Os begins by setting out two propositions: first, we are in “the grand age of apologetics” (16) and second, “We have lost the art of Christian persuasion and we must recover it”(17 italics original). His game plan? Bringing together the art of apologetic and evangelism. Divorce the two and you get Christians only concerned with winning arguments and not people or just concerned with ABC repeat-after-me tactics. When the two are combined, you have arguments that take other’s belief seriously, are actually concerned for people, and are aimed at the heart.
I’m a recovering ABC repeat-after-me evangelists and grew up in a tradition that could be manipulative when inviting people to Christ. So even though in my head I know persuasion isn’t bad sometimes I find myself suspicious when the word pops up in the context of evangelism. If you’re like me, you might have thought, Shouldn’t we just proclaim the gospel and allow the Spirit to work?
What I loved most of all was how cruciform and Spirit-dependent Os was through out Fool’s Talk. He made clear our arguments rest on the cross of Christ which is folly to an unbelieving world and the power of the Spirit (28). Persuasion doesn’t mean deception or cheesy bait-and-switch tactics. It means approaching apologetics-evangelism with excellence like we would anything else. All the while admitting:
Our work is important, but at best our part is to bring the presence of God into the debate through the power of the Holy Spirit, and to remember that we are no more than junior counsels for the defense. . . . Balaam’s ass is the patron saint of apologetics. (58, 60)
We are not the deciding factor in the salvation of souls. We are “junior counsels for the defense”—that’s liberating. Os moves on to discuss basic apologetic questions like “What is being said? Is it true? What of it?” (31) and re-emphasizes approaching every person as an individual. He also roots that relational care to our love of God. This is ultimately about loving our neighbors well (45).
One of the most practical sections deals with two tactics when approaching unbelief—table turning and signal triggering. In table turning, you take the person’s belief seriously to the point where you allow their logic to cut into their own worldview “pushing them towards the consequences of their unbelief” (109). G. K. Chesterton uses this approach regularly. In signal triggering, you point out longings, desires, and affections for something more that can’t be fulfilled in this world. C. S. Lewis uses this approach regularly. Os skilfully weaves theology, apologetics, evangelism, and more into a single volume that will help mature Christians and make disciples in our postmodern culture.
Fool’s Talk should be essential reading for Christians who wish to engage our culture in any meaningful way. Os hits all the rights notes—boldness, humility, persuasive in his own right, and cruciform. We need more apologetist-evangelist like him who are confident in God but humble in the way they present the truth. He understands the cross makes us into fools—that’s a great place to start as long as we realize that doesn’t mean God isn’t in the business of making more fools.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.
Mathew B. Sims is the author of A Household Gospel: Fulfilling the Great Commission in Our Homes and a contributor in Make, Mature, Multiply (GCD Books). He completed over forty hours of seminary work at Geneva Reformed Seminary. He also works as the managing editor at Gospel-Centered Discipleship and the project manager for the Journal of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Mathew offers freelance editing and book formatting. He is a member at Downtown Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC.