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FOOL'S TALK: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion

FOOL'S TALK: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion

By Os Guinness
http://www.osguinness.com/

BOOK REVIEW

Reviewed by David W. Virtue DD
www.virtueonline.org
August 10, 2015

It is time to restore Christian persuasion to its central place; to reunite evangelism, apologetics and discipleship; to recognize that Christian advocacy is a task for all Christians; to count the cost of speaking out; and to appreciate that persuasion must be directed to challenges within the church as well as without.

So writes Dr. Os Guinness, social critic, author of some 30 books, evangelical Anglican and international speaker. In this magisterial volume, he challenges Christians, many of whom have been beaten down by the Culture Wars, to gird up their loins and do battle against the enemy of their souls.

Western culture is in the grip of evil forces unparalleled since the Enlightenment. Guinness doesn't let that deter him. He accepts that the oddities of the age of communication make it actually harder to communicate well, rather than easier. It is the age of the Selfie, "the Daily Me" the "tweeted update" and, in the case of The Episcopal Church, the next heresy labeled as "progressive" by bishops and clergy, eager to show how unfathomably willing they are to embrace the next "new thing," thus accommodating themselves to the spirit of the age.

The book focuses on a narrow and simple problem. We have lost the art of Christian persuasion and we must recover it. Evangelism is alive and well in the rapidly growing churches of the Global South, where the challenge is to recover an ardor for discipleship and a discernment of the modern world to match the zeal for evangelism. In the advanced modern world, which is both pluralistic and post-Christian, the urgent need is for the recovery of persuasion in order to address the issues of the hour.

"This combination of the abandonment of evangelism, the divorce between evangelism, apologetics and discipleship, and the failure to appreciate true human diversity is deeply serious," he writes. "Many Christians, realizing the ineffectiveness of many current approaches and sensing the unpopularity and implausibility of much Christian witness, have simply fallen silent and given up on evangelism altogether, sometimes relieved to mask their evasion under a new profound passion for social justice that can forget the gaucheness of evangelism." Biting words, but true.

We live at a time when, regardless of how eager some of us are to share the Good News, we meet people who are not open, not interested or not needy --in other words, people who are closed, indifferent, hostile, skeptical, or apathetic, and therefore, require persuasion.

Guinness calls us to rethink and regain the art of persuasion through apologetics; reuniting evangelism and apologetics "to make sure that our best arguments are directed toward winning people and not just winning arguments, and to seek to do all this in a manner that is true to the gospel itself."

This book will help the reader do precisely that.

KISSING JUDASES

Some of today's deadliest challenges to the Christian faith come from within the church itself; yet in many parts of the church, Christian apologetics is weak, poorly understood, and openly dismissed as an unworthy and a wrong-headed enterprise.

Without faithful and courageous apologists, -- men and women who are prepared to count the cost -- the church is vulnerable to the challenges it faces internally as well as externally.

Guinness cites an occasion in which he was engaged with a Roman Catholic cardinal over the crisis roiling the worldwide Anglican Church. "The Anglican Church is flourishing in many parts of the world, especially in the Global South, but it certainly has huge problems in the West, but then, you had your Borgia popes."

The cardinal responded, "Yes, Alexander VI with his record of incest, murder, bribery, and corruption was one of the worst leaders ever to have led the Christian church, but he never denied a single article of the Apostles' Creed, whereas several of the Episcopal bishops flout the teaching of the church catholic and deny the very heart of the Christian faith --and still stay on as Christian leaders. That is the shame of the Episcopal Church, and that is unprecedented in Christian history!"

The cardinal was correct, writes Guinness. "Few churches in two thousand years have tolerated and even celebrated more heresy, syncretism, apostasy and paganism than the Episcopal Church. To be fair, the Episcopal Church is not alone, and many others from the Protestant mainline traditions are hard on their heels."

Many revisionists in the Protestant liberal churches, followed by their extremes of Catholic progressivism and emergent evangelicalism, have reached the point their thinkers preach "a different gospel," some of their leaders are hardly recognizable as Christian and some have joked that they recite the Apostles' Creed with their fingers crossed. Such revisionism is rife with new forms of toxic syncretism, says Guinness.

Not surprisingly, such grave assaults from the outside have led to serious erosions on the inside -- all this at a speed and on a scale that is without precedent in Christian history.

A case in point is an ordained United Church of Canada minister who believes in neither God nor the Bible. She is prepared to fight an unprecedented attempt to boot her from the pulpit for her beliefs. "I don't believe in ... the god called God," she said. "Using the word gets in the way of sharing what I want to share."

At such a moment, hesitancy in speaking out faithfully on behalf of the good news of Jesus is inexcusable. There are clear, strong responses to all the issues thrown at Christians today. The world is owed an answer to all the issues thrown at Christians today, and is actually waiting for an answer that only the church can give --even if the world is slow in waking up to that realization, says Guinness.

Revisionist Christians sink beneath the waves still proclaiming their good intentions: they are only speaking for "a new kind Christianity for a new world," sure that they know "why Christianity must change or die" (see John Shelby Spong). But the church survives and few are fooled by their newfangled theologies. The passing brands of revisionism die in their turn, and their brave new gospels rarely sell outside their own circles because they are only saying what the skeptics believed already.

Worst of all, the postmortems always reveal the same kind of spiritual and theological cancer. Revisionism represents a fatal loss of authority (with the spirit of the age taking over the driving seat), a sad loss of continuity (breaking itself off from the tradition of the wider church across the continents and down the centuries), a serious loss of credibility (with unbelievers who already believed what the revisionists believe and have now passed on to something else), and finally a total loss of identity (as the revisionist faith is no longer recognizably Christian, even to its successors).

In a chapter titled "Charting the Journey," Guinness posits four things for the believer engaged in apologetics. First, there is a time for questions; secondly, there is a time for answers; thirdly, there is a time for evidences; and finally, a time for commitments.

Guinness concludes his 250-page authoritative masterpiece by making it clear that the Spirit of God is the Senior Counsel and the lead apologist, so his work in attracting, convincing, and convicting seekers is the work that really matters. "What God himself does through his Spirit is what counts and what makes it real."

I cannot recommend this book too highly. For those of us engaged on the frontlines of the Culture Wars and who sometimes despair as we watch America decline on so many fronts, Os Guinness gives us not only hope, but a way forward through the mists and clouds of uncertainty and doubt.

You can purchase this book from Amazon.com: http://tinyurl.com/omlux97 The kindle edition is available for under $10.00.

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