Goheen’s Outstanding New Book – A Light to the Nations (Review)

It was only a few years ago that I began to hear about this thing called “missional theology.” It is hard to define precisely, but it brings a dynamic, story-driven trajectory to the Christian identity that derives from the great Missio Dei – the mission of God. There is an energy behind this missional thrust that galvinizes ecclesiology and brings a new urgency to the idea of vocation. God is active. God is working out his plan. Jesus is central to that. The Spirit energizes it. The church bears it out. The world is the context of this mission.

In comes Michael Goheen, Geneva Professor of Worldview and Religious Studies (Trinity Western U). This guy “gets” what missional is all about. His latest contribution is called A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story (Baker, 2011).

In the first chapter, Goheen does a good job of defining how he uses the language of missional

At its best, ‘missional’ describes not a specific activity of the church but the very essence and identity of the church as it takes up its role in God’s story in the context of its culture and participates in God’s mission to the world…”mission” reminds us that the church needs to be oriented to the world, existing for the sake of others…Thus to describe the church as “missional” is to define the entire Christian Community as a body sent to the world and existing not for itself but to bring good news to the world (4)

Thus, Goheen’s book deals with two key questions: how does identity-conception (and worldview) shape mission? How does the Biblical story communicate the church’s identity in such a way as to inspire her mission?

The church can remedy being molded by an alien story and conforming to alien images of what it should be only by returning to the biblical story and its images. Sometimes the only way forward is to start again at the beginning. (17)

The Biblical story takes shape in four chapters

“God Forms Israel as a Missional People”

“Israel Embodies Its Missional Role and Identity Amid the Nations”

“Jesus Gathers an Eschatological People to Take Up Their Missional Calling”

“The Death and Resurrection of Jesus and the Church’s Missional Identity”

An additional chapter (chapter 6) gives special attention to the book of Acts and the mission of God through the apostles. The next chapter looks at “New Testament Images of the Missional Church,” which focuses especially on the metaphors used by Paul.

One of the major conclusions that Goheen’s reaches is this

The church is called to be an agent or instrument of redemption in the midst of the world and for the sake of the world, chosen so that it might invite others into the covenantal blessings it experiences. Christians are a ‘come and join us’ people whose very lives point to the culmination of history. (192)

By “come and join us” he means an attractive, winsome, outstanding community that is inviting and refreshing. He also aptly uses the language of a contrast and display people – in contrast to the dark, ugly self-centered parts of culture that are so prevelant around us, and a people that display the very glory and hope of God, especially as exemplified in Jesus.

Towards the end of the book, Goheen draws out key implications for how the church should live in light of this story and mission. This was a truly inspiring chapter and I encourage you to pick up the book, if only for gleaning from this section.

When it comes to being a “contrast” community, he has six theses worth sharing.

- a community of justice in a world of economic and ecological injustice

-a community of selfless giving in a world of selfishness and entitlement

-a community of humble and bold witness to the truth in a world of uncertainty

-a community of hope in a world of disillusionment and consumer satiation

-a community of joy and thanksgiving in a hedonistic world that frantically pursues pleasure

-a community that experiences God’s presence in a secular world (218-220).

I also liked what he had to say about being a proclaiming church – an evangelistic (“good news”) church. This is not about street corner preaching or small tracts or notes on restaurant tables. Goheen borrows from Hendrik Kraemer the language of “chattering the gospel” in the midst of life. Goheen encourages a lifestyle-and-verbal testimony to God that is holistic.

It is not a gospel about a future, otherworldly place that has little relevance for much of life other than personal ethics. Rather, if we see good news as it relates to our lives, in major public issues as well as minor private concerns, then the gospel will not be an uncomfortable intrusion but rather woven into the very fabric of our daily walk and quick to flow to our tongue. (216)

One thing to note that is distinctive about this book, is that Goheen has a special interest and expertise in the work of Lesslie Newbigin, so the book is full of excellent quotes from this great missionary.

I was so thoroughly impressed with this book, I put it on my top 50 list for what seminary students should read nowadays. (I am not sure what the other 49 are, but this is definitely one of them!)

Have others read Goheen’s work? What did you think?

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2 thoughts on “Goheen’s Outstanding New Book – A Light to the Nations (Review)

  1. Have you read “The Mission of God” by Christopher Wright? If so, how does this compare. I’ve been looking for something like “The Mission of God” but in a more condensed form for the lay Christian.

  2. I agree – excellent book. I am using three of Goheen’s books (Drama of Scripture, Light to the Nations, Living at the Crossroads) in an adult Sunday morning class at my local church. I require the first two in Old Testament courses I teach at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC.

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