Book Review: “The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission” by John Dickson

“In those early years as a believer I had no idea Christians could be coy about their faith. No one had told me I was meant to feel awkward about spreading the good news. That was something I learnt only after mixing with Christians for a while. But I learnt it soon enough.” (17)

The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips by Australian author, evangelist, and pastor John Dickson is a refreshing take on an old theme – spreading the gospel. Christians often think of sharing the gospel as a primarily verbal activity, which can be a major challenge for those who aren’t gifted speakers or evangelists.  While evangelists and preachers certainly have an important role in the spread of the gospel, this book focuses on things that every Christian, even the ‘ordinary’ ones, can and should do.  With humor, sincerity, and depth, Dickson offers a guide to promoting the gospel to the world through our lives as well as our words. In Dickson’s opinion, “perhaps the best kept secret of Christian mission is that the Bible lists a whole range of activities that promote Christ to the world and draw others toward him… and only a couple of them involve the lips at all” (22).

Overview

Dickson introduces the book by recounting his personal journey from an eager new Christian to a nervous, self-conscious “Bible-thumper.” He shares some of the unhealthy perspectives he developed as a budding evangelist, and which seem to be common amongst Christians in general. He also makes a distinction between proclaiming the gospel (evangelism) and promoting the gospel (any activity that draws others to Christ). This book focuses on the latter.

The book begins appropriately by establishing the reason for spreading the good news of Christ, offering an explanation of pluralism and the challenges it creates for missions, and observing the example of Jesus’ own mission. While these chapters aren’t of a particularly practical nature, they are relatively short and to the point, and I found them interesting and easy to read.

The majority of the remainder of the book focuses on the more practical side of “promoting the gospel.” Dickson presents six areas in which we can point others to Christ: prayer, finances, works of the church, Christian behavior, public worship, and daily conversation. I especially enjoyed the chapter on prayer, as that is a vital but commonly forgotten or underused aspect of missions. Dickson includes many biblical and modern examples of ways others have used these different areas to promote Christ, as well as a few personal failures. He also offers a chapter on the special role of the evangelist in the church, as well as a somewhat belated and lengthy chapter on what exactly the gospel is. He wraps it all up with a fictional story that illustrates the ideas that have been presented throughout the book.

Reaction

Before reading The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission I had never heard of this book or its author. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I was pleasantly surprised. This book grabbed my attention right off the bat, and by the end of the introduction I was eager to read the rest of the book. I enjoyed Dickson’s sparks of humor and I found myself smiling numerous times, which isn’t always the case with a book about missions. Although he is obviously a learned and intelligent guy (degree in theology, doctorate in ancient history, Senior Research Fellow of the Department of Ancient History, etc.) Dickson’s writing is interesting, straightforward, and accessible, even for the average reader. I appreciated his clear and thorough interaction with Scripture, and the frequency with which he uses it to explain and support his points. Although there were times when I felt bogged down by historical details, there were enough anecdotes and illustrations to keep me engaged.

Negatives

I mainly enjoyed the Australian twist to Dickson’s writing, however it did take me some time to get used to the alternative spellings and punctuation. If you are a stickler for punctuation inside quotation marks, this book may prove to be a serious challenge to your sanity.

While most of the chapters are of a reasonable length, the chapter on the gospel deviates from the mold. This is certainly an important topic, especially in a book of this nature, however this chapter might get a little long for slower readers such as myself. It was definitely doable though, and in the end I was rewarded with a deeper understanding of the gospel which we are promoting.  There was also the small consolation of Dickson’s open admittance of the “inordinate length of this chapter” (111). This chapter also came a bit late in the book (chapter 8).  As this is the very foundation of the book, it would seem more appropriate to place this toward the beginning, rather than halfway through.  These are minor criticisms however, and I didn’t feel that they really took away from the message of the book.

I would caution shy or fearful readers against using this book as an excuse to not talk about Jesus and the gospel. Although the bulk of this book focuses on nonverbal methods of sharing the gospel, Dickson repeatedly mentions the importance and sweetness of telling someone the gospel when given the opportunity. His intention is not to lessen or ignore the importance of verbally sharing the gospel; he simply emphasizes the nonverbal because, for many of us, those opportunities are more frequent.

Verdict

Overall, I thought this was an interesting and helpful book about an important subject. I have felt the “gospel cringe” which Dickson mentions; I have also struggled with feelings of guilt over not being a natural evangelist.  But Dickson offers practical ways that even the more introverted or ‘awkward’ Christians can promote the gospel, written in a way anyone can understand.  Reading this book gave me new zeal and excitement for sharing the gospel, and I would recommend it to anyone wishing to develop or deepen a biblical perspective on Christian mission.

Carmen Carmen Yoder lives in New Paris, Indiana. She works part-time at a cafe, where she enjoys making messes (which she cleans) and chatting with “the regulars.” Her spare time is usually spent reading, entertaining her siblings, adventuring, drinking coffee, or criticizing [she means proofreadingRadi-Call articles. She loves beauty, especially that of God’s creation, different cultures, fellowship, music, and laughter. She desires to live life to the fullest and serve God in any way He calls her.

Works Cited

Dickson, John. The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission: Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips. Zondervan, 2010.

One thought on “Book Review: “The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission” by John Dickson

  1. I have read this book and often thought it should be promoted for use in church small group discussion settings. Thanks for giving it a plug!

    Like

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