielle Shroyer has written a good response called What do you do when a revolution isn’t sexy anymore? (hat-tip to Steve Hayes). Actually, the tension about the end of the emerging church has been running for a number of years now, and immediately after reading Andrew’s post my mind jumped to the September 2008 “death of emerging” conversation. Although a lot of us took part in that conversation, it was the claims made at the Out of Ur blog that caught the attention of a lot of people.

Mark Sayers, in a post that was discussed somewhat earlier this year, wrote that: “at first the movement’s energy and internal dialogue is centered around defining itself against the common enemy. But then as time passes the internal dialogue of the movement begins to shift away from ‘defining against’ to ‘defining itself’.” This seems to be quite accurate of much of what has been happening in the emerging church conversation over the past few years. The moment, I believe, which best captured this was when Dan Kimball declared that he is using missional more, because of the tension around the term emerging, and because the definition has changed form what he intended in The Emerging Church. But many voices has been adding their ideas to the fact that the emerging movement is fractured, and worked to define it. Apart from Mark’s post, I quickly think of Mark Driscoll on this video and Jim Belcher in Deep Church, and in a way Tony Jones’s The New Christians also attempted to help to better define a specific interpretation of emerging. I believe this is already signs of a movement, a revolution, maturing.

When the revolution is over, a lot of work need to start. Danielle mentioned some of this work. This doesn’t mean that the revolution has failed, on the contrary.

The revolution need to be studied, to answer the question: What the hell happened? Andrew talked about this history writing, so did Steve. I believe there is a lot of work to be done to just try and figure out what happened in the church over the past couple of decades. Linked to this, is that we need to critically examen the voices from the revolution. We will have to recognize where we were just being “hip church”, rather than contextualizing the gospel in the Western culture. Voices need to be evaluated, and the reality is that in the long term we are going to look back and recognize that some who seemed to be part of the revolution just “didn’t get it”. This is needed for a movement to mature.

Furthermore we would have to recognize the wider context in which the revolution happened. Brian Mclaren has mentioned a broader conversation a number of times, mentioning that liberation theology, feminist theology, and postcolonial theology was in a way part of the same revolution, but preceded the emerging church. You can listen to an example of him speaking about this here. The emerging church still has a lot of work to do regarding it’s relationship to Third World theology. In spite of Amahoro, from this side of the equator it would seem like the interculturation that Bosch called for still isn’t happening, and till we can say that we (and with we, as an Afrikaner theologian, I’m applying the same challenge to myself than I am to my friends from the First World) are getting this right, serious questions must be asked about our claims that we are moving beyond the modern, colonial, mindset which we have been critiquing.

When Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to the church at Wittenberg, it was sexy. It was real sexy! He inspired revolutionaries after him with that act. He became a myth, to say the least. When the young John Calvin, a second generation reformer, wrote his Institutions, it wasn’t sexy at all. He inspired many to take the implications of the Reformation seriously, but he didn’t inspire a revolution with that act. But Calvin was needed. Calvin was needed aso to critique the revolutionaries before him, to point to them where they were stuck in some of the negative aspects of the Roman way they were revolting against. Calvin was needed to make things work in a new way.

I notice young theological students starting their training today, not even bothered by some of the more controversial doctrinal questions that is still running around in emerging conversations, because they were bred and fed in youth ministries that was part of the emerging conversation for years now. And I wonder, what will happen when these young people, not necessarily revolutionaries, but the result of a revolution, start doing church, living the way of Jesus as postmoderns no longer fighting against modernity?

I was born in 1984. The year Hans Küng visited South Africa, and delivered his groundbreaking lecture on paradigm shifts in theology at UNISA, which became the foundation of Transforming Mission.

I was two years old at the 1986 General Synod of the Dutch Reformed Church when the theological support of Apartheid was ended, and the gays were condemned.

I was 5/6 years old when Nelson Mandela en FW de Klerk was discussing the unity of a new South Africa.

I was 6 or 7 years old when white South Africans voted to end Apartheid, knowing that this will be the end of white government in South Africa.

I was 10 years old when we had the historic 1994 election, that went more smooth than anyone could expect. And I’ve lived through the birth pains of our young democracy, and I’ve seen how people could come together even though they absolutely disagree (think about the amazing story of Pieter Mulder and Jacob Zuma for example).

I was trained theologically while the unity conversations between the Dutch Reformed Church and the Uniting Reformed Church was very tense. And even though we still struggle with it, stories of hope did start to develop.

I was a senior theological student when we approached the gay issue again in 2007. I remember saying boldly that I can see no way in which the church can remain united, since we differ so strongly on this issue. But then Malan Nel made a suggestion at that amazing synod meeting, and the moderators found a way of putting unity above doctrinal and interpretation issues.

When Jim Belcher writes about unity he says:

UNITY

Is there a way forward? How do we get to the point where both sides can talk about their differences and learn from each other without being accused of heresy? By first agreeing about what binds Christians together. It is that simple. We have to arrive at what John Stott calls the “unity of the gospel.” All unity has a doctrinal aspect. No unity is possible without boundaries of thought and belief around something. There is always a limit to what any group can tolerate without being torn apart.

Deep Church

For Belcher it’s really simple. Agree with the three confessional statements in the pager following the above quote, and you will be allowed to be part of the “new ecumenism”, and not be called a “heretic”. An if you challenge this? Well, he don’t see a way in which unity is possible without these kinds of limits. Even though he has the examples of Jones and Pagitt earlier in the book.

If we were to use Belcher’s definition, we wouldn’t be one denomination any more. But we are.

If my conservative friends in the church used Belcher’s definition, they would have used the word “heresy” much more, but they don’t (at least not my conservative friends, there are some who do like this word).

And we know that Belcher’s “simple” isn’t so simple. Because real church unity, between people who really differ, on issues of race, gender and background. Between people who have a history of one group oppressing the other. Between people who are really divided on economic grounds, require much more than shared confession. It’s not that simple.

Maybe we found a way of putting a braai first, and listening. Knowing that we really disagree, also on “first-tier” stuff (to use Belcher’s language). But to be open to the possibility that we might be wrong (as David Bosch also taught us). Maybe we should listen to our own voices, Nelson Mandela, Desmund Tutu, David Bosch, Piet Meiring, Coenie Burger and others, when it comes to unity. If I listen to this top-seller, then maybe we have some stories of unity to share with the world that they need to hear, even though we are really struggling with unity.

I pointed to some of the things I believe to be key in understanding Transforming Mission by David Bosch in a previous post a few days ago. Flowing from my conversation with Tom Smith last week, I want to point to my new favorite Bosch quotes, and how they help us in understanding Transforming Mission.

Although it is Hans Küng whose theory Bosch use in pointing to paradigm changes in the church, on the phenomenon of paradigm changes, Bosch uses especially the work of Thomas Kuhn. In describing the current paradigm change, which Bosch calls postmodernism. In describing postmodernism Bosch recognizes it as appearing first in the natural sciences:

The first fundamental assault on it (it refers to rationalism from the previous paragraph on this page) did not (as one might have expected) come from the side of the human sciences. It came, quite surprisingly, from the very disciplines where the Cartesian and Newtonian canons appeared totally inviolable: the field of physics. (:350)

Using especially the work of Fritjof Capra and Micheal Polanyi, both who were initially specializing in the natural sciences before writing works of importance to philosophy, he then describes the emerging “model or theoretical structure, or a new “paradigm”” (:184). Although this is a topic for another day, I believe his strong reliance on those in the natural sciences provided for a more robust understanding of postmodernism.

It is the following quotes that I’d like to point to:

Rationality has to be expanded. One way of expanding it is to recognize that language cannot be absolutely accurate, that it is impossible finally to “define” either scientific laws or theological truths. To speak with Gregory Bateson, neither science nor theology “proves”; rather, they “probe”. This recognition has led to a reevaluation of the role of metaphor, myth, analogy, and the like, and to the rediscovery of the sese of mystery and enchantment. (:353)

… the authentic Christian position in this respect is one of humility and self-criticism. After the Enlightenment it would be irresponsible not to subject our “fudiciary framework” to severe criticism, or not to continue pondering the possibility that Truth may indeed differ from what we have thought it to be” (:360)

And yet, even as we are “humbly acknowledging the uncertainty of our own conclusions”, for a “fudiciary philosophy does not eliminate doubt”, the Christian continues to hold on to unproven beliefs. It is precisely such a self-critical posture of faith which may protect us against the “blind and deceptive” nature of a “creed inverted into a science”. A post-Enlightenment self-critical Christian stance may, in the modern world, be the only means of neutralizing the ideologies; it is the only vehicle that can save us from self-deception and free us from dependence on utopian dreams. (:361)

Within Bosch’s argument, it would seem to me that the pages from which the above quotes come is key to understanding his hermeneutical presuppositions. Missing these thoughts might lead us into literilizing a theological concept such as the “Missio Dei”, which within the postmodern approach of Bosch must be understood as metaphor. Missing these thoughts can also cause us to misuse Bosch to create another triumphant Missiology that make claims of providing the final and only possible solution for humankind, whether in this world or outside of it.

From Bosch we must construct a Missiology which self-critically holds to unproven beliefs, and recognize them as such, always holding to the possibility that Truth may indeed differ from what we have thought it to be…

I’ve been reading Transforming Mission a lot over the past few years, studying it, writing about it, talking to David Bosch’s wife Annemie a lot, both as a personal friend and to understand the person who wrote Transforming Mission better. I’ve also been looking at how people read Transforming Mission somewhat, and I have a feeling that we might be making a few mistakes in how we use David Bosch. So, two tips for reading Transforming Mission:

  1. Piet Meiring always says that David Bosch had this amazing encyclopedic ability. He could bring together the voices of a wide range of people and integrate them. When reading Transforming Mission you’ll see this. Bosch tell how certain ideas has developed and changed in the church. In doing this, Transforming Mission is the voice of the church in many places. Rather than saying “Bosch says”, in many places it’s better to day: “According to Bosch the church says”. When reading Bosch try and distinguish between the voice of Bosch and the historic voice of the church. It will bring life and dynamic to the book.
  2. If I understand Bosch correctly, then I think we’ve been overemphasizing the big chapters and undervalueing the inbetween chapters. The large mass of info is found in the chapters on Biblical perspectives (2-4), historical perspectives (6-9) and the elements of an emerging ecumenical missionary paradigm (12). However, I believe that the inbetween chapters, 1, 5, 10, 11 and 13, provide the backdrop against which the larger chapters should be read. If you don’t understand Bosch’s understanding of postmodernity, his use of Capra, Kuhn, Polanyi etc, then you’ll totally misread the larger chapters.

So try these two tips. Listen to hear the voice of Bosch, and read the book against the backdrop of the inbetween chapters.

Chris asked me today what Amahoro meant to me. My answer probably surprised the room: Amahoro called me back to the white Afrikaner people. Amahoro called me back to the Dutch Reformed Church, the white one. Linking with everyone from Africa was a great experience, and I look forward to joining the family next year in Nairobi, but for me the calling of Amahoro was not primarily to the worst suffering in Africa, but to a small tribe of people who are known for the efficiency with which we could oppress.

I probably need to explain.

This probably started when I seriously began digging into the missiology of David Bosch, and seeking for an approach to the emerging field of public theology which would take the work of Bosch into account. Up to now this haven’t really happened in the public theology conversation. Part of my discussion of Bosch was understanding his ecclesiology, specifically the way he used the alternative community concept of the Anabaptists, combined it with his own Reformed theology.

Bosch talked about the church as God’s experimental garden. The church is not only the community that is sent out to change the world, but also the place where we show the world what God’s dream would look like. For Bosch in the Apartheid years this would have meant showing an Apartheid government that black and white can live together, that the world isn’t going to come to an end when black and white share a meal.

What exactly all this mean to me I don’t know. But I do know that I pray for my people, and yes, I call the Afrikaners my people. I pray, and hear the voice of God calling this, that these people can in the years to come journey out of our heritage, and become part of Africa, of this continent with it’s struggles, with it’s African theologians and our beautiful way of talking about God amidst suffering. It’s like the way Bosch understood the reign of God, it’s here, but it’s still coming. The Afrikaner is part of Africa, but we are also still becoming part of Africa.

In different ways we responded to Amahoro. For me it wasn’t walking away from this church that still refuse to embrace Belhar, but embracing this church. Not embracing it as it is, but this deep feeling that I cannot go without them. I need to see these people transition. I cannot run and call them from afar, tell them how wonderful it is here on the other side, where we are wholly part of Africa. I need to walk with them. The world need us to make this journey, to show that yes, whatever you might remember about this group of people, through God even we can make this journey.

Nic said it at one stage at Amahoro. We pitch our tents out far, and then come back to the church and journey with them. Amahoro stretch the road to when my tent is pitched even further, but it also sent me back, I’ve seen something of the road, now I must go on the journey with others.

This is most probably not the last time I’ll blog on this. I just know that these words it not what’s going on in my head, but I need to start to try and formulate this truckload of thoughts that’s still racing.