David J. Bosch was one of the most significant missiologist of the twentieth century. His magnum opus, “Transforming Mission,” is used as a staple text in most missiology PhD. tracks. Below Bosch helps us understand how people used to think about mission;
“Margull defines mission as proclaiming the gospel “where no church as yet exists, where the Lordship of God has never yet historically been proclaimed, where pagans are the object of concern,” and evangelism as preaching to those who have left the church or who are living in a post-christian milieu, such as Eastern Europe. This view is still widely held, in Protestant as well as Roman Catholic circles, and it is usually linked to the view that “mission,” “out there,” is more important than “evangelism,” here in the West.” David J. Bosch, Believing in the future, pg. 29-30
Mission used to be thought of as something out there, as something we do oversees in un-Christainized places of the world, and evangelism as something that is focused on winning back the de-churched among us in our immediate culture. Now because of the post-Christian shift taking place in the West Bosch argues throughout “Believing in the future” that these old dichotomies have to be disposed of. Mission is to be perceived and pursued as something that happens right here in our Western culture, the West is a frontier field for mission.
The West, however, is not exactly like the frontier, cross-cultural missional engagements that the church has practiced oversees. The reason for the difference is found in the nature of the missions field of the West, it has a high volume of de-churched people living in an increasingly growing post-Christian culture which carries different idols and different cultural ghosts than over sea un-churched culture. This difference aside the missions field of the West is no less grueling because of its once Christainized character. Nevertheless it is true that reaching the post-Christian West involves the church today in addressing similar questions which frontier missionaries have walked through as they have landed on their “shores”:
What does it mean to speak the gospel in their language, with their cultural forms?
What does it mean to be a welcoming community in their culture?
Is there cultural baggage attached to the faces or persona’s of the missionaries themselves because of a prior witness?
How can we do worship with their cultural forms instead of our own?
Or perhaps an even more basic question what does incarnational witness look like to, for, and with them?
What does it mean to be a socio-political agent of shalom from the margins rather than the center of culture?
Etc., etc., etc…
As the church does this Bosch is quick to sound a sobering note that the church cannot fully and finally bring in the Kingdom of God. Inauguration, and consummation of the Kingdom work Jesus began and continues to do through the church, the work of his Father’s Kingdom; can only be brought to completion through the Trinitarian redemptive drama working itself out to its ending (i.e., the Father sending the Son and the Spirit to bring in His Kingdom in His timing in His ways with his people);
“This is not to suggest that we will build God’s kingdom on earth. It is not ours to inaugurate, but we can help make it more visible, more tangible; we can initiate approximations of God’s coming reign. That reign itself is, however, always beyond human utopias. In the end, it will not be built by human hands, not even Christian hands, but will be divinely bestowed upon us. And yet, even if, in the words of 1 Corinthians 7.29-32, we live in this world “as though” we are not of it, we may under no circumstance flee from it. We are in it, says Shenk, drawing on a biblical image, as “resident aliens,” which implies no call to quietism but, rather, to existing in “missionary encounter with the world, while knowing that no socio-political system can ever adequately and fully embody the new order of God’s reign.”” pg. 35
This last Bosch quote is a good way for me to close out this blog post. Talking and speaking about being missional and engaging post-Christian culture in the West is popular, and popular for all the right reasons. BUT there is a word of warning the church in the West should heed in Bosch’s last quote. The churches labors will not bring into being fully or finally the Kingdom of God. Our role individually in living missionally oriented lives, as well as corporately, is to realize that our actions are “prophetic embodiments” (Brueggemann) or another way of saying it is that we are living our faith in the form of “participationist eschatology” (Volf/Moltmann).
Simply put the church living in the post-Christian West is to wait upon the Lord, but to wait as though he has already returned and done what he has said he will do when he returns . . .