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…


alice-in-front-of-rabbit-hole9Theology never should be a simple set of answers to lifes complex questions. It’s a system that creates a whole understanding of reality, God, life, and if it’s Christian theology, the place that the story of Israel and the life of Jesus of Nazareth takes in understanding this reality. This said, reality is that you cannot simply change one of the answers on your list, and expect everything to remain the same. Rather, when you start pulling on one of the threads on your web of ideas, and observe closely, you’ll soon notice that the whole web is changing, the whole system is changing.

It’s like falling down Alice’s rabbit-hole, the further you fall down, the more you realize that the world in which you lived will never again be the same. Everything has changed. And you cannot go back. This is obviously not only true of theology. This trip down the rabbit hole we call a paradigm change.

  • If you fall down the rabbit-hole and realize that the three-storied-universe need be dropped, much need to be changed. Where is hell if not down under? When is heaven if not up there? Where is the spirit world if not inbetween?
  • If you fall down the rabbit-hole and Plato’s dualism starts crumbling, it raises a number of questions (most of which I don’t even understand yet) on body and spirit, spirit-world and flesh-world, God-world and human-world. Can these actaully be taken apart like we do?
  • If you fall down the rabbit-hole and western rationalism with it’s veto-right in every conversation starts to become a little blurry, then much of you’re critique on mystical experiences feel a little shaky. Then much of you apologetics, from whichever side of the argument, just becomes relativized.

Thomas Kuhn called the rabbit-hole paradigm changes, “the entire constellation of beliefs, values, techniques, and so on shared by the members of a given community”. Hans Küng used his theory and applied it to theology. David Bosch has made one of his biggest contributions to the world of theology by applying Kuhn and Küng to missiology. This was the task of Transforming Mission. The church still seem to be struggling with the implications of the rabbit-hole that we are falling down into when it comes to missiology.

  • The imperialistic approach of medieval and colonialist times still pops up every now and again, where mission and the expansion of the empire (or the expansion of American culture) goes hand in hand.
  • The apologetics of conservative high-modernists still remain popular in places.
  • The conversion of souls to become part of heaven and the church from early Roman-Catholic times has not left us yet.

If you want to understand Transforming Mission, if you want to understand David Bosch. One of the key chapters would be Chapter 5. You need to understand how Bosch used Kuhn, Küng and Capra. Not doing this will make Transforming Mission another book of quotes which you use when it fits your own approach to missiology.

This post is part of the posts growing out of our discussion of Transforming Mission. I’ve blogged on previous chapters here:

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

And others who have blogged on our last discussion (chapter 5 and 6 of Transforming mission) can be found here:

Arthur Stewert