Wednesday, August 31, 2011

David Bosch's Definition of Evangelism



David Bosch's views on evangelism and further on, his definition of evangelism, are taken from his missional masterpiece Transforming Mission. Within the section "Mission as Evangelism", Bosch highlights some helpful pointers when it comes to evangelism and sorting out its definition. He lists 18 particular points about evangelism, and they are listed here, with a few comments interspersed (see Transforming Mission, 1991: 409-420). Also, I have outlined David Bosch's definition of evangelism at the end of this article, which is well worth a study!

  1. Mission encompasses more than evangelism. Moltmann writes, 'Evangelization is mission, but mission is not merely evangelization'. Mission is a broader all encompassing view that includes evangelism as a vital part, but also includes the work of justice and the reconciling of the world to the glory of God.

  2. Evangelism should not be equated with mission (based on the previous comment). If this mission = evangelism model exists, it can close off other missionary endeveours that do not fit into the evangelical spectrum. Bosch writes, 'It is better to uphold the distinctiveness of evangelism within the wider mission of the church' (: 412).

  3. Evangelism may be viewed as an essential "dimension of the total activity of the Church". This is different than saying that evangelism is a 'department' of the church, or something Christians take part in once a week. Evangelism is seen within the context of the entire church, and is what flows out of the life and ministry of the local church.

  4. Evangelism involves witnessing to what God has done, is doing, and will do. This is referring to the good news (euangelion) of Jesus Christ! We are witnesses to this good news; the life, death, resurrection and soon to return Christ, who seeks to establish his Kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven.  

  5. Evangelism aims at a response. The first thing Jesus says, as recorded in Mark's Gospel is 'The time has come. The Kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news. (See Pete's Bible Commentary on Mark 1:14-20). The gospel always aims at a response. Bosch at times downplays this part of the salvation narrative, whereas many evangelicals would define this as a necessary moment in someone's life. The turning of one's life over to Christ - from darkness to light.   

  6. Evangelism is always invitation. Put more correctly, Bosch is indicating that evangelism should always be invitation, that is, it should not be communicated as 'turn or burn', 'repent or die', which may be more about coercing people into the kingdom than 'loving' them into the kingdom. I am sure hardcore evangelists probably would disagree with Bosch's assertions. In the end, we are in need of the Holy Spirit to draw people to repentance, whatever the form of communication. My desire is that people would turn to Christ, and that our words and actions would be seasoned with salt and be effective in having people consider their lives on a deeper level.
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  7. The one who evangelizes is a witness not a judge.

  8. Even though we ought to be modest about the character and effectiveness of our witness, evangelism remains an indispensable ministry. Evangelism is not an optional extra. Evangelism is indispensable.

  9. Evangelism is only possible when the community that evangelizes- the church- is a radiant manifestation of the Christian faith and exhibits an attractive lifestyle. To be technically correct, I would reword this statement to say, 'Evangelism is only most effective when...' as evangelism IS still possible even with Christians who do not reflect an 'attractive lifestyle'. Though, the Church needs people who WILL reflect an 'attractive lifestyle', in fact, what goes through my mind, is this should even need mentioning! Christians, who love Jesus, and are filled with the Holy Spirit, should naturally be living a life that honours him, and the church SHOULD be reflecting the image of God.

  10. Evangelism offers people salvation as a present gift and with it assurance of eternal bliss. Bosch quotes that evangelism offers people, 'a transcendent and eschatological salvation, which indeed has its beginning in this life but which is fulfilled in eternity'.

  11. Evangelism is not proselytism. David Bosch is referring here to the fact that evangelism is not about making prostestants catholics, or making catholics to become prostestants, etc, etc. Evangelism is about people turning to Christ.

  12. Evangelism is not the same as church extension. The focus on evangelism should not be about the growth of the church per se; though effective evangelism will no doubt cause a growth within the local church. Evangelism is about people coming to faith in Christ, and comes out of God's people having the desire to see that none should perish.
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  13. To distinguish between evangelism and membership recruitment is not to suggest, though, that they are disconnected. I think Bosch is attempting to make the point, that some churches may take part in effective evangelism, and not necessarily see an increase in their membership. Though evangelism and church membership are closely linked, they are not one in the same. 

  14. In evangelism, "only people can be addressed and only people can respond". While the work of mission may encompass whole nations in repentance, or seeking justice for the oppressed, evangelism always has, and always will involve a personal response. While the gospel is not individualistic, for example, the good news is for everyone; the gospel involves an individualistic response. We still pray the gospel affects nations and Governments and economies and the like, but we understand that God requires the repenting of individuals; having faith in the death and resurrection of his son, Jesus Christ.

  15. Authentic evangelism is always contextual. Bosch is a little confusing on this point. His monologue suggests we don't let evangelism and the message of the good news simply fall into our culture, e.g. come to Christ and he will give you peace (because you are feeling down at the moment), or follow Jesus and he will give you all that you need (because you lack something). We need to embrace the full good news of the gospel. I struggle then to relate these words to 'authentic evangelism is always contextual'. I am sure some can share some light for me on point 15!

  16. Evangelism cannot be divorced from the preaching and practicing of justice. Bosch comes against the idea that Mission = Evangelism + Social Justice. Evangelism, he says, is far too embracing, or rather, evangelism will affect things in the justice realm, because of the inherent nature of responding to Christ. I agree with him on this. The rationale is that you cannot simply divide evangelism and social justice up into two neat packages, and employ one person to head up each of these departments in the church. When evangelism happens - people turn to Christ - social justice will happen atleast to some extent. Sure, extreme poverty will not be alleviated, for example, but evangelism in a sense IS a form of social justice. Maybe we are playing semantics here... so lets move on.

  17. Evangelism is not a mechanism to hasten the return of Christ as some suggest. I question whether I should agree with this statement or not. I am inclined to disagree with the proposition. While it is fair enough to question our motivation for evangelism, and to critically analyse those who embrace evangelism to simply bring on Christ's return. It is another thing to say that evangelism will not quicken the return of Christ. It is also mutually exclusive to whether Christian's have predicted correctly or not, the time of Christ's return. Or put it differently - just because someone has wrongly predicted the date of the return of Christ, based on their evangelical efforts, does not then presuppose that evangelism in and of itself does not hasten the return of Christ.  

  18. Evangelism is not only verbal proclamation. Newbigin writes, 'Words interpret deeds and deeds validate words, which does not mean that every deed must have a word attached to it, nor every word a deed'. That being said, it is imperative that we verbally proclaim the good news. As Bosch writes, 'In a society marked by relativism and agnosticism it is necessary to name the Name of the One in whom we believe'.

So there are David Bosch's views on evangelism, with a few of my points thrown in. To finish this outline of evangelism, let's finish with an exhaustive definition from Bosch on evangelism.

David Bosch's definition of evangelism - '...that dimension and activity of the church's mission which, by word and deed and in the light of particular conditions and a particular context, offers every person and community, everywhere, a valid opportunity to be directly challenged to a radical reorientation of their lives, a reorientation which involves such things as deliverance from slavery to the world and its powers; embracing Christ as Savior and Lord; becoming a living member of his community, the church; being enlisted into his service of reconciliation, peace, and justice on earth; and being committed to God's purpose of placing all things under the rule of Christ.' (: 420). Now that's a definition of evangelism! Phew!
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For more discussion go to our 'Disciples in Training' page on Facebook.
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The headings of the above 18 points on evangelism are attributed to David Bosch, a great South African Missiologist. These are taken from his book, Transforming Mission, 1991, pages 409-420. Taken together, Bosch helps us clearly make a sound definition of evangelism, which equips us for more effective ministry today.

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