Cruciform persuasion

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An excerpt from Os Guinness’ award-winning new book, Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion:

Should a speaker be concerned solely with truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, and therefore with the strict logic and merits of his argument? Or does effective persuasion require that the speaker use whatever tricks of the trade succeed in winning others to his point of view, regardless of truth and logic? Quite obviously, speakers who are skilled in persuasion can turn the worse case into the better, truth into lies, lies into truth, good into evil, and evil into good.

Truth is crucial to persuasion, just as persuasion is crucial to truth, but it takes more than truth to be persuasive, and in the daylight between those two facts lies a gap through which every shape and size of demagogue, mountebank, trickster, con man, snake-oil salesman, and fraud can squeeze with ease.

We Christians must seek to communicate in a way that is shaped by the One who sends us, and therefore by the pattern of the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Holy Spirit. The manner in which Jesus was sent should shape the manner in which we are sent and the manner in which we speak.

God has disclosed himself to us in a form that is a shocking surprise, and one that contradicts and confounds all our human expectations and ways of thinking. And all this was because he had to, as there was no other way to subvert the stubbornness of our sinful disobedience and reach our hearts. The God of all power chose to become weak to subvert our puny power, the God of all wealth chose to become poor to subvert our meager wealth, the God of all wisdom chose to become foolish to subvert our imagined wisdom, and the God who alone is the sole decisive one chose to be a nobody to subvert us when we stupidly thought we were somebody. If such dire lengths were necessary for God himself, it would be absurd to think we do justice to his incarnation by decking out our arguments in our best finery or speak worthily of his cross through arguments that preen with our own brilliance.

Shame on our folly when we think we know better than God! God’s truth requires God’s art to serve God’s end. Any Christian explanation or defense of truth must have a life, a manner, and a tone that are shaped decisively by the central truths of the gospel. Like the Incarnation, our words are most effective when they are person to person and face to face. Like the Cross, our message must pay the cost of identification, so that from the inside out it may have a chance of succeeding in its high and worthy aim. And like our reliance on the Holy Spirit, it should always be evident that any power and persuasiveness in our communication comes from him and not us.

Humility and vulnerability should always be among the clear marks of the Christian advocate. We are mere midwives, and what matters is not us but the Spirit’s gift of the fresh-born life of the new child of God.

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