Monday, November 07, 2011

John Piper’s book on missions (part 3)

The second of the three sections in John Piper’s book “Let The Nations Be Glad!” dealt with the necessity and nature of missions work, and to be honest this was where I got really bogged down in reading.

The necessity of missions, according to Piper, lies in the fact that people simply can’t be saved apart from belief in God as revealed through Christ in the Scriptures. And in the fact that the thing they’re getting saved from is eternal, conscious torment—no more, no less, no annihilation nor other escape available. Piper won’t have any of this salvation-through-general-revelation, wishy-washy watering down of the truths that by their existence implore us to get busy about evangelism and missions. (OK, so he didn’t actually say “wishy washy watering down of the truths,” but he may as well have done so!)

That chapter was mostly proving the truth, via demonstration in Scripture, of the preceding statements—theological and doctrinal paths I’ve walked before and wasn’t too keenly interested in reviewing. Yes, I believe it, and yes, it sure makes missions desperately important!—but I’d rather spend my energy reading something else, like, say, missionaries’ prayer letters….

Then there was the chapter discussing the question of whether the Great Commission’s mandate to evangelize “all nations” just means “as many people as possible” or “as many different ethnicities and tribal groups as possible”—whether the goal was number or variety. Piper goes for variety and diversity here. I don’t think I ever asked myself this question, of whether God means us simply to evangelize as many as possible (maximizing the results of our effort, shall we say) or to reach as many groups as possible, like different tribes speaking different languages, even though that might require more energy expended per convert. (Man, I sound like a mathematician here.) But I didn’t feel like I needed fifty pages of repetitive statements and Bible verses to help me answer that question.

I guess I’ve usually pictured the growth of missions as a bar graph, with different areas of the world simultaneously becoming more permeated with the gospel (like the bars measuring different things can all rise at the same time), than as a linear progression, where you have to reach so-many-converts in one country before you start evangelizing the next one (like a line going from the left side of the page to the right; it’s two-dimensional). Intuitively I think you spread out the work as far as possible, to the ends of the earth; I didn’t need Piper to tell me that. But that’s just me, and I’m sure there are many who would be interested in the in-depth discussion of the meaning of “all nations.” (Complete with Greek word studies, cross-checking with other words of similar meanings, and comparisons with words that mean “tribes” and “families” and “households”… yes, he does take it very far.)

I had to force myself to sit through those chapters, but once through, I got to the final piece of the book and was reluctant to put it down when bedtime came. I’ll summarize that piece in the final part of this rundown.

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