Review: James Sire’s A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics

122204“The moment the church was born, apologetics was born with it” (9). So begins, James Sire’s  A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics. The implication is that apologetics is necessary for the Church. The Christian faith will always need to be defended. Until Christ returns, apologetics will remain to both defend and bolster up the faith. We have work to do and Sire wants to help us get started.

Sire defines apologetics by focusing more broadly then most intellectualist definitions. He writes, “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 its fundamental truth.” 26

I appreciate the definitional focus on seeing apologetics as being winsome and emotional. These are two elements of persuasion that are often left out of the apologetic discussion. Our apologetic, our defense of Christ and Christianity, must not just be spoken, but must also be lived. Our lives need to be in sync with our words if we are to present a winsome embodiment of the Christian faith for the watching world.

Sire’s Little Primer consists of six brief chapters. First, he defines apologetics and offers nine brief explanations of how apologetics is played out in Scripture. Second, he focuses on the value of apologetics. How apologetics establishes the faith of believers, defends the faith to skeptics and seekers, provides a heightened understanding of our culture, and serves as a stimulus to a life of full commitment. The third chapter focuses on the limits of apologetics. Here he adds a brief, but important reminder of the role of the Holy Spirit and prayer in apologetics.

The first three chapters are the strongest. The remaining three chapters, I found to be, far weaker then the first three. That brings me to my main points of criticism:

My biggest complaint with Sire’s Little Primer is that it unwittingly, I believe, ends up keeping the task of apologetics in the realm of academia. Sire is an academic apologist. His writing and ministry has clearly been focused on the academy. I’d however argue that every follower of Christ is an apologists. Just as every follower of Christ is a theologian. The question is not, “Am I an apologist/theologian?” but “how good of an apologist/theologian will I be?”

In his chapter on the “Context of Apologetics” (ch. 4) and the “Call to Apologetics” (ch. 6) the focus is on apologetics for the academy. While in no way do I intend to belittle apologetics for the universities, we need more apologists doing this hard work, there is a danger if we leave apologetics to the “professionals” like Sire.

At it’s root, apologetics is the task of every follower of Christ. If you have the hope of Christ within you then you must be prepared and ready to give a reason/explanation/defense for that hope. That is the task of every believer.

A minor complaint is that ch. 5, “The Arguments of Apologetics” was so short it was almost worthless. Certain arguments for and against Christianity were listed with little if any interaction. The focus was on presenting other books where one could go deeper. Maybe, it would have been more helpful to have simply presented an annotated bibliography.

Let me end with a few remarks on what Sire’s Little Primer adds to the apologetic discussion? Here’s four concluding thoughts:

First, the call for humility in apologetics is a necessary reminder. Our focus as apologists is not to win arguments nor to defeat others. Our focus is to present the good news of the Gospel and to present our own lives as living in harmony with the truth of God’s Word. We need more humble apologists. We need more humble apologetics books.

Second, Sire briefly mentioned how apologetics involves multiple relationships. Every apologetic encounter is carried out in the context of relationships. This should humble us. Apologetics is a ministry of service (all ministry truly is service to God and one another). Our apologetics must fall under the first and second commandments. We are to love God with our apologetics. And we are to love one another.

Third, I appreciate Sire’s “requirements for a success as an apologist.” He lists five: 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). If our apologetics are ever to be successful then they must glorify God.

Fourth, apologetics must be carried out in the context of the local church. While he doesn’t quite say this, and I fear some of the academic focus may take away from it, nonetheless does argue that apologetics is more powerful when worked out in community. He writes, “A fully committed group of believers intentionally bent on living as part of the kingdom of God on earth is in human form perhaps the very strongest of apologetics” (35). This is the local church and together, our unity is a powerful apologetic for the Christian faith (John 17:21).

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