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Posts Tagged ‘Let the Nations Be Glad’

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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