Let the Nations Be Glad, by John Piper. 2nd ed. Baker Academic (2003). 256pp. Paper. ISBN: 978-00801026133. Reviewed by Dr. Julian Kennedy (Ballymena, Northern Ireland).
John Piper is a pastor and writer with two passions, first, to know God, and second, to make Him known. This book, revised and expanded from when first published in 1993, highlights these two biblical passions as he sets out to prove that God’s great purpose in creation and redemption is His own glory, and that we as His people will experience His fellowship as we aim for that same goal, by making worshiping disciples in all the people-groups of the earth.
In the first section of the book, Piper covers the purpose, power, and price of missions. God is supreme in the purpose of missions, which is true worship, and that means whole lives devoted to His glory rather than just public gatherings to praise Him. All is for His Name’s sake and praise of His grace. He rightly states that God is most glorified when His people are most satisfied in Him, just as the Westminster Confession’s first catechism answer is “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” Missions exist because true worship does not, namely, that many people glory in idols and false religions that deny God His glory. The power behind missions is prayer because it humbles us in true dependence on God for all spiritual advancement of the gospel. The price to be paid will be suffering, including persecution, and this serves to deepen faith and holiness, enlarge our capacity to enjoy His glory, wean us from the world, make others bold, fill up what is lacking in Christ’s sufferings, and may be used to reposition His missionaries. Persecution manifests our commitment to His supremacy and His worth more than anything else, because in suffering we lose cherished relationships and things, and worship is essentially cherishing the perfections of God above all else, including life itself. We are called to deny ourselves the fleeting pleasures of sin, luxury, and self-absorption in order to seek the kingdom above all.
Section two of the book shows the supremacy of Christ as the conscious focus of saving faith, and this, among all nations. He proves that there is only One Savior, that there is an eternal hell of conscious torment, and that hearing Christ is necessary for salvation. In this section he names other theologians who deny these truths. He is unashamedly Calvinistic in theology, much of which comes from Jonathan Edwards. He clearly proves that worshiping disciples from every ethnic group is God’s ultimate purpose and that ‘nations’ in Scripture means families or tribes with similar culture and language, e.g., the Kurds in Iraq or Hausa in Nigeria, not political entities such as Iraq or Nigeria. He pointedly states that Paul’s aim was not to maximize the number of Gentile converts but to reach as many peoples as he could.
The final section deals with the practical outworking of our commitment to world missions. The book is full of nuggets of truth, e.g., “Worship is essentially an inner stirring of the heart to treasure God above all the treasures of the world.” He says that if you love the glory of God you must be mission-minded. He emphasizes that true worship is inward and is exhibited in all of life, rather than external and on a certain day of the week. He ends by saying that our highest duty is the pursuit of joy in God and that it is our unspeakable privilege to be co-workers with Him in gathering the elect from every people-group till the full number is reached and the Lord returns.
How are we to express our concern for world missions? The following thoughts are Piper’s, with the addition of some of my own:
1. Study theology—the better we know God, the more likely we are to fulfill His purposes.
2. As individuals and churches, support in prayer and financially the missionaries we have sent out from our established churches and denomination, and others God has bonded us with.
3. As individuals and churches, pray for un-reached peoples of the world.
4. Be prepared to go, if qualified and called.
5. Pastors and elders teach the centrality of world mission from the pulpit and in visitation.
6. Teach world missions, missiology, culture, and linguistics in our seminary.
Piper is thoroughly biblical and Reformed in his approach, although he does mention the “offer” of God in preaching. He refers to election, limited atonement, and the necessary call of the gospel to go to all peoples. Being Baptist, Piper neglects the important place of covenant children in a fruitful mission field and that God often saves families in His grace. Nevertheless, this book overall serves as an excellent stimulus to know and enjoy our great God, and to fulfill our calling to see Him known and worshiped in all the earth.