One of the Best Books of the Last Fifty Years

Ok, so I told you that to draw you in! But Kevin Vanhoozer did list David Bosch’s Transforming Mission as one of his 5 essential theology books of the past 25 years, and Christianity Today listed it in their top 100 books of the 2oth century. That’s surprising because before embarking on my latest studies I’d never heard of it, but having read it I’d have to agree with Vanhoozer’s assessment – it really is a tremendous read. It covers massive ground in an impressively thorough way and is educative and informative across a wide range of disciplines. As a church leader I wish I’d read it sooner. It covers the debates over the scope and definition of mission; New Testament models of mission; historical paradigms of mission from the ancient church, through medieval, to reformed, puritan, and contemporary models; and offers reflections for contemporary missiology in its broadest scope. It’s a demanding but rewarding read. Here are a few highlights:

“Christianity is missionary by its very nature, or it denies its very raison d’etre.”

“In the final analysis it was not the miracles of itinerant evangelists and wandering monks that impressed the populace – miracle workers were a familiar phenomenon in the ancient world – but the exemplary lives of ordinary Christians.”

“Mission is not a ‘fringe activity of a strongly established Church, a pious cause that [may] be attended to when the home fires [are] first brightly burning . . . Missionary activity is not so much the work of the church as simply the Church at work'” (citing Power)

“A church without mission or a mission without the church are both contradictions.”

“the church can be missionary only if its being-in-the-world is, at the same time, a being-different-from-the-world.”

“the church is both a theological and sociological entity, an inseparable union of the divine and the dusty. Looking at itself through the eyes of the world, the church realizes that it is disreputable and shabby, susceptible to all human frailties; looking at itself through the eyes of the believers, it perceives itself as a mystery, as the incorruptible Body of Christ on earth.”

“To participate in mission is to participate in the movement of God’s love toward people, since God is a fountain of sending love.”

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11 thoughts on “One of the Best Books of the Last Fifty Years

      1. Thinking about it, you probably didn’t do Chris Green’s mission course that was compulsory for us ordinands, where we did come across it. Surprised it was never on another reading list – perhaps independents aren’t interested in mission (you know I love you all really).

        He’s an interesting guy. A bit like Newbiggin, everyone across the theological spectrum seems to love him and he certainly set the tone for missiological discussion. I haven’t read it all, is he pretty in favour of the homogenous unit thingy (it’s too long since college!)?

      2. That’ll be it – we weren’t among the privileged elect able to participate in the Greenian blessings. Yes, he is a bit like Newbiggin in that regard. I’m just reading The Open Secret now – great stuff on rooting the church’s mission in the Missio Dei. Bosch (if I read him right) isn’t too big a fan of HUP. He can see it ‘works’ but I think argues, as I would, that it seems to deny the very thing the gospel seeks to do – bring diverse people together. My only disappointment with the Bosch is he gets a bit too broad in his ecumenism – basically, if they call themselves a Christian we should work with them, and the crying sin of our generation is denominational division. True, so long as we’re talking about genuine Christians. Unfortunately I’m not sure I could say that about the sort of spectrum of folk he’d include. Still doesn’t take away from what is, overall, an outstanding book. Hope you’re all well. Blessings.

  1. So how come it never got mentioned on the Advanced Chris Green course either then?

    As for mission I”m plodding through Chris Wright at the moment -and about to introduce a bunch of OMers to Bavinck and Kraemer

  2. What do you guys make of Wright vs the DeYoung and Gilbert book. I have only read a bit of Wright and heard him on it at Keswick. Mission Dei is very big in CoE, but it basically means lets do a coffee morning instead of tell people the gospel (a bit stark but you get my point). Wright is quite unusual as a solid evangelical, who buys into the Missio Dei stuff. He follows on from Stott of course, but I never really bought into the scissors thing.

    1. Personally I found Wright more persuasive exegetically. I think DeY/G have some good points (particularly regarding what the church does and what God does – so we should stop talking about ‘redeeming creation’ for example) but their discussion is seriously lacking in places. I have reviews somewhere in this blog of both books which you can search for. If that’s what CofE think Missio Dei is then I think they’ve probably misunderstood it. Missio Dei is simply saying God is at work in the world and the church is privileged to participate in some aspects of that work. Inevitably that broadens the definition of mission but would include witness through proclamation (as well as deeds of mercy etc).

  3. I need to look at DeY/G …so much to read, so little time -has anyone put together a guided reading programme for busy early day pastors? (!)

    Wright -I agree with Salts on the exegetical pursuasion. It’s always good to read someone who get’s you thinking hard about the text and the bigger storyline. The stuff on thinking paradigmatically is great as always (though how many books can a man produce on the back of one triangle?) and still thinking through the hermeneutical thesis. The general point of finding out what God’s mission is and playing our part is a helpful corrective to general tendencies (not just C’ofE) to latch onto the word mission as a fluffy way out of evangelism. I think this has been a broad tendency in church life -even evangelical to see mission as the practical/social alternative to telling the Gospel. The non C/ofE equivalent tends to be identifying “bridge building” ministries -of course these rarely are bridges -but what about saying that there must be permission established right from the start of any contact 1-1 or group based for proper gospel conversation/discipleship.

    Kramer and Bavinck -yes my main engagement with them was through Dan, esp in 4th year. They’re on the pre-suppositional apologetics page. It’s where Dan gets the subversive fulfilment stuff from. Good and mind stretching and has been helpful not just in how I approach apologetics but also for pastoral stuff as well. The thing about the Dutch Reformed guys and others in that general approach IMHO is that on the one hand, when you follow through the argument, it is rigerous, logical and makes sense -but if you just pick up the model and try and run with it then I think you’re going to find that people you engage with, both inside and outside the church just don’t think like that.

  4. Thanks again. That’s interesting on Wright (it’s such a big book I need other people to tell me what it says!). The problem with the CoE is that it has five marks of mission, which Wright approvingly mentioned at Keswick a couple of years ago. And it does include proclamation (in fact I think it comes first), but if you see it as multiple choice, you can still do four marks of mission without telling unbelievers about Jesus, which is appealing to our cowardly natures and to liberal theologies. My, maybe simple minded, take on it from the great commission was that evangelism and teaching (mark of mission 2 is discipleship I think) should lead to obedience to Jesus teaching. In that sense there is a logical and temporal priority in the great commission (and there should be in our marks of mission) and thus the mission of the church.

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