Thursday, October 14, 2010

Book Review: Reasons of the Heart by William Edgar

Reasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian PersuasionReasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion by William Edgar is a short book (115 pages) that is “an ‘apology for apologetics’ of the Pascalian sort.” (17) This is to say, Edgar is making the case that apologetics should not only appeal to the mind, but to the heart. Although a short read, Edgar shares some useful insights into Christian persuasion and “the reasons of the heart.” This review will highlight some of the author’s points.

Edgar first says that there has never been an easy time to defend the faith: “doing effective apologetics was no easier in former times than today. There has never been a golden age when commending the faith was free from considerable obstacles.” (23) So in this concise treatment, Edgar aims to appeal for an authentic apologetic: “Doing apologetics in an authentic fashion always involves two concerns. One is that the message has integrity. […] The other is that the message must be credible to those who hear it.” (27) The believer must be ready, as 1 Peter 3:15 commands. Edgar elaborates on what this involves: “…readiness involves two things: knowledge of the answers and sensitivity to the needs.” (37) In short, we as Christians “…not only must we have the right words, we need to speak the right way.” (40)
Edgar offers a definition of apologetics:
Apologetics, then, is about argument, which means developing a persuasive sequence of words to answer the challenges from an unbelieving culture. There is thus an affinity, but not direct similarity, between apologetics and evangelism. Evangelism is a missionary endeavor, proclaiming the gospel in every circumstance. Apologetics is part of this missionary thrust, specializing in argument as it focuses on issues and methods that ‘demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God’ (2 Corinthians 10:5). So apologetics is a kind of science, a discipline that develops sound ways of presenting the gospel. (41)
Part one of the two-part book deals with the foundations of apologetics. This explores the biblical mandate as well as strategies that help with methodology. However, Edgar opts for flexibility over any particular methodological approach: “The best apologetics is not a series of dry methods, but is rather a wise discernment ensuring the kind of flexibility appropriate to working with a person’s multidimensional spiritual life.” (55)

Part two has to do with the actual conversations the Christian engages in. Edgar looks at barriers to belief, the challenges of pluralism, the problem of evil, and the assurance of faith. He spends a brief chapter on each, outlining key issues and an ideal approach. Along the way the reader will gain insights and practical advice.
If the Christian faith is true, then however consistently an unbeliever may appear to be living out his or her position, it cannot hold together. Somewhere there is a flaw, because we do in fact live in God’s world. It may be a flaw of logic, emotion, or simply the irony of unsuccessful pride. The work of the apologist is to uncover the tension between unbelief and the knowledge of God that everyone has. (56)
Although Edgar focuses on Christian persuasion, he notes that “…it cannot be stressed too much that the final persuader is not our argument, however well-constructed, but God’s Holy Spirit.” (60) The author also notes that all engagements are not the same; we must be sensitive to the person while keeping our goals realistic.
Faith […] is progressive and varies by person. With Christian apologetics what matters more than establishing once-for-all certainty is the ground we are gaining. Although we have the task of persuading unbelievers of the truth of the gospel, we need to remember that every assertion does not necessarily have equal authority. (107)

In summary, Reasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion can serve as a non-technical primer for person-centered apologetics. It emphasizes a humble and practical approach, appealing not just to the mind, but to the heart.

William Edgar, Reasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion (Phillipsburg, NJ, P&R Publishing, 2003).


Jordan said...

This looks like a great book, anything written on apologetics "of the Pascalian sort" is of interest to me. What a great reminder from Edgar: " cannot be stressed too much that the final persuader is not our argument, however well-constructed, but God’s Holy Spirit."

Thanks for the review!

Joe said...

How does Edgar define heart?

Also a good book on the heart is "Reordered Love, Reordered Lives" by philosopher David Naugle of Dallas Baptist University who deals with the heart as well. He is better known for his book "Worldview: The History of a Concept".

Brian said...


He doesn't strictly define "heart" -- but he is titling the book from Pascal's reflection that "the heart has reason that reasons cannot know." That is, the idea is that people have other 'reasons' for belief rather than strict tools of reason. Christian apologetics or persuasion, then, must take into account the complexity of real people -- not assuming that someone can simply be 'reasoned' into believing Christian is true.

Thanks for the book recommendation as well, Joe.

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