By far the most important book that I have read about mission, and I have been reading and studying mission since I did an M.A. on the subject in 1973, is David J. Bosch’s magisterial book, Transforming Mission. I assign this text to every class that I teach on missional-ecumenism. In the judgment of a large number of missiologists this book is the magnum opus on the subject. The author tragically died in a car accident in South Africa shortly after the book was completed and before it was actually published. I will say more about this great book in the future but I want to encourage serious readers regarding its importance. If you are a pastor you ought to read it. If you are a church planter you must read it. If you are young, emergent, passionate about all things related to postmodernism, interested in framing a new paradigm of mission, then this is the book you should read. Even if you are not formally trained in missiology and theology you should attempt reading it. The sections on the biblical texts on mission alone are worth the book’s price. Bosch studied in Europe under both Barth and Cullman and was a first-rate biblical and theological scholar.
David Bosch (1929-1992) delineates six distinct subsequent models for missions followed by Christendom. He begins with a three-pronged analysis of missions in the ministries of Matthew, Luke and Paul. Following majority strains of missiology, he addresses the Hellenistic patristic period, Catholicism in the middle ages, Othodoxy, the Protestant Reformation, the current model and the burgeoning post-modern version. Chapter Twelve, on the need for a new paradigm, and the ways that Bosch lays out his own paradigm, is the centerpiece of the book. This very long chapter is vital to all contemporary discussion about postmodernism, post-Christendom, etc. When I listen to so many people write and talk about these subjects, on blog after blog, I often think, “They would benefit so much if they would read David Bosch.”
When Bosch was asked to define mission he answered:
Mission is, quite simply, the participation of Christians in the liberating mission of Jesus, wagering on a future that verifiable experience seems to believe. It is the good news of God's love, incarnated in the witness of a community, for the sake of the world (Transforming Mission, 519).
I believe this is as sound and biblical an answer as I have read. It is also a rightly provocative answer that begs church leaders to pay attention to every word in his answer. Mission is:
1. It is not sending others to do work for us.
2. It is participation in the liberating mission of Jesus to set people free.
3. It wagers, by faith, on a future that seems utterly impossible based on modern human experience.
4. It is “good news” about the love of God in the incarnation and life of Jesus, which of course includes his death and resurrection, etc.
5. It is incarnated in the communal witness of God’s people; e.g. the church.
6. It is always for the sake of the world, not ourselves. We exist for others. Emil Brunner put this well, “The church exists for mission as fire exists for burning.”
Why does your church exist? For what and for whom? You should ask and the answer will tell you whether or not you have understood and engaged in Christ’s mission or not.