Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion (Os Guinness)

Posted On November 13, 2015

indexThe Cookie Cutter. It’s great for making cookies, isn’t it? When using cookie cutters we’re able to crank out dozens of cookies, perfectly shaped and made to our liking. As a society, we’ve seen the success we’ve had in applying the “cookie-cutter” approach, and naturally we take it a step further. Now we want to make everything work in this format. Fast food joints, automobile factories, and so forth, all are using these same principles to produce faster, easier, and more efficiently. This approach doesn’t work, however, when it comes to Christian apologetics.

We’ve certainly tried to make it work, but to no avail. Skeptics and seekers alike don’t operate this way. Handing 100 random people the same gospel tract is highly unlikely to garner 100 new believers in Christ. Naturally, God can work through whatever methods we devise, but what we’re learning is apologetics cannot be a “mass produced” or “relationship-free” effort. For that reason alone, many of us give up the prospect of defending our faith and evangelism altogether. The truth is, we all tick different, we all think different. We all bring unique presuppositions into our worldview and thus into all aspects of life.

This is one of the main reasons Os Guinness feels that we must recover the art of persuasion in apologetics. Guinness elaborates:

“[The] combination of the abandonment of evangelism, the divorce between evangelism, apologetics, and discipleship, and the failure to appreciate true human diversity is deeply serious…At best, many of us who take the good   news of Jesus seriously are eager and and ready to share the good news when we meet people who are open, interested or in need of what we have to share. But we are less effective when we encounter people who are not open, not interested or not needy–in other words, people who are closed,  indifferent, hostile, skeptical or apathetic, and therefore require persuasion” (17).

After decades of patiently waiting to write this masterpiece, Guinness has finally given us incredible insights into the art of Christian Persuasion with Fool’s Talk. He is clear about the structure and purpose of the book. This is not a “6 Keys to Better Apologetics” formulaic how-to guide. This is a book built on honest conversation, patient reflection, and gentle guidance. In Fool’s Talk, Guinness, a leading apologist himself, is hoping to equip the generations to come to continue the tradition of careful Christian apologetics once carried by the likes of Pascal, Chesterton, and Lewis. We know such minds are one in a million, but Guinness’s careful analysis of the styles and minds of these men and more provides Christians with incredible insight on how to look at the world around us, how to engage it, and how to persuade it with the truth of the gospel. As the introductory words proclaim, “We are all apologists now, and we stand at the dawn of the grand age of human apologetics” (15).

What I loved about Fool’s Talk was how Guinness helped us enter into the mind of the skeptic. Oftentimes in apologetics, we’re so concerned with “making our case” that we don’t do enough digging to know which shields to put up, which swords to bring to battle, and so forth. A great example of this is in Chapter 5, “Anatomy of Unbelief,” where Guinness helps us distinguish “truth twisters” from “truth seekers.” In Chapter 6, “Turning the Tables,” Guinness primarily talks about the role of reversing the argument in apologetics, and how critical it is that we listen and learn in these processes.

Guinness also spends a great deal of time speaking directly to the Christian’s behavior in apologetics, addressing the temptations of religious snobbery (Chapter 9), hypocrisy (Chapter 10), and neglect (Chapter 11). This is crucial and necessary reading for every Christian in their pursuit of becoming gospel evangelists. We must take advantage of the ripe harvest before us, and learn to put to death such temptations in apologetics.

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. It’s one I know I’ll return to as I engage skeptics and seekers, and I know it will be relevant reading for decades to come. Os Guinness couldn’t have written Fool’s Talk at a better time. This is not a list-driven, cookie-cutter approach to apologetics. This is winsome, compassionate, practical, creative, and persuasive handling of the truth of God in our post-Christian world. We will all be helped by Guinness’s timeless work here.

I received this book for free from IVP Academic for this review. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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