“The heart of the problem is quite literally the problem of the heart.”—Os Guinness
If by chance you’ve paid careful attention, you might have noticed I’m on a “power trip.” After all, in newsletters this year I’ve addressed the power of vision, the power of paradigms, and the power of dynamic presence.
I’d like to round out this “Power 4-Pack” by sharing some thoughts on Christian persuasion. Not only because more Christian persuasion is desperately needed in every sector of our increasingly secular culture but also because Os Guinness has underscored the need in his newest book, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion.
While a great many apologetics books provide helpful answers and tips for defending the Christian faith, many seem to promote a “one size fits all” approach that suffers from multiple shortcomings. First is the too-frequent assumption that people are open, interested, and needy, when if fact growing numbers are utterly indifferent or even hostile.
Second is the assumption that apologetics is all about winning rational arguments. With both sides of the “War for Truth” lobbing rationalistic grenades from their entrenched conceptual fortifications, too often the result is overloaded minds and underloaded hearts. If we truly wish to win others to Christ rather than merely winning arguments, we need to fundamentally understand, as Os says, that “the major work in the defense of the faith is about God and by God. It is not about us, and it is not up to us.”
Even more important, Guinness reminds us that “If the Christian faith is true, it is true even if no one believes it, and if it is not true, it is false even if everyone believes it. The truth of the faith does not stand and fall with our defense of it.”
Sobered (and hopefully emboldened) by that realization, we might do well to momentarily ramp down our argumentation and ramp up our empathy for those who are still as lost as we once were. Furthermore, we might at least temporarily desist from efforts to merely sharpen our logic, and invest some portion of our time to better understand the anatomy of the unbelieving mind and how this cognitive and volitional maze has been radically marred by the noetic effects of sin.
While the effects of sin on human minds have been and will remain more than formidable (including epistemic estrangement due to deliberate deafness), it could easily be argued that, from a cultural perspective, our battle to persuade unbelievers is increasingly “uphill.” Where once God’s existence was simply assumed by vast numbers of people, today’s mental environment is increasingly agnostic if not atheistic. Where once a gentle cultural breeze regarding Christianity was on our backs, so to speak, today an increasingly stiff secular and antagonistic wind is in our face.
Although we will do well to benefit from the wisdom, insights, and methods shared by Guinness in Fool’s Talk, we will likewise do well to recall that Jesus didn’t call us to “do His witnessing” but rather to be His witnesses (Acts 1:8).
I’ll go out on a limb here, but I’m guessing that you’ve never heard anyone say, “I’ll believe it when I hear it.” There’s a good reason why we say, “I’ll believe it when I see it.”
Perhaps that’s why when it comes to persuasion, a Christian life well lived is still the best apologetic as well as the best witness.