Dale Carnegie and the Gospel

My dad used to like to say “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.” This bit of wisdom is something lost on Christians often. It seems to me that many of us

Dale Carnegie, 1888-1955

have been seduced by the false promises of argument. My son, Joel, was on the debate team at his University, and was quite good at it. Debate gave him quite a bit of confidence in speaking in front of people. It also helped him research and understand issues. It further helped him to gain an understanding of the art of logical persuasion. However, it did not teach him, really, how to change people’s minds. Issues are emotionally laden and argument/apologetics tends to be cognitively laden (or at least verbally laden).

The quote from my dad is from a longer quote by Dale Carnegie:

Why prove to a man he is wrong? Is that going to make him like you? Why not let him save face? He didn’t ask for your opinion. He didn’t want it. Why argue with him? You can’t win an argument, because if you lose, you lose it; and if you win it, you lose it. Why? You will feel fine. But what about him? You have made him feel inferior, you hurt his pride, insult his intelligence, his judgment, and his self-respect, and he’ll resent your triumph. That will make him strike back, but it will never make him want to change his mind. “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”  -Dale Carnegie

Christianity is not about arguing people into heaven. First, of course, salvation is the act of the Holy Spirit not an act of our will. Second, to the extent that it is us and not God, it is an act of the will, not an act of cognition. As such, it is heavily tied to emotion, culture, and personal paradigm.

Consider another quote by Dale Carnegie:

In talking with people, don’t begin by discussing the things on which you differ, but emphasize the things which we agree. Keep emphasizing that you are both striving for the same end and our only difference is one of method and not of purpose. Remember the other man may be totally wrong, but he doesn’t think so. Don’t condemn him, any fool can do that. Try to understand him.   -Dale Carnegie

Emphasizing differences tends to tell the other person why they SHOULD NOT agree with you or change their own mind.

Rather, demonstrating kindness and God’s love is more likely to inspire change. After all, Proclamation of the Gospel is likely to be given little attention unless there is first Demonstration of the Gospel. Taking a third quote:

Here’s a fable about the sun and the wind. They quarreled about which was the stronger, and the wind said, “I’ll prove I am. See that old man down there with a coat? I bet I can make him take his coat off faster than you can.” So the sun went behind a cloud and the wind blew until it was almost a tornado, but the harder it blew the tighter the old man wrapped his coat about him. Finally, the wind calmed down and gave up. The sun came out from behind the cloud and smiled kindly on the old man. He mopped his brow and pulled off his coat. The sun then told the wind, “gentleness and friendliness were always stronger than fury and force.” Friendliness and appreciation can make people change their minds more readily than storming at them can. -Dale Carnegie

NOTE: All of these quotes are from the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” I actually enjoy the book despite it coming from the (often odious) self-help section of bookstores. But if you don’t want to read it yourself, look at the collection of quotes and lists compiled in THIS WEBSITE. Try reading them from the standpoint of an evangelizer.


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