Let the Nations Be Glad! — Thirty Years Later
It’s Monday on the podcast, but it’s Tuesday in real time for us because we’re in Nashville right now at the Sing! Global 2022 Getty Music Worship Conference, recording this before a live studio audience.
We have been recently on the podcast talking a lot about spiritual gifts. And speaking of spiritual gifts, if anyone here has any inclination whatsoever toward missions, you’ve probably heard about or even read John Piper’s book Let the Nations Be Glad!. That book turns thirty years old this summer, with over 300,000 copies sold. To celebrate, we just released a thirtieth-anniversary edition, an expanded hardcover of that book. For those of you who want to read it again, or maybe you haven’t read it before, this is a good time to do it. Let the Nations be Glad!
Pastor John, looking back now on thirty years of what God has done with that book, what thoughts do you have on that book and missions going forward?
It’s the most surprising book that I’ve written — surprising in its effect, because it has been used to strengthen the hands of veteran missionaries and awaken a desire for missions among aspiring missionaries. And it has been used to clarify what we’re doing among younger missionaries. And so I’ve been amazed. And what’s surprising is that I’ve never been a missionary. I’ve never crossed a culture, learned a new language, embedded myself in a people and given my life to growing Christ’s church there. I’ve never done that. I was a pastor of a local church all those years when that book was coming into being. And so it has stunned me that a person with no missionary experience could write a book that God would use in missions.
So the first thing that strikes me is, Why would that be? I think the answer is that it’s Bible saturated, and Bible has its own power. You don’t have to be anybody if you speak the word of God faithfully. So that’s the first thought.
Gladness and Glory
The second thought is that I was just trying in those early years in the 80s — the book I think came out in ’91 or ’92, since this is thirty years — I was just trying to bring my big-God theology (Calvinism, Reformed theology) to bear on the local church and to be consistent with it in all that we did. And one of the things we wanted to be was a platform for the sending of missionaries. And I had to come to terms with the relationship between being radically God-centered, believing in the absolute sovereignty of God and the saving of sinners, and that missionary launching pad.
“Christian Hedonism simply means that God is most glorified among the nations when the nations are most satisfied in God.”
And it emerged as perfect. The book’s subtitle is The Supremacy of God In Missions. And the title is Let The Nations Be Glad!. So my Reformed theology comes out in the subtitle and my Christian Hedonism comes out in the title. And Christian Hedonism simply means that God is most glorified among the nations when the nations are most satisfied in God. And that’s what Psalm 67 says. “Let the nations be glad. . . . Let the peoples praise you, O God; let all the peoples praise you!” (Psalm 67:4–5). So the gladness of the nations and the glory of God came together perfectly in my theology. And so I thought, “There’s nothing more obvious than that we should be a missionary-sending church and that I should do everything I can to mobilize people for the cause of missions.”
Beginnings of a Book
And during those years of trying to mobilize people, thought after thought after thought came that moved toward a book. Some of those thoughts included, Are people really lost? So many people today are all into other issues besides rescuing lost people from perishing. Are people going to hell? I had to answer that. I had to give good, solid, exegetical foundations for that heartbreaking reality.
Another thought was, Do you have to hear about Jesus in order to be saved? Lots of evangelicals are inclusivist and say, “No, you don’t have to hear about him. He did it, yes, and purchased salvation, but you don’t have to hear about it in order to benefit from it.” So I had to write about that.
“There are thousands of peoples, and the Bible talks about them. And missions is reaching all those peoples.”
And then the last one was about peoples versus people. At the time, that was a red-hot issue that nobody thought about when I was growing up. I never used the word people with an s on the end when I was growing up, ever. I remember using it one time, and a little girl said to me, “People is already plural. You don’t say peoples, you say people.” She corrected me. I said, “That’s very sharp.” But now she needs to be taught missiology because there are thousands of peoples, and the Bible talks about them. And missions is reaching all those peoples, not saving every soul.
Jesus is going to come back when people are not yet saved. But I don’t think he’s coming back until the mission is finished. And the mission includes reaching the peoples. So we had to deal with the whole issue of peoples versus people. So those are the pieces that came together.
Reason for Missions
And the last thing I would say is that this is the only book I have written, I think, from which people remember one sentence: “Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” I was just talking to a guy in the restroom twenty minutes ago, and he was asking me a question about my talk yesterday, and he said, “You gave the impression that eternity is going to be an endless worship service.” I said, “Wrong impression. And you’re right. I probably did leave that impression.” I didn’t mean to because I think worship from the heart corporately is more than worship services. It’s all that you do, according to Romans 12:1–2. You lay down your whole life in your vocation and your hobbies and everything when it comes from the heart.
And I said, “Most people, when they read that sentence (“missions exists because worship doesn’t”), misunderstand it by thinking that I mean missions exists because worship services don’t exist.” That’s not what I mean. And so I clarified that in later editions. People are not living out of a supreme valuing of God above all things.