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Special thanks again to Caitlin of Baker Books for a review copy of the DVD and Study Guide.  See my previous post for my review of the 3rd Edition of the book.

Along with publishing a 3rd edition of John Piper’s Let the Nations Be Glad, Baker has released, a helpful complement in the DVD and DVD Study Guide.  I for one applaud the attempt at a multimedia approach, as different media reach different people.  While some may be put off by long chapters (see my review) and extended footnotes, Piper’s passionate preaching and pleading (which is often what he does) with his listeners to pursue and support missions may speak to them.  The content of the actual sermons is largely the same as the book itself, so I won’t spend as much time reviewing that as I will the quality and character of the sermons on the DVD and the helpfulness of the accompanying Study Guide.

The DVDs are divided into 6 talks of approximately 30 minutes.  I think they were originally 2 talks when they were given (I read somewhere they were given in NC).  I’m not entirely sure, but it seems they were given to a group of pastors, presumably under the label of “missional,” since Piper consistently makes the point (especially in the first sermon) “you are not biblically missional unless you pursue missions.”  In the third sermon he also does a Mark Driscoll impersonation, so I’d imagine he was involved in the conference at which these messages were originally given.

The titles of the 6 talks are:

  • Defining Missions and Defining Peoples
  • The Urgency of Missions: The Reality of Hell and the Work of Christ
  • The Urgency of Missions: Preaching, Hearing, and Believing
  • The Goal and Fuel of Missions
  • Prayer: the Power of Missions
  • Suffering: The Cost of Missions

Interestingly, while the content is mostly the same as the book, the order is slightly different.  I say this because after hearing the second sermon, specifically the section on the urgency of missions because of the reality of the eternal nature of hell, I thought, “he really needs to balance this with chapter 1 from his book.”  This came in the fourth sermon (which is why I need to learn to look ahead!).  Without going into all the details (and the book lays out the exegesis for his conclusions), I agree with Piper that the glory due the name of Jesus is the primary motivation for missions, not the fear of hell or anything else.  God is the center of our missiology, not people. 

Piper’s preaching is passionate and powerful.  If I had to pick one sermon for anyone to listen to, I’d probably pick sermon four, “The Goal and Fuel of Missions.”  I think this lays out the basis of missions in a way that anyone interested in the subject can learn and be blessed by.  But none of these sermons stand out as much lower in quality.  In fact, the listener/viewer will find themselves challenged by any and all of these.

The Study Guide contains 8 Lessons for 8 weeks geared toward a small group, with the sermons coming in weeks 2-7 (though it has suggestions for how to do this in a 6 week time frame).  There are questions for people to read 5 days in the week prior to watching the DVD.  They also ask people to read sermons available for free on desiringgod.org, so it isn’t simply watching the DVD and answering some questions.  The advantage to this is that it gets the small group members thinking about God’s plan for the nations of the world throughout the week rather than succumbing to the “once a week” bare minimum that so many groups are built on. 

The questions, by and large, do a good job getting to the heart of each week’s focus.  In my opinion, the success of small groups comes less from the quality of the study guide and more from the discussion leader’s ability to facilitate the discussion.  It seems the folks at Desiring God know this as well and offer simple advice for small group leaders at the end of the Study Guide, a wonderful feature I hope doesn’t slip by because of its location.

I really only have two caveats to make in my praise of the DVD and Study Guide.  First, if you are leading a group of people who are already convinced of the necessity and value of cross-cultural missions to unreached people groups, you will find yourself nodding in agreement more than feeling the conviction of what Piper says.  It seems to me that he is trying to convince those who are not convinced.  So, if you’re group falls into the “already convinced and active” camp, then use the book and DVD as refreshers and support.  The Study Guide will be less helpful for this group, though I suggest using it as a basic guide for asking good questions.  But if you are a pastor and/or a small group leader and you are looking for a way to introduce missions to your church or group, this will be a wonderful tool to do this.

The second caveat is this: it is very John Piper heavy.  This will naturally be the case with a Study Guide based on a DVD of John Piper sermons, which are based on a book by John Piper.  But each week’s discussion also has you read a sermon or article also written by John Piper on desiringgod.org.  I understand the logic behind this: all the items on this website are free for download and reading, and they can control the permanence of this material unlike those which appear on other sites. 

However, John Piper is not the only one who has written on missions.  There are many helpful writings online from missiologists and missionaries that could be used in a small group setting.  Again, I understand why the Study Guide is set up the way it is.  My suggestion for group leaders is that they research and add some supplementary material as they see fit.

Other than those caveats, and they are admittedly small, I highly recommend these materials, especially for those who are on the fence regarding world missions.  Piper’s biblical and passionate preaching stirred my heart and confirmed what God has speaking to me over the years.  I pray that we heed the call to preach the Gospel of the Kingdom to those who have never heard and see the Lord worshipped as He alone is worthy to be worshipped.

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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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John Piper has made some pretty big news for 2 completely different reasons in the last week.  The first was the announcement of his 8-month leave of absence, which you can read about here.  The second, and the impetus for this post, was the announcement that he has invited Rick Warren to speak at the Desiring God National Conference this year (go here for the list of speakers).  I’m including 2 videos below, the first gives the initial rationale for inviting Warren, the second is a follow up after some of the controversy.  If you’re wondering why this choice is controversial at all, these videos will help.

 

To get an idea of what people are saying, you can check out the post at Justin Taylor’s blog.  The comments number over 100 at this point, many of which say something along the lines of “I can’t believe Piper is inviting this heretic” or “Warren preaches a different gospel!”  (Side note: as I was typing this, Taylor added another post, which I’m sure will draw it’s share of comments.)  For some thoughts on why no one should consider Warren a heretic, I encourage you to check out Cousin Jeremy’s post from a few years back, one I still think is relevant and accurate. 

The truth is that I haven’t seen anyone bring forth any actual evidence that Warren holds to heretical beliefs, unless one defines “heretical” as “something I don’t agree with” (which, unfortunately, it seems many do).  I agree that much of what he says is fluffy, though that’s partially because he is attempting not to use “churchy” language in his ministry.  I agree completely that his pragmatism is often problematic.  Pragmatism (which begs for further definition) may be wrong, or even harmful, but it isn’t heresy.  I’m not  a huge fan of the seeker-sensitive movement, although that’s become so hard to define that a sweeping generalization does little to help. 

But the reason I titled this post “Give Piper a Fist Bump” (or a high-five, or a chest bump, or a head nod- whatever you choose) is simply because I like the fact he is going outside of his own circle in inviting Warren to speak at his popular conference.  This is actually the third consecutive year he’s done this (maybe more, I only started paying attention in 2008).  In 2008 he invited Mark Driscoll, which caused some stirring then because Driscoll was still known (fairly or not) as “The Cussing Pastor” to many at that time (he’s since become even closer to Piper, which puts him squarely in the same circle these days).  Last year he invited Doug Wilson.  I think the controversy was a little lighter with Wilson, mainly because he isn’t as well known in broader church circles.  Inviting Wilson was actually more of a risk than either Driscoll or Warren, in my opinion, because you never really know what he will say or how he will say it (read his blog- he is a big believer in satire). 

It is my observation that there is a lot of ecclesiastical inbreeding going on these days.  In one of the videos above, Piper references the “Young, Restless and Reformed” movement (which is basically the same thing as the famed “New Calvinism”).  This movement is not official, but neither is it entirely amorphous.  You can find this crowd in any of these conferences: Desiring God, Acts 29, Together for the Gospel, The Gospel Coalition, and probably some more that I’m forgetting.  Many of these conferences feature the same speakers talking about the same things with people who mostly believe the same things.  Sure, there’s some variety.  Together for the Gospel (T4G) has a Presbyterian, 2 Baptists and a Charismatic heading it up.  It would seem to be crossing “party lines” to bring these people together, though I’d note that it may better be titled “T4G+C+C” (Together for the Gospel and Calvinism and Complementarianism).  That is, if you don’t hold to those 2 “C”‘s, there’s a chance you won’t be invited to speak.

Ecclesiastical inbreeding is not a danger only in the Young, Restless and Reformed movement.  I see this same tendency in my own circles.  In the charismatic world, you tend only to encounter charismatic speakers and authors.  There was a time when you were guaranteed that a big charismatic conference would include Mike Bickle, Jack Deere, Rick Joyner, Jack Taylor, Paul Cain, or at least a few of those names.  Maybe once in a while, you’ll encounter a charismatic Calvinist, like Sam Storms or R T Kendall.  When one of them wrote a book, you were sure to find the others endorsing it.  None of this is necessarily awful, it’s just simply the way it is.

I probably see this kind of inbreeding more in the areas of books we read.  I suspect that many of Warren’s blog critics haven’t really read or studied his writings or sermons.  He’s conveniently placed under the label of “Mega-Church Seeker Sensitive,” which conveniently means we don’t have to listen to him.  We just know he doesn’t sound like our favorite writers, so we don’t like him.  In our church training school, we read J I Packer’s Knowing God.  I remember a couple years back commenting (somehow it came up), that I wasn’t sure where Packer stood regarding spiritual gifts, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he were a cessationist.  Someone responded: then why are we reading this book?  Ugh.

I’m blessed to have lived on the campus at Gordon-Conwell, because it gave me the opportunity to rub shoulders with people of different Christian traditions.  When I attended, this was the denominational breakdown in the student population:

  • Non-denominational/undecided
  • Presbyterian (PCA, PCUSA, etc)
  • Assemblies of God
  • Baptist (mostly American Baptist)

We also had a mixture of Congregationalists, Methodists, EV Free, and even some Episcopalians thrown in.  That’s actually a pretty impressive mix of people (though I should note that Reformed theology still dominated).  I appreciate how much I learned from my fellow students.  I’m glad that I read widely.  I’m glad I still read widely.  I’m saddened by how people put all their eggs in one basket: Reformed Baptists in the John Piper basket, charismatics in the Bill Johnson basket, and so on. 

All this to say, I’m glad that Piper is stepping outside of his circles.  I’m not saying Warren is necessarily a good choice; he could have chosen any number of people not in his camp to come and speak.  But it shows me that Piper is not going to cater to the Piper Fanboys.  D A Carson once warned, “beware of your conservative constituency.”  I’m glad Piper has heeded this warning, and I can only hope others do the same.

My encouragement is to sit down and read a book by someone outside of your camp.  Listen to sermons from a pastor that is entirely different from the ones you’re used to.  My guess is that you’ll find yourself blessed.

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Why Apologetics?

I’m not huge on apologetics.  It’s not that I find it invaluable or dull; I simply only have so much time in the day.  In the midst of all that has to get accomplished in life, some things have to get cut.  For me, one of those things is apologetics. Instead, I’ve allowed Brian to pick up the slack for me and do all the heavy lifting while I sit back in my insular world of exegetical debate.

Nonetheless, I can’t help but be interested in apologetics to some degree, especially since so many of my non-Christians friends and coworkers buy into junk that gets spewed out on a regular basis.  For instance, Dan Brown writes a book full of historical inaccuracies and incredible leaps of logic, but people buy into it.  It’s simply hard to sit by and listen to people regurgitate his junk without saying something about how wrong it is.  That is, on basic level, engaging in apologetics.

But after watching a video of John Piper interviewing Doug Wilson about his upcoming documentary, Collision, I encountered a slightly different take on public apologetics than I had previously heard.  Collision is a documentary of a debate tour Doug Wilson conducted with well-known atheist, Christian Hitchens.  Wilson and Hitchens debated on a few university campuses over the topic: Is Christianity good for the world?

Wilson referred Acts 18:27-28 to present a more church-focused view of apologetics than what I had previously thought of.  Here is that text:

When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the believers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him.  When he arrived, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed.  For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Messiah.

What Wilson points out here is that by engaging in public debate, Apollos encouraged the church.  Wilson’s goal is that by answering the objections someone like Hitchens has to Christianity, he is able to encourage those who face those same questions (especially university students).  It’s interesting because I’ve never really thought about the pastoral function of apologetics.  By answering the critics of Christianity, one can encourage those whose faith has been “dented” (to us Wilson’s word from the interview).

To be sure, Wilson says that he would love for unbelievers to come to faith, as one would expect.  But his point about giving Christians confidence that there are answers to the questions that are thrown at them is one that sticks out to me.  Maybe for those who are more knowledgeable of apologetics this is old hat.  For anyone interested in encouraging other Christians, perhaps taking up the challenge of apologetics is worthwhile, if not necessary.

I’ve included the trailer for the documentary below.  I’ve tried to get the video of Piper’s interview with Wilson on here, but I can’t figure out how to do this with wordpress (score a point for blogger) and it isn’t on youtube yet.  When it is loaded onto youtube (and I think it will be), I’ll let you know.  Until then, you can go here, (video will open, it’s about 15 minutes long).

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I have purposely not written about the current debates on justification, specifically the exchange between N T Wright and John Piper.  It’s not that I have no thoughts on the matter- just the opposite is true.  But I’ve seen the discussion online denegenerate very quickly into name-calling and assertions, rarely involving discussions of actual biblical texts.  While it’s true that controversy attracts readers, it’s not the type of attraction we’re looking for.

But, Brian, my esteemed co-blogger, opened the door last week.  This is no surprise, of course, since Brian is the far more controversial and edgy member of our blogging team.  I walk by the can of worms; Brian rips it open and dumps it out everywhere.  =)

I don’t actually plan on talking about it, rather I’ll offer up a few links for those interesting in reading more on the subject.  The quickest thing to read is a recent post at Christianity Today that compares and contrasts Wright’s and Piper’s views on certain subjects.  It’s concise and well done.  It also shows, in my opinion, that they’re really not that far apart on most things.  That, of course, has never stopped people from fighting over it.

The Christianity Today piece was written by a guy named Trevin Wax, who I have mentioned before as my favorite blogger.  He has a few extremely helpful pieces on the subject over at his blog.  Trevin did a tremendous job working through Piper’s book, The Future of Justification, in an easy-to-read series.  I found this to be the best thing I read on this book, and I’ve read a lot (and yes, I have read the book).  It would help to read Piper’s book first, but I do think Wax faithfully presents Piper’s work.

He has also done a couple interesting interviews with N T Wright.  The first I’ll link to is about one of Wright’s book, but he does deal with Piper’s book (before Wright had read the final draft).  The second is an interview with Wright dealing more directly with Piper’s book.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a quick guide to the debate, I think these are the best places to look.  Enjoy.

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Craig Blomberg has recently written a book review of N.T. Wright’s book, “Justification.”  You may find the shorter review here, and a longer, scholarly review here.  The book under review is the latest in a series of exchanges that are best known to be between Wright and John Piper.  The exchanges concern the proper Biblical understanding of justification, and the consequences of said interpretation.  Even if you are not well acquainted with the debates over what is called the “New Perspecitve” on Paul (I am only lightly read on them myself), I think you will find Blomberg’s review helpful and insightful, per his custom.

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A few months ago, John Piper paid a visit to Park Street Church in Boston as part of their bicentenial celebration.  I often listen to the sermons at Park Street during my commute to work (indeed, said sermons, in conjunction with the Mars Hill Audio Journal, are among the short list of things that make my commute tolerable).  Piper preached a two part sermon that centered around what is arguably one of the cornerstones of his ministry:  Joy.  Specifically, Piper’s thesis is that God is most exalted and glorified when we are most satisfied in Him.  Similarly, our greatest joy is found in God, so God’s frequent call to worship, adore and love Him is the most loving thing God could do, because God is the greatest good in the universe, and we find maximum satisfaction when we’re satisfied with Him.  Even more, as we fervently pursue maximum joy in life (as we ought), that works out as an unselfish, loving joy that blesses others.  (Piper develops this very well in his sermons, as well as his other writings (e.g., The Dangerous Duty of Delight), so please don’t take my three sentence paraphrase as doing any justice to this powerful message.)

While I thoroughly agree with Piper, I often struggle with what it looks like for our satisfaction to rest in God.  I’m reminded of a Simpsons episode wherein Lisa saw a sign advertising the works of Australian actor Yahoo Serious.  The sign reads “Yahoo Serious Film Festival.”  Lisa remarks, “I know those words, but that sign makes no sense.”  Well, ditto.  I know the words “find your satisfaction in God,” but I struggle with what it actually means.

How does finding satisfaction in God make itself manifest in our lives?  What does it actually look like?  Piper offers answers here, and I have some thoughts myself.  However, I wanted to try a more interactive post, and throw the question out to our reader(s).  What does that mean to you?  How do you find satisfaction in God?  How is God the wellspring of your joy?  Is it a mental exercise?  An intellectual recognition of who He is and what He’s done?  Is it spontaneous praise when you experience some wonder of His creation?

To make matters worse, how does one keep satisfaction in the Creator separate from satisfaction with creation?  I am indeed filled with love and joy when I look into my son’s eyes, or share a special moment with my wife, but am I misplacing this satisfaction in creation and not the Creator?  Am I loving the painting but not the Painter?

I eagerly await your thoughts and comments, and hopefully through our interaction we can flush out these questions some more.  Interaction for mutual edification is one of the goals of this website, so let’s not be shy and give it a go!

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