A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story

by Michael W. Goheen

Baker Academic, P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516, 256 pages, 2011, $22.99.

Reviewed by Marcus W. Dean, associate professor and chair, Intercultural Studies Department, Houghton College; former missionary in Colombia and Puerto Rico.

A Light to the Nations could be called A Light to the Church. Michael Goheen compellingly demonstrates the missional nature of the Church. His stated goal is to fill a gap in missional ecclesiology with a book that is biblical-theological and exegetical (p. ix). He meets this goal and keeps you reading. This is a text for undergraduate mission classes and pastors and serious lay leaders in the church.

Goheen defines “missional” as “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).  This concept is to shape the Church’s identity and mission. However, throughout church history the problem has too often been that the Church is instead shaped by its cultural context.  

In chapters 2 and 3 Goheen traces the Old Testament expectation that God’s people be involved in his mission to the world. The account begins with Abraham’s call and focuses on Exodus 19:3-6, showing that God calls his people to live in holiness and be a blessing to all nations and creation. While Israel’s history shows God working in their context to enable them to be missional, each stage in Israel’s story produced failure. Goheen holds that by the time of Jesus the Jews basically hated the Gentiles, seeking separation from them rather than being a light to them.  

In chapters 4 to 7 Goheen explores the New Testament emphasis. From the Gospel accounts he shows that Jesus’ ministry was a call to Israel to renew its role to bring salvation to the nations. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the means by which the community of believers, which becomes the Church, is empowered to be missional and live a distinctive life that leads to not just individual salvation, but to the creation of transformed communities of disciples in all places.  

The Church in Acts is the continuation of the ministry of Jesus through the Holy Spirit as a witness of God’s work in Jesus to the whole world. Goheen highlights the different images of the New Testament Church in the Epistles that reflect its missional nature. Together, these images (e.g., “the people of God”) link the Church to the work of Christ and the Holy Spirit as God’s way to share the message of salvation through Jesus. The Church is to live holy lives to attract, and be missionary people to carry the message to others.

In the final two chapters Goheen summarizes the biblical role of the Church in God’s mission of redemption. He ends with thirteen topics for a local church to explore if it wants to become missional, which adds a distinctive practical aspect to the book.

I appreciate that Goheen emphasizes that the Church’s involvement in God’s mission is holistic. Our message is about more than a salvation limited to life after death, yet he keeps us firmly rooted in the fact that personal redemption is at the center. Further, I found his emphasis on the communal nature of the Church refreshing in our increasingly individualistic West.  

Check these titles:
Stetzer, Ed and David Putman. 2006. Breaking the Missional Code: Your Church Can Become a Missionary in Your Community. Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman and Holman Publishers.

Van Engen, Charles. 1991. God’s Missionary People: Rethinking the Purpose of the Local Church. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House.


EMQ, Vol. 48, No. 2, pp. 241-242. Copyright  © 2012 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS).  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.


Related Articles

Welcoming the Stranger

Presenter: Matthew Soerens, US Director of Church Mobilization, World Relief Description: Refugee and immigration issues have dominated headlines globally recently. While many American Christians view these…

Upcoming Events