Closed Fist and Open Hand

We recently finished reading Fool’s Talk: Recovering the Art of Christian Persuasion by Os Guinness in a book group and the following was one major lesson for me.

“In the earlier days of the church there were two symbols for the art of Christian advocacy, which had come down from ancient practices in law and rhetoric. One was a closed fist. This represented the dissuasoria, the negative side of apologetics that used all the highest strengths of human reason in defense of truth. Mustering all the powers of reason, logic, evidence and argument, closed-fist apologetics had the task of answering every question, countering every objection, and dismantling false objections to the faith and to knowing God. In the words of St. Paul, “We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor 10:5). The other symbol was the open hand. This represented the persuasoria, the positive side of apologetics that used all the highest strengths of human creativity in the defense of truth. Expressing the love and compassion of Jesus, and using eloquence, creativity, imagination, humor and irony, open-hand apologetics had the task of helping to pry open hearts and minds that, for a thousand reasons, had long grown resistant to God’s great grace, so that it could shine in like the sun.”

(Guinness, Fools Talk, 253)

This is probably one of the most helpful metaphors for me to keep in mind during my conversations. So often when thinking of apologetics I think of only one, and most often the closed fist. And then I think that the closed fist is characterized by the quick answers, the sure fire responses, the “stingers” that bring the skeptic to their knees. That is unhelpful on two counts. Without the open hand, the individual leaves with a warped view of Christ. Secondly, a “closed fist” comprised of witty snippets and catchy slogans is more of a weak, open-handed slap than a closed fist. It is more likely to leave the hearer questioning my logic than questioning their worldview.

But I also can err on the other side, that of having only the open hand, prone to think that I can “preach the gospel constantly, and if necessary use words” (a quote from St. Francis needs to be scoured from all social media platforms and popular level books on the Christian faith). We use words to communicate ideas from a mind that must think logically in order to best understand the reality in which God has placed us. And when minds, and logic, and ideas, and words do not faithfully represent this God-given reality, they must be challenged. And this challenge must be met with equal force as the counter-challenge, which often comes in the form of a closed fist from the world, attempting to displace its Creator. So an open hand without the fist, as the fist without the open hand, is unbalanced.

These two pictures, that of the closed fist and open hand, must be taken together, never farther apart than my left from my right. And if I am able to maintain this balance, wisely choosing which one to utilize at which time during my conversations, I just might be accused of acting like Jesus.