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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

The Good

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.

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.

The Piper

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:

1. Over-hyphenization:

  •  “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, see Cousin Jeremy’s post here and here).  I don’t think anyone from my training school has ever said anything about it, but I throw it out there.

Conclusion

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.

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Being Conformed to Christ in Community: A Study of Maturity, Maturation and the Local Church in the Undisputed Pauline Epistles, by James Samra.  This book is the published version of Jim Samra’s Oxford dissertation in the Library of New Testament Studies series.  Full disclosure: Samra is the senior pastor of a church in Michigan, where my wife’s uncle also pastors.  He (my uncle-in-law) is the one who gave me this book because he thought I’d be interested, and he was right.  It is a rare dissertation that makes me say, “this would make a great teaching in the church.”  In fact, I think some of this work might show up in his upcoming release, The Gift of the Church Being Conformed to Christ in Community is a bit dissertationy, which keeps it from being ideal for church goers, but the fruit of Samra’s labor begs to be distilled in a more popular format.  For Samra, the process of maturation is the process of being conformed to the image of Christ, and this process is intended to be lived out and aided by life in the local church (note the emphasis on ‘process’).  To give a taste, Samra sees 5 components to the process of maturity: 1) identifying with Christ; 2) enduring suffering; 3) experiencing the presence of God; 4) receiving and living out wisdom from God; and 5) imitating a godly example (p168).  While this book showcases Samra’s skills as a New Testament scholar, I was more blessed by his obviously pastoral concern for the church.  I look forward to his next book.

Jesus in a New Age, Dalai Lama World: Defending and Sharing Christ with Buddhists, by M. Tsering.  I remember hearing an Asian pastor once say “it is 10 times harder for a Buddhist to come to Christ than a Muslim.”  The opinion was obviously observational, and perhaps hyperbolic, but gets at a major issue in sharing Christ with a Buddhist: the Buddhist worldview is far removed from a Christian one.  This book deals specifically with Tibetan Buddhism, which is, in many ways, quite removed from the earliest (some might say ‘purist’) forms of Buddhism.  Tsering gives an overview of the religious history of Tibet, showing the movement from early shamanism to modern Tibetan Buddhism, which is essentially a combination of Buddhism and shamanism.  He surveys the worldview of Tibetan Buddhists and the struggles of reaching them with the gospel (both historically and strategically).  There are wonderfully helpful tidbits throughout the book.  Anyone interested in the intersection between Buddhism and Christianity, or even in cross-cultural missions more broadly, would benefit from reading this book.

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Special thanks to Adrianna at IVP for a review copy of this book.

Anthony Thiselton is a well-known figure in contemporary biblical studies, a man crossing a number of specializations: New Testament exegete, systematician, philosopher (especially as it relates to hermeneutics).  In this little volume (162 pages of text) the reader is treated to a little bit of everything: a summary of Paul’s life and teaching (Thiselton the NT scholar), forays into Paul’s contribution to Christian doctrine (Thiselton the systematician), and even a final chapter on Paul and postmodern thought (Thiselton the philosopher).  Thiselton is a rare breed in that he is quite capable in all of these areas, and even rarer for offering The Living Paul, a book written for those perhaps unfamiliar with Paul and the debates surrounding his writings.

For much of the book, Thiselton succeeds in providing an informed and stimulating “introduction to the Apostle’s life and thought” (as the subtitle goes).  His opening chapters on “obstacles to appreciating Paul” are helpful, particularly his discussion of “new creation” (which is essentially Thiselton fleshing out the “already/not yet” in Paul’s writings).

One helpful aspect of the book was how Thiselton situated Paul the letter writer in his discussion of Paul the travelling missionary pastor.  This helps the reader understand how letters such as 1-2 Thessalonians and the Corinthians letters fit into Paul’s ministry as a missionary rather than seeing them as detached from his church planting (after all, Paul the Letter Writer and Paul the Missionary both fall under his role as Paul the Apostle to the Gentiles).  Unfortunately, Thiselton does not carry this out for all of Paul’s letters, including overviews of some within various chapters.  Because of this, this book is not the ideal place to get an overview of each Pauline letter, but it does help to tie the letters into his broader ministry and theology, something that can be lost with other approaches.

Chapters 5, 6 & 7 showcase Thiselton’s abilities as a theologian.  With admirable clarity he demonstrates how Paul sets the stage for later articulations of the Trinity, noting that neither Jesus nor the Spirit are created beings in Pauline theology, and that God, Jesus and the Spirit co-operate in remarkable ways (in creation, redemption, prayer, and so on).  There are a couple points that will cause discomfort for some readers: his reliance on Moltmann’s understanding of God co-suffering with Jesus, and his claim that many have an understanding of spiritual gifts that is “too supernatural” (I know of many missionaries and third-world believers who would laugh at this claim).  I also found it interesting that Thiselton, while engaging multiple scholars, does not interact with Gordon Fee’s massive book on the Holy Spirit in Paul’s letters.  But all in all I found these chapters stimulating and creatively presented.

Perhaps my favorite chapter (16) was his treatment of eschatology.  He ably and concisely demonstrates the weakness of many contemporary evangelical approaches.  “Paul is less interested in individual destiny, or survival of death, and ‘heaven’, than in the three great corporate and cosmic events of the resurrection, the last judgement, and the Parousia of Christ” (p135).  He also rejects the approach of Bultmann which sees eschatological passages as dealing strictly with present behavior, as well as attempts to equate Paul’s hope with “secular progressivism.”  His discussion of the resurrection of the body and Christ’s return explains Paul’s thought clearly without losing the audience at hand.  If someone is looking for a succinct treatment of 1 Corinthians 15 to recommend, this is it.

The last chapter on “Paul and postmodernity” was an interesting read, though I’m afraid that someone without at least a basic familiarity to postmodern philosophy will be easily lost.  If this book were being used in a church study group, it would be best to have someone on hand well versed in these discussions to explain the issues and why they matter.

This book, as good as it is, is not without some problems, as I see them.  First, the constant reference to the disputed nature of some of the Pauline corpus (Colossians, Ephesians, the Pastoral Epistles) gets tiresome quickly.  I would much prefer Thiselton note the debate early in the book, chose a side and stick with it.  Instead, he annoys the reader with “if we allow Pauline authorship of Ephesians” and “the perhaps deutero-Pauline Pastorals” type comments throughout the book.

Second, there were a few times when Thiselton would refer to a scholar, but never cite that person’s work.  Thus, while I now know that Terence Donaldson defends the “New Perspective on Paul,” I know neither who Terence Donaldson is nor what he has written on the subject.  Why mention him at all?

Lastly, the clarity with which Thiselton writes (praised above) is inconsistent.  Maybe I was tired, but while reading his chapter on justification, I got confused- and I’m familiar with the discussion!  While a scholar will appreciate the brief summary, I have no idea how any layperson (the audience of the book, mind you), with little-to-no orientation to the discussion, would be able to keep up.  The problem is that Thiselton spends too much time surveying the various approaches (this happens in other chapters, but it kills this one).  There were simply too many names thrown about to be helpful.  What I wanted was Thiselton’s thoughts on Paul’s doctrine of justification (after all, I’m reading Thiselton’s book!), but had trouble sifting through the discussion to discern his view.  Interestingly, I’d make the same criticism about his massive commentary on 1 Corinthians

Does Thiselton succeed in offering an accessible guide to Paul’s life and thought?  For the most part, yes.  There are portions of the book that are simply outstanding and would benefit anyone who reads it.  But there are other points when I’m just not sure he hits the target audience.  The teacher in the local church (which is what I do and the perspective from which I write this review) would do well to refer to The Living Paul in preparation and could even have certain chapters picked out for church members to read, either leaving out the more confusing portions, or taking extra time to explain them.

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From time to time I’ll post short thoughts on books that I’ve read but don’t want to review for some reason.  Hope you find it helpful.

Old Testament Theology: A Thematic Approach, by Robin Routledge.  IVP sent me a copy of this book, which came out in 2008.  It’s a decent overview of OT Theology, offering thoughts on the variety of themes that pop up throughout the OT (as the subtitle indicates).  If you are looking for one OT Theology to study, this would not be my first choice (perhaps Waltke, or Stephen Dempster’s, which I haven’t read but heard is good).  Routledge gives a solid overview of differing views, perhaps to the detriment of coming down hard one a particular position.  Students will appreciate the footnotes; he gives page numbers for every major OT Theology written to go with each section he is discussing.  All in all, it’s okay, but not my first choice.  Had a thought after I posted this.  Routledge doesn’t show any of the exegesis that goes into his views, which factors into my assessment.  I like to see the exegetical work behind the conclusions, which is one reason why I like Waltke’s book so much.  It’s also interesting given that Routledge has not produced any major commentaries on OT books, unlike Waltke, Brueggemann and others.  At least those authors could say, “check out my commentary for more.”

The Surprising Work of God: Harold Ockenga, Billy Graham and the Rebirth of Evangelicalism, by Garth Rosell.  I read this for my church history class and really liked it.  Dr Rosell is writing as someone who witnessed a lot of the events he writes about and people he knew, as his father was a well known evangelist during the revivals in the 50’s.  I was inspired by the faith of the people involved in the early days of modern evangelicalism,  Rosell offers more on Ockenga than Graham, which I was thankful for, since Ockenga is less well known these days than Billy Graham.

The Cross and Christian Ministry: Leadership Lessons from 1 Corinthians, by D A Carson.  I know, I know, 2 Carson mentions in one day.  I actually read this book last year, but forgot it for my Top 5 of 2009.  It definitely would have made that list had I remembered (and I’d probably not cheat and have Block’s Ezekiel commentary).  I actually think this is the kind of book where Carson is at his best; he offers solid and insightful exegesis alongside convicting thoughts on how we can apply the text to our lives and the church.  There is no doubt that the cross was central to Paul and his ministry; Carson helps us follow that pattern with this book.  Anyone in ministry should read this book.

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Some of the most frequently asked questions I receive about this site are regarding book reviews.  How did we get started?  Why do we do it?  Do publishers really send you stuff for free?  Stuff like that.

I’ve been mulling over a post such as this for a while, but didn’t feel like anyone would actually be interested in reading a post about book reviews.  But, a recent ruling by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) does impact this blog a little bit and is receiving some discussion throughout the internet.  I’ll comment more on it later, but basically the issue is one of compensation.  The FTC has declared that if a blog writer receives compensation (either payment or the book for free), they must declare so in their review.  Brian and I do fall under the category of compensated individuals, so in the interest of integrity, I feel it’s important to comment here.  Brian may add some of his own thoughts, either in the comments below or in his own post.

Let’s proceed, Q & A style:

Q. How did you get started writing reviews?

A. For me it was purely by chance.  You can read about it here at my old blog.  In a nutshell, I randomly happened upon a free copy of the Reader’s Hebrew Bible to review, and a guy named Chris at Zondervan agreed to send along Bruce Waltke’s An Old Testament Theology as well.

Q. How do you get publishers to send you books?

A. I ask.  It’s really as simple as that.  I write them, tell them who I am and why I want to review a particular book.  Sometimes they send it, sometimes they don’t.  That’s about it.  A couple publishers now send me books without me asking.

Q. Do you review all books you receive?

A. Not necessarily.  Any book that I request, I will review.  That’s part of the deal.  If a publisher decides to send a book along without my initiation, I feel no obligation to review the book.  I sometimes do, but the bottom line is that there’s only so much time in the day.

Q. Do you really read all the books you review?

A. Yes.  That’s actually why it takes so long sometimes.  I don’t want to review a book if I haven’t actually spent the time to work through it.  I feel like it’s a matter of integrity to read what I review.  The last thing I want is to mislead anyone with a review because of superficial reading on my part.

Q. Does the fact you receive a book from a publisher influence you to give a positive review?

A. The cynical reader might think we’re only being nice to publishers because they send us books.  The answer is actually quite simple: we generally give positive reviews because we pick the books we want to review.  It’s not like reviewing books is our job.  It is something we do on the side.  Naturally, since we only have so much time, we lean towards reading books we think we’ll like.  Also, and perhaps even more importantly, we tend to focus on books we think will be helpful to the church.  That means we aren’t going to request a book we think will be awful.  There have been books I’ve requested and was a bit disappointed in, but none I thought were awful.  My reviews reflect that.  But the bottom line is this: we request, read and review books we think we’re going to like and will be helpful to the church. We may pick a book that falls in the “stay away” category and thus give a negative review, but we won’t intentionally request such a book from a publisher.

Q. Will you change anything regarding after reading the new FTC Guidelines?

A. It’d help if I finished reading the 81-page document first (pdf here)!  I think there are 2 things going on here that are related to reviewing books here on BBG.  First, if a reviewer receives compensation they must acknowledge that in their review.  This is something we already do.  At the beginning of every review, we say something along the lines of this: Thanks to (person’s name) of (publisher) for a review copy of this book. Then sometimes we follow that up with an apology for taking so long (ahem, Brian).  As far as I can tell, this is what the FTC wants.  If we find out otherwise, we will make the adjustments accordingly.  We do not receive any money for these reviews.  The free book itself is considered, rightly so in my opinion, compensation.  We’re happy to acknowledge this.

Second, according to this interview with a member of the FTC, providing a link to Amazon under the Amazon Affiliates program may be problematic.  I’m not sure if we’d have to do anything more than what we’d already be doing.  Truth be told, I’m not sure we actually use our Amazon Affiliates link very often.  I don’t even know how to do it, and it’s not like Brian is my blog-maid who follows behind me to tidy up.  Anyway, I don’t think it’ll be an issue because we’re acknowledging that we have received a book for free.

Q. Why do you review books?

A. We touch on this a bit on our Book Review page.  A major goal of BBG is to help Christians and churches learn the Bible and learn how to apply it better.  Sometimes that takes the form of a post on a particular passage, sometimes we provide a link to something we found helpful on the internet, and sometimes we review books.  Some of these book reviews are geared towards laypeople, while there are a few of more academic books that would be more likely useful to pastors and students.  Either way, we hope that by reviewing books, we are assisting our readers in making fruitful choices in their book purchasing/reading.  There are a lot of books out there, and the number is growing fast.  It can be helpful to have someone help point the way to a useful resource.  Hopefully we accomplish this.

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