Let the Nations Be Glad! The Supremacy of God in Missions. 2nd ed. Revised and Expanded

By John Piper
Grand Rapids : Baker (2003). 256 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. Trevor Craigen
14.2 (Fall 2003) : 347-348

The back cover of this book lists nine evangelical writers or influential leaders who give it their enthusiastic endorsement. An eye-catching, heart-stirring sentence opens the preface: “My passion,” writes Piper, “is to see people, churches, mission agencies, and social ministries become God-centered, Christ-exalting, Spirit-powered, Bible-saturated, missions-mobilizing, soul-winning, and justice-pursuing” (9). His passion is much in evidence in the seven chapters to follow. The refrain, “Making God Supreme in Missions,” accompanies each of the headings of the book’s three parts. The second half of each heading identifies the content of the chapters involved: Part 1 (chaps. 1-3) is headed “The Purpose, the Power, and the Price,” Part 2 (chaps. 4-5) “The Necessity and the Nature of the Task,” and Part 3 (chaps. 6-7) “The Practical Outworking of Compassion and Worship.”

Gems of expression pop up often in these chapters and make the reader pause in reflection before moving on, e.g,. “Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching. You can’t commend what you don’t cherish” (17), “Prayer is the walkie-talkie of the church on the battlefield of the world in the service of the Word” (67), “Persecution can have harmful effects on the church, but prosperity it seems is even more devastating to the mission God calls us to” (95), and “Missions exists because worship doesn’t” (206). The careful wording of some headings evokes interest, e.g., “The Belittling of God’s Glory and the Horrors of Hell” (28), “God’s Self-Exaltation: Signpost to Human Satisfaction” (32), and “The Nerve of Urgency” (115). Questions as headings also garner attention, e.g., “What is a People Group?” (188), “What is a Language?” (189), and “What do ‘Reached’ and ‘Unreached’ Mean?” (192). A judicious blend of commentary on selected biblical texts and the insertion of appropriate mission-field anecdotes and examples serves well in challenging the reader to think more seriously about missions than he has done before.

A footnote graciously directs attention to David Doran’s book, For the Sake of His Name: Challenging a New Generation for World Missions, because Piper wishes his readers to know that Doran has interacted with him on the Great Commission “and so may provide a perspective that I am neglecting” (234). Concise but adequate treatment of the singular and plural use of ethnos [”nation”] and the use of Panta ta Ethne [”all the nations”] in the NT (161-67) leads Piper to conclude that this latter phrase is understood as “all the nations (people groups)” (167). Forthrightly and unabashedly he also asserts in full accord with the biblical data: (1) that the unsaved will experience eternal, conscious torment in hell, (2) that the work of Christ is the necessary, God-provided means for eternal salvation, and (3) that people must hear of Christ to be eternally saved (115-38). The extended, informative footnotes in this section provide additional resource material both negative and positive on these three crucial areas, unfortunately distorted by open theism. Piper’s evaluation of Cornelius (Acts 10) as representative of a kind of unsaved person in an unreached people group who is seeking God in some extraordinary way might very well be open to question, but the reader will have been forced to think exegetically about it—and that is always good.

God’s zeal for his own glory receives emphasis several times over and especially so in a four-page listing of selected texts (22-28). It would be a weightier theme were Piper to tie it in with the grand fulfillment of the biblical covenants, prophecies, and promises in the millennial kingdom. This would certainly underscore the title Let the Nations Be Glad! and aptly describe the international state of affairs at history’s end. As a result of attentive and thoughtful reading, some may become missionaries and some may become world Christians (238), and some churches may find their members becoming senders or fellow-workers of the truth who directly participate in God’s purpose (236). Want to galvanize missions? Then, don’t delay, get this book and use it!