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August 17, 2009


Jonathan McIntosh

Piper closes his essay with this statement:
"And therefore we must make a special effort to learn languages, learn cultures, do all of the anthropological, methodological thought that is necessary in order to be effective culture-crossers to plant a church there who would then do evangelism."

I would agree, and this is exactly what those of us who say "Everybody is a missionary," (those he criticizes) have been begging the church to do... but not only overseas. The western evangelical church must also do the hard language, culture, anthropological, and methodological work for emerging cultures on this soil.

That's all we've been arguing.

Thanks for the post, Matt.


The thing to remember is this: redeeming culture is not something we can do. That sounds iffy at first until you remember that culture is not a physical entity: it is a societal construct made up of individuals. A culture is simply the sum of a specific group of individuals (and what they do/create). In fact, to redeem a culture requires evangelizing individuals.

That being said, I agree that evangelism falls underneath the category of missions. Taking part in the mission of God is to cultivate and eventually bring to fruition of all the effects of declaring the Gospel.

I see this in Scripture particularly in Ephesians, where Paul expounds the Gospel (Eph 2) for individuals, but then goes through the implications in Eph 3-6. Note all the causal phrases ("For this reason","Therefore"). The redeeming of a culture [Eph 3-6] (the new life, new marriages, the way we treat employees, creation of redemptive art, etc.) is directly caused by the proclamation of the Gospel to individuals (Eph 2:1-10).


If I think about Piper's comments as I do the Gospel of the Cross and the Gospel of the Kingdom, I have no issue. See some thoughts here.


here is really here

Chris Gensheer

Matt, I think you are right on and you've given a very articulate answer to this issue. I too love John Piper and look back on reading "Let the Nations be Glad" as a pivotal point in developing a proper mindset for doing "missions". But I think where I'm beginning to disagree with Piper, and what you hit on, is that where Piper makes the distinction between "missions" existing only because "worship" doesn't, I would say that as a formal program of the church, I absolutely agree. But when I read scripture, Adam and Eve were given a "mission" before the Fall ever happened.

So mission (not the program, but the way of life for all created human beings) exists as part of our worship. The fact that sin exists is a hindrance to not only our relationship with God (and one another), but also to our accomplishing the mission God gave everyone - reflecting his glory on this creation as His image bearers. This is what needs to happen in foreign, domestic and constantly changing cultures, and this is what our evangelistic message is meant to effect.

Glenn Leatherman

So are you saying that we ought to merge the "Creation Mandate" and "Gospel Missions" into one category? If that is correct then, can one look back in history and see the results or outcome of merging the 2? I am hesitant in merging the two at this time because I do see one flowing from the other naturally. Could "Mission" be a subset of "Mandate" or vise versa? The problem imho of using the word "mission" to be the all encompasing category is that it doesn't have a univocal meaning. Thanks for the great questions.

Chris Canuel

I personally don't see anything wrong with Piper's comments. I think he is pretty right on. In my mind, as Piper said, evangelism is basically speaking the Gospel to anyone at anytime. Missions is when you penetrate a culture, in order to bring the Gospel to them. I think one thing we do forget is that those cultures aren't just across the ocean, but we also have cultures in our own country that have not been penetrated with the Gospel. I believe John realizes that though. I was at a conference recently where Piper spoke, and he mentioned, I believe a Somali mission that his church ministers to in Minneapolis. I believe John is right in that, you do have to learn another language many times in order to do missions. You have to engage the culture. That however does not always have to be on a foreign mission field. Missions happen when we form urban youth centers, pregnancy crisis centers, food banks, and things of that nature. I think anytime you engage a culture on their level, where they are, that is missions.

My short answer is this...Missions is always evangelism, but evangelism is not always missions. I think John Piper understands this as well as anyone else.

Phillip B

Here's how I understand Piper's distinction:
evangelism = calling individuals to repent and believe
missions = getting involved in the planting of churches in environments different from your own

I don't necessarily have a problem with defining the two terms in those ways, since they're often used like that in everyday conversations. There are plenty of terms in the Bible that have taken on different meanings over time without obscuring the truth of the Scriptures.

You're on to something, though, when you mention that most Piper-ites think evangelism is all that matters in life. That's the real problem. And that's often the practical outworking of the ministries of Dever, Piper et al here in Louisville. It's a problem that goes deeper than semantics, and ends up distorting the very purposes and character of God, as you suggest.


Here's a well balanced response by Don Carson on the 'redeeming culture' issue:

Q: Why don't you like the terminology of "redeeming the culture"?

Carson: "Redemption terminology in the NT is so bound up with Christ's work for and in the church that to extend it to whatever good we do in the broader world risks a shift in focus. Not for a moment do I want to deny that we are to serve as salt and light, that exiles may be called to do good in the pagan cities where Providence has appointed them to live (Jer 29), that every square foot of this world is under Christ's universal reign (even though that reign is still being contested), that the nations of the world will bring their "goods" into the Jerusalem that comes down from above. But many of those who speak easily and fluently of redeeming the culture soon focus all their energy shaping fiscal and political policies and the like, and merely assume the gospel. A gospel that is merely assumed, that does no more than perk away in the background while the focus of our attention is on the "redemption" of the culture in which we find ourselves, is lost within a generation or two. At the same time, I worry about Christians who focus their attention so narrowly on getting people "saved" that they care little about doing good to all people, even if especially to the household of God. Getting this right is not easy, and inevitably priorities will shift a little in various parts of the world, under various regimes. Part of the complexity of the discussion, I think, is bound up with what the church as church is responsible for, and what Christians as Christians are responsible for: I have argued that failure to make this distinction tends to lead toward sad conclusions."


One more response from D.A. Carson-

"If we have the view that Niebuhr describes as "Christ transforming culture," then we're not only trying to convert individuals, we're trying to convert the structures of the culture. Think of Kuyper's famous words: "There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: 'Mine!'" There are strands in Scripture supporting that: "All authority is given to me in heaven and on earth." There is enough truth in that view that one has to be careful about simply tossing it out. We are called to be salt in a corrupting world, light in a dark world. We are to do good to all men, especially those who belong to God. In the time of the Exile in Jeremiah 29, the people of God were told to do good in the city.
On the other hand, there is such an emphasis in the Bible on the distinctiveness of the church, on who is finally saved in the end, on the cohesiveness of the people of God, on the importance of saving people—and not just so you can overthrow some broader injustice in the culture, but so that men and women are prepared for eternity, for resurrection existence. The ultimate hope is not that we get more and more of our structures right, but that Christ returns with a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness."


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