A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church & the Biblical Story
In A Light to the Nations, he introduces biblical themes foundational to missional theology. The book displays careful biblical scholarship. It interacts with a wide range of missiological and biblical sources. The book draws attention to voices that examine the nature and mission of the church. Goheen presents a basic biblical theology of the missional church. He presents a missional reading and interpretation of Scripture. And he does this by combining careful scholarship with an accessible, pastoral style.
Michael Goheen describes his primary concern. “It is to analyze the missional identity of the church by tracing its role in the biblical story.” Goheen doesn’t emphasize missiology at the expense of a theology of the church. Instead, he shows the link between missional ecclesiology and the mission of God in the world and in history.
We will never appreciate our missional identity without a biblical theology of God and the church. This must place mission at the center of the church’s essence, identity, and activities. Our God is a missional God, who has a missional church.
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Michael Goheen shows how the church has obscured its missional self-understanding. It’s especially done this at particular times in its history. Images of the church shape the church and its understanding and pursuit of its mission. We need missional images and metaphors to inspire us to join with God in mission.
Michael Goheen roots a missional theology of the church in the gospel. He shows the relationships between God’s missional nature, God’s mission in history, Jesus’ message of the kingdom, the shape of the gospel, the nature and purpose of the church, and the biblical story.
We need to understand God’s missional nature—and the trinitarian mission that unfolds in the biblical story—if we are to understand the mission of the church. Michael Goheen unpacks this. His analysis spans Israel’s missional role and identity, and missional themes in the intertestamental period. He explores Jesus’ message of the kingdom, and his formation of a distinctive people. He shows how the death and resurrection of Jesus define and shape the church’s missional identity. From there, he examines the missional identity of the church in the New Testament. We should understand these biblical images missionally: The People of God, the New Creation, the Body of Christ, the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and “dispersion, exile, aliens, and strangers.”
As Michael Goheen traces this biblical narrative, he returns repeatedly to some central themes. The church participates in God’s mission. The church understands its mission in the light of the biblical narrative. The church has a communal mission. And the church continues the mission of Israel, Jesus, and the Early Church. We continue this mission as we follow the mission of God. We do this by altering people to the reign of God in Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit.
Michael Goheen is both scholar and pastor. He’s concerned for concrete expressions of a missional theology of the church. But he’s committed to doing the biblical and theological work first. Goheen laments that biblical scholars are sometimes “fearful of drawing out the relevance for today.” Meanwhile, some pastors “seek contemporary relevance and sometimes fail to respect the cultural distance between text and context.”
Michael Goheen unpacks the biblical themes and narratives undergirding the missional church. He does this in a scholarly and pastoral way. He attempts “to remain faithful to the story the Bible is telling by remaining within the original historical and cultural context with its problems and questions.” But he also provides an excellent range of practical implications for local congregations. These implications span many areas of the life of the church. These include worship, preaching, prayer, community, contrast, cultural engagement, vocation, leadership training, evangelism, social action, hospitality, global and local mission, nurture of children and families, small groups, and unity.
I have one main concern about the work. This is that Michael Goheen could have engaged more Majority World voices. The bibliography is almost entirely Euro-American. This would have been a richer book by engaging missional perspectives from Asia, Latin America, Africa, and other parts of the Majority World.
Having said that, I know Michael Goheen is passionate about profiling Majority World voices. In Introducing Christian Mission Today he writes: “Every area of theology should engage the insights of the non-Western church, but since much of the theological curriculum seems to be blind to the theology, church history and biblical scholarship emanating from the Southern hemisphere, it is incumbent on mission scholars who are aware of this rich fruit to display it for the rest of the theological academy.” It also needs to be communicated throughout the rest of the church.
The last chapter has an outstanding collection of practical consequences for the missional church. The reader of this book should supplement this list through the theological and missional insights of people like Kwame Bediako, Ruth Padilla DeBorst, Leonardo Boff, Andrea Smith, Samuel Escobar, Brenda Salter McNeil, John Mbiti, Christena Cleveland, Oliver Onwubiko, Rosalee Velloso Ewell, René Padilla, Daisy L. Machado, Peter Phan, Elsa Tamez, Juan Luis Segundo, Mae Elise Cannon, Jon Sobrino, Melba Padilla Maggay, Tite Tiénou, Sandra Maria Van Opstal, Orlando Costas, Soong-Chan Rah, Willie James Jennings, and others.
Michael Goheen’s book is an excellent introduction to the biblical foundations for the missional church. A Light to the Nations is on my list as essential reading for a missional understanding of the church. I used to ask my students to lay foundations for a missional theology of the church by reading David Bosch’s Transforming Mission and Christopher Wright’s The Mission of God and The Mission of God’s People. I will now add to that list this new book by Goheen. It is a timely addition to our understanding of a biblical, gospel-centered, missional vision of the church.
(My original review of this book appeared in Crucible, an online theological journal of the Australian Evangelical Alliance, here).
Dr Graham Hill is the Founding Director of The GlobalChurch Project – www.theglobalchurchproject.com. He’s the author of “GlobalChurch: Reshaping Our Conversations, Renewing Our Mission, Revitalizing Our Churches” (IVP, 2016), and 3 other books.
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