Monday, August 16, 2010

Book Review - The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission

The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission, Promoting the Gospel with More Than Our Lips by John Dickson

Over on the Zondervan Blog, Koinonia, I recently was selected by drawing to receive and review this book by John Dickson, director of the Centre for Public Christianity (

My interest was quickly piqued as read through the endorsements at the beginning of the book. For example: Alistair Begg reports that this book is "required reading at Parkside." And Alistair McGrath writing "I have learned from reading challenged me, encouraged me, and often inspired me. And at my age that's quite an achievement." And Collin Hansen advising "John Dickson will encourage you from Scripture with many varied ways to promote the gospel of Jesus Christ."

Following the endorsements I went to the back of the book scanning the notes, the Scripture Index and especially reading through the subject index trying to get a "feel" for the books scope, depth, and possibly also special items to note as I read through the content.

The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission (which I will refer to simply as Secret for the remainder of the review) has 91 endnotes and 380 scripture references taken from 12 OT books and 21 NT books. The Subject Index includes seven Greek word in their phonetic anglicized equivalent (there are actually at least 24 instances where Dickson deals with as many different Greek words) ; 7 ancient names ie. Philo, Ignatius, Eusebius, Chrysotom, Irenaeus, Tiberius; A couple of words I had no idea about: tripitaka and upanishads; plus some various others subjects which grabbed my attention: God-Talk, apostolic gospel, New Atheism, Koran, Shema, Turkey, Richard Dawkins, employee-employer relationships, and Hitchens.

Some other items of interest before we begin:
In the introduction, "Confessions of an Evangelists", Dickson describes his own story of coming to Christ at the age of 15 and enthusiastically and continuously speaking about Christ to anyone who would listen. But this early freedom and frequency was soon squelched when astute leaders in his church noticing his ability and activity had him enrolled in a several month long evangelism training class. The results weren't good. Coming out of this class he lists several things that changed for him. He now had a canned outline of the gospel, which really wasn't the whole rich gospel of who Jesus was and what he did. He lost his earlier pre-training freedom of speaking of Christ in all occasions for a method which required him to use a one-size-fits all system. He became self-conscious as a result plus he now saw mission work as only what he could say with his lips. And so a major goal of Secret is to show that The whole life lived can be mission oriented always promoting Christ even in times when outwardly our lips are not proclaiming Christ.

Chapter One subtitled, "Why Get Involved in Missions" might very well be my favorite. It reminded me very much of a John Piper quote: "Missions exist because worship doesn't."

Dickson expounds on Deu 6:4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD, quoting also from 1Cor 8:4-6 for the purpose of saying "If there is just one God in the universe, everyone everywhere has a duty to worship that Lord." Dickson then walks us through Psalm 96:4-5 demonstrating "the driving force behind all our efforts to bring the news of the one true Lord to our friends and neighbors: If there is one Lord to whom all people belong and owe their allegiance, the people of that Lord must promote this reality."

Chapter one alone justifies the price of the book.

As the book progresses we are given apologetic helps in answering various objections such as "All religions are equal," tolerance/intolerance, and various forms of Pluralism.

The book goes on to encourage us and to instruct us by exhortations, by scripture exegesis, and by many of Dickson's own life example in how we can "Promote the Gospel." Promote the gospel by speaking, by much praying, with our money, by godly behaviour, through good works individually and corporately.

Throughout the book I sensed a desire in Dickson to remain balanced. For example he does encourage good works as a mission promoting activity but then adds "mission disconnected from the gospel is not Christian." He encourages us to preach the gospel by talking about the gospels, the events in the gospels, the narrative of the gospels, but then reminds us to not neglect the theological meaning of these events. Which I read as meaning don't just talk about the doctrine of the atonement but show who Jesus is from eternity, how he lived and what he taught, and how he suffered and how he died and how he rose on the third day. But so as not to be devoid of the theological meaning, why he came, why he lived as he lived in our place and as our representative, and how he died a wrath absorbing sacrifice. Demonstrating that we are justified by Faith and not works and for all this God gets the glory. Dickson lists many non-verbal ways to promote the gospel but then spends his longest chapter on "What is the Gospel" and includes two appendices with further gospel-telling helps.

I am aware of the controversies today over just what is the doctrine of Justification. And I noted that the first endorser of Dickson's book is N. T. Wright, who comes down on the wrong side of this debate endorsing and promoting the New Perspective on Paul. So I read with care especially those passages dealing with just "What is the Gospel?" Dickson's book is written carefully enough that evidently he offends neither side. I might add that, in his chapter, "What is the Gospel?" I would wish there was more emphasis on theological meaning accompanying the recounting of the gospel narrative. It was there, but I would wish for more. Yet, what I took away especially from that chapter, was to be more careful to recount the content of the gospels and not just the doctrine of the gospels and I think that was the weakness Dickson was addressing.

Providentially, it is very appropriate that I received, read and reviewed this book as in our own church we are praying and striving to increase our missionary endeavors beginning this month.

I extend my thanks to Zondervan Publishing for sending me The Best Kept Secret of Christian Mission and with the endorsers I can say I am better for having read this book and hope especially better equipped for the promoting of Christ my savior to the Glory of God.

Below is pictured some of the notes and index I created to enhance my own use of this book in the future, click on picture to enlarge and further zoom in:


Andrew said...

I'm so glad this was a meaningful book for you. Thanks for posting this extensive review! And for the picture of your index. I've done the same thing to many books. (Actually, speaking of NT Wright, one of his)

- AR for Koinonia

Scott said...

Andrew, Thanks again for the book. It's led to some great conversations with friends. I was very pleased with how John Dickson really worked with a verse, the words in the verse, and the verse in context. Over on Amazon in the reviews there I believe someone else mentioned that fact. Also, something I didn't mention that was good to read was John Dickson's showing the evangelistic scriptures he found in the OT. He very well demonstrated that OT saints were much more evangelistic than we normally realize.

Scott said...


Is there some where that I can find a list of the blogs where the other book reviews are?


Andrew said...


I'm still gathering all the review links. The list will go live on Koinonia on Wednesday of next week. Until then see these links that I've gathered so far:

And you're right about his treatment of the OT. Few scholars are able to write like that.

Andrew said...

Don't miss this link either:

A friend of mine works at a bookstore close to Zondervan and hosted John Dickson in an event to speak on "The Best Kept Secret." I heard him speak that night and it was fantastic! The link above is to my friend's reflections on and pictures of the evening.