Bosch and the Totus Christus

Last week someone questioned me about Bosch’s use of totus Christus (the whole Christ) in the quote from my last post:

We stand in need of an interpretation of salvation which operates within a comprehensive christological framework, which makes the totus Christus–His incarnation, earthly life, death, resurrection, and parousia–indispensable for church and theology.

Totus Christus- the Corporate Christ

Bosch seems to be using the term totus Christus differently from its historical meaning. The term originates with Augustine around the 5th century and basically means that Christ and His body are one organic entity. Verses like Matthew 25:40 and Acts 9:4 show Christ’s own acknowledgment of this union by affirming that what is done to His body is done to Him. Augustine deduced:

So then we are He, in that we are His members, in that we are His Body, in that He is our Head, in that Whole Christ is both Head and Body.

–Augustine, Sermons 133.8

David Vincent Meconi has a lengthy section on Augustine’s understanding of this term in his new book The One Christ- St. Augustine’s Theology of Deification:

The “whole Christ” is the divinely human head inseparable from the body which he has assumed, now constituting one person. –p. 196

The “whole Christ” is now understood to be both head and body, organic and inseparable, both divine and human, both Savior and sinner. –p. 204

The totus Christus is thus one single organism animated and amalgamated by grace: from the head to all members, Christ expands his life into all those who humbly follow him. –p. 233

In using the term totus Christus, Augustine was harnessing Christology to a high view of ecclesiology, in part, prompted by the Donatist controversy. The Donatists were a schismatic group that separated from the larger Christian church in the early 4th century because of their outrage over those who had caved under the pressure of persecution and handed over their Scriptures to authorities. Augustine combated the Donatists by maintaining the seriousness of dividing the church. Both sides affirmed orthodox Christology, but had different views of ecclesiology. Augustine argued that actually the Donatists had a deficient Christology, evidenced by their division that damaged the “whole Christ.” Those who cleave the church, act against Christ. Thus Meconi concludes, “the major ecclesial construct for Augustine is the ‘whole Christ’.”

Totus Christus- the Full Process of Christ

Bosch employs the term to refer to the whole extent of Christ’s historical process, just as he lists it- incarnation through parousia.

Whereas Augustine employed the term to connect Christology to ecclesiology, Bosch makes the connection between Christology and soteriology. Bosch’s concern is that different missionary enterprises throughout church history have operated under an incomplete understanding of how Christ relates to salvation. They have divided, not the church, but Christ, parceling Him out into segments of salvific significance. Bosch is concerned that Christ’s full historical process has not been adequately appropriated in the church’s understanding of salvation.

Our understanding of what exactly salvation is, must reflect the full extent of what Christ has experienced. The totus Christus (in the sense Bosch employs) must be significant for a whole salvation (1 Thes. 5:23). Salvation must not be confined to an isolated data point on the line of Christ’s history. Salvation is not MERELY related to the atonement of Christ’s death. Salvation is not MERELY related to the liberation of Christ’s second coming.

Bosch DOES have a long section on Augustine and the Donatists way earlier in the book, part of which he entitles “The Ecclesiasticization of Salvation.” If he were using totus Christus in its proper, Augustinian sense, then we would expect to find this term cited there. However, the only time in the whole book he uses this term is where I quoted him in my last post.

At the end of the book, Bosch summarizes his argument by looking again at the relationship between different theologies and how they latched onto and emphasized mainly one aspect of Christ’s process:

The six christological salvific events may never be viewed in isolation from one another. In our mission, we proclaim the incarnate, crucified, resurrected, ascended Christ, present among us in the Spirit and taking us into his future as ‘captives in his triumphal procession.’ Each of these events impinges on all the others. Unless we hold on to this, we will communicate to the world a truncated gospel. –p. 518

6 thoughts on “Bosch and the Totus Christus

  1. My question is: Many great teachers have seen the thruth about Christ and His Body, and also about
    salvation, for example Andrew Murray and T.Austin-Sparks, but still remained in their “churches” and
    there was never a real practical oneness, only more divisions. This is what Witness Lee said: A lot of
    talk about the Body, but where is the practical expression? Why could teachers, who saw the same truth,
    not work togehter – Bosch´s ministry was at the time when Witness Lee and Sparks lived.


    • I think you bring up a valid question. Of course, you may be surprised by how many people out there recognize the need for corrective measures to what some have called the “bewildering taxonomy of Christian churches.” If you read the First Things link, this is exactly what Catholics are adamant about. Hence, their continuous call to “return to Rome.” According to Bosch the attitude is the same in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Ion Bria says that any division of Christians is, “a scandal and an impediment to the united witness of the church.” On the Protestant side, many pastors and Christian teachers today celebrate the differences of denominations as a benefit. But at the same time there is also a growing atmosphere of cooperation and ecumenism. Jaroslav Pelikan says, “And now the turn had come for ecclesiology which had long been the principle point of division within all the denominations. Many heirs of the nineteenth century would come to believe that it had bequeathed this special assignment to the twentieth century, which some of them therefore came to call the age of the church.”

      I think all believers would agree that the world-wide oneness of all believers would be an astounding testimony to Christ, just as He said it would be in John 17:23. The question comes down to how, and whether, this oneness can be meaningfully realized in a practical way. For there to be a larger, practical oneness among believers for sure many of us would have to drop a few things we cherish (or at least not emphasize them to the point of exclusion) but what a good problem to have and what an opportunity to seek the Lord as to how to go on together.

      At the same time, it’s important to respect other Christians’ decision on how and where to meet (even if we disagree with it in principle) and leave this decision between them and the Lord.

      Below are two other posts I wrote that may be of interest to you:


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