Book Review: God Shines Forth, by Daniel Hames & Michael Reeves
Daniel Hames & Michael Reeves, God Shines Forth: How the Nature of God Shapes and Drives the Mission of the Church. Crossway, 2022. 176 Pages.
I think I would have made a great Pharisee. I’m a firstborn son, an Enneagram 1 (if you’re into that sort of thing), and my last name is Duty. The joke practically writes itself.
My impression from Scripture is that the Pharisees intended to obey God in every area of life, right down to the last jot and tittle. But few of them truly enjoyed God.
EVANGELISM: DUTY OR DELIGHT?
Since I’ve become a Christian, I’ve also intended to obey God in every area of my life, and that includes living on mission. Jesus commanded us to make disciples, so I concluded that it was my duty to evangelize.
I don’t think I’m alone in thinking that way. In fact, I’d say that most Christians fall into one of two camps with respect to evangelism:
- Camp 1: “I know I ought to share the gospel with others, so I usually do.”
- Camp 2: “I know I ought to share the gospel with others, but I usually don’t.”
Christians in the first camp share the gospel with others. That’s a good thing. But it’s done out of a sense of duty, rather than delight. They share because they should.
Christians in the second camp know they ought to share the gospel. But normally they don’t, and they feel guilty about it. So every once in a while, they knock on some doors, pass out tracts, or run through a quick gospel presentation with a coworker to assuage their guilt.
Is this really what Jesus had in mind when he issued the Great Commission—Christians who share the gospel out of duty, whether regularly or irregularly? Daniel Hames and Michael Reeves don’t think so.
MOVING FROM DUTY TO DELIGHT IN EVANGELISM
In God Shines Forth: How the Nature of God Shapes and Drives the Mission of the Church, Hames and Reeves write, “Happy mission presupposes happy Christians . . . Christians who don’t enjoy God can’t and won’t wholeheartedly commend him to others” (23).
The book’s title comes from Psalm 50:1-2: “The Mighty One, God the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting. Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.” That is what God has been doing from the dawn of creation—shining forth, revealing himself, his beauty, and his glorious salvation to mankind.
In Scripture, God reveals himself to be full of life and goodness and eager to share himself with humans made in his image. Far from imposing himself on us, he invites us to taste and see that he is good. Hames and Reeves write:
It is God’s own delighted, overflowing fullness that defines mission in the first place, for before it was ever a task given to the church, it was the disposition of God to communicate, give, and fill up. It is our knowledge of God and our enjoyment of him that fills us up and sends us out with his own life, love, and happiness into the world to communicate and bless as he does. (71)
Our calling as Christians is to invite others to behold the God who is shining forth, particularly through the person and work of Jesus Christ. We’re not pointing to ourselves, but to God and the fullness of his glory. What reassurance for the many of us who are timid, hesitant missionaries! One of the greatest encouragements in the book is found in the chapter called, “Those Who Look to Him are Radiant”:
Mission fueled by the fullness of God is able to deal with the weakness of its missionaries. Wounded soldiers, struggling saints, and stumbling preachers are not dismissed from the Lord’s army, because they are not expected to be full in and of themselves. In our suffering, our battle with sin, and our lack of experience or boldness or eloquence, we are nonetheless invited to delight ourselves in the Lord and find fullness in him. (134)
If our task is to be full and sufficient in and of ourselves, most of us won’t bother to get off the couch. The more rule-oriented among us might evangelize out of duty, but it won’t be a delight. Hames and Reeves help us see that those who delight in God are eager to share him with others and aren’t deterred by their own evangelistic shortcomings.
A SERVICE TO PASTORS AND THE CHURCH
When pastors come to realize that many Christians have a difficult time living on mission, or even sharing their faith, they often conclude that a lack of evangelistic zeal is due to a lack of teaching.
So they put together a class, a conference, or even an entire sermon series to set forth the plight of the lost and equip their church to engage them. And if that doesn’t work, pastors may resort to nagging their congregations in their sermons (or even their prayers!) to live on mission. But as the authors note, “Christians can be cajoled into evangelism like a herd of animals, but this is not a foundation for healthy and effective mission” (109).
Without question, pastors should teach Christians to obey Jesus’ command to make disciples, and we should do our best to train the members of our churches to do so. But if we don’t deal with the root of the problem—our inadequate view of God—then we are unlikely to see happy Christians happily engaged in the work of evangelism.
Hames and Reeves deal with the root instead of the fruit. In doing so, they’ve given the church, and pastors in particular, a gift that will outlast the latest evangelism techniques.
The concise edition, What Fuels the Mission of the Church?, is roughly half the length of God Shines Forth and would make a good selection for the church bookstall, or as a gift to hand out to new members of the church. All things equal, I’d recommend reading the full volume; it covers the subject more thoroughly in barely over 160 pages.
We can only tell the world about the God we know. Therefore, we must behold God’s glory and overflowing fullness as we seek to live on mission. God Shines Forth provides a clear window to view the beauty of our Lord, who loves to make himself known.