My brain is cluttered with thoughts concerning the church as “alternative community” at the moment. I’m writing a mini-dissertation at record speed, and my middle chapter concerned primarily some thoughts on this concept. For the purpose of my dissertation, I moved away from this concept, but didn’t reject it. I really think Bosch was able to keep this fine balance of always keeping the alternative community as part of the tensioness whole of our approaches to understanding the relation church and world. At the end of Transforming Mission he talks about a distinct community, which I believe communicates this more nuanced understanding, not the there-is-nothing-good-in-culture approach we found in Resident Aliens, but an understanding which have the church and especially individual Christians as part of the world, but always in way that is distinctly church. I started trying to explain this here.

Come have said that Bosch was probably the greatest South African theologian, and the current growing interest in Transforming Mission might also point to that. For me, and a few of us who studied at the University of Pretoria over the last few years, Andries van Aarde would be another one of the most brilliant theological minds that South African theology has ever delivered. In some circles he isn’t popular, because of his participation in historical Jesus research (on which I’ve written here). Van Aarde has recently been showing some interest in emerging literature, wrote a brilliant article in an academic journal using Mclaren’s the church on the other side concept, and seems like he might be developing more and more thoughts on what church is looking outside the institutional and denominational boundaries. Van Aarde also uses the alternative community concept.

In a recent paper delivered at a seminar on public theology, he used the concept not to point to an alternative on society, but an alternative on institutional church. Such alternative communties Van Aarde calls the church on the other side, which might be similar to some of the non-denominational communities we see forming within the emerging conversation.

Between 1975 and 1982, when David Bosch was using the alternative community concept, he used it to talk about a church which should change society by showing it that reconciliation was possible. This was especially concerned with racial reconciliation in South Africa. Bosch wanted the church to be a united church, in order to show society that unity is possible, and in that way help society to change.

Currently Van Aarde’s alternative communities consists of those who have already reached second naiveté. Without going into his argument, I just want to note that what he is talking about is communities consisting of those who have had a change in worldview and theology, and therefore no longer find themselves comfortable within the bounds of institutional church. But if part of this change (and Van Aarde is not saying this, but I have a gutt feel he might agree) include a larger emphasise on orthopraxy, then Bosch’s alternative communities of reconciliation might also be important in this.

Within a South African church context (speaking specifically from the Dutch Reformed Church of which I am part, but this reality I believe is still very common also outside my own church) of churches and congregations devided along racial and economic lines, a combination of Van Aarde and Bosch might be appropriate. We need alternative communities which can point to an alternative to existing churches. These communities should point the way forward, showing that unity is possible. Contrary to the earlier Bosch, this is not to provide a strong alternative upon society, for that his later distinct community remain more appropriate, but to help churches in forming communities which is reconciled. To point to way forward, showing us that it is possible to be a united church.

Hopefully this can be part of the gift which emerging churches in South Africa give the church in South Africa, and also give the world…