Saturday, May 31, 2008

Review: Sire's Humble Apologetics

C.S. Lewis viewed the vice of pride as an evil, spiritual cancer. The virtue of humility, however, is to be encouraged. James Sire also realizes the importance of humility, as is evident in A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics (InterVarsity Press, 2006).

Being a "primer," Sire acknowledges that his work is intended as "a very first book exploring the nature of Christian apologetics" (p. 9). His emphasis on humility in relation to apologetics is important, but too often neglected. For Sire, a "humble apologetic" is one where "the apologist's reliance" is "not on the cleverness or even the brilliance of argument but on the power of God to will and to do his good pleasure" (52).

The short book (112 pages) is divided into six chapters: 1. What is Apologetics?; 2. The Value of Apologetics; 3. The Limits of Apologetics; 4. The Contexts of Apologetics; 5. The Arguments of Apologetics; and 6. The Call to Apologetics. Sire prefaces each chapter with anecdotes gleaned from his many years of campus ministry. The anecdotes are a great benefit, allowing readers to glimpse some tangible insights into real life apologetics ministry, highlighting Sire's successes, as well as apologetic shortcomings.

While each chapter offers its own valuable observations, one in particular stands out. Chapter 6 on "The Call to Apologetics" is worth the cost of the book. Sire applies calling specifically to Christian apologetics. He steers clear of offering advice on what steps to follow to become an apologist, simply because he finds no set pattern: "Budding apologists have asked me how they could 'get my job.' I tell them, 'You can't. The process will probably never be repeated.' … What I can say, though, is this: Seek first the kingdom of God, live under the lordship of Jesus Christ, practice, practice, practice, and you will be well on your way" (88).

He goes on to note that being an apologist is not so much about seeking a specific job, as learning to discern God's calling: "… God can use your talents, your gift and passion for apologetics, in ways that tie into so-called secular professions" (88). Sire also offers five "requirements for success as an apologist": "(1) a fascination with and delight in the intellectual life, (2) a passion for what can be learned from the Bible, (3) a life characterized by consistent holiness, (4) a love for people and (5) a growing ability to communicate with them on a profoundly personal level" (94).

Although Sire's work is, on the whole, superb, there are two notable shortcomings. First, it would have been helpful to include a section on the essentials of Christianity. In order to defend the faith, one must know it. Sire seems to take it for granted that his readers are already familiar with key doctrines. Given the fact that the book presents itself as a primer, this omission is unfortunate.

Second, despite the fact that Sire includes a chapter on "The Arguments of Apologetics" (chapter 5), nowhere does he present an overview of classic theistic arguments. At minimum, it would benefit budding apologists to familiarize themselves with traditional evidences for the existence of God such as the design, moral, and cosmological arguments. Although in passing Sire hints at some of these arguments (78-79), they are neither fleshed out nor formally presented.

Sire's excellent book boils down to a simple but profound insight: Having a head for apologetics is not enough—one must also have a humble heart. A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics is a wonderful introductory resource for those new to apologetics, as well as for seasoned apologists.

A version of this review appeared in Christian Research Journal.


Trekin4JC said...

I just read Naming the Elephant by James Sire. An excellent read. Thanks for your review on his book Humble Apologetics. I'd like to read more by Sire.

Robert Velarde said...

The Universe Next Door is also great. I have Sire's Why Good Arguments Often Fail, but haven't gotten around to reading it. Books on a shelf are only potential literature, to paraphrase C.S. Lewis. :-)