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Resolved Conference (IX)
February 19, 2007
Rick Holland kicked off the final session by introducing John Piper as a man who has emphasized church history and a teacher who stands between two worlds, the historical world and our contemporary world. The Resolved organizers asked him to provide a historical address based on a figure from church history. And, of course, Jonathan Edwards was the obvious choice.
Piper began by completing his address from the night before since he had forgotten the fifth point. Point five should have been that there is no gospel unless everything else gets you to God to enjoy Him forever. The other four won’t be the gospel if there is no God to enjoy. This is why a lot of people think they are Christians when they are not. We need to get through the benefits of the gospel to the main benefit of the gospel. The main verse for last night’s talk (1 Peter 3:18) had somehow never been referenced.
And then, he moved on to today’s topic. Continuing from the theme he began yesterday he asked how does all of that (God being the gospel) relate to world missions and world evangelism? He relied on the teaching of Jonathan Edwards’ to provide an answer. On the one hand we know from the Bible that the supreme motive for missions is the glory of God. God is not loved, honored, believed, glorified among the nations as He ought to be and therefore, for His sake, we should move on the nations and pursue His glory. But we also know from the Bible that Jesus looked upon unbelievers and felt compassion for them. He doesn’t want them to perish and therefore thousands of missionaries have been motivated by a love for people. A passion for the glory of God and/or a passion to rescue people drives us to the nations. How do these relate to each other? Are they somehow one? And if so, how? Piper wants to figure out how his heart longing for people not to perish and longing for God to be glorified fit together. Many people are one or the other, but less have both.
He paused here and noted his amazement at the number of Asian-Americans at the conference. I can’t say what percentage they represented, but I would think it was at least 33 percent and possibly more. Reflecting on this, Piper said he believes there may be a calling on these lives that is unique. This may be an Asian-American moment in world missions. His longing is that hundreds of people here will go to the nations. There are only three kinds of Christians in regard to world missions: goers, passionate senders, disobedient. He longs that the effect of Resolved will be that out of this conference will come missionaries like out of Edwards came David Brainerd. “Perhaps,” he said, “this is the moment in world history when the decisive breakthroughs will be granted to the goers with a face different than mine.” After all, the Asian face is hated less around the world. God in His unusual providence in the Muslim world, for example, has arranged that the Western face is satanic while the Asian face is not yet as satanic. Maybe this represents an opportunities for Asian Christians.
Continuing on, he showed that missions is not the ultimate goal of the mission; worship is. Missions only exists because worship doesn’t and this understanding comes straight from Jonathan Edwards. Like Edwards, Piper always pushes to the ultimate. He wants to be shaped by the last thing. If you discover the ultimate reason why you exist and why the church or anything else exists, it shapes your life. And the ultimate purpose of the church is worship. Edwards doesn’t say it quite like that. In “The End for Which God Created the World” he piles text upon text arguing for God’s God-centeredness. This is all over the Bible—God doing everything for the glory of God.
The heavens are telling the glory of God…but who set it up this way? God did! The same is true in redemption. The glory of God is the chief end of missions because it is the chief end of God. But this isn’t what Piper said in his book on the topic—he said that mission is the ultimate goal. Why? Because of man’s failure to see and savor His glory. Missions doesn’t take the glory of God to people who have never seen it. People already know of the glory of God for the world shows this and people are without excuse. The problem is that they are not worshiping Him for His glory because though they knew Him they did not glorify Him as God. This is why missions is necessary - they are seeing the glory of God but are in stark rebellion against Him. Missions exists, then, because worship doesn’t.
In all the nations without Christ, the greatness of God is not admired, the power of God is not praised, the truth of God is not sought, the goodness of God is not savored, and so on. God is not worshiped but despised. He is disbelieved, disobeyed, dishonored. The opposite of that disrespect is worship and this is what ought to be happening among the nations.
He paused for a moment to discuss a definition of worship. Worship is not a service. What we do when we sing may or may not be worship. Worship is not singing per se, (or preaching, etc) because we can worship with our lips but not with our hearts (Matthew 15:8-9). Worship in its essence must be something in the heart and where there is no heart there is no worship.. Biblically, we have heart, head and body. John 14:23 talks about head worship. The affections of the heart must be stirred and moved from truth and knowledge in the head. Music is glorious but can do an end-run around the head and stir the heart without truth. Matthew 5:16 talks about the body where we live in such a way, serving people, that we give worship to God. People can actually see good works and glorify God. There is a way to display the worth of God through our bodies. Worship is all of this.
How does compassion relate to this? How does love for lost people relate to this? We are all guilty of treason and have all dishonored the King. We are all under a death sentence of everlasting punishment. With mutiny comes eternal misery. Jonathan Edwards is famous for preaching about hell, but he knew his heaven as well as his hell. He knew heaven because he knew hell and knew hell because he knew heaven. Edwards quoted Revelation 14:15 which speaks of torment Edwards would have been appalled at the people in our day who minimize and deny the existence of hell. And sadly, this is rampant. God does not allow people to be annihilated, to escape from His wrath. Pulpits are powerless because they don’t know what is at stake. Hell is real and knowing this should be a motive. Jesus looked out on the crowds and felt compassion on this basis. Love pursues perishing people.
So here is the final question: How do these two motives for evangelism go together?
Here are five statements to guide us:
1) Compassion pursues the rescue of perishing sinners. The way they escape perishing is to be pursued by those who have the gospel.
2) Fear of hell by itself saves no one. You can scare people away from hell but cannot scare them into heaven. It is natural to hate pain and natural to want to avoid hell. But this does not mean that people want to go to heaven (the true heaven - people do want to go to a heaven of their own making). The reason preaching hell by itself doesn’t save anyone is that saving faith is more than fearing hell. It is not just embracing Jesus as a deliverer.
3) Therefore compassion must not merely warn people about the pains of going to hell but lure people to the pleasures of knowing Christ. If people are only responding out of fear they haven’t necessarily seen anything in Christ that they find delightful. Preaching must not only warn but woo. We must display Christ to the nations in order to get them out of hell.
4) The key from Jonathan Edwards is this: satisfaction in Christ is what glorifies God. We want them out of hell and we want God magnified. They get out of hell by saving faith and this is the wanting to be with this glorious Christ and trusting all we’ve done to get us there. It is being satisfied with all that He is for us in Christ and thus being satisfied in Him, He is magnified. These come together in a right understanding of worship and of saving faith.God’s is glorified not only by his glory being seen, but by his being rejoiced in. God is glorified when we are satisfied in Him.
5) The aim of compassion and the aim of a passion for God’s glory are not different in the way they come about. Treasuring Christ honors God and saves from hell.
What magnifies God is being satisfied in God. When we love Him, delight in Him, cherish Him, and so on, He is honored. That is right at the heart of what saving faith is and it is saving faith that rescues people from destruction. And so the conclusion is this: whether we preach from the one perspective or the other, it is the same message. These two motives for evangelism are really the same.
Of course you don’t have to take my world for all of this. You can listen to it yourself right here.
And that is it for me. I am writing this from the lobby of a hotel somewhere near the airport. We’ve been loitering here for an hour or two now. In just a couple more hours I’ll be heading to the terminal for a long, boring, all-night flight home. If all goes well, I should be back in Toronto for 6 AM and back home for 7 or 8. It will be good to be back with the family!
I’ll follow up with some reflections on the conference tomorrow.