a light to the nations

Over the past decade, books on missional church have hardly been known for their deep engagement with the biblical story. They've tended to be testimonial, inspirational, and practical - but this stuff loses its lustre after awhile. Here is a book which corrects that flow by being biblical, first and foremost, and then aspirational on the way to a far more profound 'practical' - and the author covers the terrain with admirable brevity.

Michael W. Goheen, A Light to the Nations (Baker, 2011) looks to describe the way in which 'the missional church' and 'the biblical story' relate to each other. The Table of Contents is a thinly disguised journey through Old Testament, Gospels, Acts and Epistles - before finishing with a useful summary chapter of just 8 pages (191-199).

Here are a few things I like about this book:

1. The final chapter, "What Might This Look Like Today?" (201-226), is superb. Thirteen characteristics of a missional church alive to the biblical story. Required reading both for courses related to missiology/ecclesiology and for local church leadership teams.

2. One of these characteristics is "a church striving to live as a contrast community" (208-211) - which is a little phrase Goheen uses again and again (far more than the Index suggests, I might add - which is a little frustrating). I love it - I am grateful to my friend, Andrew Picard, for drawing my attention to this phrase! In the salt:light tension to keep alive in the local church, this adds weight to being the light, which gets a bit lost today in the rush to be incarnational. I've tended to describe it as 'being distinctive with distinction' - but I think a preference for "contrast community" is building!

3. Almost twenty years ago I was in the thick of preparing and teaching a course on "the gospel in a post-christian society". It was a time when I discovered Lesslie Newbigin - but that era ended with a lingering frustration. Newbigin was great at telling us what was wrong and not always so good at telling us how to put it right. Goheen's PhD was on Newbigin. The Newbigin trail through the footnotes in this book is fascinating. Stuff I'd never heard of. "Four Talks on 1 Peter" at some Aussie WCC event in 1960? Let me at 'em ... I find that Goheen puts some legs on Newbigin's ideas in a helpful way.

4. On pp15-17 he describes some images of church which shape us: mall, community center, corporation, theater, classroom, hospital or spa, motivational seminar, social-service office, campaign headquarters ... and this must be placed alongside his chapter on the Epistles which amounts to a missional discussion of various images of the church: people of God, new creation, body of Christ, temple of the Holy Spirit, and "diaspora imagery".

A few other quotes and bits I liked:

His discussion of the exile (60-66) took me to new places. I had never quite seen the salt:light tension being lived by the people in exile. A contrast community, an alternative community, that remains involved - seeking the best for the city.

Using David Bosch, he discusses the different ways in which discipleship is conceived in the Gospels and in first-century Judaism (86).

The dangerous 'individualisation of the atonement' which means that "the cross is shorn not only of its communal importance but also of its eschatological significance and cosmic scope" (103).

With the Great Commission, Jesus was sending a community out into mission - not so much a bunch of individuals. It wasn't meant to be used directly to motivate cross-cultural witness specifically (114-118).

"The church is the people who have begun to participate in the powers of the coming age (165)" ... "(it is) the blueprint and beachhead of the kingdom of God (167, quoting Winter)." I've always found it annoying when people drive a wedge between church and kingdom. This does the opposite.

Only once does 'temple of the Holy Spirit' refer to the indwelling of an individual person (179 - 1 Cor 6.19) - everywhere else it is communal.

His discussion of the 'diaspora imagery' for the church (180-189) - exiles, aliens, strangers and the like - and the suffering that is assumed. The contrast in the suffering of Job and of Daniel (187).

nice chatting



Greg said…
Just on 1 Cor 6:19 (couldn't help but add this nugget :-)) the grammar in this verse is really interesting ...

"Do you not know that the body (singular) of you (plural!) is the temple of the Holy Spirit."

... so some think that even this verse points to a communal understanding of the temple of the Holy Spirit (e.g. Badcock, House where God Lives, p125) even though the context points otherwise. They're probably right.

[Must say I was quite proud of myself when I worked this out, and quite annoyed when I found that others had already worked it out!]

Still, all up I think it's hard to explain Romans 8 etc. without an individual understanding of the indwelling of the Spirit, so the both / and route is the wisest route in an overall theological perspective.

Hope the next stage of your trip goes well Paul!
not a wild hera said…
Really like the 'contrast community' phrase.

Thanks, Paul!

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