By Jasmine Obeyesekere Fernando

Fool’s Talk: A Discussion Guide

How do we share our faith in a post-Christian context where public life is mostly secular and private life is very diverse? Are we embarrassed about old ways of Evangelism that fail to understand people today?

In Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion, Os Guinness paints apologetics as a joy and a privilege to the believer, greatly de-mystifying it for the ordinary Christian. He shows us the art of having good conversations, to the extent of persuading people who are not interested in what we are saying.  

Dr. Os Guinness is an author and social critic who has spoken at many of the world’s major universities and at political and business conferences around the world. He earned his D. Phil in the social sciences from Oriel College, Oxford. Guinness was the lead drafter of the Williamsburg Charter in 1988, a celebration of the bicentennial of the US Constitution, and later of “The Global Charter of Conscience,” which was published at the European Union Parliament in 2012.He is the great-great-great grandson of Arthur Guinness, the Dublin brewer and was born in China during World War Two to medical missionary parents.


Chapters 1-3

1. Consider the range of negative attitudes towards Christianity today — prejudice, scorn, impatience, and anger — and the need therefore to learn to speak many languages rather than just “Christian.”

How true has this been in your own experience?  

2. Os Guinness says persuasion is to do with theology rather than techniques or technology. He contends that technique lures us away from a) learning from Jesus how he communicated and b) from thinking independently in ways that are shaped by Christian understanding. Both make us less faithful and creative.

How do you respond?

3. How do you respond to Guinness’s view that “apologetics is a reasoned defense mounted on behalf of the one we love who is innocent but has been falsely and unfairly accused”?

4. How did noticing the Old Testament prophets addressing not just individuals but institutions, societies, nations (and even the spiritual powers behind them) enhance your vision to cultivate a similar approach in your own apologetics?

In what ways might we speak truth to power in our own campuses?

5. What did you expect apologetics to be like? Do the author’s ideas increase or ease your anxiety around apologetics? What idea has been most encouraging for you?

6. Points to ponder...

a) communicating in such a way that people are made to see your point even though they’d rather not
b) the potential of a well-asked question and
c) Guinness’s explanation of "paradigm shift"

Chapters 4-6

1. Consider the following statements:

“The fool maker is the person who is not a fool at all, but who is prepared to be seen and treated as a fool, so that from the position of derided folly, he or she may be able to bounce back and play the jester, addressing truth to power, pricking the balloons of the high and mighty, and telling the emperor that he has no clothes.” (page 72)

“To follow Jesus is to pay the cost of discipleship, and then to die to ourselves, to our own interests, our own agendas and reputations...count(ing) the cost of losing...our reputations before the world, and our standing with the people and in the communities that we once held dear.” (page 70)

How comfortable are you to be treated as a fool? In what ways have you allowed yourself to be considered foolish? In what ways can you speak truth to power by adopting the role of jester?

2.  Guinness says that at its core, the dynamics of unbelief revolve around how we mangle truth. This is how he explains how unbelief twists truth. 

a) deliberate suppression of truth (clear truth silenced),
b) deliberate act of exploitation (wresting truth towards own agenda),
c) deliberate act of inversion (turning truth upside down), and
d) deliberate act of deception (denying the full reality of the known truth)

What are your observations & experiences of the erosion of truth in our universities?

3. What do you think about the strategy of "table turning" that Guinness advocates? (i.e. taking people seriously in terms of what they say they believe and disbelieve and discussing the implications of their positions)

4. How do you respond to the view that Apologetics is pre-evangelism of those who don’t realize they are in a bad situation and therefore don’t see the gospel as good news?

5. “The wilder, the more skeptical or the more hostile the arguments against faith, the wiser and more effective it is to argue against them on their own grounds.” Your thoughts?

6. According to Guinness: “ our age folks are untroubled rather than unreached, unconcerned rather than unconvinced and they need questions as much as answers — or questions that raise questions that require answers that prompt people to become genuine seekers.” 

What has been your experience in the art of asking good questions?

Chapters 7-9

1. How has idea of triggering signals been helpful to you? What are some signals of transcendence that you can identify?  

2. Guinness suggests that while folks have a lot going on, they have “too little to live for.” How can we tap into people’s longing for "something more" in life?

3. How can we help people move beyond an experience of transcendence to follow wherever the experience might lead?

4. How do you respond to the differences in worldviews (page 150) — and how these distinctions should differently shape the conversations we have, depending on the specific worldview of the person we are talking with.     

5. How can the plurality of choices available to us today (from the banal to the profound) be helpful in making people aware that their choice of worldview can be different, and that changing their worldview might even be better?

6. How do you find Guinness’s purpose of communication (creative persuasion and subversion through surprise) helpful? What about his tools of communication? (reframing issues, importance of questions, story and drama) 

7. Are there changes in perspective, ways of communicating that you’re noticing in yourself? Are there noticeable shifts in perspective in someone you’ve been praying for or speaking with recently?

Chapters 10-12

1. How do we respond to the charge of hypocrisy levelled at the Church? (i.e. our constant failure to practice what we preach)

2. How do we respond to those within the Church who deny the fundamental beliefs of the historic Christian faith (i.e. the Authority of Scripture, The Lordship of Christ, etc.)

3. How can we be faithful guides to people, recognizing the stage of each person in their journey towards Christ?

About the Author

Jasmine is WSAP’s book club host and vocation specialist. She hails from Sri Lanka and has a thirty-year relationship with its national university ministry, the Fellowship of Christian University Students (FOCUS). She has also been involved with InterVarsity for twenty years. She has a BA (Hons.) in English from the University of Peradeniya, Sri Lanka, and a MA in International Relations from Syracuse University. She loves writing about theology impacting real life and enjoys British, Korean, and Chinese drama. Jasmine lives in upstate New York with her professor husband and two teenage children.

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