My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Slick spin and polished patois throb and thud their way through every aspect of American society. Whether it’s left or right, liberal or conservative, revisionist or traditionalist, each group has its own particular guild-talk and encoded lingo that fulfills and fortifies their respective self-perceptions. On top of this, much of our communication has become self-serving and self-absorbed, as we post and present and publish our blogs, statuses, thoughts and tweets. As all of this self-important and self-fulfilling hype clouds our associations, “social” media and society what, then, happens to the Gospel? Increasingly it falls into the trap of just being another slice of profile-raising that craves all the “Likes” it can garner. In “Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion” Os Guinness, author, editor, and founder and past senior fellow of the Trinity Forum, has compiled a 270 page hardback to help Christians remedy the situation. It is a book about apologetics, but more than apologetics. It is about evangelism, but more than evangelism. It is concerned with Christian persuasion that is an advocacy of the heart, “an existential approach to sharing our faith” that is “deeper and more faithful as well as more effective than the common approaches used by many,” that is less concerned with winning the argument and more focused on “winning hearts and minds and people” (18).
Throughout “Fool's Talk” it is clear that Guinness is not presenting a pre-packaged, cookie-cutter program. The author is making a case for keeping apologetics and evangelism, proclamation and persuasion together (27). But he is also cultivating the important mindset of humility. As he wisely states, if the Christian faith is true, “it is true even if no one believes it, and if it is not true, it is false even if everyone believes it. The truth of the faith does not stand and fall with our defense of it” (58). To have this as a settled condition of the heart relieves the Gospel presenter and defender from the need to close the sell or win the debate, and instead it frees them up to care about the person or persons they are conversing with.
But it seems to me that Guinness is up to something bigger in “Fool’s Talk” than just stressing the value and importance of keeping apologetics and evangelism together. He appears to be doing three other, very important things in the book. First, the author challenges Western Christianity’s attraction toward modernism and postmodernism; the “breathless idolizing of such modern notions as change, relevance, innovation and being on the right side of history,” especially in the areas of time and technique (30). The new forms of “toxic syncretism” that spread “cowardice and compromise,” kowtowing to the pollster as king and data as all decisive, where “truth and falsehood, right and wrong, wise and foolish must give way to statistics, opinion surveys and pie charts,” that becomes “compatible with anything and everything, and so means nothing” (209-27). The importance of this challenge reminds us that if the truth of Christianity is true no matter what, then we don’t have to be captured by relevance as society defines relevance; and it reminds us that we will need to be just as focused on persuasion with those inside Christianity as we are toward those outside.
Along with this, the author will not leave Christians in a self-congratulatory position. Guinness, rightly it seems to me, persuasively subverts our propensity to whitewash our own failings. He defies our need to always be right, to win at all costs, whether with “showy exhibitionist rhetoric or ruthless streamrollering” (170). But more importantly, he lays open our own fault in the crumbling influence of Christianity in the West by pointing out how our own hypocrisies have undermined the Gospel; “Atheists gain their main emotive force not by setting out the purported glories of their worldview, ( . . . ), but in attacking the evils and excesses of Christians and Christendom. Something has surely gone terribly wrong when Christians are the best atheist arguments against the Christian faith and Christendom their best arguments for atheism” (204). Therefore Guinness points to the rightness of confession and repentance; “Plainly, there is a time in our arguments to confess, and confession and changed lives have to be a key part of our arguments” (206).
Finally, Guinness lays out the composition of unbelief; not for the purposes of excuse-making or ridiculing, but to show how the heart, mind and life are engaged in unbelief, and so “we must always need to be ready to go beyond purely rational arguments, for the human will is in play, so our arguments are never dealing with purely neutral or disinterested minds” (94). This means, for the author, that though Jesus is the only way to God, yet there are many ways people come to Jesus (232). He spends two significant chapters unpacking this, “Triggering the Signals” and “Charting the Journey”. In both of these chapters he shows the important place that signals of transcendence have in bringing others to start looking and searching beyond their presuppositions and assurances, and journey toward the moment when they will either take to their heels, or fall on their knees (250). The author is promoting a thoughtful charitableness that should pervade all Christian advocacies.
“Fool’s Talk” is about reclaiming and recovering the lost art of Christian persuasion. Guinness works masterfully to inspire Christians toward that end, but not through craft or technique. Instead, it is an advocacy of the heart, the face-to-face loving others who are in the image of God, seeking to persuade them with true truth that is life changing, even life changing for the persuader! I recommend this book.
My deep appreciation goes to IVP Books for the free copy of the book used for this review.
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