As a lay apologist, I am always looking for good books on the topic. I have heard Os Guinness speak more than I have read things by him, but I knew that I liked what I heard. When I saw he released a book on apologetics, I immediately added it to my “to read” list. Guinness’ book, called Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion, did not disappoint!
The first thing I want to point out is that the book is dense. Not in a bad way, but it is certainly not a quick read. Guinness includes a lot to think about, and it is both deep and well rounded. Honestly, I’m not sure I feel qualified to write a review after reading it only once, but I will have to read even slower the next time, so I am going to give it my best shot.
Fool’s Talk is an interesting addition to the apologetic genre. It is not a book primarily filled with answers to tough questions, although there are some. It is not primarily a book on methodology. In fact, Guinness points out a few times throughout the book that he is no fan of scripted methodologies of apologetics or evangelism. To Guinness, we should know the person we are talking to well enough to have a genuine conversation that is geared toward the needs of the hearer. I suppose I could describe Guinness’ book as being a primer on why apologetics is necessary, with many reminders as to the ultimate goal: loving people enough to persuade them into God’s kingdom for their benefit.
Along those lines, then, Guinness’ book is also a crossover into evangelism. Again, nothing scripted. Rather it is an encouragement that the reason for apologetics is not ultimately about “winning” an argument. Instead, the goal is heart and life transformation of those we are reaching out to.
Guinness tackles various subjects such as why people fail to believe, how to “turn the tables” to expose the presuppositions (and the weakness of those presuppositions) of the hearer, how to trigger more of desire for our hearers to know God, understanding that our lives must increasingly match our talk, and more.
I found myself wondering throughout the book whether Guinness would support more of an evidentialist-based approach or a presuppositionalist-based one. Guinness ends up answering that question in the book, and I love his answer:
“One of the most futile arguments in contemporary apologetics is the debate between the so-called evidentialists and presuppositionalists. But what should be clear from this description of the journey toward faith is that the answer is not either-or, but both-and and which-when. Both presuppositions and evidences are a key part of our apologetics approach, and the real question is which to focus on and when.” (p. 246)
Guinness then proceeds to explain how someone who is hardened to Christianity is in need of more presuppositional explanations, while someone who is open is in need of more evidentialist ones. I think that he does a phenomenal job of bringing together something that is normally divided (and often harshly so).
Throughout, Guinness reminds us that the goal is love. We love people. We want them to know God. Therefore we must recover the art of Christian persuasion. It is not about being smarter than others. It is not about winning an argument; if all we do is win arguments, we may be winning small battles but ultimately losing the war for the hearts of people who need to know God in Christ. It is about knowing the love of God and life in His kingdom and wanting others to know and experience the same. That is the goal of Christian persuasion, and it is a much-needed reminder for those of us who delve into apologetics.
I truly believe every Christian needs to read this book. It needs to be read slowly, thoughtfully, and prayerfully. And then it needs to be implemented in our lives. If we can lovingly recover the art of Christian persuasion, the Church will make great strides in leading people back to God’s loving kingdom.
*Note: I received a complimentary copy of this book from InterVarsity Press in exchange for my honest review.