Book Review – “Fool’s Talk” by Os Guinness

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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.

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Book Review – “Love Kindness” by Barry H. Corey

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Let’s face it.  It is an unfortunate truth that Christians are often not immediately identified by their kindness.  Either we are known as being very firm in our beliefs but not kind in expressing them, or we are known for being overly kind but losing any sense of standing firm in convictions and the truth.  In fact, if you polled those who are not Christians and asked them what primary trait stands out from Christians they have met, it is probable that love and kindness would not necessarily be the first thing that comes to mind. (The book UnChristian illustrates this very well.)

Barry Corey, president of Biola University as of the time of this review, noticed it as well, and he wanted to offer some correction to it.  He does a great job in his book Love Kindness, published by Tyndale Publishers.

In the book, Corey walks through what it means to love kindness as Christians.  He does this largely through personal stories and anecdotes, providing real-life examples as illustrations of what it means to be kind toward others in the name of Christ.

Some of the ideas he writes about are what it means to be kind (it requires us to be receivable, thought not necessarily received, it can be messy, and it requires humility), how to be kind when we disagree with people, that kindness can take time, how hypocrisy ruins kindness, and how we can let kindness lead us to mentor others, among other topics. All of this is rooted in a God who is kind.  As Corey reminds us, God’s kindness leads us to repentance (see Romans 2:4).  As a result, we are kind to others, which is a fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5.

I must admit that when I first started to read the book, I was concerned it might be one of those books that insists on kindness to the exclusion of standing for what is true in terms of right beliefs and right practices.  Corey very quickly offers a reassuring explanation of what kindness does, and does not, mean.  He writes:

In today’s polarized culture, we are often pulled toward one extreme or the other, soft centers or hard edges.  I’m proposing a different approach, a third way. Rather than the harshness of firm centers and hard edges, and rather than the weakness of spongy centers and soft edges, why don’t we start with kindness? Kindness is the way of firm centers and soft edges. (p. xv)

In other words, while we firmly believe certain things (and refuse to compromise on those beliefs), we still do so in such a way as to be kind and loving towards others.  It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.  This is such a relief in light of books that encourage us to be so firm we lose kindness or so kind we lose any sense of a firm center.  Corey manages to maintain this balance in every chapter of the book.

In the next-to-last chapter, Corey provides seven ways we can live this out in our lives.  In order to live out the firm center and soft edges of kindness in our lives, we should do the following:

  1. A firm center and soft edges means we become more involved in the culturally unfamiliar.
  2.  A firm center and soft edges means we are creators of goodness and beauty.
  3. A firm center and soft edges means we approach the growing opposition in our day by leading with humility.
  4. A firm center and soft edges means we fear not when our grace is met with hostility.
  5. A firm center and soft edges means we remain even more deeply rooted in biblical faithfulness.
  6. A firm center and soft edges means that evangelism is at the heart of why we live this way.
  7. A firm center and soft edges means we need to remember that Christ-centeredness means we will never be marginalized.  (taken from subheadings on pp. 201-217)

If you are looking for a good book to help increase your growth in kindness as a Christian, I would strongly encourage you to pick up Love Kindness.  It is a wonderfully written and insightful examination into this topic, that is kind in its reminder of how to live out this fruit of the Spirit every day.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.  

 

 

Book Review – “Surprise the World” by Michael Frost

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One aspect of being a Christian is to reach out to the world and try to show them the love of Christ and lead them to Him.  There are many books on how to do this.  Some take a more methodological approach, teaching us steps to evangelize.  Others are more inspirational, trying to work up more of a desire in us to evangelize.  I’m not sure I’ve ever read one quite like one I received from Tyndale Publishers and NavPress.

Surprise the World: The Five Habits of Highly Missional People by Michael Frost is in a category of its own.  Rather than teaching us a method for sharing the gospel or trying to excite us and remind us of why we should, Frost’s book goes more to the heart of the matter, helping us develop habits that will naturally lead to an increased desire to share Christ and the ability to so more naturally.

Frost is quick to point out in the book that not everyone is gifted as an evangelist.  We are all, however, meant to be evangelistic as we live our lives.  Frost explains that

“the biblical model is for leaders to (1) identify, equip, and mobilize gifted evangelists (who then take a leadership responsibility for the church’s evangelism) and (2) inspire all believers to live questionable lives.  If all believers are leading the kind of lives that evoke questions from their friends, then opportunities for sharing faith abound, and chances for the gifted evangelists to boldly proclaim are increased.” (p. 5; italics in original)

I agree with his take on this.  We are all to be evangelistic, looking for opportunities as they arise, while some are more gifted to evangelize in more major ways.

To help believers live a questionable life, Frost offers his acronym: BELLS.  The “B” stands for “bless”; the “E” stands for “eat”; the first “L” stands for “listen”; the second “L” stands for “learn”; and the “S” stands for “sent.”  Each of these is more fully fleshed out this way:

  • If you bless three people every week, you’re going to become a very generous person.
  • If you eat with others, you’ll develop a greater capacity for hospitality.
  • If you foster the habit of listening to the Holy Spirit, you’ll become an increasingly Spirit-led person.
  • If you’re learning Christ, it’s fair to assume you’ll become more and more Christlike.
  • If you’re journaling the myriad ways you’ve been sent into your world, you’ll increasingly see yourself as a sent one, or a missionary in your own neighborhood.  (p. 23)

Chapters 3 through 7 take these ideas and dig deeper into them, explaining why the author recommends them and giving practical ways to live them out.  I found the chapters on learning and being sent to be especially good.

As one reads, Frost explains that the idea is that these things become habitual, things that we normally do without thinking.  As with any habit, it takes time and effort to move from it being something new that we have to remember to do to something that we do as a natural part of of our lifestyle.  As we live these ideas out, the world should take notice that something is different about us.  In light of this difference, a way may be opened for us to share the gospel with them.

Chapter 8 encourages us to form a group of three people who are in agreement to live the material in the book out.  This small group meets for “Discipleship, Nurture, and Accountability” (Table of Contents).

The back of the book contains a form to use in the small group, some questions for digging deeper as one studies the book, and an appendix with recommended books and movies on learning Christ.

The book is a small book, at 104 pages of the main text (125 with the form, questions, recommended resources, notes, and section about the author).  It is a quick read, but it is also a book I can see revisiting more slowly to think through the recommendations.

If you are struggling with a way to grow in your evangelistic living, I would definitely recommend reading Surprise the World as a way to help you.

Note: I received a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for my honest review.