The shelves at my local bookstore are sparse with books dealing with the real issues. I see books on how to eat well, how to be a overcomer, and how to make sure you leave the pulpit patting yourself on the back. What I don’t see on those shelves are volumes filled with knowledge that can lead a believer to stand firm in, not only what he believes, but why he believes and how to defend that faith he proclaims. Enter James Sire and his volume Apologetics Beyond Reason Why Seeing Really Is Believing.
James Sire makes the endless research and information on apologetics accessible and does so in only 160 pages. This book is not meant to be a complete guide, in systematic fashion, of the entire corpus of apologetic literature. What it is intended to be is “a strange blending of autobiography and argument. It includes eccentric allusions to and arguments from the obscure (to most American readers) Stanislaw Lem to the obtuse (to too many readers) Gerald Manley Hopkins, and from the bare minimalism of Matsuo Basho to the absurd chicanery of Lewis Carroll.” (preface) If the preface is enough to scare you away I urge you to stick with it. The payoff at the end is well worth the obscure references to authors most have never heard of.
This is my first round with Sire but from what I hear of his writing and from what I read others saying, his work has had profound influence over the discipline of literature and apologetics. His writing style is clear and compelling. As I dug further into the book I felt I was ascending a staircase to the crystal palace. Each chapter built upon the previous one in a way that drew me, more like pushed me, to go on. In a winsome way Sire showed me the joy of literature and the demands it makes of its readers.
Before going on I must return to the beginning and place before you a working definition Sire presents to the reader. “Christian apologetics lays before the watching world such a winsome embodiment of the Christian faith that for any and all who are willing to observe there will be an intellectually and emotionally credible witness to is fundamental truth.” Then he follows that up with this great statement; “The success of any given apologetic argument is not whether it wins converts or strengthens the faith of any given believer, but whether it is faithful to Jesus. The reasons that are given, the rhetoric that expresses these and the life of the apologist and the larger community of faith must, then, demonstrate their truth.” (14) Now having a wonderful place to begin let us continue our trek.
As I read through the material I was gripped by the interjecting quotes from authors who Sire has interacted with. Some famous names and some not so famous names were there, but nonetheless they were great quotes which tied in to the chapters content perfectly. Perhaps one of my favorite sections came where Sire discusses literary theory (chapter 4). Here he unfolds what literature is and explains that definition in relation to the Christian faith. He points out that literature embodies a view of reality, or worldview if you like. From there he goes on to examine in a broad view, different types of literature and the view of reality they stand on. This section allows me to take pieces of literature that I fell in love with as a high schooler, i.e. Cather in the Rye and A Separate Peace, and begin to construct the worldviews of characters like Holden Caulfield and Gene Forrester.
For what this volume is and where it finds itself in the myriad of pages on the subject, it shines brilliantly. It has been a great and compelling volume in my own study as I dive into the sea that is apologetics, literature, and philosophy. I would recommend this for all those who love great authors and insightful volumes. I’m looking forward to getting into more works from James Sire and see where his adventurous writing will take me to next.