- Hardcover: 240 pages
- Publisher: Zondervan
- ISBN-10: 0310328632
- ISBN-13: 978-0310328636
Special thanks to the folks at Zondervan for a review copy!
I first heard about this little book on Michael Bird’s blog. When Zondervan announced on their blog that they would be doing a blog tour for this book, I eagerly threw my name into the hat. After reading the book, I’m glad that I did.
My thoughts on the book are largely positive. As a would-be budding scholar, I loved the care Dickson took with scripture and other sources. It’s clear that he has spent a great deal of time immersed in the literature of early Christianity. Perhaps the greatest expression of this is his definition of the word “gospel.” The Gospel is not merely the syllogism: Man is sinful + God is Holy = God sent Jesus, a savior. Rather, Dickson comes at the matter from a different angle. He lets monotheism drive his argument. If the God Jesus proclaims is the one true God, then people everywhere owe him their allegiance. The people of God, then, must promote this reality wherever they go. The gospel thus becomes the events of Jesus’ (the lord of all) life: his birth, healings, exorcisms, teachings (etc.), culminating in his death on the cross and his resurrection. This is a refreshing change from the aforementioned formula, and much more faithful to the NT’s logic. That’s not to say that Dickson thinks man isn’t sinful, or that we don’t need a savior, it just doesn’t play the absolutely central role for him that it does in other formulations of the Gospel.
One could comment more on the “scholariness” of the work. Dickson interacts with Greek directly where it’s appropriate, in ways that show he has a command of the language. More intricate details are handled in the end-notes, which is I think is appropriate for a wider audience. References to the original languages certainly don’t cloud or muddy up the work. Likewise, the work is full of references to well-respected scholars of the period. Martin Hengel is referenced several times. The end-notes contain references to everyone from Timothy Keller to Scott McKnight. Dickson is clearly well-read! One can easily see that he’s devoted much of his life to studying early Christianity.
Of course, Dickson is far from being a “stuffy scholar,” or as some like to say, an “ivory tower academic.” Dickson comes across more as passionate pastor and evangelist than an academic. The scholarly care is evident for those like me who notice such things. Most will notice instead his warmth and candor on the subject. The pages of the book are laced with stories from his own life (and the lives of others) that illustrate the point he’s trying to make. When discussing the importance of prayer in evangelism, he recounts his own story of coming to faith. This came about through a lady named Glenda, his scripture teacher from high school. The year that Dickson and several of his friends became Christians was marked by a renewed fervor for harvest in Glenda’s prayer group.
Dickson is also candid about his experiences as a pastor and evangelist. He is quick to tell stories from his own life, even embarrassing stories that illustrate “what not to do.” No less than the scholarly care, I enjoyed the many stories told in the book.
As with any book, there were a few quibbles. The charismatic in me wants to reserve a more “charismatic” definition for prophecy in 1 Cor 14. Dickson believes it merely refers to “intelligible speech.” On a different note, the book in a few places offers the common “religion = bad, Jesus = good” (to way oversimplify things) viewpoint that I’ve become frustrated with recently. Still, these are but minor quibbles. I’d heartily recommend this book to anyone interested in evangelism, or even those who have been “turned off” to evangelism by previous teaching or systems. Dickson’s book is a great antidote to the discomfort and fear many of us have concerning evangelism. It’s a timely read for me as I start back to classes at a secular school.