Os Guinness wants to take the task of apologetics back from the angry and the academic. For far too long the discipline has been associated solely with winning debates and internecine arguments about methodology. But “we are all apologists,” says Guinness. As such we need to learn the rhetorical skills necessary to do our task well. Fools Talk offers Christians all the help they need to be the competent apologists they are supposed to be.
There are hundreds of books on apologetics, and more being written each year. Guinness certainly adds to their voices, and yet he offers us something different. While other books focus on arguments and techniques (37), Guinness wants to suggest a more individualized and even existential approach to apologetics. Apologetics is can be done in many ways and in fact should be done in many ways based upon those to whom we are speaking. There is no one way to do apologetics because there is no one single type of person. Instead of a series of arguments and techniques, Guinness talks to us about the “art of Christian persuasion” that engages the individual wherever they are at (33). In that regard there is much to commend about this book.
The book’s fourteen chapters make a progressive case for this kind of “persuasion.” Guinness walks us through the importance of marrying apologetics and evangelism in the opening chapter, making a case for the two that reveals his contention that everyone is an apologist. The modern world is hostile to our faith and so our evangelism must acknowledge this and be prepared to engage with those who disagree. But, in chapter two he warns us not to get sucked into the trap of technique. Technique cannot win people, because all people are different and their complaints against Christianity are not simply intellectual. Technique has its place, but “technique by itself is essentially soulless, whereas apologetics is essentially soulful” (44). Chapter 3 explores in some detail what it looks like to actually do the task of apologetics, Guinness does us a great service to note that apologetics is really an act of worship. “Apologetics is all about the Lord, and not about us” (56). We do apologetics because we love the Lord and His glory.
The title of the book is most clearly delineated in chapter 4. Here readers are informed about the Bible’s various descriptions of the fool, noting that we are to be “third” kind of fool: the third fool carries the power of the cross and contains the secret of creative persuasion that our Christian advocacy need today (66). We are to be “fool-makers” in the vein of God himself who uses the cross to make all men fools. We are to be fool-bearers, who suffer for the sake of the gospel.
Chapter five explores the anatomy of unbelief, enlightening readers for the variety of reasons why people reject the gospel and what their unbelief actually looks like. His discussion here of the two poles of unbelief (diversion or dilemma) is extremely insightful. Neither is closer to God but awareness of where a person is at lends us better resources to exposing them to the truth of the gospel.
In chapters 6-8, we are introduced to some helpful approaches to apologetics via Guinness’ own heroes of the discipline: G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, and Peter Berger. Each offers a unique approach useful with a specific kind of resistance. Chesterton practiced “turning the tables” on an opponent and subverting their argument against their position. Lewis utilized the “signals” of the created world to point people to the existence of God. Finally, Berger used pointed questions to help expose the reader to the truth of their spiritual blindness.
Chapters 9, 10, and 11 give us some final warnings about our practice of apologetics. We are not to be consumed with “being right” but rather to extend hands of friendship to those we disagree with. We are to win them with persuasion, not beat them with arguments. Likewise we need to be highly conscious of hypocrisy in our lives and witness, and sensitive to the potential for syncretism in our practice. Our apologetic method is so influenced by the message that we cannot adopt any methodology without possibly doing damage to the message itself. Chapter 12 rounds out the book with a look at Guinness own personal practice.
The book is fresh and insightful. Readers will find loads of Biblical examples to demonstrate the general principles that Guinness outlines for us. Many have critiqued the book for its lack of examples, but I found there to be plenty of helpful illustrations. Os Guinness has written a helpful and needed book. He breaks through some of the unnecessary debates within the discipline, and demonstrates the best practices of those who have influenced (not least of all Francis Schaeffer). I am hopeful that this will become a regularly consulted book in the area of both evangelism and apologetics. I highly recommend Fool’s Talk.