Rediscovering the Art of Christian Persuasion
The premise of the book is excellent. Too many Christian apologists and apologetics is about bashing people over the head with cool arguments and "defenses" with no thought of really winning over the person. It's all about teaching, and arguing, and debating, and correcting, and defending, and even attacking. But where is the "persuading?" He gives many Biblical examples, most notably Jesus, who did not just go around correcting and rebuking people, but he was gentle. He listened. He met people on their terms. He saw through the arguments and issues to the heart of the matter. He wanted to win the person, not the argument.
It's a great idea for a book, and yes, Christians need to do more persuading and have more clever conversation with people who are closed, instead of just presenting the gospel to those who are open. However, this book doesn't do this topic justice. It presents a strong case for relational and conversational apologetics/evangelism, but there are no concrete advice on how to carry it out. Yes, he's against cold techniques, and that's not what this book is about. However, one who picks up a book of this topic is looking for something useful, for that very purpose, not just a book that defends why it must exist. This book could've been titled, "Christian Persuasion is Good," but there is no "recovering" or teaching of how that is done specifically.
The book didn’t get useful until page 75, so you can skip to that page after you’ve read this review. You’re welcome. Well, the meat doesn’t start until page 109. Everything else is appetizer.
Yes, I am guilty like the people he talks about in chapter 1, of one looking for techniques, or something, yeah, that’s why I’m reading this book. I’m not doing it for enjoyment or knowledge; I want to get something useful out of it so I can persuasively engage non-Christians who are seemingly closed to the gospel. And yes, that is the very way this book draws you in from its introduction and back cover. It clearly reveals that apologetics has shifted in the 21st century of high speed internet and McDonaldism, and we need to approach face-to-face evangelism more practically. Yes, we all get that – that’s why we’re reading this book, but page after page, it tries to convince you even more.
The whole first chapter is about how we shouldn’t be looking for cookie-cutter techniques, and the second chapter covers the changing nature of apologetics. boring. let’s get on with it already! The third chapter is where he starts getting to the useful stuff, but his fireside chats are so long, it may be easy to miss the point. He won’t flat out say it so I’ll say it for him: it’s the Fool-Making Technique. Since the gospel itself is paradox, it can approach the atheist worldview with humor, aware that life itself is filled with many logically opposing complexities that cannot be explained by the one-dimensional approach of the atheist. Faith allows us to see through the “incongruities of life,” and thus, we approach apologetics with humor. Don’t get so offended or flustered. See the comedy in their arguments or worldview and offer a revelation.
The next chapter is just bad. In summary: atheists are self-deceived, twist the truth, and worship themselves. I don’t disagree, but to spend a whole chapter to prove that? Yes, I admit this is a gross simplification of the chapter, but also proves the point that all of us stretch the truth or filter the facts. What then of objectivism? These modern-day “scientists” or “seekers of truth” are not really objective or neutral, nor are their research or “findings.”
His explanation of the teeter-totter between the “dilemma pole” and the “diversion pole” is interesting, but hardly usable. Well, most people we talk to are at the diversion pole, so clear out the diversion.
Chapter 6 is where you should actually start reading the book, having skimmed the first 5 chapters. He explains the “turning the tables” technique. Follow their unbelief systems to their logical conclusions of a life without God. Tempt them to explain meaning and purpose in that life beyond self-satisfaction. Are there absolute moralities? Can you apply your morals on Trump? or Islamic terrorists? In a worldview without God, they will be forced into a dilemma they are uncomfortable with. That’s when you turn the tables. “We should never stop halfway with skepticism, but insist on pressing ideas uncompromisingly to their conclusion. When hearts and minds collide with the wall, they will have reach the limits of their position and may then be open to rethinking.” You have to let them see the bad news before they will be open to the good news.
In order to turn the tables, you have to ask questions that raise questions. Stop giving them answers to questions they’re not asking. Questions are light but also subversive. Don’t quote Jesus or the Bible; use their prophets, not ours. Appeal to what they already subscribe to. Questions are so effective because they are indirect yet involving. Although he provides evidence of this method, Guinness doesn’t give any pointers on how to ask them.
Chapter 7 explains the technique of “signal triggering.” You make people aware of their God-given human longings and desires. Life itself reveals the “treasures of the heart.” These are signals in their own daily experience that spur people to find answers that need to be true in order for these desires to be satisfied. They let people realize there must be “something more” to this life than what they see right now.
Chapter 9 can be summarized in 2 words: Be humble. Now you can move on to the next chapter. (yes, the second half of the chapter is used to defend creative persuasion, but I deemed it unnecessary.)
In chapter 10, he addresses the issue of how Christian hypocrisy makes it difficult to share the gospel due to its bad witness. His solution is outlined in 6 steps: 1) Admit we’re all guilty 2) declare hypocrisy to be a violation of honesty and truth, 3) admit the benefits of hypocrisy and why people do it, 4) God hates hypocrisy much more than today’s modern world does, 5) don’t fight back but dare to confess, and 6) submit to Jesus. (yes, I took the liberty in changing his titles)
There is nothing useful in chapter 11. It’s only a defense of apologetics.
Chapter 12, the last chapter, is actually the best chapter in this book. He probably should’ve started the book with this. He explains how people go through stages before coming to faith. First stage – make the person question his life. Second stage – the mind checks out new answers to replace old belief models. Third stage – verification of new belief system. Fourth stage – commitment.
I’ve read hundreds of books in which the best stuff is in the first half, and the second half is just filler material. In this book, the first half is whatevers and the second half is actually good. But I wish he could write another book just focusing on the second half and going deeper and practical, because overall this book is not that good.
Thanks for reading my honest review.