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Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of…
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Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion

by Os Guinness

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We live in a time in which our culture vacillates between the material world and the spiritual-but-not-religious. Everywhere you look there is either New Atheism or New Age spirituality, evidentialist scientific rationalism or postmodern relativism. Os Guinness points out that the time is ripe for apologetic engagement but first we must recapture the lost art of Christian persuasion (16-17). In Fool's Talk he gives an account of where we are at this cultural moment and what it would look like for Christians to engage the culture persuasively and winsomely.

Guinness's first three chapters make the case for Christian persuasion, while chapters four through twelve give shape to the type of persuasion he is advocating for. In chapter one he urges us to allow our talk to be shaped by the cross (which is foolishness to those who are perishing), and states "Christian persuasion must always take account of the human capacity for reason and the primacy of the human heart" (27). Throughout the book he continues to argue for persuasion of both the heart and the mind, in language which speaks meaningfully to unbelievers. In chapter two, he eschews an over-emphasis on communication or marketing techniques, saying, 'Christian persuasion is cross talk, not clever talk' (39). He takes his cues on persuasive speech from the Bible, mostly Jesus and the prophets. Chapter three argues for the vital role of apologetics in Christian speech (Guinness after all, is an apologist), and the need to engage with a passionate intellect. Humorously, Guinness calls Balaam's ass the patron saint of apologists for the vital role it played in saving Balaam by stopping him in his tracks(60).

In chapter four unfolds what he means by Fool's Talk--subversion of the 'vaunted wisdom, strength and superiority of the world through the cross'(72). He showcases how the gospel provides 'the most hopeful and humorous view of life in world history' (with a little help from thinkers like Erasmus, Chesterton, Reinhold Niebuhr and Peter Berger and more). Chapter five examines the 'anatomy of unbelief.' Guinness diagnoses the way unbelief stems from a willful abuse of truth, deliberate acts of exploitation and inversion of the truth, deception and self-deception (84-9). He profiles how distractions keep unbelievers from seeing the consequences of their belief systems.

Chapter six unpacks what Guinness calls 'prophetic subversion,'--engaging unbelievers beliefs by turning the tables on them. Guinness says, "all thoughts can be thought, but not all thoughts lived" (115)and argues for an apologetic which reveals the pitfalls of unbelief (following things through to see where their ideas lead). Helping others see the full consequences of their position involves engaging with them in their language rather than just saying the gospel louder, slower and in a tone-deaf way. Here Guinness helps us see our way through to engaging others, be he counsels graciousness and care (121). People are not consistently rational and we should take care to speak to the areas where they feel the inconsistencies in their worldview. This requires both gentleness and discernment.

Chapter seven profiles moments in the lives of several converts and what caused them to see the cracks in their worldview. Chapter eight explores how to speak persuasively with others through reframing the issues, raising questions, telling stories or dramatizing their predicament. A key biblical story which illustrates persuasive talk is Nathan's confrontation of David about his sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. Chapter nine addresses tone of conversation and the trap of always 'having to be right.' Chapter ten tackles the problem of Christian hypocrisy (the 'what about you' boomerang') and chapter eleven profiles religious revisionists within the church who have forsaken the gospel (he isn't particularly friendly to Episcopalians on this score). In chapter twelve Guinness unfolds his method: raise questions, give answers, give evidence and provide a chance for commitment.

Admittedly this book was a slow burn for me. It really wasn't compelled until part way through Turning the Tables (chapter five); however Guinness is somewhat of an elderstatesman among Christian apologists and an astute cultural critic. He points a way foreword for Christians to engage in compelling, creative persuasion and synthesizing the insights of other great apologists and Christian thinkers before him. There is a lot of meat that the above summary skips over. I don't think there is a better resource which comprehensively provides rules of engagement for those who want to share their faith with unbelievers. I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in seeing unbelievers come to saving hope through Christ. There is sage advice on how to communicate good news winsomely to hearts and minds. I give this five stars: ★★★★★

Note: I received this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review. ( )
  Jamichuk | May 22, 2017 |
Summary: Guinness argues for the recovery of the lost art of persuasion that combines good apologetic work with evangelism and is aware of the many people Christians address who are not open to their message.

This is a book that Os Guinness has been preparing for a lifetime to write. Throughout his life, Guinness has been presenting the Christian faith in the public square, not only with the interested but also those who are not, those who would oppose or are disinterested in the Christian message and worldview. The book reflects a summation of the lessons he has learned and his urgent sense that the pressing need for Christian witness today is a recovery of the lost art of Christian persuasion. We know how to proclaim and we know how to protest. But do we know how to persuade those with whom we differ, engaging both minds and hearts?

He contends that often we settle for mere technique, whether that be "canned" evangelistic presentations, or "canned" arguments for the faith. This often is not enough because such approaches assume the interest of the person with whom we engage. Yet to persist in the work of persuading is urgent for those who love God because our enemy seeks to rob God of glory either by questioning his existence or by impugning God with the blame for humanity's problems.

He argues that we take the approach used by Erasmus in The Praise of Folly, becoming the "holy fool" a kind of court jester representing the kingdom of heaven pointing out the follies of unbelief, and perhaps at times following the holiest fool of all, the Lord Jesus. [Having read and reviewed this biography of Erasmus recently, my interest is piqued to read In Praise of Folly!] He then plunges into considering the anatomy of unbelief, and how often it is ultimately not simply an intellectual incapacity to believe, but a heart-driven unwillingness to believe because of what this would mean for one's life.

This calls for different forms of persuasion depending on the person. It may mean the turning of tables on them, pressing them to the ultimate conclusions of their beliefs (for example, "relativizing the relativizers"), if they are a person who prides themselves on consistency. For others, less consistent, it may be exploring the disturbing "signals of transcendence" that point to a reality other than can be explained by their worldview. The challenge is bringing a person to a place of facing the inadequacy of the belief they've embraced to be willing to consider something different.

The latter chapters consist of several warnings for the advocate of Christian faith. One is the "know-it-all" attitude that is not characterized by a humility before truth. Another is hypocrisy in one's life where one's claims and one's character fail to match up. And finally, he warns of the ways we may betray the faith. The four step process of embracing an assumption of modern life as superior, abandoning all that does not square with this, adapting whatever faith is left around this, and finally assimilating into the culture. What Guinness points out is the danger in our efforts to engage with the culture, that if we are not clear on what must be central and unchanging, that we will make fatal compromises.

Perhaps the most significant idea here, and one worth further development, is this idea of the "holy fool." As Guinness observes, there have been some, like Erasmus, G.K. Chesterton, Pascal, Muggeridge, and Lewis, who with wit, humor, and incisive argument point out the weaknesses and follies of others while commending by persuasion and a kind of winsome humility the transforming nature of Christian faith. Such an approach takes both truth and people seriously, engaging heart and mind, not with canned approaches or sterile arguments, but warm-hearted persuasion that gives people reasons for heart, soul, mind and strength to love God more than all else.

One might ask, "where is God in all this?", and at points this seems like a book on the Christian rhetorician's art, and this alone is all that is needed. What Guinness reminds us of, is that while the Christian communicator always is dependent of the work of God in those with whom they communicate, the person may often only become aware of this as they come to the place of commitment. He writes, and with this I'll conclude:

"Intriguingly, this fourth stage of the journey is often when God's presence becomes plain for the first time. The wholehearted step of faith of the new believer is far more than simply his or her own step. At one moment a seeker making her commitment knows as she has never known anything before that she is more responsible for the step of faith than for any other choice in life, and that she has never been more fully herself than in taking it. But the next moment she knows too that the One she thought was the goal was all along the guide as well. She knows that she has not so much found God as that God has found her. All the time the seeker thought she was seeking, but actually she was being sought, for God can only be known with the help of God. 'The hound of heaven,' as the poet Francis Thompson called God, has tracked the seeker down" (p. 248). ( )
  BobonBooks | Jun 19, 2016 |
Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness is quite a convicting book, a book that really makes you think about how serious we really are about evangelism/apologetics. It provokes the question: how much thought do we really put in our conversations (or even our small-talk) with unbelievers? Do we hold back on saying anything related to the Gospel because we are ashamed of being considered foolish because of our belief in God's Word? Or if we do evangelize, are we just sticking with simple pre-contrived evangelization questions like, "If you were to die today and stood before God and He asked you why He should let you into Heaven, what would you say?" Are we willing to truly put thought into persuading someone of the truth of Christianity, giving answers to their questions, and asking thought-provoking questions ourselves, rather than merely turning to someone else's pre-designed method of evangelism. Do we not seriously think of persuasion outside of some other persons pre-written evangelization answers/questions (though not outside the word of God)? And are we loving when we talk to others, truly more concerned about winning the person rather than just winning an argument?

This book's author does an excellent job at making one think about the answers to questions like the above. For instance, as evinced above, he critiques modern-day evangelism, and makes the case that the 'method' used to evangelize actually does matter, "Recent forms of evangelism are modeled on handbooks for effective sales technique…After all, if all truth is God's truth, it is surely legitimate to use the best tricks of the trade, but this time use them in the service of the truth." "Not so…" Guinness answers. "…The Lord's work must always be done in the Lord's way. The method must serve the message. Technique is never neutral. It can be positive and useful, and it can also be harmful. Sometimes it an even be so brilliantly effective that its danger lies in its weaning us away from needing God at all. True apologetics is the art of truth, and its art must be shaped by the distinctiveness of the truth it proclaims."

He also does an excellent job at keeping one's perspective straight, because, though we do want to persuade others as best we can, and as Scripturally as we can, we are not to have the posture of winning discussions with non-believers at all-costs, the truth is true even if we do not defend it well, or even if we don't have answer to a certain question. Not matter how good are argument is, God is ultimately the only One who can change a person's heart and give them faith, though we do hope to have the opportunity to be used of God in helping others see the truth of the Gospel, "Faith's certainty lies elsewhere than in the rapier sharp logic or the sledgehammer power of the apologist. At the end of the day, full certainty comes from the conviction of the Holy Spirit."

There were some things in the book that had I had trouble with though. At one point the author says, "The next time you see Auguste Rodin's Thinker look at it closely" Ummm…. Sorry but if that work of 'art' is what I think it is (an unclothed statue of a man…who is in the process of thinking…probably trying to figure out what he forgot to do that day, he forgot to put on clothes!) I think that then next time I see it I'll look away quickly! I don't care if it doesn't show anything really inappropriate, it's the implication of nakedness that bothers me. Naked statues don't fit the list of attributes the Apostle Paul gives as to what we should think on/meditate on in Philippians 4:8, "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honorable, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure…(ASV)"etc.

Also, I really have trouble with some of Guinness's statements…I was really shocked by some in particular, "Just so did God shame the world's folly, subvert the world's pride and put death to death through the death of his Son. And the sober truth is surely that this was the way, the only way that it had to be done. There was no other way. God is always able to respond to sin and defiance with power….Power, however, usually overcomes by destroying what defies it. Thus, as Reinhold Niebuhr insisted, there is a limit to what even the power of God can do as power alone, for 'such power does not reach the heart of the rebel.' Power can fence us in, but only sacrificial love can find us out. Power can win when we are ranged against it, but it cannot win us." That REALLY takes away the miracle of Christians being made by God into New Creations, their hearts of stone that couldn't love God being made, by God, into hearts of flesh that love Him and His ways. That's power, being used because of God's love yes, but it's His transforming power just the same! If God didn't use power to change our hearts to love Him, and give us faith, we would not believe in Him, nor would we wish to follow His ways! See Colossians 2:8-16, that's not just love, that's God's power! He acts with His power because of His love for us! Just as God will do with the nation of Israel in the future (see Ezek. 36)

Some parts of the book get a bit tedious as you get more into it, but overall, I liked the book, and think that it is a good resource for helping us give thought about the answer we should always be ready to give when asked about the hope that we have (1 Pet. 3:15). I'll end with one of my favorite quotes from the book:

"To follow Jesus is to pay the cost of discipleship, and then to die to ourselves, to our own interests, our own agendas and reputations. It is to pick up our crosses and count the cost of losing all that contradicts his will and way - including our reputations before the world and our standing with the people and communities we once held dear. It is to live before one audience, the audience of One, and therefore to die to all other conflicting opinions and assessments. There is no room here for such contemporary ideas as the looking-glass self; and no consideration here for trivial contemporary obsessions such as one's legacy…"

Many thanks to the folks at InterVarsity Press for sending me a free review copy of this book! (My review did not have to be favorable)
( )
  SnickerdoodleSarah | Apr 13, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0830836993, Hardcover)

In our post-Christian context, public life has become markedly more secular and private life infinitely more diverse. Yet many Christians still rely on cookie-cutter approaches to evangelism and apologetics. Most of these methods assume that people are open, interested and needy for spiritual insight when increasingly most people are not. Our urgent need, then, is the capacity to persuade―to make a convincing case for the gospel to people who are not interested in it. In his magnum opus, Os Guinness offers a comprehensive presentation of the art and power of creative persuasion. Christians have often relied on proclaiming and preaching, protesting and picketing. But we are strikingly weak in persuasion―the ability to talk to people who are closed to what we are saying. Actual persuasion requires more than a one-size-fits-all approach. Guinness notes, "Jesus never spoke to two people the same way, and neither should we." Following the tradition of Erasmus, Pascal, G. K. Chesterton, C. S. Lewis, Malcolm Muggeridge and Peter Berger, Guinness demonstrates how apologetic persuasion requires both the rational and the imaginative. Persuasion is subversive, turning the tables on listeners' assumptions to surprise them with signals of transcendence and the credibility of the gospel. This book is the fruit of forty years of thinking, honed in countless talks and discussions at many of the leading universities and intellectual centers of the world. Discover afresh the persuasive power of Christian witness from one of the leading apologists and thinkers of our era.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 02 Jul 2015 01:22:43 -0400)

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