Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions, by John Piper

Let the Nations be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Mission,
John Piper, IVP, 2003, revised and expanded edition, 255pp. 

OK. Let's pretend that John Piper is just an ordinary Christian writer rather than the official guru of Christian Hedonism and the unofficial leader of the Young, Restless, Reformed set. I know I'm asking a lot, but please indulge me on this one. Let's pretend that John Piper the 'ordinary Christian writer' rather than 'Hedo-Man'  has written this book so we can try and assess it on its merits. Novel idea, eh?

Here I will attempt to offer as unbiased review as I can, given that no human being can ever fully divest themselves of their cultural/theological/personal predilections and prejudices. Oh, and just so you know, I am neither in the 'love John Piper to death' or 'stone John Piper to death' camps. I feel myself under no particular obligation to agree or disagree with his every word. 

Right then, enough of the preamble and down to the review. Piper's basic thesis, set out in the opening chapter is that "mission exists because worship doesn't." The ultimate goal of mission is to "bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God's glory." God is passionate for his own glory revealed in the salvation of people from every tribe, tongue and nation. So far so Edwardsian (Jonathan Edwards that is), and biblical as Piper's myriad of Scripture citations show.

Fired by a passion for God's glory the church is called to fulfill her Great Commission to disciple the nations for Christ.  It is at this point that Piper trots out the mantra of Christian Hedonism, that "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him."  But I wonder. Is God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him? Yes, we must seek satisfaction in God and when we do that he is glorified, Psalm 36:7-9, 37:4 etc. However, the greatest commandment is not that we find satisfaction in God, but that we love him, Deuteronomy 6:5. If we love God, we will be satisfied in him, but love is the key thing not satisfaction. Also, in Scripture the glorification of God is explicitly tied to fruitful Christian service, John 15:8, Colossians 1:9-11. The trouble with Christian Hedonism is that it puts too much emphasis on subjective satisfaction in God at the expense of the biblical categories of love and fruitful service.

Nevertheless it is certainly true that a joyful concern for his glory will move the people of God to love lost sinners, and pray, work and suffer for their salvation. As he works all of this out in detail in the main body of the book, Piper's reflections on mission are shot through with thoughtful biblical exegesis. A chapter on the meaning of "all nations" is especially insightful. Mission means reaching unreached people groups for Christ. Once a church has been planted among a people, the task of evangelising them continues, but mission is a pioneering work. Inspiring illustrations of heroic missionary endeavour are drawn from figures such as David Brainerd, John Paton and Jim Eliot.

On controversial matters in contemporary missiology, Piper is commendably clear that Christ must be the conscious focus of saving faith. He is equally clear that hell entails the eternal, conscious punishment of the wicked.

The chapter on The Inner Spirituality and Outer Freedom of Worldwide Worship was the most problematic for me. I'm not sure that the the New Testament is as indifferent to outward forms of worship as Piper suggests. The basic elements that constitute the public worship of God are clearly revealed: prayer, the reading of Holy Scripture, the preaching of the Word, the singing of psalms and hymns, baptism and the Lord's Supper, and the pronouncement of the benediction. Granted, the precise ordering and arrangement of these elements is not set in stone, but that does not denote indifference to the form of worship. And while worship does involve the whole of life, there is something unique about the gathered worship of the church in the presence of the triune God.

Apart from a brief afterword, little is said concerning the role of the local church in sending and supporting missionaries. No attention is given to the often tricky relationship between the church and missionary societies. Do the societies exist to do mission in their own right, or is their function to facilitate the missionary activities of the churches? I believe that it's the latter, but Piper doesn't say and something badly needs to be said on this point.

While some matters could have been handled better and others given more attention, Piper has succeeded in setting before his readers a grand vision of the supremacy of God in missions. Mission exists because worship doesn't. For the sake of the glory of God and out of compassion for lost sinners may the church in our generation give herself wholeheartedly to the great work of  reaching all peoples with the good news of Jesus. This is just the book for renewing our passion for mission. Whether its is our calling to go and serve, or stay and pray, may our cry be one, "Let the peoples praise you, O God... Oh, let the nations be glad" (Psalm 67:3-4).

Alright, I know I got a bit carried away at the end there, but a fair review? 

5 comments:

Leslie Wolf said...

I haven't read the book myself, but it seems like a fair review to me. At the same time, I appreciate your criticism of Piper's Christian hedonism, and I agree with your position that God's glorified most by our love (where presumably love implies obedience).

Do you know of any books that provide good advice on how to share the Gospel in everyday situations? Sorry to ask for more book recommendations, but I could really use some here.

Guy Davies said...

There are probably some titles out there, but I'm afraid I don't know of any books on personal evangelism.

Phillip said...

I find the comment that tough not having read the book, this seem like a fair review. My habit it strong too, reading the instructions last.
Oh, Guy, don't we all have a bit of armenian tugs remaining.

Sam said...

I agree with you in your statement that I neither feel compelled to love or hate Piper. I saw the DVD series which accompanies this book. While I was encouraged to say the least, I also found it amusing that Piper constantly had to warn his crowd to not let their theology get in the way of the Bible and the mandate of the Great Commission. He even had to defend prayer as a valid means of reaching God's ends concerning the Great Commission and the resultant saving of souls. Yes, amusing.

To address your thoughts about missions boards, etc... I think it has all become just too convoluted. If it is an individual responsibility to go, then let it be the churches that support the ones going out from their own congregation. Where there are international issues to deal with, then an established mission agency can be helpful. But these are para-church ministries. They are not the church, and they are not the actual missionaries themselves. I see that no authority lies with missions agencies or any other hierarchy. The missionary is accountable to God and reports to those who sent him.

Sam said...

Leslie and Guy,
To answer your question about books on Personal Evangelism, you will find what I believe to be excellent resources at http://www.revivalfocus.com/netcasters_1.html

On this website, one may order books which range in subject from a theology of evangelism to actual training manuals on everyday gospel telling.

i hope this helps!