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Fool’s Talk (Os Guiness)

Today’s post is a guest review by Nate Pickowicz, planter/pastor of Harvest Bible Church in Gilmanton, New Hampshire. You can follow him on Twitter and check out more of his writing at Entreating Favor.

Os Guiness. Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion. Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2014. 270 pp. $22.00.

Fool's TalkBeing relatively unfamiliar with Os Guinness’ work, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect, but very quickly, I came to realize that he has established himself as an authority in the area of philosophy and Christian apologetics. Early on, he admits that Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion is the culmination of many decades of work, and it shows. Frankly, I was overwhelmed and astounded with the breadth of his knowledge and his ability to size up cultural phenomena and see issues as they really are.

At the forefront, Guinness clearly states the problem and the point of the book: “We have lost the art of Christian persuasion and we must recover it.” (p. 17) Further, he cites the recent problem where “apologetics has lost touch with evangelism” (p. 18) and argues that they must be merged; the goal is not to win arguments, but people.

Guinness puts forth twelve chapters, each with a distinct aspect of the problem coupled with solutions. In truth, each chapter felt like it could have been expanded into its own book. His solutions were often multi-faceted and simply cannot be boiled down to a step-process; he argues that it is more of a methodological artform (pp. 33-38).

As an apologist, Guinness argues against the popular dismissal of apologetics by Christians today, who themselves would argue against apologetics and for evangelism alone. He addresses the charge head-on and he’s convincing, noting that we need to be able to defend what we believe (pp. 49-51).

For the majority of the book, I tracked with Guinness. Even though there were aspects of his theology I found troubling, his insights into culture, atheism, and the need for defending the faith was incredibly helpful. In fact, his teaching on “The Way of the Third Fool” in chapter 4 was brilliant!

Toward the end, however, it became clear that something was wrong; two things, actually:

First, Guinness never deals with the gospel, nor the need for Jesus Christ. His assessment is that every person is leading an unfulfilled, unexamined life (p. 232) and must ultimately come to a place of realization that he/she must find “a better answer” (p. 237). Guinness places the responsibility for salvation squarely on the shoulders of what he calls “the seeker” (p. 231). He writes, “Everything depends on the invitation and challenge to the searcher to start moving.” (p. 232) He even seems to present Christianity as one option of many—a menu of religions—and our job is to help them make an informed choice to follow Jesus.

But Guinness never directly deals with the gospel, other than to note the term sporadically. He uses gospel-like language (he repeatedly refers to “the incarnation, the cross and the Holy Spirit” (185) but does not explain it) but never addresses why a person needs Jesus Christ. He’s fond of talking about the faith “journey”, noting that at the point of belief,

The journey changes. It is no longer a journey toward meaning. Instead, the journey itself is made into the meaning. Better to travel hopefully, it is said, than to arrive. The search is its own reward. The search for meaning becomes the meaning of the search, and the search goes on and on without end.” (p. 250)

And so, the goal of the Christian life is the search for meaning, which never ends?! He says nothing about the holiness of God, the righteous standard of God, the law of God, the Fall, the sinfulness of man, the need for an atoning sacrifice, the wages of sin being death, or of the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on the cross! Apart from a brief few paragraphs on the notion of repentance (43), Guinness is silent with regards to the need for sinners to repent or else suffer judgment.

I humbly ask: What good is a book about apologetics if the gospel is never defined or explained? In Fool’s Talk, the Christian faith is reduced to a mere moralistic spiritual journey by which “seekers” find a greater meaning to life.

This leads to the second major problem: Guinness’ definition of “Christian” is too broad. Certainly, one cannot judge the inner contents of the heart of another, but the parameters by which we mark out the Christian faith must never be wider than what the Bible defines (cf. Matt 7:13-23; 1 Cor. 15:3-4).

Guinness makes frequent references to Christian believers throughout his book, but frankly, I was shocked at who he included on his list. For example, he writes

The Christian faith has always been a distinguished line of brilliant, creative persuaders, such as Blaise Pascal, Jonathan Swift, Soren Kierkegaard, G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis ad Malcom Muggeridge.” (p. 178)

In another place, Guinness fawns adoringly over the “moral courage” of Pope John Paul II (p. 204), even juxtaposing him positively against other errant Protestant, Catholic, and evangelical groups (p. 210).

But, Sayers? Kierkegaard? Pope John Paul? These are Guinness’ examples of faithful Christians? It has yet to be seen if many of the believers on his list affirm the biblical gospel. Oddly enough, he singles out D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones as an “attack[er] of apologetics” (p. 214); no other mention is given to him or any other Conservative Protestant believer. In fact, Guinness loads up his book with quotes and anecdotes from philosophers, yet cites only 45 New Testament Scriptures in 270 pages!

What is perhaps the most painfully ironic bit is that Os Guinness titles his book Fool’s Talk—a reference to God speaking through Balaam’s ass (p. 60). However, I cannot help but think of 1 Corinthians 1:18-31. The apostle Paul calls Christians “fools” because the truth of the gospel is unfathomable to the deceived and unbelieving world. And to profess “nothing… except Jesus Christ and Him crucified” (2:2) is perhaps the most boisterous foolishness.

However, Guinness abdicates his responsibility as a Christian apologist to declare the “foolish” truths of God—that humankind has sinned against a holy God (Rom 3:23) and that the wages of that sin is eternal death (Rom 6:23); that sin is undeniable and must be confessed to be forgiven (1 John 1:8-10), and that true confession of sin and belief in Christ lead to salvation (Rom 10:9-10); that apart from trusting in Christ alone, no one will see the Father (John 14:6; Eph 2:8-9); that unbelievers will be judged (2 Thes 1:7-10), but God’s wrath is satisfied because of Christ’s propitiatory and substitutionary death on the cross (Rom 3:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; Heb 2:17; 1 John 2:2). Guinness doesn’t even hint at any of this.

In the end, Fool’s Talk does not represent “the foolishness of God” displayed in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It presents a gospel that says that people can choose to follow Jesus merely as a way of life, and by doing so may find true meaning. He writes,

When people take that step of committed faith and set out with us to be followers of Jesus, our task as Christian advocates is over, and from then on they join us as sisters and brothers on the long way home.” (p. 252)

But up to this point, no semblance of the gospel has been given. In fact, Guinness’ gospel is one that swings the gate open so wide, every person in history who claims the name of Jesus is labeled “Christian” regardless of how actively they have undermined the authority of Scripture or mocked Jesus Christ.

But this is not the gospel of Christ or the apostles or the Scriptures, nor is it a gospel worth defending.

Thanks to IVP Academic for the review copy!

Purchase: Westminster | Amazon

Connect with Nate: Twitter | Entreating Favor



Saturday Sillies

Zondervan Academic authors tell us how theologians can resolve their differences. Now here’s the important question: will Zondervan put this to practice by hosting an ice cream reception at ETS or SBL?

Announcement: Logos Academic

A few weeks ago I alluded to the fact that I’d have a small announcement to make soon. Over the summer the fine folks at Faithlife (makers of Logos Bible Software) invited me to consider being part of a new Faithlife blog, and over the course of discussing details the invitation evolved to chronicling my seminary journey on the Logos Academic blog. This came at a time when I had told myself that I would not accept anymore invitations to regular writing in an online venue (I wanted to save some space for opportunities I hoped to discover in seminary!), but after praying, thinking, and consulting a few friends for their thoughts, I decided that this would be an endeavor worthy of a spot on my proverbial plate. My readers will likely not discover anything new in my inaugural post, as it is just a personal introduction of sorts, but check it out if you’d like. I’ll have a post on the Logos Academic blog every other Friday.

Jesus, Paul, and the People of God: A Theological Dialogue with N. T. Wright

My review of Jesus, Paul, and the People of God was just published over at Exegetical Tools. Edited by Richard Hays and Nicholas Perrin, this book brings together the proceedings of the 2010 Wheaton Theology Conference and is a very enjoyable read for anyone with interest in Jesus studies and Pauline studies, obviously with extra drawing power for those who want to critically interact with N. T. Wright’s contributions in these two areas of NT scholarship. As I mention in the review, my favorite essay was probably Vanhoozer’s – “Wrighting the Wrongs of the Reformation? The State of the Union with Christ in St. Paul and Protestant Soteriology.” Since his aim is “to encourage peace talks between New Perspectives and Old Protestants” (236), this is an important essay for those who identify with either camp. As an “Old Protestant,” I find this piece to be illuminating, nuanced, witty, and an important corrective for those with a traditional Reformation understanding of justification who write off Wright completely. Furthermore, because I’m particularly interested in the topic of union with Christ, I appreciated Vanhoozer’s contention that the key to incorporated righteousness reconciling old and new perspectives is both sides giving more attention to union with Christ.

What fortuitously has been called the ‘new perspective’ on Calvin’s soteriology anticipates, though not always for the same exegetical reasons, some of what the New Perspective has aimed to discover about Paul’s theology. In particular, what Calvin does with Paul’s notion of union with Christ provides fertile ground for a meeting of old and new perspective minds. Reading Calvin read Paul on union with Christ illustrates what systematic theology at its best can contribute to the discussion: not an imposition of some foreign conceptual scheme onto the text but rather a conceptual elaboration of what is implicit within it. It may also show us that there is more truth and light yet to break forth out of the research program we know as Protestant soteriology (247, emphasis original).

Check out the review for an overview of each of the essays. TL;DR: everyone interested in the topic of justification vis-à-vis the Old/New Perspective on Paul debate must read Vanhoozer’s essay; but the entire book is great for all students and scholars of the NT.

Many thanks to my friends at IVP Academic for the review copy!

How Does Dr. Constantine Campbell Keep his Greek?

and Hebrew, and Aramaic, and Syriac, and German, and French, and…

Budding biblical scholars are often daunted by the prospect of learning and maintaining at least four languages. Dr. Constantine Campbell concludes Keep Your Greek: Strategies for Busy People by giving us a look at his pattern for maintaining multiple languages:

I try to read a little of each of my languages each day. I have an Old Testament reading and a New Testament reading going simultaneously, and I alternate each day between them. At the moment, I’m finishing off 1 Kings and Acts. I read from these texts using Accordance, and I have a tab open for each language I want to read…

My pattern at the moment is to read a few verses from 1 Kings in Hebrew, then check an English translation. Then I’ll read the next verses in Aramaic, then the next few in Greek, the next few in German, and the next few in French. When I’m reading the New Testament the next day, I’ll start with Greek, then read the next few verses from a Hebrew NT, Syriac, German, and French. The advantages of this pattern are that I can take in a fair slab of the Bible, which is good for devotional purposes, and each language is read each day. A disadvantage is that it means I won’t read the whole of Acts in Greek, since I’ve read some of it in the other languages instead. But I’m OK with that tradeoff.

As I follow this pattern, I’ll tend to focus more on one language than the others, but I switch the focus language around from day to day so that each language gets a more focused treatment at least once a week. But even so, every language is still read each day.


What about you? What are your strategies and patterns for keeping your Greek (and/or other languages)?

Exciting News!

Some of you might already know this (e.g. if you’re friends with me on Facebook and/or follow me on Twitter): I passed the Greek Proficiency Exam at TEDS!!! And not only did I pass, but I tested into Dr. Constantine Campbell’s Greek exegesis sequence. If you missed my reflections on teaching myself beginning Greek from about a month ago, you can read it here. I was very nervous about the exam. Especially early in the learning process, I had a lot of questions about grammar and morphology that were not addressed in Mounce’s grammar; the innate nerd in me struggled with having unanswered questions, and the goal-oriented part of me feared not being able to pass the exam because of these perceived gaps in learning. If I had had time, I would have liked to work through an intermediate grammar, but I just barely finished two run-throughs of Mounce and had no time to consult additional resources. I think it’s a bit of a miracle that I did as well as I did, because I was in full “freak out” mode as I took the exam. Even though it’s for the purpose of testing out of beginning Greek, some of the grammar questions and one of the translation passages was at an intermediate level. If I could do it over (without knowing I would have passed with just my actual level of preparation, of course), I would definitely also have worked through an intermediate grammar.

So, yes….after taking the exam I was fairly certain that I did not pass, and I moped around the rest of the day. I’m the type of person who reads whenever I have free time, but after the exam I was so distraught that I couldn’t even read. Under the assumption that I had failed, I just kept telling myself that even if I have to fork over an additional $5,000 to take beginning Greek, everything would be alright and that God had a purpose even for this seeming travesty. I also thought that maybe God had ordained this failure to humble me (because I did feel like my academic career had failed before it even started).

I was not expecting to find out the results until Monday, but I received an email Sunday afternoon and was on Cloud 9 for the rest of the day. I really wanted to buy myself a book to reward myself for my hard work that saved me $5,000 but I didn’t (what self control, right?). Anyway, I’m ecstatic to have tested into exegesis at all; but I’m especially thrilled to be in Dr. Campbell’s sequence. All the professors are phenomenal, but Dr. Campbell is really at the forefront of research in Greek and has written an amazing exegetical and theological treatment of Paul and union with Christ, with a similar study on Pauline eschatology in the pipeline. I was hoping to test into his exegesis sequence, and I am just elated to have made it. Soli Deo gloria!!

So, with the addition of NT Greek Exegesis I with Dr. Constantine Campbell, my schedule for my first semester of seminary is now complete. It’s truly a who’s who of contemporary biblical and theological scholarship! In addition to Greek Exegesis I I’m taking Systematic Theology I with Vanhoozer, Biblical Theology and Interpretation with Carson, American Church History with Manetsch, and Elementary Hebrew with a doctoral student. ST and BT will be pretty easy for me because I already know the material and read the books years ago, but I anticipate that purely because it’s KJV & The Don, I will not be bored.

Alright, that’s all I have for now in terms of updates. I do have one more bit of news, but you’ll have to wait a few weeks before I tell you about that :)

Free Lectures: Dr. Craig Keener on Matthew

A few days ago Dr. Craig Keener noted on his Facebook that he had made available for free his full course on the Gospel of Matthew. This is such a gift and blessing since Keener is one of the foremost NT scholars of our day, so definitely take advantage of these and share. Dr. Keener mentioned that they especially hoped that these lectures would be used by those in parts of the world that lack access to this kind of training, so if you know people laboring for the Gospel in those parts of the world, be sure to share this resource with them (I have a lot of other free seminary level resources on my “free resources” page). This site also has a lot of other biblical studies lectures, Dr. Keener’s on Matthew was just the latest to be posted. Enjoy!

Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King (Bateman, Bock, & Johnston)

Herbert W. Bateman IV, Darrell L. Bock, and Gordon H. Johnston. Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King. Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Academic, 2012. 528 pp. $36.99.

Jesus the MessiahIn Jesus the Messiah: Tracing the Promises, Expectations, and Coming of Israel’s King, three leading biblical scholars bring their differing expertise to provide a survey of “contextual-canonical, messianic, and christological developments of God’s promise of ‘Messiah’ within the larger framework and unfolding of Jewish history in canonical and extracanonical literature” (20). Gordon Johnson covers the Hebrew Bible, Herbert Bateman IV covers intertestamental literature, and Darrell Bock covers the NT. By using the Hebrew Scriptures as the starting point, Jesus the Messiah already differs significantly from certain streams in biblical scholarship that ignore Jesus’s Jewishness and view him primarily through Graeco-Roman lenses (e.g. John Dominic Crossan). However, their approach has a significant difference from others that see the foundational value of the Hebrew Scriptures as well: in distinction from Evangelicals who use a single reading strategy and see direct prophecies in many OT texts, Bateman et al. argue that “these texts do not need to be only direct prophecies for them to reveal a messianic connections [sic] and fulfillment in Jesus…while the wording is ultimately messianic, it is often more implicitly stated and becomes clearer only as the entirety of God’s portrait of messiah is eventually and fully disclosed” (25, italics original).

Read the full post »

Saturday Sillies

How to write a hip-hop song in 30 seconds:

Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters

Charles Halton ed. Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? Three Views on the Bible’s Earliest Chapters. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015. 176 pp. $16.99.

Genesis CounterpointsIn contemporary evangelicalism there’s hardly a biblical/theological topic more divisive than that of origins. The various topics under this umbrella (such as creation versus evolution, an historical Adam, etc.) are all impacted by how we interpret the early chapters of Genesis. Hence, though recent years have seen a large number of books published in the area of origins (including one on the historical Adam from the same series as the volume currently under review), Genesis: History, Fiction, or Neither? offers a unique and complementary perspective by addressing the topic from the perspective of the genre of Genesis 1-11. As editor Charles Halton notes in the introduction, “Readers will first need to understand the genre of the text and how it worked within the author’s cultural environment before they will be able to successfully address the question: ‘What does this text mean?'” (18). Each of the contributors address four issues in their essays: the genre of Genesis 1-11, why this is the genre of Genesis 1-11, the implication of this genre designation, and the application of their approach to the interpretation of the story of the Nephilim (6:1-4), Noah and the ark (6:9-9:26), and the Tower of Babel (11:1-9). Following the common structure of Zondervan’s Counterpoints series, each essay is followed by a response by each of the other contributors.
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