Thursday, 19 August 2010

"The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission" (John Dickson) : a review

Hello again!  I am back from visiting my brand new grandson, and am joyfully catching up on reading postings from my favorite blogs.  A couple of bloggers have been talking about "cold call evangelism" and getting a variety of interesting responses.  (You can check these postings out at Called Out in Kansas and The Assembling of the Church).

I am particularly interested in this topic because I grew up in a tradition that pushed evangelism (especially the cold call variety) very enthusiastically.  I learned and put into practice the 4 spiritual laws, napkin evangelism, and numerous other supposedly fail-safe systems (which too often included a lot of theological concepts and vocabulary that I never felt I understood well enough myself).  But not being naturally blessed with the gifting of those who excel in this method of supposedly fulfilling the great commission, I even thought that perhaps trying to sell door-to-door products might give me some ideas and the courage to improve my evangelism-gospel-sales techniques.  Unfortunately, other than being able to claim some income tax deductions for business expenses, my direct-sale experiences were not much more successful than my gospel-sales attempts.

So for many years I suffered from guilt for apparently not doing my part in leading folks to Jesus.   Fortunately, I have discovered that Father graciously considers my non-salesperson personality (which He created, by the way) to also be worthy of participation in His kingdom-building work.  It seems that hospitality and mothering and facilitative-teaching forms of relationship-building (in my case) are also useful, if less direct and speedy, ways of sharing my love of Jesus.  Evangelism, after all, does not have to be a scary or hopeless activity.

Still, the old guilt feelings sometimes resurface, and I know that I am not alone in this struggle.  So I have been pleased to read John Dickson's new book, The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, and come away assured that not only does Father allow - and delight in - His children sharing the gospel in a variety of real-life ways, but also that such sharing is not a burden and heavy personal responsibility of being a Christian, but is a joyful proclamation of the reality and glory of the one God of the universe who loves us!

The author begins by recognizing how even those who are "enthusiastic, natural promoters of Christ" can be "transformed into a nervous and unnerving 'Bible-thumper'" by the pressure to get out there and convert the masses by the various evangelism "methods."  He also points to the pressure to blurt out everything you know about Christianity right then and there, and the frequent condensation of the gospel into a couple "doctrines with little attempt to connect these ideas to the flesh-and-blood story of Jesus." 

The thesis of John Dickson's book is that evangelism starts with the Bible's most basic doctrine, there is only one Creator and Lord, who is establishing His kingship and Kingdom. This one God keenly loves every person, desires to have fellowship with them, and has made it possible through the life of His Son, Jesus. As believers who have experienced His love and fellowship, we will naturally desire to promote God's glory and salvation (just watch brand new believers!).  Rather than particular evangelistic methods, it is our lives that most clearly "illustrate the fellowship with sinners that God so keenly desires."  As we are in fellowship with Christ, and at the same time are compassionate friends to others, do good, and speak of Christ when the opportunity occurs, the right "system" for our own context will flow.

However, we are not meant to be lone wolf evangelists.  We are not individually responsible to fill some personal quota. Evangelism, like all other aspects of our relationship with Christ and His church, is very much fellowship-oriented.  There are those who have the gift of evangelism, and are particularly sent out as evangelistic workers.  The author goes into some detail about these workers, and how they can be recognized and sent out (though some of his suggestions are more traditional-church-system oriented than I feel comfortable with).  But all believers can joyfully participate in evangelism.  Our lives, of course, are to be lived in such a way that the world sees Jesus in us, and we can take opportunities that flow out of our lives in our relationships with others.  What else?

- all believers pray together persistently for those who are sent out
- recognize that ultimately the mission is God's (not ours)
- provide provision and support (in a variety of ways) for those who are sent out
- love and pray for our enemies, give to the needy, live humbly, be merciful and forgiving, be honest and trustworthy in our daily affairs, be non-retalitory - live godly lives that are an "apologetic to the gospel"
- be prepared to graciously answer questions about our faith
- God-talk: casual, relaxed, natural references to our faith in everyday conversation

And when we do have the opportunity to speak of Christ?  What then?  The author points to "Paul's gospel" as outlined in 1 Corinthians 15:3-6:

- Jesus' identity as the Christ (God's Messiah and Son)
- Jesus' saving deeds
- Jesus' burial
- Jesus' resurrection
- Jesus' appearance to witnesses

Surprise!  It's not a listing of complicated doctrines and theology.  The gospel is the great news of actual events: telling the gospel "involves recounting the deeds of the Messiah Jesus."  Stories are easy to remember and tell.  Stories are easy to understand.  (Oh yes, the kingdom of heaven is wide open to those who are like little children, isn't it?).  And every step in the story points to those deeper understandings - which we can point out simply in our gospel presentation, and then build upon as we disciple new believers who have met their Creator and Savior in hearing His story.

I don't have to feel guilty after all.  I really can share the good news of my Savior and God.

John Dickson sums up: "The point is simple: we are to live lives worth questioning and then offer answers worth hearing."

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