This chapter confronts a real problem in many apologetic encounters and reminds me of difficult encounters with family and friends I’ve experienced where they always had to be right, at all costs. I’m certain we all struggle with this to one degree or another but it’s contra the spirit of 1 Peter that commands believers to humility rather than pride in human interaction and Christian advocacy (1 Pet.3:15).
Guinness points out that in the early Christian century’s the great church orators understood the dangers of using words as power and thus balanced persuasion with grace and truth (E.g., Ambrose, Augustine, Gregory of Nazianzus, Chrysostom, etc.). He highlights that truth and persuasion should not be pitted against each other as the Greek Sophists often did by twisting words for their own gain regardless if its truth or falsity. The goal was to win the argument at all costs—even at the expense of the truth.
This lead to a dilemma in debate: to be a failure or a fraud. The former’s focus on truth and not persuasion often lead to defeat, while the latter’s focus on persuasion often lead to lies twisting the truth. One was a failure, the other a fraud. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Guinness then writes the principles (virtues) some Greeks and Romans kept in mind when engaging debate so that the truth would not be distorted. First, it was kept in mind that truth and virtue are more powerful than falsehood and vice. Second, that the speaker must be one of character and virtue. And third, that the speaker should always address the public good and not just his own interests.[i] This is a good starting point, but for Christian advocates there’s more.
Christian’s as Christ’s ambassadors in their debating or apologetics must be God-centered not man-centered so as to guard against the “Sophist” spirit. This is accomplished by keeping in mind the effects of “The Fall” (I.e., people both suppress the truth and seek it), the Master’s manner of communication (E.g., human strength subverted by God’s weakness), and God’s truth requires God’s art to serve God’s end (I.e., His ways are not ours too often).
Guinness continues by warning believers if their manner of speech is rightly criticized, humility, not pride must obtain. That is, if one is wrong, they must admit it, not cover it up which is far more attractive than the opposite.
Guinness then turns to the issue of persuasion which incorporates not only logic and argumentation but also drama and humor, for the latter disarms and invites the hearer to discover the truth in a way the former can’t.
He finally deals with the charge that persuasion while an art, seems to be manipulation in disguise and thus spends several pages answering that indictment. Guinness finally concludes that the art of always being right is a trap for Christian advocates, and the art of persuasion is a privilege that needs to be exercised with humility and God’s grace.