Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Fool's Talk: Smart Talk on Christian Persuasion

If you enjoy thinking about the faith and how to defend it, I highly recommend Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion, by Os Guinness (InterVarsity Press, 2015).

I picked up the book because of its focus on persuasion, a subject that’s near and dear to my rhetorical heart. I think I would have liked the book even without that bias, and I’m betting that many of you would like it, too.

That’s especially the case if you meet any or all of the following criteria:

1. You’re curious about how to defend the faith, and not just in an academic way.

Guinness opens his book with a bold claim, saying,
Our age is quite simply the greatest opportunity for Christian witness since the time of Jesus and the apostles, and our response should be to seize the opportunity with bold and imaginative enterprise. If ever the “wide and effective door” that St. Paul wrote of has been reopened for the gospel, it is now. (p. 16)
The problem, according to Guinness, is that we’ve lost the art of Christian persuasion, and we need to recover it. In Fool’s Talk, Guinness takes a closer look at the nature of that persuasion and how it works. You’ll enjoy the journey if you’re curious about questions like these:
  • Is apologetics—the art of defending the faith—just for intellectuals?
  • What’s does the “anatomy of unbelief” look like?
  • What’s the relationship between apologetics and evangelism?
  • When interacting with unbelievers, what strategies of persuasion are useful?
  • Speaking of persuasion, does that art have any place in discussions of faith? Isn’t persuasion manipulative?
  • How can we answer the charge that Christians are hypocrites?
  • How should we respond to revisionists—theologians within the church who are revising doctrine to stay in step with cultural trends?
  • And what does this all have to do with the “Fool’s Talk” in the title? (I could spill the beans here, but where’s the fun in that?)
2. You’d be excited to go to a dinner party with people like C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and Saint Augustine.

Lewis, Chesterton, and Augustine, along with an array of other interesting thinkers (e.g., Old Testament prophets, the apostle Paul, Blaise Pascal, Peter Berger) show up frequently in the Oxford-educated Guinness’s book. Big thoughts, memorable words. (Prepare to do lots of underlining.)

If that’s your kind of crowd, this book’s for you.

3. You appreciate authors who can “talk Iowa” when dealing with challenging topics.

A book on apologetics could be complicated and deadly dull. Fool’s Talk isn’t that book. Guinness insists that apologetics is NOT just for intellectuals (so there you go . . . an answer to at least one of the questions above), and he proves it by speaking plainly and memorably about the process of advocating for the faith.

He tells stories. He includes myriad examples (e.g., Nathan’s creative persuasion with King David). He quotes liberally from others. And he makes a lot of common sense observations like the following:
True to the cross of Jesus, Christian persuasion has to be cross-shaped in its manner just as it is cross-centered in its message. (p. 28)
There is no McTheory when it comes to apologetics. (p. 32)
All unbelieving worldviews are not only a shrine to those who hold them but a shelter from God and his truth. (p. 85)
Words matter because we worship the Word himself, and our words used on His behalf should be spring-loaded with the truth and power of his Word—especially to those who are closed. (p. 167)
God is his own best apologist. At our best, we are humble junior counsels for the defense, and no more. (p. 51, emphasis added) 
The ideas are stated plainly enough, but they’re not lightweight. There’s a lot to think about in Fool’s Talk, which makes it a smart choice for curious readers.

It may even work for a book group, especially if the members smile at the mention of C. S. Lewis.

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