Wednesday, June 2, 2010

The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission

Books that purport to give a “secret” about things immediately make me a bit wary. So when I say John Dickson’s book entitled The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission I was leery. Then I saw the endorsements on the back and I was immediately impressed by the scope of the names I saw: N. T. Wright, Christopher Wright, I. Howard Marshall, Timothy George, Tremper Longman III, Richard Bauckham, Timothy George, Alistair Begg and more. From scholar to pastor, all wrote in glowing terms about John’s book. It didn’t take long for me to begin to share their excitement.

John begins with the story of his own experience with “evangelism.” Prior to his formal training he was excited and sharing his faith seemed natural. His church was so impressed with him that they sent him off for training. It was after the training that all of the sudden his “joy and ability at passing on the faith evaporated.” (18) He found he was self-conscious about his “presentation” and he would now stumble through what was now a very uncomfortable exercise. John is quick to observe that the problem did not lay in the course; many are helped by them. Nevertheless he found his experience was common among others he talked to. So part of the reason for his writing this book was to provide a fresh look at the topic of evangelistic mission that would “go some way toward dispelling Christian self-consciousness.” (19)

John draws an important distinction between “proclaiming the gospel” (evangelism proper) and “promoting the gospel” which is a wider category which “includes any and every activity that draws others to Christ.” (23) So what’s the best kept secret? It is simply that Christian mission in the Bible includes “a whole range of activities that promote Christ to the world and draw others towards him. These include prayer, godly behavior, financial assistance, the public praise of God (in church) and, as already mentioned, answering peoples’ questions. . . They are all ‘mission’ activities, and only a couple of them involve the lips at all.” (22) Whereas many in the past, including John himself, have tried to encourage people to evangelize with a narrow understanding of what this had to look like. John now presents a broader perspective which he hopes “will inspire you to see everything you do in life as a tool in God’s hands for the benefit of those who don’t yet know Christ.” (24)

John starts with asking what the Bible’s most basic doctrine is. He answers simply: “there is one God.” (26) He links this monotheistic premise to mission by stating “If there is just one God in the universe, everyone has a duty to worship that Lord.” (27) It is here that the premise of the book reveals its radically theocentric theme. He says, “If there is one Lord to whom all people belong and owe their allegiance, the people of that Lord must promote this reality everywhere.” (31) When I read the following two paragraphs I wanted to get up and shout amen!
“We promote God’s glory to the ends of the earth not principally because of any human need but fundamentally because of God’s/Christ’s unique worthiness as the Lord of heaven and earth. Promoting the gospel to the world is more than a rescue mission (though it is certainly that as well); it is a reality mission. It is our plea to all to acknowledge that they belong to one Lord.” (35, emphasis his)
“Why promote Christ to your atheist friend with a nice car and the self-confidence to match? Not simply because he would be happier or more fulfilled with Jesus, but because in reality your friend belongs to the one true Lord (revealed in the gospel). Why take the gospel to cynical retirees with a lifetime of worldly experience and a fat nest egg to enjoy? Not simply because they will soon face eternity, but because right now they exist for the pleasure of the one true God. Why reach out to the super-student with the first class honours degree and wardrobe of designer clothes? Not simply because Christianity will make her more moral or productive in life, but because in reality she is the possession of her one and only King. Why send out (and support) missionaries to Mongolia or Burkina Faso? Not only because Asians and Africans need rescuing from God’s judgment (as well all do) but because they too are creatures of the one Creator, and he alone deserves their worship.” (35)
There is passion on every page which is informed by a scholar’s mind and delivered with a pastor’s heart! More to come later.  Don't forget, those who can come out to see John next Tuesday will receive a free copy of The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission

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