John Piper has been the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota since 1980. He is the author of over 30 books and the founder of Desiring God ministries. The second edition of Let the Nations Be Glad was published in 2003.
Summary of Let the Nations Be Glad
On the back cover of the second edition of Let the Nations Be Glad, Patrick Johnstone, author of Operation World says, “This book has glorified God and helped to bring missions from the periphery to the center of the worldview of many Christians, and it is faithful to the Scriptures.”
In Let the Nations Be Glad, John Piper reminds us that the true reason we share God with others is to magnify the supremacy of Christ in this world in order to make others behold, and savor and glorify God in the gospel. Piper begins the book stating, “Missions exists because worship doesn’t. Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man . . . worship abides forever” (p. 17). This opening statement lays the foundation for Let the Nations Be Glad. Pastor Piper has in mind Revelation 7:9-10, “a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, and crying out with a loud voice, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'” In that sense, worship is the ultimate goal of the gospel and the supremacy of God in missions. Missions will one day end, but the great multitude of believers from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, will cry out before the throne of God above in worship, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne and to the Lamb.”
What is missions? Piper makes the point that Christian missions is an expression of God’s ultimate worth over creation and his loving passion to seek and save the lost for his name’s sake (cf. Luke 19:10). Let the Nations Be Glad is divided into three parts and seven chapters with an afterword by Tom Steller.
The three major parts are:
- Making God Supreme in Missions: The Purpose, the Power, and the Price
- Making God Supreme in Missions: The Necessity and Nature of the Task
- Making God Supreme in Missions: The Practical Outworking of Compassion and Worship
Piper’s stated goal of missions is, “We simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God’s glory” (p. 17). His consistency allows for nothing less than the supremacy of God in missions through the gospel of Jesus Christ, worship, prayer, and the suffering of believers so that all the nations may know and worship him.
The first chapter covers the supremacy of God in missions through worship. Chapters two and three discuss the nature and purpose of prayer and suffering in God’s Missio Dei. Pastor Piper supports his point that God is worthy of our worship and praise, worthy of our lives by stating the opening of the Westminster Shorter Catechism: “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” while adding, and “the chief end of God is to glorify God and enjoy himself forever” (p. 21). For Piper, that is why worship is ultimate. Global evangelism cannot be truly seen for what it is to God unless understand God for who he is.
Chapter two outlines the role and nature of prayer in missions. Piper writes, “Prayer is not a domestic intercom . . . to ask for more comforts in the den.” Instead, it is a strategic weapon of choice for pressing back the forces of darkness (pp. 49, 51). Therefore, he makes the point that prayer puts missions under the mercy of God.
Chapter three intends to show how suffering relates to the supremacy of God in missions. Jesus taught, “Whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it” (Mark 8:35). To Piper, the Bible clearly teaches that Christians will suffer, especially when proclaiming the gospel to those who will reject it. He suggests that though “Christ died for us so that we would not have to die for sin,” that does not mean we will “not have to die for others” (p. 77). To that point, he says that we are often called to suffer for others just as Christ suffered for us, also including that suffering for good is gracious in the eyes of God. Piper’s treatment of suffering and the supremacy of God are thoroughly biblical and richly theological.
Chapter four discusses the supremacy of Christ as the “conscious focus of all saving faith” (p. 111). For that reason, this is one of the most important chapters in the book. Piper makes the biblical point that people cannot come to a conscious saving faith in Christ unless the message of Christ is given to them, and the message of Christ will not be given to them unless we go and share the gospel with them. The afterword by Tom Steller elaborates this point.
The fifth chapter of Let the Nations Be Glad addresses the supremacy of God among all the nations. Pastor Piper suggests that the biblical definition of missions is not defined by love in itself; rather it is defined by God (cf. p. 155). He says, certainly God is love, but often the way we define love is different from “the ways of God” and “are not the way we would have done things with our limited views” (p. 155). This is important concerning the nations, because it is understandable that not all people will be saved.
What does it mean to reach all peoples, tribes, tongues, and nations? Piper suggests that the “special missionary task will result in the greatest number of people groups reached with the testimony of Christ” and not necessarily the greatest number of individuals. I will discuss this point further in the critical evaluation portion of this review.
The following two chapters outline Piper’s purpose for writing the book along with a practical outworking of compassion for others that is a result of a passion for God’s supremacy in this world. In chapter six, he mentions the influence of Jonathan Edwards on his theology and on the unity of motives for God’s glory and the salvation of sinners in missions. He reminds us that Christ died to redeem a worshiping people for his Father (p. 208), and that we also have a motive for sharing the gospel that is rooted in our passion for God’s glory and, therefore, seen in our compassion and love for people. Pastor Piper also reminds by way of Edwards that if we seek to honor God with our lives and seek to rescue people from hell, we must also pursue the lost even as they shy away from the light and rescue them from condemnation through prayer, suffering and by the Good News of salvation in Christ.
Critical Evaluation of Let the Nations Be Glad
I will address the issues of suffering for the supremacy of Christ and the great multitude in heaven (cf. Rev. 7:9-10) in this section of the review. Before getting to that, I want to take this opportunity to urge you to read this book. In my opinion, this is the most important book on missions available today outside of the biblical texts dealing with missions and evangelism. Let the Nations Be Glad is richly theological, and saturated with biblical expositions of related texts. Piper’s theological understanding of missions is constant and applicable. Not only that, but he also reminds us that missions is ultimately about the glory of God.
Chapter four, which deals with the role of suffering and the supremacy of Christ in missions is important. To many Christians in Western nations, this idea is difficult to identify with. Piper mentions Paul’s words in Col. 1:24 in this chapter: “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church” (see vv. 25-26 for context). His point is we should rejoice in our suffering and afflictions because we endure those things for the supremacy of Christ in the gospel and for the sake of those who hear and believe.
In my opinion, this chapter makes sense of Christians who have willingly suffered for the sake of the gospel, even to the point of death, so that all peoples may hear the gospel preached. Why would Elisabeth Elliot return to those who murdered her husband to tell them the gospel? Why would any Christian die for the sake of the gospel at the hands of those they are trying to reach? They do it for the joy that is set before them, and they want others to be saved and worship him also.
The second thing I want to address in this review is Piper’s treatment of the supremacy of God among all the nations in chapter five. To begin, missions is genuinely the work of God through Christ. We are tools in his hands and he is the one who calls his sheep and “brings them into the fold through the preaching of those whom he sends” (p. 55). It is that biblical truth that should give us confidence in prayer, the heart to stand for the gospel and suffering for the sake of church, and the passion to seek to save others from hell.
It is in that context that Piper suggests that the “special missionary task will result in the greatest number of people groups reached with the testimony of Christ.” In view of Rev. 7:9-10, our view of missions should be a global idea. Piper makes the point that if we actually plan on reaching the most people, we should probably focus on regions were the church is established (e.g. primarily, the United States, parts of Africa, and China). Do you see the problem there? Piper’s point here is important because Rev. 7:9-10 says that the great multitude will include peoples from every tribe, tongue, and nation. To that position, Piper provides a detailed word study of the Greek word used in the New Testament for people, ethnos, explaining the uses and intent of the singular and plural. I highly recommend chapter five be read twice.
Piper’s strengths in Let the Nations Be Glad are similar to his strengths in God is the Gospel and Desiring God. He is passionately committed to God’s supremacy in all aspects of missions. In Let the Nations Be Glad, he seeks to help us understand God’s love and compassion for the nations. But more importantly, he helps us to understand how we should view God’s mission. I highly recommend Let the Nations Be Glad for anyone wanting to read a thorough biblical theology of missions.
- Buy Let the Nations Be Glad! @ Desiring God for $10.