God’s great goal in all of history is to uphold and display the glory of his name for the enjoyment of his people from all nations.
If this is true — and I argue extensively that it is in chapter 1 of Let the Nations Be Glad, as well as in Desiring God (appendix 2 in the hardcover) and The Pleasures of God (chapter 4) — then a question worth addressing is this: How does God’s focus on the diversity of the peoples advance his purpose to be glorified in his creation?
It is an important question to answer for every generation, including our day, when the apparent fears of some white Americans are receiving fresh media attention. Whether the fears are sparked by non-white Muslim refugees, Latino immigrants, or African Americans protesting injustices, what seems to be missing among many Christians, is a solid biblical conviction that ethnic diversity in the church is a beautiful thing, and part of God’s ultimate design for his people.
It is inconceivable to me that a Christian can have a Christ-exalting love for diversity in the church and be hostile toward diversity in the nation. The knee-jerk hostilities I see betray, it seems, a very thin veneer of politically correct tolerance of diversity, instead of a deep, biblically grounded, cross-centered exuberance over God’s plan to reconcile all nations in Christ.
Perhaps it will be helpful to ponder the reasons why God ordained ethnic diversity and the unified harmony of diverse ethnicities in the family of God. One diverse body. One chosen race. One royal priesthood. One holy nation. One treasured possession. One family. And all of this unity blood-bought. Christ did not die for this in vain.
What follows is a slight adaptation of the end of chapter 5 in Let the Nations Be Glad.
1. The Beauty of Unity in Diversity
First is the beauty and power of praise that comes from unity in diversity that is greater than that which comes from unity alone.
Psalm 96:3–4 connects the evangelizing of the peoples with the quality of praise that God deserves. “Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples! For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods.” Notice the word “for.” The extraordinary greatness of the praise that the Lord should receive is the ground and impetus of our mission to the nations.
I infer from this that the beauty and power of praise that will come to the Lord from the diversity of the nations are greater than the beauty and power that would come to him if the chorus of the redeemed were culturally uniform.
The reason for this can be seen in the analogy of a choir. More depth of beauty is felt from a choir that sings in parts than from a choir that sings only in unison. Unity in diversity is more beautiful and more powerful than the unity of uniformity. This carries over to the untold differences that exist between the peoples of the world. When their diversity unites in worship to God, the beauty of their praise will echo the depth and greatness of God’s beauty far more than if the redeemed were from only a few different people groups.
2. Worth Increases with Diversity of Admirers
Second, the fame and greatness and worth of an object of beauty increases in proportion to the diversity of those who recognize its beauty.
If a work of art is regarded as great among a small and like-minded group of people but not by anyone else, the art is probably not truly great. Its qualities are such that it does not appeal to the deep universals in our hearts but only to provincial biases. But if a work of art continues to win more and more admirers not only across cultures but also across decades and centuries, then its greatness is irresistibly manifested.
Thus, when Paul says, “Praise the Lord all you nations, and let all the peoples extol him” (Romans 15:11), he is saying that there is something about God that is so universally praiseworthy and so profoundly beautiful and so comprehensively worthy and so deeply satisfying that God will find passionate admirers in every diverse people group in the world.
His true greatness will be manifest in the breadth of the diversity of those who perceive and cherish his beauty. His excellence will be shown to be higher and deeper than the parochial preferences that make us happy most of the time. His appeal will be to the deepest, highest, largest capacities of the human soul. Thus, the diversity of the source of admiration will testify to his incomparable glory.
3. A Leader’s Glory Grows with Diverse Followers
Third, the strength and wisdom and love of a leader is magnified in proportion to the diversity of people he can inspire to follow him with joy. If you can lead only a small, uniform group of people, your leadership qualities are not as great as they would be if you could win a following from a large group of very diverse people.
Paul’s understanding of what is happening in his missionary work among the nations is that Christ is demonstrating his greatness in winning obedience from all the peoples of the world: “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to bring the Gentiles [or nations] to obedience (Romans 15:18).
It is not Paul’s missionary expertise that is being magnified as more and more diverse peoples choose to follow Christ. It is the greatness of Christ. He is showing himself superior to all other leaders.
The last phrase of Psalm 96:3–4 shows the leadership competition that is going on in world missions. “Declare his glory among the nations. . . . He is to be feared above all gods.” We should declare the glory of God among the nations because in this way he will show his superiority over all other gods that make pretentious claims to lead the peoples. The more diverse the people groups who forsake their gods to follow the true God, the more visible is God’s superiority over all his competitors.
4. Diversity Undercuts Pride
By focusing on all the people groups of the world, God undercuts ethnocentric pride and throws all peoples back upon his free grace rather than any distinctive of their own.
This is what Paul emphasizes in Acts 17:26 when he says to the proud citizens of Athens, “[God] made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place.” F. F. Bruce points out that “the Athenians . . . pride themselves on being . . . sprung from the soil of their native Attica. . . . They were the only Greeks on the European mainland who had no tradition of their ancestors coming into Greece; they belonged to the earliest wave of Greek immigration.”
Against this boast Paul countered: You and the Barbarians and the Jews and the Romans all came from the same origin. And you came by God’s will, not your own; and the time and place of your existence is in God’s hand. Every time God expresses his missionary focus for all the nations, he cuts the nerve of ethnocentric pride.
The Double Joy of Diversity
It’s a humbling thing to discover that God does not choose our people group because of any distinctives of worth but rather that we might double our joy in him by being a means of bringing all the other groups into the same joy.
Humility is the flip side of giving God all the glory. Humility means reveling in his grace, not our goodness. In pressing us on to all the peoples, God is pressing us further into the humblest and deepest experience of his grace and weaning us more and more from our ingrained pride.
In doing this he is preparing for himself a people — from all the peoples — who will be able to worship him with free and white-hot admiration.