If there is a unifying thesis that runs through the bric-a-brac of reflections on violence that follow, it is that a similar paradox holds true for violence. At the forefront of our minds, the obvious signals of violence are acts of crime and terror, civil unrest, international conflict. But we should learn to step back, to disentangle ourselves from the fascinating lure of this directly visible “subjective” violence, violence performed by a clearly identifiable agent. We need to perceive the contours of the background which generates such outbursts. A step back enables us to identify a violence that sustains our very efforts to fight violence and to promote tolerance. This is the starting point, perhaps even the axiom, of the present book: subjective violence is just the most visible portion of a triumvirate that also includes two objective kinds of violence. First, there is a “symbolic” violence embodied in language and its forms, what Heidegger would call “our house of being.” As we shall see later, this violence is not only at work in the obvious-and extensively studied-cases of incitement and of the relations of social domination reproduced in our habitual speech forms: there is a more fundamental form of violence still that pertains to language as such, to its imposition of a certain universe of meaning. Second, there is what I call “systemic” violence, or the often catastrophic consequences of the smooth functioning of our economic and political systems.

Violence, p1


Third, there is the matter of violence. Support for violence is intrinsic to Marxism. Without condoning the violence of the status quo and Christians’ blessing of it (which is actually the bigger problem), one has to express concern about the support for revolutionary violence (which is actually the lesser problem, since it is really a response to the violence of the system) in some branches of liberation theology.

Transforming Mission, p441

They reflect on different aspects. But a common thread is an important reminder: the violence of the status quo is the bigger problem. I’m convinced we’ll achieve more if our public discourse tackle the issue of economic exclusion and inequality, inhumane living conditions and deep racism, elements of what I would consider to constitute the violence of the status quo today, almost inevitable by-products of the smooth functioning of our economic system. Violence, also in it’s “subjective” forms, is a serious problem facing South Africa. Yet the vigor with which we are tackling this issue might just be deflecting attention from the violence of the status quo, the violence that keep the the privileged the privileged, and the poor the poor. Creating the impression that the “real problem” is individual acts of violence associated with what is considered criminal, while this should be read symptom of a bigger problem of violence.


In what is quite common arguments to be found within the white church environment in South Africa, both the Belhar confession as well as the Kairos document is rejected because it “supports liberation theology, and therefore violence”. In an act of total hypocrisy white South Africans would make the claim of rejecting violence in toto, and therefore withdraw from supporting these so-called implicit justifications of violence. By describing this as an act of total hypocrisy I do not wish to claim that the non-violent position is impossible, but rather that we need to be skeptical of simple rejections of blatant violent acts by the oppressed.

As in many other cases, rereading Bosch might help us in our quest. On the issue of violence in liberation theology he writes

Third, there is the matter of violence. Support for violende is intrinsic to Marxism. Without condoning the violence of the status quo and Christians’ blessing of it (which is actually the bigger problem), one has to express concern about the support for revolutionary violence (which is actually the lesser problem, since it is really a response to the violence of the system) in some branches of liberation theology.

Transforming Mission, p441

It might be the most obvious insight ever, but we have developed an extensive set of tools to not face it: opposition to violence is primarily an opposition to the violence of the status quo. Any opposition to violence which condones the violence of the status quo is not an opposition to violence at all, but become just another hidden attempt at keeping the violence of the privileged in place. In herein obviously the total hypocrisy of white South Africans: the opposition to the support for revolutionary violence is an important Christian stance, but without an even stronger rejection and opposition to the violence of the status quo it becomes a hypocritical act.

However, the matter of violence contain a third aspect (and obviously many more, but at least this one I believe need to be lifted out). Apart from the revolutionary violence, the planned use of violence to call in a change in how the world is structured, there is the violence of the oppressed when the situation become unbearable. Is this not what Žižek call divine violence?

Divine violence should thus be conceived as divine in the precise sense of the old Latin motto vox populi, vox dei: not in the perverse sense of “we are doing it as mere instruments of the People’s Will,” but as the heroic assumption of the solitude of sovereign decision. It is adecision (to kill, to risk or lose one’s own life) made in absolute solitude, with no cover in the big Other. If it is extra-moral, it is not “immoral,” it does not give the agent licence just to kill with some kind of angelic innocence.When those outside the structured social field strike “blindly,” demanding and enacting immediate justice/vengeance, this is divine violence. Recall, a decade or so ago, the panic in Rio de Janeiro when crowds descended from the favelas into the rich part of the city and started looting and burning supermarkets. This was indeed divine violence … They were like biblical locusts, the divine punishment for men’s sinful ways.

Violence. Six sideways Reflections, p202

Is this then not the even bigger evil: that our rejection of the violence of the revolutionary without an even stronger opposition, and active dismantling of, the violence of the status quo, cause us to out of hand reject the violence of the oppressed. Those moments when those outside the structured social field strike “blindly,”. This we then describe as “criminal”*.

Is the true opposition to violence, and the truly theological stance, not inherently a focus on the violence of the status quo. Analyzing. Making public. Challenging. Not propagating the violent overthrow of the status quo, but recognizing that the appropriate response to both the revolutionary violence, as well as the divine violence of those outside the structured social field, is again a focus on the violence of the status quo.

* I don’t equate criminal violence with what Žižek call divine violence. Our response to criminal violence is something different. I simply point out that we use the description “criminal” broadly for all violence which challenge the status quo of the democracy.

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.

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.

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

I haven’t really blogged on Easter this year, as I usually do (2007, 2008), but I’ll be preaching on the Easter events again this Sunday, since I know that most of the kids sitting in that service wouldn’t have been to church over Easter weekend. But my preparation is a struggle! I know the kids in this service: They know nearly nothing of the Bible. Many haven’t been to church for a number of years now. And they are very prone to fundamentalism. Their fundamentalism worries me. But broader than the fact that I need to preach to these kids, I also need to find a way of talking about the cross; for myself. This has obviously not started today, but I’ve been theologizing about the cross probably for at least 9 years now, since the first time I led a small group of 13 year olds at a camp.

In the American conversation I notice a lot of talk about atonement. I found the fact that I don’t share this love of talk about atonement a bit strange, untill I realized that the Afrikaans translation of this word wasn’t one I ever heard much in church. Rather, we talked about salvation. But similar issues seem to be at stake.

If I’d ask the question “Why was Jesus crucified?” to a group of informed church members in our church, I’d probably get something in the line of the following: “God intended it” and “For our sins“. But my change in talking about the crucifixion isn’t that much a critique against these answers, but rather a reading of the Bible which calls for something else. I try and find the answer to the question “Why was Jesus crucified?” in the gospels, especially the synoptics, and I use historical and social scientific research as a lense in reading this.

Piet Meiring always talk about chapted 13 of Transforming Mission as vintage Bosch. If you want to know what Bosch thought, read chapter 13, he says. There Bosch the theologian moves to the background, and Bosch the preacher emerge, so to speak. I was just reading the part on salvation in Transforming Mission, and here Bosch does something similar than in chapter 13. His argument in both these parts is that we need to understand salvation and mission within the comprehensive christological framework – “his incarnation, earthly life, death, resurrection, and parousia” (p399). He explains the need for doing this with saying that

  • the Greek patristic tradition was orientated to the incarnation (I’ll have to read on the Orthodox church again to be able to point to the implication of this)
  • Western mission was oriented towards the end of Jesus’ life, his death on the cross. That tend to get us into a purely early Pauline understanding of salvation which focus on an apocalyptic event in the future
  • a Third model focused on the eartly life and ministry of Jesus, it was an ethical interpretation of salvation. According the Bosch this made Christ redundant in the end.

I think there is value in this comprehensive approach Bosch propose. However I’m thinking more and more that we should reorder this comprehensive narrative.

I love the historical Jesus writers. I really do. I’ve been reading parts of Nolan and Crossan again over the past two days. Bosch also liked the historical Jesus research, as can be seen in his approach to Transforming Mission. In writing Transforming Mission, he started out with the historical research on Jesus and the early church, and then moved onto three paradigms of mission found in the early church, this he found in Matthew, Luke and Paul. The historical Jesus research  help us in understanding Jesus, the person who lived and walked and talked in Galilea and Judea roundabout 27-33 AD. Who was crucified. Historical research has difficulty talking about the resurrection, not because of unbelieve, but the sources really makes it difficult (please make sure you really understand this point before critiquing). Historical research can however help us in understanding what the early church believed about this event.

The reordering I propose is to start where the early disciples started, and work in the same order that the story developed for the early church theologians.

  1. Jesus lives, walks and preaches in Galilea and Judea.
  2. He gets crucified
  3. The disciples experience him as alive and develops a theology of the resurrection
  4. Parousia (Christ’s second coming)
  5. A high Christology develops which lead to thoughts on the incarnation

So I simply moved the incarnation towards the end of the story. I think a fairly good case can be made that of these 5 elements, that was the one that became important to the early church last. My reason for doing this, is that when putting it first, we tend to answer the quesion “Why was Jesus crucified?” from the intentionality of God, while reality is that Jesus was crucified because the Jews [UPDATE: meaning, certain Jewish leaders, certain members of the Sanhedrin.  Thanx to Hugo’s comment] were really reallymad at him, and probably some Romans weren’t that fond of him either. This is reality: Some people really didn’t like Jesus, they didn’t like what he said or did, he was a threat, so they killed him. And at least some of what he said would have given enough reason to label him a terrorist, whether rightly so or not, so they could give him the death of a terrorist, and not of a religious heretic, which was being stoned, as with Stephen.

OK, but if this is why Jesus was crucified, where do we go from here? Well, we can say quite a lot about what Jesus said and did, the resurrection must have at least had a first meaning that what he said didn’t end with his death. That crucifying Jesus couldn’t kill what he started! But obviously his resurrection also gave rise to thoughts on his divinity, which I think there is also good evidence for that his disciples didn’t consider him divine before the resurrection, and it even took a while afterwards for the idea to sink in.

Only now could thoughts on the Parousia and incarnation develop. Now we could go full circle, or work backwords, and sya that if Jesus was God, and God was crucified, and a few obvious links with Jewish sacrificial rites can be made, and Jesus was God incarnate, then God’s intention with becoming incarnate in Jesus was to be crucified. That wouldn’t even be theologically incorrect! But that definitely is not the only interpretation! And I’m sure that wasn’t the first interpretation made in an upper room somewhere in Jerusalem; maybe it was in the house of Marcus’ mother, who later wrote a gospel with no incarnation as part of the narrative.

So, how do I preach it? I think historically a good case can be made that Jesus expected his own death. He knew about the rizing tensions, and that the leaders wanted to kill him. But did Jesus have to die? Yes, because the message he brought was so at odds with the rulers of the world, that they couldn’t exist side by side. Either he had to kill his message, or be killed because of the message. But the resurrection tell the story of hope, what Jesus brought cannot be killed! If I now turn the narrative into it’s usual order, I’d say that this is so at odds with what God is bringing to the world, that it would even go so far as to try and kill it, but it cannot be killed! The world cannot stop what God is bringing about in it.

Maybe I’ll have some more thoughts on how to preach this before Sunday. If you’ve actually read all the way down to this point, thank you! Let me know, and please critique and add on.