07 February 2009

How to Argue like Jesus

by Frank Turk

If you listen long enough, you can hear Dan and I complaining about our lack of publication in any context other than blogs. You probably don't have to listen very long, either, because we have a large bushel of sour grapes, and we love to hate to eat them. We all have our vices.

So when another blogger writes a book and gets it published, (you know: someone other than Phil, whom we sort of ignore in this matter because he keeps telling us, "so write a book -- it's neither profitable nor is it all that fulfilling, really,") I personally see it as someone in the home team trail-blazing for the more-lazy among us (specifically me).

Joe Carter has recently published How to Argue Like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator through Crossway along with co-author John Coleman, and before I go any farther, Joe is an acquaintance of mine who has been, historically, very gratious to me. Those of you who caught my one-time appearance on Paul Edwards heard Joe say things about me which nobody but my kids would believe, but he said them in public and he didn't have to. Joe is a good guy, and he's a substantive blogger.

So when I got Joe's book, I was really excited to read it. The balance of this post is about what I read and what I think it meant.

I think my initial reaction to Joe's book was my fault -- I came to it thinking it was a book about apologetics, and specifically about (if you will pardon me for saying it this way) a Jesus-shaped apologetic. I was expecting more theology.

This is not a theology book. So when you read it, don't come to it to find theology. If you approach it as a book about communication, and about approaches to persuasion, you will not do what I had to do -- which was read it a second time with a different set of expectations in order to receive what Joe & John Coleman intended to deliver.

So my singular beef with the book is that the title is a little misleading -- this is not really a book about Jesus, or as they say "what Jesus would do". This is a book about how to effectively say something which seeks to convince someone of your point.

After that, I think most people really need this book. In reading it, you can discover some categories that will improve your writing in general, and very likely improve your manners in trying to convince other people of your point of view specifically.

The book is a "how-to" book, and it accomplishes its ends. I enjoyed it, and I recommend it.


jeff said...

I don't believe you.

DJP said...

...and immediately there are eleven "links" that have nothing to do with the article. It's official: Blog/oogle/ger has lost its mind.

Rachael Starke said...

If the only "hat" I wore as I read this review was that of "executive communications consultant", this title and premise might be really interesting. Jesus is certainly known by some as one of the most compelling communicators the world has ever known. His words are quoted regularly by commoners and newly-inaugurated Presidents alike. I teach those communication skills to others, so this book might be helpful professionally, espcially if I'm working with a Mormon or RC executive.

And if I took off that hat, and borrowed a "WWJD" hat from one of my church-attending neighbors to wear while I read this review, I'd still be interested. Jesus communicated a certain way; I should communicate the same way too.

But take off those hats, and underneath is a person who doesn't want to see Jesus as simply a means to a professionally or personally helpful end.

Jesus is my very Life. Because of that, I want to speak His words His way for His glory. And I could use a whole lot of James 3-related help in that regard.

But that doesn't seem to be what this book is about.

And it's.... interesting.... that a publisher named Crossway would be the one to publish it.

But - perhaps I'm reading this review and all the customer reviews on Amazon wrong?

Demian Farnworth said...

So, like, the sub title didn't clue you in? How could you miss that? Or am I the only one? Somebody help me out here.

And it is strange that Crossway published this book.

FX Turk said...

I think that the harsh critics of this book should read it before they begin the litany of internet deadly sin complaints against it.

It is not a book of theology, and doesn't for one page pretend that it is a book of theology.

Should Crossway only publish books about theology? I think that's up to them -- I think they shouldn't publish anything which offends the faith, and by no means does this book offend the faith.

As to the concern that this makes Jesus into something he is not, eh. If I had to give you-all the 50-words-or-less condensation of this book, I'd phrase it this way:

The authors believe that there is an effective method of speaking/writing. One particular practitioner of this method Jesus, which should be of interest for Christians. Christians can use this method, therefore, to be more effective communicators when they engage other people.

In other words, Jesus is an example of "X". And it's sort of irrefutable that Jesus was an effective speaker.

Now, if you want to kvetch about something, I'll give you this: I think the book would have been more interesting if Joe & John had written a book which started with the premise "they were astonished at his teaching, for his word possessed authority," [Luke 4:32] and used the Gospels to extract Jesus' methods for speaking to people for the purpose of giving the Christian a range of rhetorical tools through which we could engage the culture.

This is not that kind of book. That doesn't make it a bad book.

And since i have opened up that can of worms, here are the distinctions I would makes here regarding non-fiction books.

[A] Many books are flat-out bad books. They are just bad -- bad premise, bad writing technically, bad reasoning, bad conclusions. Some books are bad because they have presuppositions they don't recognize and the author's blindness to his own biases should put off the informed reader. There's no way to frame this book that way with any fairness.

[B] Some books are simply lite fare -- they are not fiction, but they are written for entertainment purposes and to make some overarching points vaguely. There's no way to frame this book that way because it is far more substantive than lite fare. Many biographies are lite fare -- and some are lite fare disguised as something more.

[C] The next level of non-fiction is "How-to" books, and without any question this is a how -to book. This sort of book really provides blue prints and instructions for the reader who needs help in some area of his or her daily activities. The more detailed the instruction here, the more useful the book is -- until it flops over into geek-speak, and then it becomes more than the average person can bear.

One of the real strengths of Joe & John's book is that it makes its case from a set of literature which the Christian reader should be fully aware of -- the Gospels. It avoids geek-speak by sticking to texts which the reader is familiar with.

[D] The next level of non-fiction writing doesn't just tell you how: it tells you why. You know -- John MacArthur's books (since we're all friends here) are especially strong because he doesn't just tell us how to live the Christian life in its multi-faceted complexity. He tells us why these activities are important, turning back to the cross, the Gospel, and the Bible as a whole to to give us a substantive platform from which to really engage.

I have another book on my desk right now from Crossway which I am, really, excited about (I can't tell you about it yet) which I'll be reviewing the week of March 4 which goes there.

But, to the topic at hand, How to Argue like Jesus is just not supposed to be that kind of book. Nobody should complain that a Chilton's manual doesn't give us a fully-orbed philosophical defense of the combustion engine when its intent is just to help you fix your minivan when it breaks. Likewise for this book

Unknown said...

Complainers should know that they can't complain that the book wasn't the one they would have written. Every book has to be judged in terms of what the authors were trying to do.

Marie said...

Seeing the title, I would have assumed it was apologetic in bent, too.

Hey, I'm writing a book. I footnote Jay Adams and John Macarthur a lot - can you help me find an agent? (Ducks flying tomatoes here)

jeff said...

Thanks for the review Frank. It was helpful to me. I hope you'll post the March review here at Pyromaniacs. I'd be interested to read it. God bless.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. It doesn't seem like a "Crossway-like" book, but I can still see it being helpful, nonetheless.