Reasons of the Heart: Recovering Christian Persuasion

By William Edgar
Grand Rapids : Baker (1996). 128 Pages.

Reviewed by
8.1 (Spring 1997) : 114-116

William Edgar is Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia. He wrote this book, initially titled Winning Words, "to encourage the reader to engage in Christian persuasion, appealing to the heart's reasons" (17). Though the goal of presuppositional apologetics is the vindication of the Christian worldview against rivals, the aim of Edgar's apologetic is to persuade the non-Christian that the Christian worldview is true. He defines apologetics as "developing a persuasive sequence of words to answer the challenges from an unbelieving culture" (41). Persuasion is crucial to Edgar's apologetic and he refers to it several times—subtitle, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17 (3 times), 23, 41, 49, 51, 54, 58, 60, 61; cf. his use of the synonym "convince," 15, 57, 58.

 Edgar recounts the time when he told the gospel to a relative: he explained the Bible's claims, the reality of Christ's presence, and the hope of heaven. When the relative responded by asking what difference being a Christian would make in his life, Edgar was, he confesses, at a loss in answering him (11). This is an astonishing admission. He relates that he wanted to tell his relative that his life would have new meaning if he converted, but the relative already led a fulfilled life (11). From this experience he concludes that Christians must make Christianity relevant to the non-Christian (12). In other words, Edgar was discouraged because he did not persuade his relative to believe the gospel. Edgar's perspective is captured in this statement: "Many arguments are perfect demonstrations of something being valid but not really credible to the audience" (62).

Edgar makes three mistakes here. First, reconciliation to God and a new life in Christ make all the difference in the world and are completely relevant. Second, the goal of apologetics is not to persuade, but to prove. And third, Edgar neglects the transcendental challenge: it is not just that the life of Edgar's relative will have new meaning as a Christian; the fact is, without the Christian God, the life of Edgar's relative can have no meaning at all.

This emphasis on persuasion leads the author to a fatal compromise: if his basic methodology fails, he naïvely recommends a direct appeal to evidence as a last resort (76), reasoning that an "honest" appraisal will conclude in favor of Christianity (76, 78, 82) (though he does mention that the Holy Spirit is the "final persuader" [60]). He fails to understand that the unbeliever will reject any evidence that does not fit his worldview.

Edgar advocates a "Pascalian" apologetic (14, 17) in which two ways of knowing are distinguished: through reason and through the heart (14). He affirms Pascal's statement, which many have understood as voluntarism, that "We know the truth not only through our reason but also through our heart. . . . The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing." Unfortunately, Edgar does not explain this statement, nor does he develop this foundational point. It is unclear what he means by these two ways of knowing, and how they relate to each other. Also, he does not tell how he knew about this theory of knowledge, through reason or through the heart. Seemingly he defends a divided epistemology, and this is incorrect.

He is correct on a couple of points. He affirms the antithesis between the non-Christian and the Christian, and that the only point of contact between them is man's knowledge of God through General Revelation (52-54). Also, he is correct that the Christian apologetic includes an internal critique of the non-Christian worldview (55-56). He falters, though, by allowing that skepticism has some credibility, thereby demonstrating he has not appreciated the Christian transcendental argument (57). Actually, the Christian apologetic applies reductio ad absurdum to the non-Christian world-view, exposing its incoherence and showing that it cannot provide the preconditions of intelligibility of experience, features that prove it is self-destructive.

In spite the book's valid contributions, this reviewer cannot recommend it because of its wrong understanding of the goal of apologetics and because of its flawed epistemology.