Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion

In the front matter of what has proved to be a most valuable read, OS Guinness presents the readers with a list of quotes from names he mentions often throughout the volume. One quote by political philosopher Montesquieu,  particularly caught my eye. “One should not always so exhaust a subject that one leaves the reader with nothing to do”, he begins. “The point is not to make men read, but to make them think.”

81kMKhh11oLMaking men think has been the business of OS Guinness for some time now, and Fool’s Talk:Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion is no exception. The product of thirty plus years of thinking on the subject, Guinness does not disappoint. His expertise of primary source literature is astounding and as he weaves his pages together something of a masterpiece begins to shine forth in all its brilliance. Three striking features make this work particularly special.

His Method is Inexorably tied to his Exposition

This is the feature I love the most. Many reviews of this books have said over and over again, “There are no clear cut steps here”, when in fact the purpose of the whole volume was to dispel the notion that a matter of steps works for everyone. “No single method will ever fit everyone because every single person is different, and every method – even the best – will miss someone.” (33) Not only does Guinness go on to expound on this point, he reminds Christians that our persuasion is not a hard science, but rather an art.

Since apologetics needs to appeal to both the heart and the head, we as persuaders need to use both logic and language, rhetoric and reason, example and relationship. “The lost art of Christian persuasion certainly includes a method, but a method that is overwhelmed and utterly lost in the message that shapes it and the Master whom it serves. In other words, whatever little of apologetics is method must come from our experience of God and his love, his truth and his beauty.” (45)

His Knowledge of Secondary Sources is Dizzying

It’s not hard to see who has influenced OS the most, a mere glance at the Name Index will reveal that he’s keen on using the work of Blaise Pascal, G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Francis Schaeffer. Among those names he continually quotes from men like Kierkegaard, Peter Berger, and St. Augustine. Lest you think this volume comes with a heavy hand towards Christianity, Guinness tears this notion down with his knowledge and use of skeptics and atheists alike. Sparring partners have helped to shape Guinness in a way that would not be possible without their intellect as a sharpening stone against both the word of God and philosophies put forth by orthodox Christian writers.

In making his case for engaging skeptics Guinness makes use of material which is not particularly Christian. This not only makes his case credible, in my eyes, but it allows the reader a glimpse into the role of worldviews in enterprise of evangelists and apologists alike. He knows the word of skeptics seemingly better than they do which allows him to creatively persuade non-Christians to the truthfulness of the gospels and of the message contained therein.

The best example of this comes in the form of the supreme fool bearer, namely Christ himself. When the world considered it folly that a King would come and die instead of rise to power and overthrow the power of Rome, the onlookers saw this as mere folly and paid no attention to this man, “acquainted with sorrows”. (Isaiah 53:3) “Power can fence us in, but only sacrificial love can find us out. Power can in when we are ranged against it, but it cannot win us. Such is the hard, tenacious, willful, festering core of sin at the heart of each one of us that only the equally deliberate, tenacious love disguised in the absurd powerlessness, shame, pain, loneliness and desolation of the cross – all for us – could reach us and subvert us. There was no other way It takes the full folly and weakness of the cross to find us out and win us back.” (73)

His Examination of Worldviews

Here I think Guinness does a service for the reader in the form of examining various worldviews which stand themselves up against the bulwarks of the Christian faith. With a critical eye towards Modernism, Post-Modernism, and Revisionism, OS shows us the futile end result of such ways of thinking. He urges readers to push the skeptic and atheist worldview to its logical end to find that the substance found there is not enough to build a consistent view upon.

A consideration made for the readers is to try and win skeptics by quoting their own prophets against them. Paul did this well atop Mars Hill when engaging the minds and worldviews of Athens. “Just as it is more effective to argue on the other person’s ground, so it is wiser to argue from the other person’s prophet’s rather than our own.” (125) Just before you pick up the stones, I would like to say OS is not arguing against using the bible in our persuasion. He’s saying, along with many other Christian thinkers, that we must know the arguments and material of the unbelievers better than they do. Minds like Augustine and Chesterton mastered this tactic well and so we must as well.

Is There a Downside?

I appreciate the use of biblical literature in the approach OS Guinness takes to the task of apologetics and evangelism. Thoroughly biblical through and through, Guinness does make one small error when it comes to the distinguishing of evidence vs presuppositions. He makes a hard distinction between those who use evidence in their method and those who argue from presuppositions. The two in fact cannot be separated if done properly. That is not to say OS is wrong here, but I don’t think there should be a dichotomy between the use of evidences and the use of presuppositions. There is a time for both, to be sure, but they must never be separated.

Another downside, which really isn’t a downside at all, is that OS Guinness makes the reader responsible for the information lapped up in this volume. Once  the reader has digested this work, which I must confess takes some times, we are pushed forward to engage those around us; our neighbors, our coworkers, our family, and our friends. We can no longer say we have no excuse for doing so when OS has made it important for us to do so, and for the glory of God instead of winning arguments.

What Does This Volume Mean for the Church?

The truth of the Scripture and the revelation contained within, is our lifeblood. It’s our heritage from the Lord, our inheritance through the indwelling Spirit. Why would one not want to defend truth at all cost? After all the truth is true even if nobody believes it. Of course it’s not our job to make converts, only to present the Christian faith as the only logical, relevant, and consistent worldview available today.

Fool’s Talk does just that for the Church today. It presents us with a biblical warrant for doing apologetics and living life Coram Deo. It gives us both the assurance that it is possible and shows us from history, from literature, and from the Word that it can and must be done today. I am grateful to have a guide as wise and foolish as OS Guinness as he points us to the supreme fool, Christ in all his wisdom.

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