Photo by Hae Kwang Choeng
Text and Context in Dialogue
There will always be people who argue that the
doctrine of election makes missions unnecessary.
But they are wrong.
It does not make missions unnecessary;
it makes missions hopeful.

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Book Review
Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions,
by John Piper,
Baker Books, Grand Rapids, 2nd Edition 256 pages.
Available at discount from Reviewed by Mark Johnson

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church. Worship is. Missions exists because worship doesn't. (17)

So John Piper opens this heavily revised and expanded edition of his brilliant work on the great task of the church.

Piper's passion is that God should be at the centre of mission endeavour:

The most crucial issue in missions is the centrality of God in the life of the church. ... Missions is not first and ultimate; God is. (20)

God should be the goal of mission and the motive for mission. Too much mission is man-centred. There are many good reasons to be involved in missions: the great eternal need of people without Christ; the massive medical, educational and economic problems facing the world; and the vast injustices being perpetuated. But these reasons, says the author, are not high enough. For Piper, "The supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples through Jesus Christ is the central, driving, all-unifying commitment" (9). And he has reissued this book (first published a decade ago) that we might catch that vision too.

In the first section the author explores how we can make God supreme in missions through worship, prayer, and suffering. He explains how our desire for the glory of God must be based on God's own desire for his glory. God is no egoist in seeking his glory. He seeks his glory because he is God. Likewise we must imitate God by seeking his glory and so our motive for mission must be the same as God's. Piper then goes on to demonstrate how this passion for God's glory is connected to mission: "The glory God seeks to magnify is supremely the glory of his mercy" (33, emphasis his). He backs this up by expounding Romans 15:8-9. His exposition is clear and powerful and illustrated in the lives of great missionaries of the past - people like William Carey and David Brainerd, who very clearly shared the author's passion.

"Life is war," Piper asserts. "Prayer is primarily a wartime walkie-talkie for the mission of the church as it advances against the powers of darkness and unbelief" (45). "Until you know that life is war, you cannot know what prayer is for" (49). Piper is unabashed to assert God's freedom and sovereignty in mission:

There will always be people who argue that the doctrine of election makes missions unnecessary. But they are wrong. It does not make missions unnecessary; it makes missions hopeful. (55)

But Piper is not comfortable with calling prayer "the work of mission":

... let me say loud and clear that I believe the proclamation of the gospel in Word and deed is the work of missions. Prayer is the power that wields the weapon of the Word ... (63)

He goes on: "The frontline work of missions is the preaching of the Word of God, the gospel".

I read the chapter on suffering while facing adversity at the Immigration office. Piper expounds six reasons God appoints suffering for his servants (86-102). The book is worth its price just for this. "God ordains suffering because through all the other reasons it displays to the world the supremacy of his worth above all treasures" (99).

You cannot show the preciousness of a person by being happy with his gifts. Ingratitude will certainly prove that the giver is not loved, but gratitude for gifts does not prove that the giver is precious. What proves that the giver is precious is the glad-hearted readiness to leave all his gifts to be with him. This is why suffering is so central in the mission of the church. (101)

We are challenged then to examine ourselves to see if we are trying too hard (as normal human beings do) to avoid suffering. We spend vast sums of money and time to make our lives as comfortable as possible all the while denying God the very opportunity he wants to demonstrate his glory. I left Immigration singing.

In section two, Piper takes on two major missions issues: the necessity of conscious faith in the Lord Jesus; and the focus of the Bible on "the nations" rather than simply on individuals. The author takes pains to answer three questions that have been put by evangelical theologians in recent years:

  1. Will anyone experience eternal conscious torment under God's wrath?
  2. Is the work of Christ the necessary means provided by God for eternal salvation?
  3. Is it necessary for people to hear of Christ in order to be eternally saved?

Yes, says the author, to all three counts. He grounds his argument incisively in the Biblical texts themselves, drawing wisdom from Jonathan Edwards among others to bolster his assertions. He demonstrates how a "massive change has occurred in redemptive history" with the coming of Christ (127). Piper does not shy away from problems; in the course of his argument he deals at length with the case of Cornelius (134-8) and includes a helpful footnote on the salvation of infants and the mentally handicapped (133, fn. 27). In the third section Piper explains the practical outworking of all he has said above by examining the relationship between compassion for the lost and passion for God in the writings of Jonathan Edwards, and by expounding his theology of worship. The author contends that,

...the New Testament is a vision for missions that is usable across thousands of cultures and therefore could not be laden with externals ... what we find in the New Testament is an utterly stunning degree of indifference to worship as an outward form and an utterly radical intensification of worship as an inward experience of the heart. (215-6)

Piper has done the church a great service in helping reorient mission from a focus on man to its proper focus on God. This is a book to read, re-read and send to your friends.
bhakti. bhakti, nom. devotion, love, loyalty