An Interview With Michael Goheen

Michael Goheen was recently hired as the new Professor of Missiology at Calvin Theological Seminary. He has had a rich academic career, most recently teaching at Trinity Western University and Regent College before coming to Calvin this past summer. Professor Goheen will also be teaching in the Newbingin House of Studies and the Surge Network. He has authored and co-authored several books, with A Light to the Nations: The Missional Church and the Biblical Story being published in 2011, and he has several books on the way, including a Missional textbook for IVP entitled: To the Ends of the Earth. To get to know Professor Goheen better, and introduce him to the seminary community, Kerux co-editor Matthew Koh sat down with him for an interview.

There are a few things that people should know about Michael Goheen, recently appointed Professor of Missiology at Calvin Theological Seminary. He’s not Dutch—his name comes from French Huguenot roots. He’s Canadian, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, and a Canucks fan. He loves to play with his grandkids and hopes for more from his four married children. And he loves the NFL.
But when asked what defines him, Goheen, chuckling, starts from a different place.
“I hope my first identity is as a member of the body of Christ and follower of Christ,” he says. Goheen grew up Christian, rejected the faith, and later came back in a pietistic, revivalistic tradition. His faith journey has continued through many churches and theological studies.
“Second,” he says, “I’m a husband to Marnie for 33 years.” And after that, he defines himself as a father, father-in-law, and grandfather.
Only then does he talk professionally, where he sees himself as always having his foot in both the church and academy.
Beginning as a church planter and pastor, he began working on his doctorate, and started teaching since 1991 in a number of areas: biblical theology, worldview studies, missiology, and others.
Mission, however, stands out to him because of “the insight missiology had in the relationship of Gospel and culture, which I thought went even deeper than worldview studies.”
Mission for Goheen is more than just missionaries traveling into exotic wildernesses. “There’s still a place for sending individuals,” Goheen says, but turning to the Church in Antioch in Acts 11 and 13, he poins out that “the church as a community embodied the good news in its own life, the same way that the Jerusalem church did in Acts 2.”
And that, to Goheen, was also missions.
The life of the Antiochian Church was attractive because of the way it practiced justice, compassion, love, and more; it drew people into the community, “no doubt because they were chattering the Gospel.”
And it was the Antiochian Church that first looked up and saw the need to establish more Christian communities like itself, which was the impetus behind Paul and Barnabas’ commissioning in Acts 13.
Goheen offers the model of Paul, who after establishing a church in a new place, would let that congregation be the mission in that place, to be a community living together to make known the good news.
For Goheen, missiology and ecclesiology are inextricable. He offers a distinction, common in the field of missiology, between missionary dimension and missionary intent.
“All of our life has a missionary dimension,” he says. “We evidence good news in every part of our lives, but that’s not intention. For example, I’m married, and hopefully my marriage is evidence of the power of gospel. But I didn’t marry my wife for evangelistic purposes, or else she’d kick me out.”
Goheen laughs and continues: “But there are certain activities, such as evangelism or sending a person to another country to church plant, where we can speak of a missional intention.”
Everything in our lives has a missional dimension, but there are certain things that have a missional intention. The same is true of the Church.
“The Church is like an ellipses,” Goheen says, “and the two foci are the inward and outward life of the Church, the nurturing and gathered life of the Church for the sake of the world. If we lose either one of those, the Church starts to bump along. We’ve often lost missionary dimension or reduced church to simply what takes place between the four walls. But in reaction, some have stressed mission in terms of its activities, and that’s equally imbalanced. What’s needed in the missional church is a community that’s being built up, sent out. Not having the activity be the intention, but always having mission be the horizon.”
Missions is a theme Goheen sees woven throughout the Bible. “When you start to see the Bible from a missional angle, you start to see things that you never saw before,” Goheen says. “For instance, J.H. Bavinck, a leading missional scholar in the Reformed movement, speaks of Israel as being placed on the land, in the sight of all the nations to manifest the glory of God and be a picture of salvation.
“A missional perspective starts to open up many aspects of Jesus’ ministry as well.”
Goheen quotes Joachim Jeremias, a famous New Testament scholar, who says: ‘The sole purpose of Jesus’ ministry is to gather a people.”
“Boy, if you’re like me, you do a double take when you hear that,” Goheen says. “If it wasn’t a good scholar, I would have moved on, but it was such a good scholar that you start to look at the gospel again. You start to realise how central Jesus’ calling a people was to his ministry. I don’t think I would say sole purpose, but it’s central.”
For Goheen, Jesus fulfills the role the prophets gave the Messiah: “the eschatological gathering of a people.”
Why does Jesus gather a people? “To do the mission of God.”
“Many dimensions of Jesus’ ministry begin to open up as you see him gathering a people for the sake of mission. You start to understand that he is providing them a model of that mission through his own life. He says: as the father sent me, the way he sent me to do this, I’m sending you. I’m gathering you as Israel, but I’m sending you to the nations to continue my mission.”
A missional lens offers the only way to understand the book of Acts, for Goheen. “You start to see that the book of Acts as the author saying: ‘This old promise, way back in the Old Testament, that the people of God would be a blessing to the nations—this is how it happens.’
There’s a change of direction in the redemptive story because the prophets said that the nations would come to Israel, but now Israel is going out.”
Goheen speaks about the Church being a “contrast people” who are also supposed to bring God’s blessing and renewal to culture.
Goheen offers an example of being “a people of generosity and simplicity in the midst of a consumerist world.” In a Western culture dominated by deist conceptions of God, we should be a people who showed “a real sense of living in the presence of God, that in him we live and move and have our being.”
This idea of being a contrast people was an important part of Jesus’ teachings. In the Sermon on the Mount, for instance, Goheen points to how Jesus is calling his followers, predominantly Jews from a Jewish culture that hated its Roman oppressors, to love the Romans.
“You start to see that being a contrast people means looking back to creation, looking forward to the kingdom, and looking outward to culture.
“Embodying God’s creational intentions, where God has taken history outward, over and against the idols of culture, but also embracing the good things of culture. Every culture has many treasures, and the church shouldn’t just be saying: No. It should also say yes.
“We need to be rooted in creation. Most evangelicals have such a poor doctrine of creation and that’s what I was really attracted to originally, way back in the early 80s. That’s what attracted me to Dutch Calvinist tradition, their rich doctrine of creation.”
Conducting the forty-minute interview and reading A Light to the Nations gave me only glimpses into Professor Goheen, but what I saw was a wise, insightful, and gracious man, who I’m sure will be a rich blessing to the CTS community.