Monday, May 09, 2011

Book Review: God's Desire for the Nations

Philip Hopkins has produced a very interesting work on missions with his book God's Desire for the Nations: The Missionary Theology of John Piper. His book takes an unusual tact in that rather than putting forth his own understanding of missions, he instead gives a very comprehensive study of the missionary theology of one of the leading contemporary theologians in the church, John Piper.

It is without much debate that among the leading Reformed theologians, no other figure is as vocal and enthusiastic about missions as John Piper. While many other Reformed theologians spend lots of time writing and preaching about deep theological issues, as does Piper, none put as much emphasis on living out God's call to take the Gospel to all nations in the same way that Piper does. In many ways he is the leading voice in combining an understanding of God's sovereignty in salvation and the responsibility of Christians to answer the call to take the Gospel to the world. Rather than obedience just because God said so, Hopkins shows how Piper integrates missions and the doctrines of grace into the "two wills of God" position and also how it fits into Piper's well-known doctrine of "Christian Hedonism". What this book really excels at is showing how Piper's overall theology impacts and forms his understanding of missions. Missiology cannot be put in a silo and dealt with as an unrelated issue. Missiology and how we view our role as ambassadors for Christ in God's great mission is integral to our understanding of salvation, of the church, pretty much everything we deal with as the church. If you have a poorly formed theology of missions, your entire theological foundation is going to be flawed and there are plenty of people, me included, who have a partially formed theology of missions that impacts our own doctrinal thinking.

Hopkins section on suffering in missions as normative and necessary was particularly good. Suffering as a part of missions work has been around since the earliest days of the church and is still alive today as demonstrated by the persecution of our brothers and sisters around the world where proclaiming the Gospel can lead to persecution, arrest and even death. Our willingness to suffer on the mission field is itself a Gospel witness. Hopkins also does a great job in comparing Piper with other well-known missiologists which helps to give the reader a real flavor for Piper's somewhat unique viewpoint on mission work.

God's Desire for the Nations is not an easy read. Hopkins references a slew of Piper's writings and sermons and sometimes the references come staccato, making the reading somewhat clunky. There are so many endnotes that you can get lost in what you are reading if you check the endnotes frequently, which doesn't help the readability. In many ways it reads like an academic paper more than a book aimed at a general audience and people who are unfamiliar with some of the concepts Hopkins raises might have a hard time with the book, although Hopkins does take the time to lay out the foundations of Calvinism which will be helpful for those who have not been exposed to this school of theology or who have only heard about Calvinism from antagonistic sources.

This is a great book for both the Calvinist who appreciates the teaching of John Piper and is looking for a comprehensive look at Piper's theology of missions as well as for those who are not Calvinists and are under the mistaken impression that Calvinists by and large are disinterested in missions and missionary work. Really anyone who has a interest in the theological underpinnings of missions and mission work would benefit from reading this book. You are not going to get a "how-to guide" for going on mission but you will get a deeper appreciation for how mission work and theology walk hand in hand, in fact how they must walk hand in hand because without carrying out the mission of God in the world, theology is just dry and empty scholasticism and without solid theology backing it up, mission work can become little more than social work or worse be involved in the making of false disciples.

You can purchase a copy of God's Desire for the Nations by following the link at the top to Energion Publications or from Amazon.

(I received a free copy of this book from Energion Publications in return for an unbiased review of the book)


Henry Neufeld said...

Thanks for the review! I always like it when I can tell the reviewer really read the book. I learned things about Calvinism I had never known while editing this one.

Arthur Sido said...

Thanks for the review copy, it is a great book!