Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Why I Read Footnotes: Piper on Doran on Missions

One of the texts for the Missions class I’m taking this semester is Let the Nations Be Glad: The Supremacy of God in Missions by John Piper. The primary theme is that the ultimate purpose is to increase the fame of God’s name by calling more people to worship Him. Salvation of souls is the means, not the end. I think there is one secondary theme that rises above the other secondary themes: God wants the priority of missions to be the penetration of all the people groups of the earth, not the application of missions strategies that seem to convert the largest number of people. In other words, reaching all the people groups of the world with the message of the gospel is more important than flooding the fields that are likely to be most responsive and return measurable results.

Although I’ve written about how moving this book is (and I could have written much more), a question arose in my mind. Is Piper overemphasizing “people groups”? Can we be obedient if we reach people groups but fail to go to the ends of the earth to do it? If we reach individuals who are from people groups that are primarily remote in their geographic concentrations, but we only reach those individuals who have taken residence in population centers, have we really “reached” that people group? Have we really obeyed Acts 1:8?

When I finished the book recently, I read the last footnote to Piper’s contribution. (He wrote the overwhelming majority of the book, but the afterword was written by another pastor at Piper’s church.) I’m quoting this footnote in full because it was quite interesting to me:
David Doran, in his book, For the Sake of His Name: Challenging a New Generation for World Missions (Allen Park, Mich.: Student Global Impact, 2002), 131-154, has written a chapter called “The Territory of the Great Commission.” In it he gives a corrective to a lopsided emphasis on the people-group focus in missions at the expense of the geographic focus. In spite of our interaction, I do not think it necessary to change anything I have written. But I do alert the reader that Doran interacts with me in his book and so may provide a perspective that I am neglecting.
Obviously, you’ll need the second edition of Piper’s book, published in 2003, to get the footnote. I do not know whether Doran’s analysis is remotely similar to mine. If there is similarity, his thoughts and exegesis is clearly far more developed than mine. I plan to order For the Sake of His Name soon, but I don’t know when I’ll dive in. I plan to post an update when I get there.


kevin mcfadden said...

That's interesting. Yes, Doran's critique is similar to yours. He notes that the focus of the NT is on the geographic spread of the gospel (and I believe he also counters Piper's exegesis that argues for "people groups"). If you e-mail the right person--cough, Eckman, cough--there might be a few spare copies of the book collecting dust at IC.

Doran also did a general session on this topic during the last SGI national conference, if you can get a-hold of the MP3s.

Sojourner said...

I'll have to read the critique; I never got the impression that he over-emphasized people groups to the extent that geographical missions got excluded. I will say this: the book changed my life. It is still the first Piper book that I recommend, just the chapter on the punishment of hell is worth the money in my opinion.