Wednesday, August 25, 2010
The Best Kept Secret?
What exactly, according to author John Dickson, is “The Best Kept Secret in Christian Mission”?
After reading his new book with the same title and subtitled, “Promoting the Gospel with More than Our Lips,” it seems the best kept secret is that there are many, many ways that every Christian ought to be able to greatly contribute to the mission of evangelism.
In Dickson’s own experience and analysis, some Christians are more gifted with evangelism than others, and in his case, are sometimes hindered by methods of formalized training. In fact, this is one of the reasons why I was initially skeptical about the concept of the book in the beginning. I kept wondering what else could be said about promoting the gospel outside of what so many scholars and authors have already said? And I was also in doubt about any real secrets that could be shared that didn’t come across as gimmicks or seeker-sensitive clones. However, on both accounts Dickson easily quenched my skepticism and relieved my doubts.
The first two chapters (The One and the Many: Why Get Involved in Mission? and The Many and the One: The Challenge of Pluralism) lay the groundwork for his basis for writing the book. After reading those two, I was hooked and knew I had much to read and learn. By far, my favorite chapters are: Chapter Eight, What is the Gospel? The Message We Promote, and Chapter 12, A Year in a Life of the Gospel: Bringing It All Together.
Just as Mr. Dickson states, “The immediate goal of evangelism is to introduce people to the Jesus whom the gospel proclaims” (pg. 139). Christian evangelists often do this better when discussions and relationships develop naturally, rather than in the forced, monologue fashion of the most popular evangelism training programs. In chapters three through seven, he discusses in detail the many ways that non-evangelism efforts help promote the gospel message: prayer, finances, living beautiful lives, being a “friend of sinners,” and doing good works (mercy ministry). While it is not uncommon to find articles and books written any one of these methods, Dickson ties each activity directly back to our shared mission of sharing the gospel message.
Chapter Eight, titled “What is the Gospel?” was the stand out chapter for me and is one that I would commend to every reader with a passion or interest in evangelism. Academically rigorous and eminently practically, this chapter lays out the meat and potatoes of what it is to introduce people to Jesus. In what seemed to be a revolutionary idea at first reading, he asserts that the Gospel narratives uniquely recount a full gospel message. While all of the scriptures point to the Jesus and the gospel message, only in the four Gospel narratives do we have the full account of Jesus’ life, his miracles, his deity, his fulfillment of prophecy, his earthly credentials as the messiah, his resurrection and his ascension told together. Furthermore, the grand themes of such things as: sin and judgment, forgiveness and atonement, the doctrine of grace, and the call to repentance are all brought into sharp focus by direct encounters with Jesus by the four. In other words, the Gospels are not just warm up acts for the Book of Acts and the letters of Paul, but given as Gospel accounts. For most, this chapter will seem somewhat revelatory upon first reading, but, I predict, will soon be considered as both a matter of fact and godly wisdom.
My only criticism with the book is that I think it could have possibly benefited from better editing. I have two main reasons for drawing this conclusion. First, there are a handful of places where the author has written somewhat self-consciously, in a way that almost sounds like personal notes to the editor. For example: on page 116 he tells us that he has chosen to indent the lines of a quotation from 1 Corinthians 15, and on page 111 he apologizes for managing to write seven chapters before considering defining what the gospel is. Quote: “I will more than make up for this oversight by the inordinate length of this chapter.” These types of comments seem misplaced, given the high degree of academic acumen characteristic of the rest of the book.
The second reason for desiring improved editing is that I think the overall flow of the book would make more sense if it were reorganized, with chapter eight closer to the beginning (perhaps at chapter three) and with more fluidity among the remaining chapters. At present, nearly all of the chapters read as stand-alone pieces. If taught as a class, this works to book’s advantage; however, I do think there is a great opportunity to better explain and introduce up front how each element builds upon the others and integrates into the larger mission of evangelism.
All of that said, I loved this book and give it 4.5 out of 5. I would strongly recommend to friends, pastors, lay leaders, and anyone at all who has an interest in introducing the lost to our Lord and Savior, Jesus.
This was a book review in conjunction with the Koinonia blog tour of the following: The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips [Hardcover] by John Dickson (Forewards by Alister McGrath and Ravi Zacharias)