Featured Reviews, VOLUME 8

Os Guinness – Fool’s Talk [Review]

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A Review of 

Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion
Os Guinness

Paperback: InterVarsity Press, 2015
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Reviewed by Rob O’Lynn
The opening line of Os Guinness’ new book Fool’s Talk is meant to be startling: “We are all apologists now” (15).  In this weighty volume, Guinness offers the reader a sort of one-stop shop in apologetics.  Throughout the volume, Guinness aims to help the reader develop solid rhetorical skills that can help the reader engage non-believers intelligently and articulately.  Although, as a whole, the book lacks the contemporary cultural connection points that one would find in the writings of Timothy Keller, John Ortberg or Philip Yancey  and lacks the literary charm of C. S. Lewis and the research of David Kinnaman, things that become standard to apologetic texts in a post-Christian culture, the book is more than a collection of static lectures.

Guinness has been at the apologetics game for a long time and has become one of Christianity’s most formidable modern-day evangelical apologists.  His goal in this text is not to answer questions (to do apologetics) but to guide the reader to an understanding of what apologetics is and why it is an activity that is more important now than ever.  As such, Guinness builds his argument on three elements that have served him over his distinguished career—a deep love of scripture, an advanced understanding of classical Greek rhetoric and his own “cloud of witnesses” (i.e., Erasmus, Peter Berger, C. S. Lewis, and C. K. Chesterton) that add strength to his arguments.

The book is divided into fourteen chapters, including an introduction and conclusion.  In the introduction, Guinness clearly states the intention of his book—to help Western Christians recover the lost “art of Christian persuasion” in order to mend the marriage of apologetics and discipleship so that the church’s holistic witness can once again confidently address a secular culture.  From there, although not specifically noted as such, Guinness lays out his material in five parts: what is rhetoric (chapters 1-3); what is unbelief (chapters 4-5); what is the point of persuasion and what does persuasion look like (chapters 6-8); some concerns (chapters 9-11); and practical considerations (chapter 12-conclusion).

Having already noted the theme of the book as noted in the introduction, it is important to provide a brief summary of each chapter to demonstrate how all of this works together.  In chapter 1, Guinness, in the spirit of all great apologists, argues that the point of apologetics is not to get people to believe what we believe but to communicate our beliefs in such a way as to help the other understand why we believe it (and why they should as well).  Guinness follows this in chapter 2 by arguing that persuasive rhetoric is more art than science and that there is no “one way” to do it.  This undergirds his earlier point “that there is no one that we cannot talk to” (28), which is simply a complicated way of saying that any Christian can share his/her faith with any non-Christian.  Chapter 3, then, unpacks Peter’s exhortation in his first letter to “always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15, ESV).

In the next “section” of the book, Guinness looks at some particulars of unbelief.  In chapter 4, he focuses the types of fools addressed in scripture (the fool who does not believe in God, the fool who believes in God, and God).  God, Guinness argues, is the supreme fool (“fool maker,” 72 ) because God, through the cross, makes everything else foolish.  The problem is that we treat the cross as foolish because we cannot understand its significance.  This sets up chapter 4, where we are given the “anatomy of unbelief” (84).  Essentially, according to Guiness, “unbelief” is a deliberate act of suppressing, exploiting and inverting the rational, logical truth of the cross—that absolute surrender to God is the only path to spiritual, physical, psychological and emotional freedom.

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