The lost art of Christian persuasion

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One of our interns, Leah Hickman, who attends Hillsdale College, beat me to the punch on something I’ve been wanting to do on BreakPoint, and that’s review Os Guinness’s new book: “Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion.”

In her review, Leah hits on something I think that all of us feel or think with a growing frequency these days. And that’s frustration: Frustration about our inability to communicate the truth and the beauty of the Gospel in this increasingly anti-Christian culture.

“I hardly know how to approach apologetics and evangelism anymore,” Leah writes. “No one seems to really care about truth . . . and how can you explain the truth of God’s Word with people who think that everything” is a matter of opinion?

Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian PersuasionLeah identifies a fear that many of us have: “[H]ow do you tell someone that their beliefs are wrong and that they need Jesus without offending them or scaring them off? And what if I’m an ineffective debater and can’t win the arguments? They’ll never come to Christ that way. It will only drive them away.”

Well, happily for Leah, and for us, Os Guinness has written “Fool’s Talk” specifically to address these issues and to help us recapture what he calls the art of Christian persuasion.

Guinness makes it clear from the start his book is not about technique; it’s not a step-by-step guide on “apologetics for dummies.” As he asserts, there is no “surefire, foolproof approach to sharing the faith.”

Instead, Guinness offers us an approach that’s based on and flows from a thoroughly Christian worldview. He writes, “True to the biblical understanding of creation, Christian persuasion must always take account of the human capacity for reason and the primacy of the human heart.”

Because of the fall, “Christian persuasion must always take account of the anatomy of an unbelieving mind in its denial of God.”

And because of the incarnation, “Christian persuasion always has to be primarily person-to-person and face-to-face, and not argument to argument . . . media to media or methodology to methodology.

“And true to the Holy Spirit, Christian persuasion must always know and show that the decisive power is not ours but God’s.”

Guinness also wants us to understand that the Scriptures themselves use a variety of means to communicate truth—and so should we. “The Bible has a high place,” he writes, “for rational arguments as well as for stories, drama, parables, and poetry. The Bible contains the book of Romans as well as the psalms of David and the parables of Jesus.”

Throughout the book, Guinness illustrates how the great persuaders reached their audience: From Jesus, to Socrates, to Augustine, and of course Lewis and Chesterton. But he is also unafraid to use great atheist persuaders as examples, like Nietzsche and even Norman Mailer.

Now, this is not a book you’ll be able to absorb in one sitting. It’s a book that demands prayerful attention. But it’s also a book that can ease frustrations about communicating the Gospel. That’s because, as Guinness reminds us, in the end, Christian persuasion is “not for salesmen, propagandists . . . spin doctors . . . and the like.” The art of Christian persuasion “is for those who desire to share the way of Jesus because of their love for Jesus, and who know that love is also a key part of any human being’s search for knowledge and truth.”

John Stonestreet

 

— by John Stonestreet

Stonestreet is the Director of Strategic Partnerships for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview and is heard on Breakpoint. Copyright© 2015 Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with permission. BreakPoint is a ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries.

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