Friday, November 16, 2012

The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission

If you only read one book on this one!

 It was 2005 when I first spied it on a camp bookstall.  I've always liked John Dickson's books, but I feared this would be another guilt-trippy book on evangelism that would chastise Christians for not all being street preachers or door knockers.  I should have known it wouldn't be so after reading some of Dickson's earlier books.

When I first read it, it was known as Promoting the Gospel and it looked like this:

But it's still the same book!

The tagline for the repackaged version is: Promoting the gospel with more than our lips.  That's what Dickson is on about.  He differentiates between proclaiming the gospel and promoting the gospel by exploring some key Bible verses on evangelism:

Consequently faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.
Romans 10:7

Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.
1 Peter 2:12

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behaviour of their wives, when they see the purity and reverance of your lives.
1 Peter 3:1-2

At first, it may seem that Dickson is a big fan of the famous quote supposedly by St Francis of Assisi - Preach the gospel at all times and, when necessary, use words.  Even though I have struggled with telling others that I have faith in Christ, this quote has never sat well with me.  How can anyone know and understand the gospel if no-one explains it to them?  As much as I might not want to speak, speaking is necessary.  Have you ever seen a great ad on TV, but never had an idea what it is actually advertising?  You may be attracted to someone's good life, but unless you know WHY they live the way they do, you will not know what they are 'advertising'.

Dickson is NOT saying, "Don't preach the gospel."  That would mean Peter is contradicting Paul.  What he IS saying is that although we need to preach the gospel with our lips, we also need to adorn it with our lives.  Non-Christians see Christians who don't practise what they preach as hypocrites, and rightly so.  Rather, Dickson is promoting a range of activities that make the gospel beautiful to those around us.  These include:
  • Prayer
  • Godly behaviour
  • Financial assistance to those in need
  • Public praise of God (i.e. in church or through Church Together, Carols by Candlelight or some public Christian activity)
  • Answering people's questions and objections about Christianity (i.e. over coffee with a friend or during morning tea at your workplace)
This was all true for me before I became a Christian.  I was attracted to Jesus by the lifestyles of my Christian friends at high school.  Although I gave them limited opportunities to explain the reason for the way they lived, God was working in me, awakening a desire for Himself.  But obviously someone had to explain the gospel to me so that I could believe it.  That happened when I went to uni.

While Dickson himself is a gifted evangelist, he realises in the book that he has been guilty in the past of pushing his ministry onto others.  He emphasises that there are people who have been gifted in evangelism who find it naturally easier than others, and that these people have a special role in the church (that is not to say that other Christians should not be involved in evangelism).  I was relieved to read that.  I've met a few gifted evangelists who have been bewildered that any Christian could be coy about sharing their faith.  It was nice to know that someone understands and is committed to helping others reach out in different ways.

One of the great thing about this book is that is does not emphasise and promote what Dickson calls the 'gospel download' - learning and memorising a five point gospel outline to share with others during stranger evangelism.  While he acknowledges that courses encouraging Christians to share their faith certainly have their place and can be invaluable when opportunities arise, we do not get many opportunities in our culture for doing this with non Christians.  Australian culture sees religion as a private thing.  Some people are very open with asking questions about faith (especially on university campuses), but most of my friends who have door knockers come by their houses tell them to get lost.  Therefore, most of our opportunities for sharing Christ will not come in the form of 'gospel downloads' but 'gospel bites'.  Someone at work may make a passing comment about Christianity which gives us the opportunity to respond.  But often we won't get the opportunity to share the whole gospel.  Sometimes it will take months or years of being alongside that person, being their friend, answering their questions to get that opportunity to share more.  Other cultures may be different, but that's Australia to a tee.  Therefore, every Christian needs to be prepared to give an answer, but not necessarily a gospel download.

But in your hearts set Christ apart as Lord.  Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.  But do this with gentleness and respect...
1 Peter 3:15

Let your conversation always be full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Colossians 4:6

This was a HUGE encouragement to me, knowing that I don't have to regurgitate a gospel outline to people who are not interested.  Obviously it would be great to have that chance, but wisdom and discernment (and patience) is needed in each and every situation.

The main problem which I blogged about in The Dreaded E Word is NOT not knowing what to say, but having the courage to speak up in the first place...even if it's just a gospel bite.  Too often I've been in a group situation where someone has said what they think about Christians, or about churches (not positive), and I've just sat there.  That is not to say that I should have jumped in and berated them, but I could have asked them why they thought that and tried to gently engage with them a bit more, rather than not wanting to be seen as a freak.  If you're anything like me, Dickson has this encouragement for you:
Whatever the causes, the antidote to Christian coyness is a renewed vision of Christ's lordship over all: as Peter says, setting apart Christ as Lord.  Our bosses, professors, parents, friends, politicians and media do not rule heaven or earth.  If for just a moment, we could lift the curtain of heaven and see 'the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God' (Acts 7:55), then all causes of Christian embarrassment would vanish in an instant. (page 158)

John Dickson is right and the counsellor who helped me back in 2004 is right.  To be able to share the good news of the gospel with others, I first and foremost DON'T just need more training, or be told to be brave, or just get over it.  I need a fresh view of who Jesus is.  He puts everything into perspective.

This is a book I highly recommend every Christian should read.  I am grateful to God for how He used this book to help me.

1 comment:

Wendy said...

I wholeheartedly agree that all Christians should read this. I am a missionary, but not a gifted evangelist. I was so encouraged by this book when I read it a couple of years ago. I've felt guilty my whole life because I'm not an evangelist (yes, I grew up in the church).