A Spirituality of the Road

by David J. Bosch, Herald Press, 1979, 92 pages.
Reviewed by Jack Heppner.

I found a re-reading of this book, two decades after my first exposure to it, of significant value in helping me formulate my understandings of Christian spirituality in my present context. David Bosch, a missionary theologian and statesman living in South Africa at the time he wrote this book, was tragically killed in an accident some years later. If this book is any indication, it is clear that he would have made major contributions to the missionary enterprise of the church had he been granted a longer life.

Bosch articulates the purpose of the book in the introduction. He notes he was hoping to lead away from a false kind of spirituality which is content with inwardness alone at the expense of active discipleship lived in the here and now. (p.7) In the process of doing this, Bosch draws much of his material from the mind and heart of the Apostle Paul as expressed in the Book of Second Corinthians. He suggests that Paul practiced a spirituality that reflected the “Way of the cross” instead of the “Pilgrim’s Progress” model on the one hand and the “Jonah” model on the other.

The “Pilgrim’s Progress” model, he notes, emphasizes a decisive break with the world, because the world is seen as a threat and a source of contamination. To be truly spiritual means to be otherworldly. It is somewhat comparable to a car that runs on batteries that can be charged up by spiritual exercises. But when the car moves out into the world the batteries begin to run down. That is to suggest that we are spiritual when we read the Bible and pray, but not when we begin to engage the world. Bosch notes that this view of spirituality is basically docetic, which views matter as evil. It also accepts a view of Christ that is monophysite – accepting his divine nature but denying his incarnation in the flesh.

On the other extreme, says Bosch, lies the “Jonah” model of spirituality. It recognizes God’s call for us not to “flee the city” but to enter it as God’s representatives. It would seem that when all things work well, this model should actually strengthen our sense of spirituality. The involvement in this world should lead to a deepening of our relationship with and dependence on God, and the deepening of this relationship should lead to increasing involvement in the world. (p.13) However, notes Bosch, those who focus mostly on engaging the world are tempted to remain docetic as well, only in a different way. They tend to see only the human side of Christ, sometimes losing a sense of spirituality all together or allowing it to become synonymous with secular humanism.

How, asks Bosch, was Paul able to avoid both of these fallacious extremes? It was not by trying to find a comfortable balance between the two – so much flight from the world and so much involvement with it. Rather Paul had a sense of a “spirituality of the road.” He recognized that we are always and at the same time called out of the world and sent into the world. (p.15) These are one and the same movement, so they can not be thought of as balancing each other out. Bosch suggests we should rather keep this “double-sided” movement in tension – and that is found in a third model he calls the model of the “Cross.” Jesus was never more worldly than on the cross, and he never stood against the world more clearly than here. (p.16)

After delineating this major thesis of the book in chapter one, Bosch then fleshes out in succeeding chapters what a “Spirituality of the Cross” meant for Paul “on the road.” While he makes specific application to those involved in missionary service, what he says is relevant for all Christians seeking to remain authentically spiritual while at the same time engaging the world. Paul demonstrates this enlarged vision of spirituality by his ability to be a “rejoicing captive,” an “ambassador for Christ,” and a “servant of Christ” – always having the “courage to be weak” so that the life of Christ might shine through the cracks in his armor.

David Bosch has given us a deeply penetrating book that is worth reading for all those in search of a spirituality that is good for the road.