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A Light to the Nations

The Missional Church and the Biblical Story

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There is a growing body of literature about the missional church, but the word missional is often defined in competing ways with little attempt to ground it deeply in Scripture. In A Light to the Nations, Michael Goheen unpacks the missional identity of the church by tracing the role God’s people are called to play in the biblical story. Goheen examines the historical, theological, and biblical foundations of missional ecclesiology, showing that the church’s identity can be understood only when its role is articulated in the context of the whole biblical story—not just the New Testament. He shows that the Old Testament is essential to understanding the church’s missional identity. Goheen also explores practical outworkings and implications and offers field-tested suggestions, putting Lesslie Newbigin’s missionary ecclesiology to work in shaping the contemporary church. The book is written at a level easily accessible to students in missions, pastoral, worldview, and theology courses as well as pastors, church leaders, and all readers interested in the missional church.

Contents 1. The Church’s Identity and Role: Whose Story? Which Images? 2. God Forms Israel as a Missional People 3. Israel Embodies Its Missional Role and Identity amid the Nations 4. Jesus Gathers an Eschatological People to Take Up Their Missional Calling 5. The Death and Resurrection of Jesus and the Church’s Missional Identity 6. The Missional Church in the New Testament Story 7. New Testament Images of the Missional Church 8. The Missional Church in the Biblical Story—A Summary 9. What Might This Look Like Today? Indexes


"Based on the whole biblical narrative, this book is a powerful presentation of what it takes for a missional church in the twenty-first century to be 'a light to the nations.' It is both compelling and persuasive!"--Gerald H. Anderson, director emeritus, Overseas Ministries Study Center, New Haven, CT

"In the face of the weakened ecclesiology of a church mired in a postmodern, consumeristic, entertainment-oriented morass, Michael Goheen in A Light to the Nations masterfully calls his readers to a renewed missional imagination. Goheen traces the missional theme through Scripture, enabling us to see that his vision is not really new but the rediscovery of the robust, missional ecclesiology that has always characterized the people of God at their best. Goheen leads us into an expansive vision of what it means to be God's called, eschatological people embodying the new creation. If you long to understand what it really means to be a missional church, not as a simple slogan but as our deepest identity, then this book is the indispensable road map. I heartily recommend it!"--Timothy C. Tennent, president and professor of world Christianity, Asbury Theological Seminary

"Like a skillfully constructed symphony, the main theme of A Light to the Nations is announced in the first two chapters. Succeeding movements trace the triumphs and failures of God's missional people in the Old and New Testaments. The final two chapters reprise the theme, showing its indispensable importance for the people of God today. Michael Goheen effectively blends careful scholarship and passion for full-bodied participation in God's mission today."--Wilbert R. Shenk, senior professor, Fuller Graduate School of Intercultural Studies

"The contemporary discussion of the 'missional church' has rapidly expanded and generated a confusing range of published treatments. Here is a book, however, that stands out from the crowd and merits careful attention. Michael Goheen's A Light to the Nations is a much-needed and well-crafted basic text for the biblical study of the missional church. Based on careful reading and interpretation of an impressive range of biblical scholars, Goheen's book engages the scholarly voices that merit serious interaction, lays out the major themes of a biblical theology of the missional church, and offers an integrative approach that will stimulate further investigation. Certainly it will become a staple of college and seminary syllabi dealing with the church and its mission. Pastors, congregations, and mission agencies will find in this book biblical orientation for faithful mission in a time of rapid and challenging change."--Darrell L. Guder, Henry Winters Luce Professor of Missional and Ecumenical Theology, Princeton Theological Seminary

"Goheen expertly traces the continuities of and developments in the Bible's grand story of the people of God, showing that at every stage God's people exist for the sake of God's mission to all the peoples of the world. Here is the biblical depth needed for the contemporary church's reflection on and practice of its missional identity."--Richard Bauckham, emeritus professor, New Testament studies, University of St. Andrews, Scotland; senior scholar, Ridley Hall, Cambridge

"It is so encouraging to see the revived interest in missional interpretation of the Bible flourishing and bearing fruit. This marvelous book by Mike Goheen moves the discipline significantly forward. It roots our understanding of the church's role and mission in the whole of the Scriptures, showing how formative the Old Testament was for Jesus and his New Testament followers and remains for us. The nourishing meat of rich biblical reflection is sandwiched between a historical analysis of the cultural roots of the contemporary church and a challenging conclusion as to how a church today can be truly missional and biblical. This is biblical theology in the service of the mission of God through God's people for the sake of God's world."--Christopher J. H. Wright, international director, Langham Partnership International; author, The Mission of God and The Mission of God's People

"The renewed conversations about the 'mission of God' have begged for this book to be written! And there is none better equipped to write it than Goheen. His sweeping grasp of the biblical narrative and his pastoral sensitivity to the missional path today's churches are traveling combine to tell the fascinating story of the people of God so thoroughly embedded in the story of God's love-borne intentions for the world."--George R. Hunsberger, professor of missiology, Western Theological Seminary, Holland, Michigan

The Author

  1. Michael W. Goheen

    Michael W. Goheen

    Michael W. Goheen (PhD, University of Utrecht) is professor of missional theology at Calvin Theological Seminary. He is also professor of missional theology and director of theological education at the Missional Training Center, Phoenix. Goheen is...

    Continue reading about Michael W. Goheen


Named an Outstanding Mission Book of 2011, International Bulletin of Missionary Research

"Pastor and professor Michael Goheen argues that modern discussions about missions tend to miss the more comprehensive biblical account of God's larger mission. . . . Goheen corrects this neglect. And by highlighting the essential role of mission in both the Old and New Testaments, he provides a useful tool for considering current church-world discussions. Goheen helps churches see not only how political engagement follows from their calling to be a blessing to the nations, but also how such engagement requires Christians to remain distinct from their larger culture. . . . A Light to the Nations locates the church's missional identity in God's plan to restore all of creation through his covenant people."--Ryan Messmore, Comment

This is an important book in what it affirms concerning the missional nature of God's purposes and hence of God's people. Too many churches are so self-absorbed in ministries and programs that they lose sight of the larger calling of the church to participate in God's mission to 'restore all creation and the entirely of human life from the ravages of sin.' Readers will learn much about the biblical story of God's purposes in general and about numerous passages that describe God's mission in particular."--Eckhard J. Schnabel, Themelios

"This thoroughly researched text walks the reader through the biblical narratives in the Old and New Testaments, making extensive use of biblical, exegetical, and theological scholarship. . . . The result is a remarkably comprehensive and nuanced treatment in a manageable 226 pages of text. . . . The author provides a corrective to overly individualistic understandings of the Great Commission. . . . A Light to the Nations will no doubt take its place as a landmark contribution to the missional church literature, worthy of careful study."--Craig Ott, International Bulletin of Missionary Research

"[An] outstanding new book. . . . Michael Goheen . . . 'gets' what missional is all about. . . . 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!)"--Nijay Gupta,

"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. 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. . . . I appreciate that Goheen emphasizes that the Church's involvement in God's mission is holistic. . . . I found his emphasis on the communal nature of the Church refreshing in our increasingly individualistic West."--Marcus W. Dean, Evangelical Missions Quarterly

"A wonderful introduction to the biblical themes that support and guide the missional church. The book displays careful biblical and exegetical scholarship, interaction with a wide range of missiological and biblical sources, and attention to some of the key scholarly voices that examine the nature and mission of the church. A basic biblical theology of the missional church is presented, along with a missional reading and interpretation of Scripture, in a way that combines careful scholarship with an accessible, pastoral style. . . . [Goheen] has also provided an excellent range of practical implications for local congregations in the final chapter. . . . This is a very good introduction to the biblical foundations for the missional church. A Light to the Nations is on my list as essential reading for missional ecclesiology. . . . An indispensable and timely addition to our understanding of a biblical, gospel-centered, missional ecclesiology."--Graham Hill, Crucible

"A commendable contribution. . . . The organization and structure of the book facilitates clarity and understanding. . . . There is much I appreciate about Goheen's work, including his responsible handling of Scripture, cogent articulation of the biblical metanarrative, and keen social and theological analysis of tendencies within certain Christian traditions. He does a masterful job of convincingly explaining and piecing together the various parts of the biblical story . . . into a cohesive, interrelated whole. Goheen's work also demonstrates well-informed interaction with an impressive array of biblical, theological, and missiological resources. . . . It is a valuable addition to the discussion on missional ecclesiology and merits careful consideration. The wide relevance of the topic and the accessible writing style make this book versatile and potentially useful for a fairly wide audience, including interested lay leaders, pastors, and professors. It evinces fine scholarship while incorporating practical, pastoral guidance."--Michael Hakmin Lee, Trinity Journal

"This book offers much promise. For one thing, Goheen's focus on ecclesiology as foundational to understanding mission today makes sense biblically and theologically. . . . For another, the book's exposition on diaspora resonates with current missiological scholarship. . . . Goheen draws from his experience as a pastor, and his biblical, exegetical, and theological acumen lends credence to the quality of this book. Moreover, the author's scholarship is decisively all-embracing. Goheen draws ideas from a broad spectrum of scholars. . . . Many will find [this book] a fascinating scholarly work that speaks to the current concerns of today's missional church. In simple and contemporary fashion, Goheen succeeds in making God's redemptive plan accessible even to readers with no prior theological training."--Tereso C. Casiño, Great Commission Research Journal

"This book is free from unrealistic idealism. Instead Goheen shares from his own experience in several places how a church over time can become missional. . . . This is an extremely worthwhile book. It will help us to re-examine everything we do in church and in our daily lives."--Greg Goswell, New Life

"A Light to the Nations is vitally important for scholars and pastors alike for a number of reasons. First, Goheen is careful in his attention to the biblical narrative. He does not rush to conclusions but grounds his description of the missional identity of the church in a mostly comprehensive reading of the biblical story. Second, Goheen aptly combines scholarship and pastoral sensitivity by having both an eye toward the biblical text and an ability to apply it to the contemporary church. Finally, Goheen offers a number of correctives to today's sometimes individualistic, colonial, dualistic ideas about ecclesiology and mission. His picture of the church and of mission as communal, attractional, and comprehensive is at times refreshing and necessary. . . . [This book is] important and in many ways groundbreaking. [Goheen] has firmly rooted the missional identity of the contemporary church in the biblical narrative of God's people, a daunting task, but one that he deftly completes. It should be read and engaged by any who want to understand the biblical theological foundation for the purpose and mission of God's people to be a light to the nations."--Matthew Y. Emerson, Southwestern Journal of Theology

"The concept of mission has too often been shaped by 19th century assumptions: mission is a matter of geography, it is a cross-cultural activity done by a select few individuals; some are called to mission, others are not. This book exposes these erroneous views and places mission in the context of Israel and the church. It provides a whistle-stop overview of 'the missional impulse in the biblical narrative.'. . . Far too many missional books neglect the Old Testament; Goheen does much here to redress the imbalance. . . . One of the many strengths of this book is that, in developing the missional identity of the church, it stresses the continuity and discontinuity with Old Testament Israel. . . . [It] brilliantly develops the missional perspective of the body of Christ. . . . This book is inspiring and insightful--it should be required reading, not only for those with an interest in missional studies, but for all those who take the lordship of Christ seriously."--Steve Bishop, Koers Journal