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February Book Review

Peter Grier, 20/02/17

Peter Grier reviews “The Search for God and the Path to Persuasion” by Peter May.

February Book Review

In a post–modern, post–truth world, people just want to find warm, loving community and experience something that captures their heart, not a cold apologetic.  Or so the thinking goes and, to a large extent, isn’t that understandable?

We’ve all been in the room where someone has launched into a five minute gospel presentation that doesn’t seem to relate to anyone there. Even the Christians are struggling to keep interested, never mind the non–Christians:  gear–crunching evangelism!

But how do people who don’t have a Christian friend hear the good news?  Should we leave it to our warm missional communities to draw people into our social gatherings?

Peter May, previous CU staffworker, lay member of the General Synod of the Church of England for 25 years, and GP for 30, gives wonderfully heart–warming answers to some of these very real fears.

In chapters one to four, taking his answers from God’s Word, he builds the Biblical case for Christian Persuasion – not just a cold brain vs brain apologetic argument, but a full embodied lifestyle of relational, Word–centred evangelism. Following on from traditions throughout church history of public speaking that spoke to “the ethos (character and credibility of the speaker), pathos (the disposition and responsiveness of the audience) and logos (the content and construction of the speech itself)”, May builds a case for persuasive evangelistic communities that draw hundreds to hear of Christ, and have tens of people turning to Christ where this method has been most effectively practiced in English university campuses so far.

Tim Keller calls this persuasion “the need of the hour” and exemplifies it so beautifully.

In chapter five, he deals with common things we find on our campuses that will be unpersuasive:  thinking we just need to live without speaking about Jesus, thinking a masterful evangelistic technique will solve everything, seeing huge contrast between apologetics and evangelism, or simply telling others about Jesus without persuasion.

By this stage, some questions are probably screaming out and doubts perhaps linger about where he is taking us, but Peter seems to see the objections coming and beautifully returns to address them here by looking at a few passages in Acts and Corinthians in light, easily readable chunks.  It never feels like he was taking us on a heavy apologetics course!

Finally, his home run of chapters is a masterful few pages each on:

Chapters 10 and 11: Are we really as rational as we think?  How to reach post–moderns

Chapter 12: Dealing with doubt

Chapter 13: How to put on a variation of events

Chapters 14–16: a heart–warming apologetic of evidence you may not have heard before, unless you’ve read Michael Green on “Evangelism and the early church”

My one disappointment in this book, is that in the process of trying to rightly refute people who just stand up and say “The Bible says…” for their evangelism, he takes side–swipes at a particular form of apologetic called pre–suppositionalism (the straw man of which is: I believe the Bible because the Bible says it’s true).  Regardless of whether you know the long word, or whether you agree with it, for a book that seeks to persuade us of persuasion, I thought a more generous approach could have been taken!  Equally, problems lie aplenty for those who say that evidence is their foundation for why they believe. May acknowledges this but never fully deals with it.

But that’s my only gripe, in a book that is much needed for our universities and would cause a radical change in outlook if applied well.  For the individual, it gives a practical way to live life.  For the CU, it gives a shape to what a calendar should look like.  And for speakers, it rebukes and corrects so much of what we think of as apologetics or evangelism.

I’ll be giving it to every member of the Cork city–wide mission committee. I’ll also be having it as core reading for our “Christian Persuader” training days for graduates and church leaders that we run to raise up a generation of people, unafraid to engage with hard questions in the public square of our university campuses.  Tim Keller calls this persuasion “the need of the hour” and exemplifies it so beautifully.  But you don’t need to be a high–brow thinker in universities to see the exact relevance to all of society and life.

Copies can be bought from ourselves, Unbound Cork, or the Evangelical Bookshop Belfast.

Questions about our Christian Persuader training days to pgrier@cui.ie

The Search for God and the Path to Persuasion