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A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story Paperback – 1 Apr 2011

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About the Author

Michael W. Goheen (Ph.D., University of Utrecht) is professor of missional theology, Newbigin House of Studies, San Francisco, and Jake and Betsy Tuls Professor of Missiology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He is also minister of preaching at New West Christian Reformed Church in Burnaby, British Columbia, and is the author or co-author of several books, including The Drama of Scripture, Living at the Crossroads, A Light to the Nations, and a work on Lesslie Newbigin's missionary ecclesiology.

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Amazon.com: 12 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Great book, Poor Kindle Format 27 Oct. 2011
By Adam Oliver - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Goheen has written here a very strong work applying the mission of God revealed in the whole Bible to the practice of the church today. I have little to say about the content of the book other than to recommend it highly to anyone who wants to get a better grasp of the Biblical narrative and how it may practically impact ecclesiological practice.
I would, however, like to complain that the Kindle format for this 242 page book has NO table of contents. This is unacceptable. Not just no linked table, but not even one that can be reviewed so you can "go to" page numbers. I found this frustrating and hope that the publisher or whoever missed that can fix this problem.
10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Defining book on the biblical theology of mission! 4 Oct. 2011
By Life Long Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
For over the last year the buzz in ecclesiology has been the discussion of the missional church. "If your church is not missional then it is not fulfilling God's purpose", is the cry of many. It is probably fair to say that much of the conversation concerning the missional church has been held in the arena of practical ecclesiology. That is, describing what a missional church looks like as it lives out the mission in its local context. While the church needs a practical vision for the mission of the church, there has not been enough discussion regarding the biblical theological concept of mission as the foundation for being missional. In an effort to fill this space Michael W. Goheen has written an enlightening book A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story.

"Mission", as Goheen defines it, "is the role and identity of the church in the context of the biblical story (p. 4)." Thus, being missional is not about "describing the 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 (p. 4)." Put another way, "Mission is what God is doing for the sake of the world: it is God's long-term plan to renew creation. The people of God are missional in that they are taken up into this work for the sake of the world (p. 25)." So, since much of the discussion on the missional church has been dominated by the pragmatic implications of the mission of the church, there has been more discussion on its activity rather than its identity and essence. Goheen believes we need to get back to the mission of the church as found in the biblical story (biblical theology) and then move forward from there lest we continue to lose our way.

A Light to the Nations can be summed up in three main stages that present the biblical development of the people of God as missional people: (1) OT Israel as the beginning of the people of God, (2) the coming of Jesus to restore the people of God and (3) the NT church as the reconstituted people of God.

In the search for the uncovering of the mission of the church as found in its biblical theological context, Goheen begins in the Old Testament. The OT is the only proper place to begin for Goheen because the place of the church in the mission of God is the same as and a continuation of Israel's but with resurrection implications. This is a necessary corrective to much of the missional church discussion. Following Gerhard Lohfink's comments Goheen states:

"The church was not founded or established for the first time in the New Testament. Rather, the church is a covenant community that has been gathered and restored to its original calling. A proper understanding of the church begins with Israel - its role and identity, its relation to other nations - because the church is Israel's heir (p. 21)."

Take a moment to soak that statement in - the church is Israel's heir. For Goheen, there is only one people of God and therefore one mission of God for His people. This mission begins in the OT with Israel and continues with the church as the reconstituted people of God.

OT Israel as the beginning of the people of God

The mission of God begins with Abraham in Genesis 12: 1-3. Amidst the many things mentioned in these verses there are two aspects that help to define the mission of the church. First, Abraham is chosen to receive the blessings of God. God's election of a people (Israel) is for the purpose of mission. Second, as recipients of God's blessings God's people are to in turn mediate those blessings to the world. From Genesis 12 we move to Exodus 1-18 where we see God releasing Israel from their captivity in order "to fulfill its Abrahamic role and identity (p. 34)." Once Israel is delivered from captivity they are given the covenant at Sinai which functions to show that they are bound to God and not Pharaoh. At Sinai God tells Israel how they are to live in order to receive God's blessings and how they are to mediate those blessings to the nations (p. 37). Exodus 32-34 describes how God will dwell with Israel which is important for Israel to be able to carry out their two sided purpose.

Flowing from Sinai to Israel's missional living is the threefold role and identity of Israel. First, Israel was to be a people in the center of the nations. Surely this was their position when they entered the Promised Land in Joshua. Israel was to visibly live out their identity before the nation's such that they would desire to come and see and join. They are not to be passive observers but active engagers "with the pagan cultures of the surrounding nations, by which it is to confront idolatry with the claims of the living God (p. 53)." Second, Israel was to function as a priestly kingdom. The life surrounding the priesthood was to nourish Israel amidst their missional encounter with the pagan nations. The temple plays a huge role in this purpose and the prophets are seen as Israel's `covenant enforcers' keeping them on track (p. 59). Third, the story of Israel in the OT closes with them as a dispersed people. Fortunately, because of God's covenant faithfulness He promised through the prophets (Isa. 60 & Eze. 36:24-27) that He would return and restore them.

The Coming of Jesus to Restore the People of God

Goheen does not mince words when it comes to his assessment of the significance of Jesus' coming, "With the coming of Jesus, the promised gathering of God's eschatological people begins (p. 76)." Following the gospel of Mark, Goheen defines the kingdom of God as "the restoration of God's rule over the whole world (p. 77)." Though God rules on His own, His people are to proclaim this rulership to all the world as they carry out their missional identity.

Though there are many that believe Israel rejected the offer of the kingdom, Goheen contends that

" Many within Israel do respond to the invitation of faith, and they begin to form the true eschatological Israel, the people of the kingdom, purified by judgment to take up the task of being a light to the nations...Those who respond thus become part of this community of Jesus-followers and receive the gifts and obligations of the kingdom (p. 84-85)."

Though there are no doubt many Jews who will reject the offer of the kingdom and the call to restoration, there is a remnant that accepts and thus becomes the beginning of the eschatological fulfillment of the people of God - the light to the nations.

It is Jesus' work on the cross and resurrection that become the defining works of Jesus that enable Him to restore Israel and give them the power to carry out their missional task. It is through the cross that Jesus takes on the punishment of Israel's sin, thus freeing them from it. "The death of Jesus creates a restored community, reinstated in it vocation as a channel of salvation to the nations. The cross is an event that creates a redeemed and transformed people (p. 107)." As for the resurrection it "marks the restoration of God's people to new life as part of a new creation (p. 112)." Of this new creation Jesus is the `first fruits', the `first born' and the `beginning.' It is at the close of the Gospels that we see Jesus giving restored Israel (the church) its new identity through the great Commission (Matt. 28:19-20). The church is to take the gospel to all the nations. The church is the new Israel and thus the light to the nations as Israel was in the OT.

The question for many is how do the NT writers perceive and describe the church as the reconstituted people of God - the restored Israel?

The NT Church as the Reconstituted People of God

For Goheen the clearest NT example of how the church (reconstituted Israel) continues the mission of God is to read the book of Acts. Beginning with Pentecost (Acts 2) and running through the end of the book we see God's people spreading the gospel to the nations while God builds His church and kingdom through this activity. The geographical structure of Acts is huge for Goheen. "The story line of Acts is about the geographical spread of the Word (p. 129)." Jerusalem has great redemptive-historical and eschatological significance (p. 129 & 131). "God has chosen Israel to be a blessing to all nations, and the centrifugal movement in Acts marks the beginning of the process by which that blessing is to be fulfilled (p. 131)." What Goheen believes is clear from the book of Acts is that God restored many Jews and that He brought many Gentiles into the church.

So how what evidence is there that the NT writers saw the church and themselves as the reconstituted people of God? Take Peter for example. In 1 Peter 2:9-10, Peter uses no less than 5 explicit word/phrases to describe the church that are used in the OT to describe Israel. Peter uses "a chosen race," "a royal priesthood," "a holy nation," and "a people for his own possession" all to describe the church. Not only is the language telling but the historical context of I Peter. 1 Peter is written to dispersed believers. In the OT Israel was dispersed because of unbelief and disobedience. Now, reconstituted Israel is once again dispersed but not because of unbelief. Their dispersion is caused because of their belief and by command (Matt. 28:19-20). I Peter exemplifies for us "how the church can live faithfully in a non-Christian environment (p. 182)." Goheen contends that the imagery and word usage here is I Peter is just a small example of the many examples in the NT where the authors saw the church as the continuation and expansion of Israel.


A presentation of a biblical theology of mission would be incomplete without some suggestion for what this might look like today. Goheen offers thirteen suggestions. Some of the most notable are the need for the church to reach out to the world with its message. This follows along the lines of the people of God being the mediators of God's blessings to the world - namely, salvation. Along the same lines we need preaching that is more missional minded. While the ministry of the Word through preaching is primarily for believers, we need to make sure our preaching proclaims the biblical story of redemption. Perhaps the most relevant of Goheen's suggestions is the need for the church to live out as a community within its community. This is how the NT church lived mission and this is how the church today and in the future needs to live out its mission.

A Light to the Nations is a great corrective to much of the missional talk of the day. It puts the meat on the bones of some weak theology of mission that too many have today. The greatest strength of the book is its truly biblical theology approach as it begins with the concept as originated with Israel and Abraham. For those who see more discontinuity within Scripture in regards to Israel and the church this book will be a much needed dose of corrective medicine. It is perhaps not a stretch to say that, a rejection of Goheen's biblical theology of mission is a rejection of the Scripture's concept of mission.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Best recent biblical theology of mission 1 Jun. 2013
By J P Romack - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I can't think of a better book of its kind. The fact that Goheen writes with a specific focus on missional church is a huge and helpful step forward over more generic theologies of mission. I first encountered Michael Goheen a few years back listening to a message of his entitled "The Urgency of Reading the Bible as a Single Story" given at Regent in Vancouver. I've followed his work ever since with great profit. This book, along with his two previous works, "The Drama of Scripture" and "Living at the Crossroads" (written with Craig Bartholomew) actually make a formidable trilogy for those interested in relating the Biblical Story, Worldview, and Missional Church. Goheen gets the necessity of consciously living into the biblical story as the only viable way to avoid being swallowed up by our competing cultural narrative(s). All three books actually belong on the short list of anyone reading missiology these days. "Light to the Nations" needs to be required reading for all seminarians and anyone hoping to plant or lead a church.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The missional story 3 Jan. 2013
By John Seale - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The author presents his argument very convincingly in this book. He argues that the church today has lost its missional calling, but rather than dwell on proving that, he instead sets out to show how the people of God have repeatedly lost their missional calling throughout history. He shows how God’s calling has been virtually the same throughout history, and that it is this identity that should shape our churches. While the book is academic and can be a slow read, I like that it is a different take on the missional church. We have so much literature floating around today on the missional church and what it should look like, and to find an academic ecclesiological approach from the biblical narrative is refreshing. I enjoyed reading it. I was a bit dismayed to find him repeatedly referring to centripetal mission in the Old Testament and centrifugal mission in the New Testament, when I believe that both have been and will be present throughout history. Israel was called to be a contrast society, but there are repeated stories of outward movement to reach the nations. His applications at the end of the book are also valuable. They keep the book from being a meaningless journey that leaves the reader to determine his or her own applications. The thirteen qualities of a missional church are clearly personal to him and his journey as a pastor, but also useful for anyone.
This book may be applicable to my ministry. As a church planting ministry, we are always seeking to be well-informed on ecclesiology. We need to know exactly what we are planting and how we need to go about planting it! The understanding of the biblical story and the missional calling of God is central to understanding our role as a mission organization in north Texas. As I read the book, I underlined significant points that the author makes regarding recovering our missional identity. We do see a role for ourselves as a mission organization in speaking prophetically to churches about engaging in mission. This book will be helpful in that role as we try to encourage our local churches and spur them on in the same way that Goheen is trying to do with his book. This book is encouraging but not chastising, so it would be a great read for pastors of churches wishing to identify themselves missionally.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The most impactful book I've read in the last 2 years. 24 Sept. 2014
By Christian Burkhardt - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Goheen does a masterful job tracing God's purpose for the whole world through the Biblical Story, showing that He has always intended to accomplish His mission through His people. His final chapter, "What Might This Look Like Today?" is full of insights on how the current church in the West can live in a way that is consistent with the Biblical Story and that faithfully embodies that story in our contemporary culture.
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