Motivation for Mission
God Shines Forth: How the Nature of God Shapes and Drives the Mission of the Church, Daniel Hames and Michael Reeves. Wheaton: Crossway, 2022. Hardcover, 174 pages.
No seriously student of the Bible can escape the conclusion that the church of Jesus Christ is supposed to be a missionary church. Christ sent his church out into the world to preach and witness to the good news of what he has done. Yet there are so many in our churches who are, at best, lukewarm about this cause. If you recognize that in yourself, how can it change? If you’re a church leader, how can you help yourself and others get fired up about mission and evangelism?
That’s what God Shines Forth is about. It’s not a manual for mission or a theology of mission. Instead, it’s an attempt to get to the roots of why so many Christians are blasé about it. Hames and Reeves are diagnosing the pathology, but also providing a cure. They write: “Unless we honestly find God to be beautiful and enjoyable, we’ll have nothing worth saying to the people around us…This book is an invitation to start again at the beginning with our vision of God” (p.21). The authors want to get beyond the surface issues and strike right at the heart of why Christians don’t evangelize. They argue that the solution isn’t better training programs or guilt trips, but a better understanding of how God is so fathomlessly beautiful and delightful.
The road to that better understanding travels over Calvary. In Christ crucified, we see God in his most wondrous glory. The authors write, “At the cross, God was giving himself to us. There we see God going, reaching, and shining out” (p.52). They work with Luther’s distinction between a theology of glory and a theology of the cross – they argue that, similarly, there’s a missiology of glory and a missiology of the cross. A missiology of glory exalts human skill and accomplishment, whereas as a missiology of the cross directs us to the God who makes his power perfect in weakness.
One thing I really appreciate about God Shines Forth is its use of church history. We hear of how the hymn writer Charles Wesley served as a missionary in colonial America – prior to his conversion in 1738. What motivated an unregenerated man to be a missionary? Jonathan Edwards is well-known for his sermon ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.’ Edwards learned something powerful about gospel persuasion from his missionary colleague David Brainerd, who was ministering to the First Nations in New Jersey. John Calvin often gets a bad rap in mission literature. But as Hames and Reeves point out, Calvin actually had a remarkable missionary fervour directly tied to his understanding of the nature of God.
I only have one complaint: I wish it had been published twenty years ago. Not only would it have been helpful for me as a missionary, but it would also have given a good grounding for encouraging others to care about the spread of the gospel too. I highly recommend God Shines Forth to missionaries, mission boards, church leaders, and every Christian who wants to care more about the cause of the gospel and help others to do the same.
Originally published in Clarion 72.3 (February 24, 2023).