Tuesday, November 08, 2011

John Piper’s book on missions (part 4)

At last—we return to missions and worship to conclude the book.

It’s obvious by now that Piper is strongly influenced by Great Awakening pastor Jonathan Edwards, and he says as much here. Then he goes on to explain that missions is necessitated because “creation is telling the glory of God, but the peoples are not treasuring it…. The ultimate issue addressed by missions is that God’s glory is dishonored among the peoples of the world.” Then he connects worship with missions and all that with compassion for the lost: “Unbelief not only dishonors God but destroys the soul….And so missions is driven by a passion not only to restore the glory of God to its rightful place in the worshiping soul but but also to rescue sinners from everlasting pain.”

The final chapter, probably the one that most enthralled me, deals with the nature of worship itself—what is this that we’re trying to propagate throughout the world? I’ll let him tell it himself, in abbreviated form:

Worship in the New Testament moved toward something radically simple and inward, with  manifold external expressions in life and liturgy.

The epistles of the New Testament contain very little instruction that deals explicitly with corporate worship—what we call worship services…. [Jesus] diverted attention away from worship as a localized activity with outward forms and pointed toward a personal, spiritual experience with himself at the center.

What makes worship worship is what happens “in spirit and truth”—with or without a place and with or without outward forms…. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).  This is the essence of worship: to act in a way that reflects the heart’s valuing of the glory of God.

Upon re-reading this final chapter to refresh my memory of the particulars that made me so satisfied on finishing the book, despite its middling literary quality (I’ve never cared for Piper’s writing style), I realize again that it is this focus on worship and God’s glory that made the book so compelling a case for world missions.

I hope the four-part summary I’ve written doesn’t make you think you don’t have to read the book now. It’s not a “have-to” thing at all, obviously; but if you’re interested in missions, whether as a possible missionary or as part of a missions support network (i.e. a layperson), I strongly recommend at least reading the first three chapters and the final one. (There’s a conclusion that summarizes all the parts, if you want to skip the rest!) The slightly repetitive style can be borne if you concentrate on the substance of what he’s saying, and maybe read a little faster than you’re used to.

For what it’s worth, this is my take on his writing style: He’s a preacher, so he’s used to conveying a message through spoken word, which requires much more repetition than is necessary in writing. (See, I learned something in my speech and rhetoric classes!) My hypothesis is that he’s simply more used to speaking than writing, even at this late stage, and so falls into the old, repetitious habits. Give him a little grace for it.


Addendum especially for Mom: I know you were interested in how he dealt with the issue that in Calvinism only the “elect” are bound to end up in heaven, and nobody else can even ask to get there. (A simplification, but you know what I’m talking about.) I excerpt here, from p. 55, the only bit that addressed predestination:

There will always be people who argue that the doctrine of election makes missions unnecessary. But they are wrong. It does not make missions unnecessary; it makes missions hopeful. John Alexander, a former president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, said in a message at Urbana ‘67, “At the beginning of my missionary career I said that if predestination were true I could not be a missionary. Now after twenty years of struggling with the hardness of the human heart, I say that I could never be a missionary unless I believed in the doctrine of predestination.” It gives hope that Christ most certainly has “other sheep” among the nations.

When Jesus says, “I must bring them also,” he does not mean that he will do it without missionaries. That’s plain from the fact that salvation comes through faith and faith comes through the word of his disciples. Jesus brings his sheep into the fold through the preaching of those whom he sends, just as the Father sent him. [emphasis original]

Aside from that, the book’s focus lies mainly as I’ve outlined, on getting God the most glory through bringing diverse peoples into Christian communion. Overall I thought the book was quite compelling even if one did not subscribe to Tulip theology.

2 comments:

mafia said...

"and maybe read a little faster than you’re used to"... does that mean I can read it as fast as The Doctor appears to read? :-D

Sarah said...

Silly girl! Only The Doctor can read like that. You will have to settle for simply slightly-above-average speed. :D