Monday, November 30, 2015

Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion - Os Guinness

It will never be enough to win an argument if we lose people. 

Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion
Author: Os Guinness
Publisher: IVP Books (
Pages: 267

C. S. Lewis. Francis Schaeffer. Josh McDowell. When Christ took hold of me these individuals were highly influential in the world of evangelical apologetics. The latter is a term used to describe the task of defending the faith, particularly against the attacks of those who seek to undermine it. One example from this time period is Evidence that Demands a Verdict, a bestseller that is an astonishing array of factual and historical analysis, even if it isn’t highly readable.

In Fool’s Talk Os Guinness argues that apologetics can no longer be the same. Today, someone like Roger Waters (co-founder and principal lyricist of Pink Floyd) proclaims himself a radical atheist. The new atheists are not marginalized. They brazenly write best-selling books, give their lectures on college campuses and gain the attention of mainstream media.

It’s not enough in response to present facts, proclaim the truth and win arguments. This book is all about becoming winsome. The subtitle says it all. This subject has never been more of a necessity, since so many have little or no interest in listening to what Christians have to say.

Guinness is masterful in every aspect of where we are today and what we need to do. I cannot imagine a better book on the subject being released this year.

This is not a presentation of facts to be learned but an approach to be made. If the heart of apologetics is the heart of the apologist, this covers all the bases. The author consistently gets it right on every topic.

A favorite response to the anatomy of unbelief, which is covered quite extensively, is a strategy used by G. K. Chesterton known as “table turning.” “This strategy turns on the fact that all arguments cut both ways. It therefore proceeds by taking people seriously in terms of what they say they believe and disbelieve, and then pushing them toward the consequences of their unbelief. The strategy assumes that if the Christian faith is true, their unbelief is not finally true, and they cannot fully be true to it. At some point the falseness shows through, and at that moment they will experience extreme cognitive dissonance, so that it is no longer in their best interest to continue to persist in believing what they believed until then. When they reach this point, they are facing up to their dilemma, and they will be open to rethinking their position in a profound way” (109).

I wonder if someone like Roger Waters is aware of all the consequences of his belief. Has he ever considered the logical outcomes? He may be aware that believing “A” implies “B, C, D,” but what happens when you get further down the line.

I appreciate the fact that Christians can believe “A” and suffer no loss of integrity in the consequences that follow. Christ is the Alpha and Omega. From A to Z there is no breakdown in truth.

To be sure this is a strategy from the negative side, but there is also a broadly positive one called “signal triggering.” “This strategy proceeds by making people aware of their human longings and desires, and what these passions point to. These are longings and desires that are innate and buried in their lives. In particular, the strategy draws their attention to what have been called the ‘signals of transcendence’ that are embedded in their normal, daily experience. These are indicators that grow out of very positive experiences and, like beeping signals, puncture their present beliefs and point beyond them toward what would need to be true if these signals are to lead to a fulfilling destination” (109-110).

Does this rely too much on strategies and techniques? “The lost art of Christian persuasion certainly includes a method, but a method that is overwhelmed and utterly lost in the message that shapes it and the Master whom it serves. In other words, whatever little of apologetics is method must come from our experience of God and his love, his truth and his beauty, which are the heart of faith” (45). All that is said must come from and lead to love and the One who is love.

I respect Roger Waters for his accomplishments. The music that he helped create has been part of the soundtrack of my life. I would to God that he becomes as I am in relation to faith. Never have I found anything that makes better sense of life. Nor have I ever found greater peace and love. That’s not to say that I can comprehend or explain all the incongruities of life, even in my own experience. But I’ve come to trust One who is more real than the air I breathe. 

Anyone interested in apologetics and evangelism—the two cannot be divorced—will be well-served by this book. It shows how to be persuasive and so much more. It will never be enough to win an argument if we lose people.  

Friday, November 27, 2015

God With Us - Laura Story

“Let us find our rest in Thee”

God With Us
Artist: Laura Story (
Label: Fair Trade Services
Length: 10 songs/41 minutes

I could not help being interested in God With Us by Laura Story. I like Christmas music, and secondly, anyone who can write songs like “Indescribable” and “Mighty to Save” gets my attention. Plus, I know that her faith has been tested in the furnace of affliction. Her husband, Martin, was diagnosed early in their marriage with a brain tumor and their lives have never been the same. It’s not that they are worse off. It’s more like broken but better and that carries over into her ministry, making it all the more appealing.  

God With Us is Story’s first Christmas album. This includes “Emmanuel,” which was previously released in 2008. Story lists Amy Grant as a favorite for Christmas music, so it’s not surprising that this incorporates a variety of styles including an orchestra and choir on some tracks.

Like many Christmas releases there is a mix between classics and new songs. In this case, all are spiritually-oriented, which makes sense given that Story has become an established artist in the worship genre. Several tracks are along those lines, and the material here can stand alongside the best of it.

An interesting hybrid of old and new is “Come Thou Long Expected Jesus.” A chorus has been added to the classic text and the music is similar to what you hear in congregations that employ modern worship. This third track gives us the first taste of orchestration, which complements but never overwhelms. It’s almost like an introduction to a couple of later songs that are highly orchestrated. The latter may be a bit much for those who favor contemporary sounds and can live without the strings and such.

And yet one of them, “Behold the Lamb of God,” an Andrew Peterson song, though heavy with orchestration, is a beautiful duet with Brandon Heath. This is a definite highlight.

Another notable collaboration and highlight is “O Come All Ye Faithful,” where Steven Curtis Chapman harmonizes on the vocals. This has a roots rock-like feel with banjo and handclaps. It’s a joyful sound. It may be my favorite.

It took me a few listens to appreciate the a cappella version of “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” I’m not sure that I like how the choir backs the lead vocal in the first part.  Not employing instruments makes the opening on the next track, “Emmanuel,” all the more powerful.

Perhaps the most gorgeous moment comes after an instrumental overture, when Story opens “I Lift My Eyes” by softly singing, “I lift my eyes to the hills/Where does my help come from?” This is an orchestrated track but in this quiet moment she is just accompanied by piano. It’s a lovely lead up to the last song.

“Silent Night” is little more than Story and an acoustic guitar, but it’s one of the best songs.

If you collect Christmas albums, and even if you don’t, this is worth having. It succeeds in being modern but incorporating ancient elements. For those who favor spiritual substance, there is plenty here. 

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

The Burning Edge of Dawn - Andrew Peterson

Gracious Uncertainty

The Burning Edge of Dawn
Artist: Andrew Peterson (
Label: Centricity Music
Length: 10 tracks/38:12 minutes

If you like literate expressions of faith, The Burning Edge of Dawn by Andrew Peterson is one of the best you will find on record. I’m not being literal with regard to the latter. Unfortunately, the album is not available on vinyl.

Striking lines abound. One of my favorites comes in a dream sequence from the opening “The Dark Before the Dawn,”

I had a dream that I was waking
At the burning edge of dawn
And I could finally believe
The King had loved me all along

Why is it such a struggle to believe that last line?

What moves me about this release is the grace through which Peterson walks the line between certainty and uncertainty. In “We Will Survive,” Peterson addresses his wife,

Oh, Jamie, I’m all alone out here
And all I need to know is in the wind

And now I don’t recognize a thing
I need a brand new song to sing

In my Utmost for His Highest, Oswald Chambers speaks of this graciousness of uncertainty, “We are uncertain of the next step, but we are certain of God” (April 29th). In the preceding verses, Peterson conveys something similar. We may be shaken and not know what lies ahead, but we can be sure of God. As Chamber puts it, we can be certain in our uncertainty.

Peterson’s willingness to share doubt and weakness makes it easier for those who struggle to relate. In the same song, which is 10 out of 10, he goes on to say,

So tell me the story I still need to hear
Tell me we’re gonna make it out alive again
I need to know there’s nothing left to fear
There’s nothing left to hide
So look me in the eye
And say we will survive

Peterson has the humility to ask for reassurance since the outcome is unknown. When he sings “tell me the story I still need to hear” it speaks to me of our ongoing need of grace. We need to be continually reminded of the truths of the gospel.

Peterson’s unpredictability in verse is intriguing, but this track had me before Peterson even uttered a word. It starts with the beautiful notes of a hammered dulcimer. You can hear it elsewhere, but not as prominently as here.

“The Rain Keeps Falling,” inspired by the Luci Shaw poem, “Forecast,” is almost alarming.

I’m so tired of this game, of these songs, of the road
I’m already ashamed of the line I just wrote
But it’s true, and it feels like I can’t sing a note
And the rain keeps falling down

You will never hear a song like this at a health and wealth conference, but that’s a pity because it’s rich in authenticity. “And the rain keeps falling” is a repeated refrain, which is a metaphor for the relentlessness of trouble. In the middle of this storm, Ellie Holcombe sings a counter refrain, “Peace, be still.”

Towards the end, though the words reflect desperation, I find comfort in the object of their desire,

I just want to be new again
I just want to be closer to you again
Lord, I can’t find a song
I’m so tired and I’m always so wrong
Help me brave tonight
Jesus, please help me out of this cave tonight

Musically, Peterson has been heavier—this might be described as acoustic pop/rock—but he has never sounded better. This is one of the best albums of the year.

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