For Christians to be persuasive, their message must be centered on and shaped by the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, Os Guinness argues in his new book, Fool's Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion.
In part one of The Christian Post's interview about the book, Guinness said that Christians have lost the art of persuasion by either giving up on evangelism altogether, separating apologetics from evangelism such that it becomes more about winning arguments than winning people, or relying upon formulas that wrongly assume all non-Christians are open, interested and needy.
"To be truly Christ-centered," Guinness wrote in Chapter One, "Christian persuasion is much more than just arguments about evidence or a battle over worldviews. There is an art to the advocacy of truth. It is an art that should be true to the truths of the Christian faith itself, and therefore shaped by both the Christian understanding of truth itself and by particular truths of the faith."
There are five particular truths, he explained, that are central to the faith — creation, the fall, the incarnation, the cross, and the Spirit of God.
For an example of being cross-shaped and cross-centered in one's message, in the interview Guinness recalled when Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church, helped lead a gay activist to Christ. Even though Warren is assumed to be a hateful bigot by many "gay rights" activists for his views on homosexuality, he was able to break through by demonstrating, through his actions, his love for the man.
Guinness also wrote about the need for persuasion within the Church itself.
"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 wrong-headed enterprise," he wrote in Chapter 11. "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."
Consistent with that message, Guinness told CP that what Christians need today is courage, and he's working on a book on the topic.
"We have watched our brothers and sisters in the Middle East being beheaded and crucified for their faithfulness. Can we in the West buckle under to the pressures of the sexual revolution in such a cowardly fashion?" he asked.
Fool's Talk will be available on July 5 and can be pre-ordered now.
Here is the transcript, lightly edited, of part two of CP's interview with Os Guinness:
CP: You wrote that Christian persuasion needs to be "cross-shaped in its manner just as it is cross-centered in its message." So much of debates within and around the Church these days revolve around homosexuality where the biblical position is considered bigotry. In that environment, how do you get to the cross when from the start your position is believed to be driven by animus?
Guinness: I said "cross-shaped," I didn't say get to the cross immediately. Much of the modern idea is "use whatever method works." It could be use something from sales technique, propaganda, whatever. That's not the biblical approach, and I would argue that our message must be shaped by the truths of the Gospel themselves.
Take a simple notion like the incarnation. What does that mean? It means we become a human being to other human beings as God did to reach us. So the heart of apologetics is not through the media. We can use media, we can use print, but the heart of it should be face to face, person to person, just as Jesus came for us.
Or take the notion of the Holy Spirit. The essence of the teaching of the Holy Spirit in the Scripture is that we at our best wisdom can't do it. What we're aiming for is new birth, spiritual regeneration. So we should know, we are only very junior counsels for the defense. The real work is done by the Spirit, who convicts and brings people to faith into new birth. And so, we've got to have an apologetics that has the truth of the Gospel woven in.
Now what about the cross? Well, the cross is incredibly subversive, and if you look at the dynamic of things like Socrates' use of questions, they're actually much more like the cross. The cross is closer to comedy than it is to tragedy. It's creative subversion. As Martin Luther said, the cross is the Devil's mousetrap. The Devil smelt cheese and wham, felt the steel. And our communication should be creatively subversive like that.
Jesus' parables — they're indirect and they're incredibly powerful in their persuasion, and the same is true of C.S. Lewis' Narnia Chronicles. So we've got to revive all the biblical methods that are indirect, creative, subversive and roundabout, rather than always being prosaic and confrontational. Far too much apologetics is one-dimensional.
You mentioned gays. I can think of a story of one of the leading ACT UP activists coming to Christ. I asked him what it was that made the difference.
He was a man who had very few teeth in front of his mouth to show what the police had done to him in New York. He said what made the difference was, he was at a big foundation meeting, Clinton Foundation in fact, in New York, found himself talking to someone who just put his arm around his neck and said, "Tell me your story." And to his surprise, an hour later he realized the man who asked him and who listened to him, quietly and lovingly, for an hour was a pastor — Rick Warren.
It was Rick's love, and listening, which blew apart any notion of a bigoted, rejection, homophobia, or whatever, and got through to him from the beginning. So whatever it is that's the prejudice against us, through the love of Christ and the winsomeness of Christ, we've got to go around it, subverting it.
CP: You say that you waited 40 years to write this book because of a promise you made to God to do apologetics rather than write about apologetics. How did you come to the point where you said, now is the time?
Guinness: The great curse of apologetics is that a lot of people talk about it, teach it, lecturing about issues like evidentialism versus presuppositionalism, but never getting around to doing it. Whereas the great apologists, like Francis Schaeffer, C.S. Lewis and others, did it. That's the whole point of apologetics, to do it and actually win people, not win arguments. So, I made a promise to the Lord that I would always do it more than talk about it, and having written one book that was actually an apologia, not on apologetics, Long Journey Home, I thought it was time that I wrote one on apologetics itself, because I've learned so much from these great tutors, but I've never had a chance to share it.
CP: What's next?
Guinness: It may not be the next one, but I've started a book that's a companion, twin brother, of Renaissance.
Renaissance is an attempt to look objectively at the power of the Gospel and the way it changes individuals and societies, if we trust it and live it. But honestly, the part we need today is courage, trusting to live the Gospel whatever the cost, whatever the consequences. So that's what I'm beginning to write at the moment, but who knows if it will be the next one.
CP: Sounds a little Bonhoeffer-ish.
Guinness: Well, we're certainly in that sort of time. If we had time, I would argue that we're approaching the point of no return, short of revival, so the amiable accommodationism of recent Evangelicalism is proving disastrous. We are now reaping the bitter harvest of the unbalanced seeker-sensitive and audience-driven movement, and it is tragic to see how often it is the pastors who are leading the people astray. There are too many of the "cool, innovative, hip, out-of-the-box" pastors, which is exactly what they were all called to be, who are now caving in to the sexual revolution in ways that betray the Gospel.
So this is an Athanasian moment. Or as said, this is a Bonhoefferian, Barmen Declaration moment. We need to have the courage of an Athanasius, a Luther, or a Bonhoeffer, to stand against the tide with strong Christian convictions and not betray our Lord.
For example, I was appalled to read a letter from a San Francisco pastor who was changing his church's policy on homosexual marriage because — he had the gall to say — he believed that the Christian ethic was "destructive" to human flourishing. We should weep to hear arguments like that. The way of Jesus, God's created order and the way God intended us to live, is the highest form human flourishing.
So we need both Christian leaders and Christian people who have the courage to stand against the flow, whatever the cost and whatever the consequences. We have watched our brothers and sisters in the Middle East being beheaded and crucified for their faithfulness. Can we in the West buckle under to the pressures of the sexual revolution in such a cowardly fashion? The cock may soon crow for the third time. Will Evangelicals be among the deniers or the faithful? That is the question for our time.