Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion

by Joe Carter

As I was sitting alone in the cafeteria one afternoon, far from home, overwhelmed and lonely on a campus of 20,000 people, an older student walked up, smiled, and asked if he could join me. He took a seat and I prepared to engage him in a heady discussion of politics, philosophy, science, and other topics I’d picked up during my first few weeks as a college freshman. Thrilled to have the company, I was mentally preparing for anything he threw at me.

Glancing up from his plate of spaghetti, he asked, “Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”

Stunned, I was completely at a loss for a response. “Um, yeah, actually I have.” I finally managed in reply.

“Oh,” he said. “Okay, that’s good.” He wore a look of minor defeat. He had chosen the wrong table; no soul would be won for Christ over this lunch. We chatted politely while I finished my burger. He ate quickly and excused himself. I never saw him again.

That was almost 30 years ago, and yet that type of evangelism is still quite common. We use the same wooden methods—hand out a gospel tract, recite the canned here’s-how-you-get-saved speech, get them to say the sinner’s prayer—as if we’re closing the deal on a generic customer. But Christianity isn’t a form of multi-level marketing, and the gospel of Christ isn’t a product that can be sold using pre-packaged techniques.

What’s Missing

What is frequently missing in our evangelism and pre-evangelistic apologetics, Christian apologist and social critic Os Guinness says in his new book, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion, is a recovery of Christian persuasion.

Guinness admits it “might seem bizarre, almost unimaginable” that Christian communication has lost something so essential to its mission. After all, there are more books on apologetics and evangelism than ever before, and the internet has expanded our ability to reach almost anyone at any time.

The problem, Guinness contends, is that we ignore or underestimate the fact that most unbelievers are not only uninterested in our message, but also openly hostile to it. The challenge, then, is to use Christian persuasion—the art of speaking to those indifferent or resistant to what we have to say—in a way that helps them hear the gospel in spite of themselves…

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Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion