Most weeks, I'll probably select an idea or two from the chapter and interact with the author. This week, however, I'll just walk you through the introduction to the book...a kind of Cliff's Notes version, if you will. Dickson takes us on a brief tour of the four unhelpful perspectives on evangelism that he developed as a young believer. I think we can all relate to at least one of the four.
The first is what he calls "The Curse of Self-Consciousness." As a young believer, John's enthusiasm for sharing the gospel was evident, and the leaders at his church encouraged him to take a course in evangelism. While courses in evangelism are not bad in and of themselves, Dickson says that the pressure to get everything right made him very self-conscious about sharing his faith. What was once as natural and passionate as talking about sports had now become an outline that he had to complete.
The second unhelpful development is called "The Gospel 'Download.'" What is the gospel 'download?' It is that feeling that every time you talk about the gospel, you must say everything you know about it. People may endure your full outline, but Dickson notes that one day he "realized the glazed look in their eyes was not the look of spiritual wonder" (p. 20). Of course, if we have the opportunity to share the full gospel, we should go for it! However, many of our gospel conversations may be incomplete. We should certainly trust that our sovereign God can can piece together our "gospel nugget" with those offered by other faithful witnesses in this person's life.
Third, he speaks of "Reducing the Gospel." Here, Dickson warns against reducing the gospel to a couple of theological ideas. I remember when he spoke about this at the Basics Conference last May. He pointed out, helpfully, that the first verse in Mark's gospel reads this way: "The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God." From there, Mark does not give a little outline...he tells a story...the story of Jesus' character, ministry, death, burial, and resurrection. That full-length story is what Mark calls "the gospel." Again, having an outline or presentation is certainly not a bad thing...especially if your time is brief or if the person knows little to nothing about Jesus. However, Dickson offers this definition of "gospel":
"The gospel is the announcement that God has revealed His kingdom and opened it up to sinners through the birth, teaching, miracles, death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, who will one day return to overthrow evil and consummate the kingdom for eternity" (p. 22).The fourth and final unhelpful perspective is "Underestimating the Mission." In his early days, he had essentially concluded that the only way to promote the gospel of Christ was through talking...sharing the message verbally with an unbelieving person. This is proclamation, but the New Testament says more about the promotion of the gospel. Of course, we never want to diminish the importance of actually speaking the gospel...it is essential. However, there are other activities that promote the gospel. A few examples of this are prayer, godly behavior, and giving money to support missionaries.
Look at Dickson's words about the roles of prayer for unbelievers and speaking to them about Christ. "Both activities are evangelistic, even if only one of them is evangelism in the strict sense. This does not mean that those who pray for their friends need not worry about speaking to them any more than it means that those who speak to their friends need not worry about praying for them. My point is that both activities are full contributions to the promotion of Christ in the world" (23-24).
This last perspective will be the focus of most of the rest of the book. The subtitle gives it away (i.e.- "Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips"). The table of contents gives it away, with chapters on prayer, money, public praise, and more. And if that weren't enough, he says this on page 24: "A central aim of this book...is to show how all-encompassing is the Bible's call to be involved in God's mission."
I am looking forward to this book, and I am praying that by intentionally blogging through it, you and I will be further encouraged to use any and every means available to us to be part of promoting the Lord Jesus Christ in this world.
Next week... "The One and the Many: Why Be Involved in Mission?"