This review originally appeared on [...]on 7/26/10.
Special thanks to Caitlin of Baker Books for a review copy of this book.
John Piper's book, Let the Nations Be Glad (hereafter LTNBG) has been a hit since it's first edition came out back in 1993. Our discipleship and missions training school has been using the 2nd edition since it came out in 2003, and for good reason. But not only is there a new edition, which I'm reviewing here, but there's also a DVD with 6 Piper sermons on the topic of missions and a Study Guide. The DVD and Study Guide will be reviewed separately, but for now I'll say that I applaud Piper and Baker for trying out a multi-media approach to this excellent and needed guide to the biblical theology of missions.
To organize my thoughts, I'm breaking this review down into 3 sections: the Good, the Bad and the Piper
1. Piper openly admits that this book focuses on "biblical reflection rather than methodological application" of missions (p9), a decision I appreciate. It's not the only book you should use in training missionaries, but it gives an excellent theological basis for why we should do missions in the first place.
2. The main difference between the 3rd edition and the previous one is found in the introduction. Piper not only surveys the changing face of global Christianity (with insights from Philip Jenkins and Mark Noll), but extends a plea to preachers of the so-called `prosperity gospel.' At first my thought was `this seems out of place in a missions book,' but Piper argues (and he is largely correct) that the prosperity gospel teaching of some American preachers has infiltrated parts of the "Global South" and is doing damage to the church there, particularly in Africa.
3. Chapter 1 is worth the price of the book alone. In fact, I rarely read past the first page of the first chapter without stopping and thinking more deeply. The central thesis: "worship is the fuel and goal of missions." I won't go into detail (get the book!), but I appreciate that Piper makes God the center of missions rather than anything else.
4. From the perspective of a teacher, I really appreciate Chapter 4, where Piper tackles three heavy issues: the eternality of hell, the necessity of Christ's work, and the necessity of conscious faith in Christ. These are difficult waters to navigate, and I have found it helpful to have everyone read this chapter and come ready to discuss in class. Piper makes a strong, biblical case for his answers, and I've told students over the years that if they plan on disagreeing with him, they better come prepared to argue their case biblically just as he does.
5. Piper offers a number of great thoughts on suffering and prayer, as well as laying out the Bible's teaching on people groups.
6. Piper draws from a fairly wide range of writers, preachers, etc., in this book. You get theologians like Jonathan Edwards, missiologists like Ralph Winter and pastors like John Dawson. In other words, he reaches outside of his camp (Reformed Baptist) and pulls from a broad spectrum.
There is more I could say about what is good in this book, but suffice to say the good far outweights the bad.
1. My biggest complaint about this book, and the primary complaint I get every year from students, is that it is longer than it needs to be. Piper has a habit of taking twice as long as he needs to in making a point. Sometimes this is because of his rampant use of proof-texting. Other times Piper seems so intent on making his point that he marshalls every bit of evidence he can, rather than simply selecting the best to support his case. Either way, this book could probably be 33% shorter and not miss a thing.
2. I'll put this here, but I'm not sure I'd call it `bad,' but John Piper can come across very strong for some. I don't mind this, but some are put off by it. So even if someone may agree with Piper's reasoning, he communicates- even in writing- in a way that some (again, not me) find a bit short and condescending. I only mention this because there are some churchgoers who are not accustomed to reading books where someone seeks to make a strong case for something. If that sounds like people in your church, you may need to address this issue up front if you use this book.
John Piper has some idiosyncracies that show up in most of his writings, and LTNBG is no exception. They don't bother me, though some may not like it (but mostly if you're already prone to dislike some of his writings). Anyway, I get a kick out of them, so here are a few:
"My passion is to see people, churches, mission agencies, and social ministries become God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-powered, soul-satisfied, Bible-saturated, missions-mobilizing, soul-winning, and justice-pursuing"
"Where do such God-centered, Christ-exalting, missions-driven people come from?"
"There is a God-enthralled, Christ-treasuring, all-enduring love..."
"There is a distinct God-magnifying, Christ-exalting mindset"
"It cannot make peace with God-ignoring, God-neglecting..."
And those are just from the 4-page preface.
2. Jonathan Edwards. Piper is known for his love of Jonathan Edwards, and apparently couldn't resist having an entire chapter dedicated to him. I appreciate it because Piper breaks down walls that are dangerously erected, in this case theology and missiology. But a chapter on Jonathan Edwards in a missions book is definitely something that only John Piper would do.
3. For those who are in no way convinced of John Piper's belief that God's glory is the central concern of His own heart, and should be ours, you may struggle a bit with this book. In my opinion, he doesn't hit it as hard here as he does elsewhere (and I think he may overstate his case anyway). I don't think anyone from my training school has ever said anything about it, but I throw it out there.
This is one of the best biblical-theological books on missions I've read (which is why we use it in our school). Piper deals with heavy issues in a pastorally sensitive way, making it appropriate for audiences ranging from laypeople to seminary classes. He does not cover the entire Bible's teachings on missions, but summarizes and clarifies the main themes and issues at hand. I have used the 2nd edition with great success over the years, and look forward to the 3rd edition being just as big a blessing.