Drawing upon the diverse perspectives of C.S. Lewis, Frances Schaeffer, and Peter Berger, then adding the distilled wisdom of his own years of experience, Os Guinness has produced a history, an anatomy, a road map, and a compass for those who would explore the field of apologetics as Christian persuasion or “the art of speaking to people who, for whatever reason, are indifferent or resistant to what we have to say.” With in-depth exploration of the way apologetics paves the way for the good news, Fool’s Talk argues that apologetics lives on a continuum with the fields of evangelism and discipleship.
Using the words of the Old Testament prophets and the example of Christ, Guinness sets Biblical parameters around Christian persuasion in its faithfulness to the truth regarding creation, the fall, the incarnation, the cross, and the Holy Spirit. Believers are cautioned against formulaic approaches to the skeptic with warnings against the “McDonaldization” of all things and a reminder that runs throughout the book to avoid being that man with a hammer to whom everything is a nail.
Given that Fool’s Talk comes after a lifetime of “doing” apologetics, it is no surprise that even in the process of defining the term, Guinness oozes practicality and theological depth. Essentially, he sees apologetics as a tool for clearing God’s name, for God has been framed as either non-existent or as the origin of evil. Therefore, Christian persuasion is “a lover’s defense, a matter of speaking out or standing up when God is . . . attacked wrongly.” Ultimately, of course, God is His own best defender, with the result that even the most skilled apologist is serving as “no more than junior counsel” in His defense.
If sin is defined as the dual deficiency of clinging to my own way of seeing things alongside my refusal to see the world from God’s perspective, then unbelief can rightly be understood as abuse of the truth that God has revealed. In the tradition of Romans 1:18, the doubter “looks at the undeniable truth of God’s universe and at the unbeliever’s own nature . . . but then denies their true force, suppresses their real meaning and turns their proper destination into a different one.”
The Apologist — Thinking
It is from Erasmus’s teaching in an era not unlike our own (and from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth) that Fool’s Talk takes its title. Of the three types of fools in the Bible — the fool proper who has no time for God; the fool bearer who is no fool at all but is prepared to be seen as one for Christ’s sake; and the fool maker who also is no fool, but uses folly to subvert the purposes of the high and mighty — it is the third “fool” whose wisdom reveals God’s perspective on humankind which serves as the motivation for Christian persuasion.
Because it addresses the human heart and mind, apologetics is concerned with understanding the unbeliever’s perspective which Guinness cleverly portrays as falling somewhere between two poles, because “the less consistent people are to their own view of reality, the closer they are to God’s reality.” Those far from God’s reality will feel their dilemma, but those who are trying to “live as if God were there” will employ distractions to lessen their discomfort.
Although apologetics does not hang on the use of “methods,” Fool’s Talk provides broad responses to unbelief such as “table turning” and “signal triggering” with in-depth counsel on the goal of “relativizing the relativizers.” Certainly, the Message absorbs and utterly overwhelms any method; however, chapters 6 and 7 would bear a double reading in order to absorb their logic and to appreciate the demonstration of the sad reality that all thoughts may be thinkable and arguable, but not all thoughts can be lived out.
The Apologist — Communicating
The goal of the apologist is to create seekers who will examine the inconsistencies of their beliefs and evaluate the treasures of their heart, thus raising questions about the value of that treasure and about the trustworthiness of the words they hold as true. However, Guinness makes it clear that the veracity of the Christian faith does not turn on the skill of its defenders, and that after all is said and done in the course of evangelism and apologetics, the unbeliever “always has the final choice to fall on their knees or to turn on their heels.”
The words of I Peter 3:15 frame the heart of the Christian persuader. Thus, in meekness and fear, sans manipulation, one is able to respond to the accusations of hypocrisy or to refute the various objections that come from the right and from the left, with the goal of launching a seeker onto the four-stage journey of questioning the meaning of life; discovering answers; verifying truth claims while comparing options; and whole heartedly trusting in God. Of course, in hindsight, all will have been proved to have been (in the words of C.S. Lewis) “the mouse’s search for the cat,” and yet it is this goal orientation toward repentance, relief, and joy that elevates the role of the apologist from dry academician to servant of Christ’s Kingdom. The challenge of Fool’s Talk is summarized in Os Guinness’s forty-year-old promise to God:
“When I was leaving university, I promised that I would always do apologetics rather than simply write about it, that I would do it before writing about it, and that I would do it more than writing about it.”
Having read the book, will we take the challenge to re-frame this promise to reflect a reader’s perspective? Will we embrace the truth that “with Christian persuasion, doing it must always outweigh talking about it.”
This book was provided by IVP Books, an imprint of Intervarsity Press, in exchange for my review. 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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