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Posts Tagged ‘missions’

Whereas last year I had a hard time naming 5 good books I read in 2009, I’m having trouble keeping it to 5 for 2010.  Actually, I forgot The Cross and Christian Ministry and The Prodigal God last year, so the list would have been pretty good.  I started making my list earlier this year to avoid the same mistake.  As with previous years, this list is comprised of books I read for the first time this year, not that were published this year.  In fact, I don’t think I even read 5 books published in 2010.  Unlike previous years, I’m giving an order to this, in order of ascending appreciation.  Interestingly, despite the fact I reviewed 10 books this year for publishers, none of the books on this list were from them. 

This list does not include revised editions of books I’ve previously read, otherwise Jesus and the Gospels: 2nd Edition would have made the cut. 

5. Conforming to Christ in Community, by Jim Samra

I first mentioned this book back in June, and as I’ve thought back on the books I read this year, this one stood out as a strong one because of it’s usefulness, despite it’s dissertationy feel (because… um… it’s a dissertation).  I’m currently reading Samra’s scaled down book on the value of the church, which is also quite good, but my guess is that I’ll revisit this one when I want to refresh myself on Paul’s teaching on the church and its importance for the maturation of Christians. 

4. The Pentateuch as Narrative, by John Sailhamer

I mentioned this book a couple months back as my new “curveball” book for the Pentateuch.  When I need a slightly different take, or someone to help me make connections within the Pentateuch that I easily miss, John Sailhamer is my guy.  It’s hard to think of the first five books of the Bible as disjointed and boring after reading Sailhamer. 

3. Jesus in a New Age, Dalai Lama World, by M. Tsering

The world of Tibetan Buddhism is a fascinating one, and its worldview couldn’t be much more different from the biblical one.  This book is a wonderful introduction to this worldview, and offers many suggestions how to share Christ with those who hold it.  This book is so well done that I think anyone interested in missions and cross-cultural evangelism would do well to read it because many of the principles are universal. 

2. A Call to Spiritual Reformation, by D A Carson

I read a lot of Carson this year, so much so that I could have done a top 5 just with Carson books and they’d all be very good.  I opted not to include more than one Carson book.  The God Who Is There is outstanding, I’ve benefitted greatly from the two volumes of For the Love of God during my morning quiet times.  I could add Collected Writings on Scripture and make it 5 (Scandalous wouldn’t quite make the cut).  But when I needed a boost in my prayer life, I turned to this book and it delivered.  So I chose this one out of the many because of the impact it had on me personally.  Using the prayers in Paul as a guide to our own prayers seems like such an obvious approach, I wonder why I had never thought of it.  I’ve read a lot of Carson, not just this year but in previous years, but this is my favorite and I can’t recommend it highly enough.

1. Salvation Belongs to Our God, by Christopher J H Wright

Despite also reading The Mission of God, which is Wright’s massive and more detailed book demonstrating the missional character of God, this shorter book stands as my favorite of the year.  As I mentioned in my review, I ended up taking 33 pages of notes on it!  It’s not that I agree with everything in this book, in fact I’d say I agreed more with the previous book on this list than this one.  But Wright captivated me with his ability to place things in the context of the biblical story in a compelling manner.  This is biblical theology done well.

Looking Ahead

My reading load for 2011 will be much smaller due to some major constraints on my personal time.  However, I am currently reading John Jefferson Davis’ Worship and the Reality of God, Jim Samra’s The Gift of Church and will soon be starting Jim Hamilton’s God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment.  On top of that, I plan on reading David Platt’s Radical and John Piper’s Think, and Ron Jaworski’s The Games that Changed the Game.  The first three will all be reviewed here; the other 3 may get a mention.  I’d be interested to know what books BBG readers enjoyed reading this year, so feel free to leave a comment.

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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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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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A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and His Prayers.  I’m slowly but surely making my way through many of D A Carson’s books.  It is a rare skill to be exegetical and devotional in the same book, or even on the same page, yet Carson pulls it off.  This book came at just the right time, as I need a pick-me-up in the prayer department.  It’s interesting, and a bit disheartening, to see how little we allow Scripture to shape our prayers.  While this book doesn’t answer every question regarding prayer, it does provide a biblical framework with which to start, and contains numerous bits of practical advice along the way.  My wife is currently reading this as well, and has also benefitted greatly from it.  I’ve quoted from this book once in a previous post.

Paul, the Spirit and the People of God.  Have you ever had a book that you’ve never read from beginning to end, but probably read the whole thing in chunks over a long period of time (for many of us, that’s the Bible)?  That was me and this Gordon Fee book, until recently.  I finally made the time to read through the whole thing, and I’m glad I did.  Stemming from his work in God’s Empowering Presence, which is 900+ pages of detailed exegesis and theological reflection, Fee offers this manageable 200ish page volume.  I think this would make an excellent book for a small group to study if they are interested in learning more about the Holy Spirit in Paul’s letters (and in the NT as a whole).  Much of the church today lacks a robust understanding of the Spirit, including my own charismatic circles.  It will be hard to read this book and not be challenged to see just how central the Spirit is to biblical theology and practice.  From eschatology to ethics to spiritual gifts, Fee does a tremendous job of making accessible what a lifetime of research has taught him.

From Jerusalem to Irian Jaya.  We read this Ruth Tucker book (affectionately known as FJ2IJ) in our missions training school.  It is, as the subtitle indicates, a biographical history of missions.  Tucker runs through the history of missions by looking at various important figures, with some historical setting for a little context.  Reader beware- she pulls no punches.  The history of Christian missions is mixed with triumph and failure, and she’ll let you know about it.

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