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Winsome Persuasion: Christian Influence in a Post-Christian World by Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer


In our fractured North American society, “it seems that people are neither hearing each other nor letting each other be heard,” according to authors Tim Muehlhoff and Richard Langer. So how should the church give voice to its belief in Jesus Christ as Lord and the abiding truth of the biblical story?

Many Christians have adopted a prophetic tone of criticism and warning in these post-Christian times, appealing to the Word of God as a moral standard for all time and calling for repentance of hearts and habits. But it's not working, the authors insist—nor is it likely to.

And so they offer their timely attempt to encourage Christians to respectful and gracious persuasion when talking to people with whom we radically disagree. To be clear: this is not a book of Christian apologetics. It does not provide an arsenal of arguments for Christianity but rather a toolkit for those who want to publicly commend traditional Christian social teachings in a reconciling and winsome way.

Winsome Persuasion is about the process of Christian communication rather than the result. As such, this book meets a real need. It will be deeply appreciated by pastors, chaplains, youth leaders, Christian politicians, and public figures, or anyone who regularly interacts with non-Christians over matters of cultural and social importance, whether through conversation, old-fashioned letters to the editor, or new social media platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

The authors borrow the term "counterpublic" from the field of communication studies to describe the current church in the West: a group of people bound together by common conviction and concern who feel excluded by the majority, yet still want to take part in public discussion of the common good. As minorities, counterpublics make their case only through persuasion (rather than legislation), so they must present their message credibly, humbly, and with careful attention to the vernacular of the public—"to consider the world as they do," as the authors put it—including its perceptions and prejudices about Christianity.

The central chapters of Winsome Persuasion move from foundational matters to practical advice on how to craft and deliver a fitting message for a public square where "incivility is the new normal" and sloganeering holds sway. The final chapters compare the notion of persuasive engagement to some of the angry responses by various American churches to the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage.

Among the many strong points made in this book, two stood out for me. First, the authors underscore that how the church makes its case is as important as what it says—a point they root both in the example of Jesus and in the wisdom books of the Bible. Jean Vanier's L'Arche community is a wonderful example of a contemporary counterpublic that has compellingly embodied its message. William Wilberforce's patient political networking to end slavery illustrates the second, which is how vital it is that churches reach out to other counterpublics in order to attain common goals and seek the good of all citizens. (IVP Academic)

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