Review of Let The Nations Be Glad

The following is a paper I wrote for my World Missions class. The prompt was “Four pages will describe the content of the book, and 4-6 pages will provide an analysis of the book. This analysis should address your opinion of how well the author dealt with the subject. Did he support his points well? What was missing in his arguments? What were the most valuable points in the book?” Please enjoy. 


Introduction

Let the Nations Be Glad by John Piper is, by any standard, a masterful work. Piper’s handling and inclusion of Biblical text and deep thought is commendable, and it is rare to find a book as dense with theological richness while also making a point about missions. In this review a brief overview of the content of the book will be given, followed by an analysis of that content. Finally, a brief reflection on the value of the book will be made.

Content

Supremacy of God

Piper spends the first half of the book arguing for the supremacy of God through different modes and means. These modes will be addressed in the next section. However, it is necessary to point out that the supremacy of God is his main concern. He spends pages and pages listing verse after verse pointing to a singular fact: God is supreme. Glorifying God is the chief end of creation; it is the final goal of God Himself. The book of revelation displays this so beautifully, as in the midst of destruction and judgment on a massive scale, there are intervals where all is quiet in heaven but for the singing of praises to God. “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God all mighty, who was and is and is to come.” (Rev 4:8)

Piper best summarizes this when he says, “God is righteous. This means that he recognizes, welcomes, loves, and upholds with infinite jealousy and energy what is infinitely valuable, namely, the worth of God.”[1] God, by definition is the highest, greatest, best, most worthy, good, and praiseworthy thing. That is who he is. If that definition is true, the following makes perfect sense: God is God, so of course He glorifies Himself; what else is there to glorify?

Worship, Prayer, and Suffering

The first three chapters detail the theology behind how God glorifies Himself through His Church. Worship, prayer, and suffering are the three that Piper expounds on. The first two sentences in the book are striking ones. “Missions is not the ultimate goal of the Church. Worship is.”[2] He goes on to build this case through showing the ultimate-ness of God and showing that the bible repeatedly assumes worshipping and glorifying God is the end game, not the saving of souls. In one particularly intriguing passage, he explains the difference in rules for humans and God in terms of self-glorification. The common link between humans and God is not, don’t glorify the self, the link is, glorify the one worthy of glory. Therefore, “for us that means exalt God. And for God that means exalt God.”[3]

In the chapter on prayer he sets up the metaphor of Christians being at war and prayer being the walkie-talkie. He also repeatedly refers to prayer as the “fuel” for wielding the word of God. He intrinsically links the word of God with prayer, and makes it remarkably clear that missions is not accomplished only through prayer, but that it cannot be accomplished at all without prayer. Again, he gives a myriad verses, in context, to support this point.

Thirdly, he speaks of the harsh truth of the fall, displayed in suffering, He makes it clear that true Christians must expect suffering, and gives many practical stories in which suffering was the means by which the gospel was preached. He finishes the chapter with six reasons God appoints suffering for his servants. It deepens our faith and holiness, increases our cup, makes others bold, fills up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions, enforces the missionary command to go, and manifests the supremacy of Christ.[4]

Bridging the Gap

Piper spends chapters four and five bridging the gap between the theology he has presented in the first part of the book and the applications he will make in the third part. He does this by asking questions. He brings up the questions about hell and how someone is actually saved and he comes up with two answers: hell is real eternal conscious torment, and Jesus is the answer. He uses the story of Cornelius in Acts 10-11 to discuss what conversion is and then talks about the necessity of preaching the gospel because of the real and present danger of hell for all humanity. After that, he does a masterful job of exegeting what is meant by “nations” in the Bible from the Greek, making it clear that every ethnos people group or ethnic identity will be reached, but also that the word reflects the idea of other distinguishing those ethnos from Jews. This can be seen in the treatment of the plural and in the analysis of panta ta ethne.[5] Finally he drives his point home by showing over and over again, God’s supremacy in panta ta ethne: all the nations, though his conclusions may be overstated. More will be said on this later.

Reiterating Worship

Piper finishes his book with an analysis of Jonathan Edwards’s thoughts on the glory of God and unity of missions, then continues in what sounds like the first chapter of a whole extra book, defining worship in the New Testament. Piper makes argument after argument about the changes between Old Testament and New Testament worship. He says that worship moved from something that was largely outward to largely inward, from something largely localized to something delocalized, and from some things we do to some way we live. He talks about the change in word choice between Old and New Testament worship and ultimately concludes that worship is, “being satisfied with God in Christ.”[6]

He also refers to a C.S. Lewis passage that does a great job of explaining why we praise God. Lewis’s ultimate conclusion is that we praise God because it is the fulfillment, the finishing off, of enjoying God. We praise all the things we like and that expression of praise is what completes the liking. “It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are, the delight is incomplete till it is expressed.”[7] This is a conclusion that Piper claims helped him “see the obvious.”[8] God wanting praise isn’t a vain thing; it’s a naturally right thing. “Genuine heartfelt praise is not artificially tacked on to joy. It is the consummation of joy.”[9] These conclusions are then reiterated in the final section of the book.

Handling of Content

With all of the content now summarized, certain questions must be asked. How did he handle the content? Did he mishandle any particular points or make points that were invalid? Were there any gaping holes where he obviously should have gone, but did not? These questions form the basis for the following section.

Well-Handled

The vast majority of the book fits into the category of “well-handled.” John Piper is well practiced in the art of argumentation and it’s definitely on display in this book. Few writers or speakers could pack so many points into so few pages. In particular some sections jumped out as “extremely good.”

Piper’s treatment of the glory of God throughout was masterful. Even though he is not expressly a dispensationalist, Piper argued well for the third sine qua non of dispensationalism: The ultimate purpose of God in creation is to glorify Himself. Not only were every one of his supporting arguments rock solid in terms of logic, they were all built upon scripture. In particular, the section titled “Biblical Texts to Show God’s Zeal for His Own Glory” was explosive. Any argument against God’s glory as the ultimate purpose of creation would have to instantly bow out.

Also, Piper’s treatment of hell was scholarly and clear. It is difficult to find a clear and powerful voice in defending the historic view of hell as eternal conscious torment. Clark Pinnock’s repeated arguments for an inclusivist position and John Stott’s argument for annihilationism seem to be gaining ground in the common Christian culture, if not consciously, then subconsciously. Piper’s appeal to both Biblical texts, and amazing theologians like Jonathan Edwards, made the case clearly. “Edwards was radically committed to deriving his views of God’s justice and love from God. But more and more it seems that contemporary evangelicals are submitting to what ‘makes sense’ to their own moral sentiments.”[10]

Piper implicitly makes the point that I verily agree with: without hell, there’s very little need for a savior. From what are we being saved? One might say sin, but what is the point of being saved from something that carries no consequence? Death is the wage of sin and hell is the fully-realized death. It is from this consequence of sin that we are saved, and without this consequence we are left searching for a reason to be saved, and can find none.

Finally, Piper’s quotation of Lewis near the end was a particularly impressive behind-the-back slam-dunk. The philosophy espoused is so logical and straightforward, yet needs to be pointed out. It’s the nose that all people see in their field of vision, but their brain intentionally edits out of consciousness. Praising God is the fulfillment of the glory and enjoyment of God. Piper loudly and repeatedly claims that, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”[11] While I don’t necessarily agree entirely with what Piper calls the “most important sentence in [his] theology,” (more on this later) I can see how he gets there and appreciate the arguments leading up to it.[12]

As stated above, this is not an exhaustive list of the well-handled points Piper made in Let the Nations Be Glad; this is merely a highlights reel, the best of the best. There were a few mishandled points however, to which we now turn.

Mishandled

One of the only slightly mishandled points made by Piper was his use of Jonah. Piper incorrectly summarizes the point of the book of Jonah: “It’s about missions and racism and ethnocentrism.”[13] He then goes on to talk about how the story of Jonah teaches us to be merciful like God instead of miserly like Jonah and further, he uses Jonah as an anti-type for missionaries. Unfortunately, the book of Jonah isn’t really about missions, or racism. It’s only kind of about ethnocentrism. The book of Jonah is written to and for the nation of Israel to get them to repent (as is the point of the majority of the prophets). The reason Jonah goes to Nineveh is to slap the people of Israel with a dose of reality that the most vicious heathen nation on the face of the earth at the time (the Assyrians) was able to recognize the truth of and worship YHWH, but Jonah (representative of the whole nation of Israel) is mad about this and instead of rejoicing in God’s mercy and worshipping God, he worships a plant. Israelites should respond with repentance and worship of YHWH, but as history shows us, they do not. This is a pretty minor discreptency in Let the Nations Be Glad however, since Piper’s arguments are still valid in terms of truths about missions, they simply aren’t central to the book of Jonah. The text he used to support his true statements was stretched thinner than Ernest Rutherford’s gold foil.

It could be argued that Piper does a bit of eisegesis in his handling of “all the nations.” His stresses repeatedly that panta ta ethne doesn’t mean individual gentiles but instead, people-groups. However he also repeatedly states that the phrase is ambiguous and could mean individuals. While I agree with the interpretation that panta ta ethne likely refers to people-groups I think it wrong to stress the point as much as Piper does. He uses this rather shaky foundation as the basis for all of the arguments in how to go about world missions, in focusing on reaching people-groups instead of individuals. I think there should be more balance than Piper seems to suggest.

Finally, as mentioned previously, I do not entirely agree with Piper’s mantra, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.” Also as stated, I understand how he gets to that point, I just don’t view it as very substantive or, unfortunately, clearly taught in scripture. For such a pithy and essential part of Piper’s theology, no New Testament writer outright says something very close to it. I am always wary of pithy phrases that stick in the mind, because they run the risk of being equated in authority and acceptance with biblical texts. What’s more, the superlatives presented in the phrase make me wary as well. I’m never confident saying God is “most glorified” by anything unless the Bible specifically says so. I don’t think it does, or this phrase would come with a scripture reference. I’m fairly comfortable with the sentiment of the phrase however, but I would soften it. God is quite glorified in us when we are quite satisfied in Him. This seems like a less dangerous phrase but conveys the same meaning: be satisfied in God.

Missing

There were no major gaps in the work. John Piper is nothing if not thorough. His systematic treatment of every possible avenue within missions was comprehensive to say the least. There were multiple times that I found the book too comprehensive, to the point that I would skim ahead instead of reading carefully. I’m reminded of a C.S. Lewis quote from Mere Christianity, “It is a very silly idea that in reading a book you must never ‘skip.’ All sensible people skip freely when they come to a chapter which they find is going to be no use to them.”[14] I found myself skipping in Let the Nations Be Glad not because I thought the section was untrue, but because I thought the point had already been made and I needed no further convincing. This is often the mark of a thorough, well-argued position and so I make no complaint of it.

Value of Book

All in all, this book is highly valuable for two main purposes: theological instruction and encouragement in missions. Piper does an excellent job on both fronts. For those of us who experience a bit of lethargy toward missions, this book is an incredible pick-me-up and reminder of the Great Commission. Beyond that, the theology presented is rock solid with only a few minor exceptions that are hardly even exceptions, merely adjustments. I will highly recommend Let the Nations Be Glad to anyone who has a desire to learn the meaning of missions, the point of creation, or the reason for worshipping God. It is a masterpiece that lives up to its hype and deserves the long shelf life it boasts.

 

 

Bibliography

 

Piper, John. Let the Nations be Glad. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2010.

Lewis, C. S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. New York: C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 2007.

[1] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad. Grand Rapids, (MI: Baker Academic, 2010), 40.

[2] Ibid, 35.

[3] Ibid, 49.

[4] Ibid, 108-125.

[5] Ibid, 184-186.

[6] Ibid, 250.

[7] Ibid, 249.

[8] Ibid, 248.

[9] Ibid, 249.

[10] Ibid, 144.

[11] Ibid, 50.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid, 197.

[14] C. S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York: C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 2007), 137.

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