Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion is a book I have been hearing a lot about over the course of the last year and I was not disappointed in my reading of it. Through this book Guinness introduces the reader to the art of Christian persuasion. Persuasion—is perhaps the best way to view apologetics. Over time I have seen many followers of Jesus take varied stances on apologetics. Compelled by 1 Peter 3:15 personally, for some time now I have been an advocate for apologetics, not so much from the sake of winning arguments but in our role of evangelism and the stewardship of relationships. This book does well to unpack the role of apologetics and it’s necessity in our day while addressing and avoiding common pitfalls that most fall into in navigating this challenging topic. Apologetics, and the persuasion that lies at its heart, is more important today than ever and a true missing link in our discipleship contexts.
We are all apologists now, and we stand at the dawn of the grand age of human apologetics, or so some are saying because our wired world and our global era are a time when expressing, presenting, sharing, defending and selling ourselves have become a staple of everyday life for countless millions of people around the world, both Christians and others. The age of the Internet, it is said, is the age of the self and the selfie. The world is full of people full of themselves. In such an age, “I post, therefore I am.” To put the point more plainly, human interconnectedness in the global era has been raised to a truly global level, with unprecedented speed and on an unprecedented scale. Everyone is now everywhere, and everyone can communicate with everyone else from anywhere and at any time, instantly and cheaply.
As the author states, our time and our context is perhaps the greatest opportunity for Christians and Christianity since Jesus and his apostles walked the earth. But what are we doing about it? “Many of us have yet to rise to the challenge of a way of apologetics that is as profound as the good news we announce, as deep as the human heart, as subtle as the human mind, as powerful and flexible as the range of people and issues that we meet every day in our extraordinary world in which ‘everyone is now everywhere’.”
Guinness asserts, we have lost the art of persuasion—the kind of persuasion we see modeled in Jesus, Paul, and the Old Testament prophets before them. Jesus especially had a remarkable ability to communicate to people disposed to reject him, and yet to do so in such a way that they had to see his point despite themselves. Thus, persuasion is “the art of speaking to people who, for whatever reason, are indifferent or resistant to what we have to say.”
Guinness builds his argument on three elements that have served him over his work as an apologist—a deep love of scripture, an advanced understanding of classical Greek rhetoric and his own “cloud of witnesses” (such as, Erasmus, Peter Berger, C. S. Lewis, and C. K. Chesterton) that add strength to his arguments.
The book is divided into fourteen chapters, including an introduction and conclusion. In the introduction, Guinness clearly states the intention of his book—to help Western Christians recover the lost “art of Christian persuasion” in order to mend the marriage of apologetics and discipleship so that the church’s holistic witness can once again confidently address a secular culture. From there, although not specifically noted as such, Guinness lays out his material in five parts: what is rhetoric (chapters 1-3); what is unbelief (chapters 4-5); what is the point of persuasion and what does persuasion look like (chapters 6-8); some concerns (chapters 9-11); and practical considerations (chapter 12-conclusion).
In chapter 1, Guinness, in the spirit of all great apologists, argues that the point of apologetics is not to get people to believe what we believe but to communicate our beliefs in such a way as to help the other understand why we believe it (and why they should as well). Guinness follows this in chapter 2 by arguing that persuasive rhetoric is more art than science and that there is no “one way” to do it. This undergirds his earlier point “that there is no one that we cannot talk to” (28), which is simply a complicated way of saying that any Christian can share his/her faith with any non-Christian. Chapter 3, then, unpacks Peter’s exhortation in his first letter to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).
In the next “section” of the book, Guinness looks at some particulars of unbelief. In chapter 4, he focuses the types of fools addressed in scripture (the fool who does not believe in God, the fool who believes in God, and God). God, Guinness argues, is the supreme fool (“fool maker,” 72 ) because God, through the cross, makes everything else foolish. The problem is that we treat the cross as foolish because we cannot understand its significance. This sets up chapter 4, where we are given the “anatomy of unbelief” (84). Essentially, according to Guiness, “unbelief” is a deliberate act of suppressing, exploiting and inverting the rational, logical truth of the cross—that absolute surrender to God is the only path to spiritual, physical, psychological and emotional freedom.
He then demonstrates how one can go about revealing the world as foolish in his next “section” (chapters 6-8). In chapter 6, Guinness draws on Chesterton’s method of apologetics that has been masterfully used recently in Keller’s The Reason for God—turning the tables of the argument on the one who poses a reason not to believe in God by subverting their own argument against them. In chapter 7, Guinness draws on one of Lewis’ favorite method of apologetics that has been demonstrated recently in Charlie Starr’s treatment of Lewis’ last essay in his bookLight—noticing the signals of God’s existence all around us so that we can move from spiritual blindness to spiritual illumination. In chapter 8, Guinness draws on Berger’s method of using confrontational questions and reframing erroneous beliefs to demonstrate how secularization has blinded the unbeliever to the truth about God.
A book on apologetics would not be complete without some concerns and practical applications, which is what we see in the final two “sections.” In chapter 9, Guinness warns us about succumbing to the need to always be right. Yes, we see the truth. Yet, it must still be the other’s decision to accept that truth. In chapter 10, Guinness warns us about the “boomerang effect,” the undeniable fact that Christians through the ages have demonstrated hypocrisy, often in the name of God. And in chapter 11, Guinness warns us about becoming “kissing Judases” by welcoming syncretism into our practice of Christianity in order to simply be relevant or accommodating (209-210). This chapter actually sets up the final portion of the book—the practical considerations—because he walks us through a practical slide from orthodoxy to heresy. To counter this, in chapter 12, Guinness offers his own set of rhetorical stages (think Fowler) for Christian persuasion in order to guide the nonbeliever to belief—questions, answers, evidences and commitments. Finally, Guinness advocates that, regardless of how we engage others, we must also do so with an “open hand” (253).