In Let the Nations be Glad! John Piper slices the modern misconception that missions is about getting other non-Christians into some Gospel "life raft." Without wasting any time or space, Piper jumps in and highlights a theme which runs beautifully and consistently through the book; that is, "Missions exist because worship does not." If you were inclined to think a 250 plus page book couldn't be written on such a subject as missions, think again. Piper, arguing from a very distinct Calvinistic perspective, has three major themes with one common concept in mind: The supremacy of God.
The main themes come in three different parts. In part one, John Piper seeks to show the purpose, the power, and the price of making God supreme in missions. The purpose, as mentioned above, is all about worship of the Triune God. If an evangelist's "passion for God is weak, zeal for missions will be weak." Passion, coupled with prayer, is humanity's means of "tapping into" the source (God) who ultimately makes worship of Himself (through missions) possible. To top it off, the author warns us that because Christ suffered during his mission on earth, so too will we.
In part two, the author takes a turn down Doctrine Drive, explaining to his audience the eternality of hell, the necessity of the atonement, and the exclusivity of faith in Christ for salvation—and somehow finds a way to entangle that within the world of missions (no pun).
Part three draws from the great American Puritan Jonathan Edwards to ensure one thing: "All of creation, all of redemption, all of history is designed by God to display God"—that is, the supremacy of God in missions.
First, I want to show my praise for Let the Nations Be Glad! Missions, I believe, has lost its zeal in the contemporary evangelical church; Piper seeks to restore this loss in the pages of his book. He has, in my opinion, called the church back to preaching Christ crucified to all the nations. Having the advantage of being both a phenomenal pastor—thus the ability to write in language lay people can understand—and a first-rate theologian (earning a Doctor of Theology from the University of Munich), Piper has written a magnum opus for the people of God. We often get stuck in the rut of Christianity being some system we join (and want others to join), granting us access to heaven. Piper, I think, shows us the biblical and theological importance of missions. I thank God he has taken the time to do so.
The Chief End of Man It's hard to overstate the good in this book. I believe, in quoting the Westminster Confession, Piper gets it right: The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. That's it, plain and simple. Man's ultimate purpose is to glorify the Triune God of the Bible. There's no other creed that better states man's function. In addition, I cannot get past how beautifully written the opening paragraph of this book is. Missions is only a temporary thing. When Christ comes back in all His glory, missions will be done. When God decides the play is over, missions too will cease. When, in His sovereignty, God brings forth the new heavens and the new earth, the idea of missions will have faded away. Worship, on the other hand, lasts forever. Piper synthesizes this together very carefully.
Unapologetic Hell Some of the academic work on missions I'm familiar with all seem a little uneasy about the idea of Hell. "Join the club," they say, "and you'll get a free trip to Heaven." The only problem is they forget to mention Hell. John Piper makes it clear that the Gospel, within its essence, does carry a certain sense of urgency. He maintains the view nuanced by Jonathan Edwards, that is, sin against an infinite God demands infinite punishment. For this I commend him.
Exclusivity of Christ Piper deals with religious pluralism very nicely. He isn't afraid to take on the great British theologian John Hick in his "all roads lead to Heaven" approach to salvation. Piper asks this question: "Is the work of Christ the necessary means provided by God for eternal salvation—not just for Christians, but for all people?" Its not easy to take this stand in our day of postmodernism. But John Piper does what I believe every Christian should do—protect the exclusivity of Christ for salvation.
Incorporation of Other Theologies Even though this book is written largely from a Calvinistic perspective, John Piper does a decent job of interacting with other theologians who do not represent his view. He uses the words of Charles Wesley, draws from the knowledge of C.S. Lewis, interacts with Gregory Boyd, squares off with John Stott, and worries over Clark Pinnock, I realize everybody sees theological issues (such as missions) through their own theological lens. However, even though Piper is committed to Reformed theology he strengthened his book by engaging other theological traditions.
Piper is very adamant about Christian Hedonism ("God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him"), and you can see the fruits of this in his book. For the record—and since this is an evaluation—I agree with Piper here. But I wonder if his famous "Missions exist because worship does not" could be slightly misleading. For example, in saying "Missions exist because worships does not" is John Piper advocating that God needs or is reliant on humanity in order to receive His proper glory? Does this threaten the aseity of God?
Obviously the author neither adheres to this thought nor promotes this line of reasoning. But seeing that the Missions exist because worship does not phrase essentially sets the tone for the entire book, Piper could've clarified this a little more. Perhaps he did and I just missed it?
My goal here is not to beat up John Piper. As I've already stated, this book is a top-notch work on missions. However, I fear that he is sometimes inconsistent with his commitment to Calvinism and taking the Gospel to "all the nations." From my reading, what Piper is really saying is this: "We should serve God and preach the Gospel…but it's only for the elect." I'm not trying to open a can of worms here by reading soteriology into missiology. And I'm also not trying to say I read and evaluated this book on the level of a PhD dissertation. But, in all honesty, we know Piper's ties to Reformed theology. I just see a problem with his view of bringing God glory only through the lens of soteriology (i.e. the elect). (Note: I'm not saying people within Calvinism have problems with world missions—or that it's not possible. I'm just saying that the way John Piper presented it is, in my opinion, troublesome.)
Piper definitely wrote what I consider to be a very influential book for evangelicalism. Here I want to highlight three points that Let the Nations be Glad! taught me.
First, the suffering of Christ means suffering for us. Piper, in my opinion, really shed light on this truth. Even though Christ—the eternal second person of the Trinity—died as a substitute for us doesn't mean that we as Christians won't have any sufferings. In fact, Scripture clearly states otherwise. This really brought a lot of new, exciting feelings because, when properly thought about, Jesus—being fully God and fully man—suffered in the body for humanity. Proper reflection on this principle will actually blow your mind—as it did mine. To say that Christ suffered is to say that God suffered. To say that God suffered is to say that He cares for His people. Because God cares for people, so should we. Once all this is placed in missional perspective, my motivation to preach Christ to all the nations grew.
Second, I learned that we should find joy in being on mission for God. Because God is a missional God—i.e. the Father sends the Son, the Son sends the Spirit—we should find joy in reaching out to others. And, to paraphrase Piper, any kind of pure joy will ultimately result in praise. How true!
Third, Piper solidified (in my mind) that missions truly is about God. I always here back from people who went on mission trips and they typically say something like "Oh, God really blessed me" or "Man, I can't tell you how much I grew while I was on mission" or "My spiritual life was really enhanced during my time away." While those statements—and statements like those—are certainly true, missions is in no way about us. It is, to beat a dead horse that needs to be beaten more, about God and His perfect, sovereign, and awesome glory.
What a great read from a great man of God who has done great things for the Kingdom. It would be an understatement to say that this book has helped me to think differently about world missions. My concerns with the book are minor, but my thankfulness for it is major.
Piper, John. Let the Nations Be Glad!: The Supremacy of God in Missions (Spire Books). 3 ed. publication place: Baker Academic, 2010.