I believe one of the most challenging parts of Scripture is 1 Peter 3:14-16. Peter says that we are to be able to give a reason to anyone who asks us why we believe what we believe. It is not only surprising but alarming how few can do that. George Gallup, Jr. and D. Michael Lindsay concluded in their book Surveying the Religious Landscape: Trends in U.S. Beliefs that most people cannot talk about their faith because they have not been discipled or trained to do so.
James Sire, author of this little primer, has committed his life to challenging people to think with a Christian mind and enabling them to follow Peter’s instruction. Not everyone is called to be an apologist; but God has burdened some of us to strive for that which Sire reminds us takes hard work, much reading, consistent prayer, and “practice, practice, practice.”
When I picked up this little book I couldn’t put it down. Sire and I both have a love for, and a desire to be, effective Christian apologists who know how to communicate God’s truth to our generation and culture. We also hold Francis Schaeffer as a mentor and model for knowing how to communicate to people searching for truth or needing to know what truth is.
One idea that Sire underscores is that apologetics is not simply about arguing or winning debates; it is about building relationships. He cites many passages in Scripture that teach the importance of relationships built on the truth. This means that what some would call rational apologetics is only a part of the apologist’s approach. More important, he says, is focusing on the character of the Christian’s life, thus his reference to “humble” apologetics.
As I read this book, I was reminded of times when I won an argument but lost a friend or a potential friend. That’s why we need to remember, as Sire demonstrates, the whole of Peter’s instruction to give our reasons with gentleness and kindness, lest we offend and lose the person who asks. He is honest in stating that even though we use arguments and tear down strongholds, arguments do not win people. You cannot reason a person into the faith, even though reason may play a major role.
The book contains six chapters: What Is Apologetics?, The Value of Apologetics, The Limits of Apologetics, The Contexts of Apologetics, The Arguments of Apologetics, and The Call to Apologetics. In these chapters Sire is honest about his successes and failures in this process. But one thing is clear, you have to want to be an apologist and be willing to pay the price. It takes studying the Word, reading books, understanding our culture, and practice. One of the valuable things in this book is his recommended reading list on many different topics. He uses a phrase that I am going to borrow from him often. We need to be “appropriately, scholarly, and intelligently Christian.”
I like his challenge, “Seek first the kingdom of God, live under the lordship of Jesus Christ, practice, practice, practice, and you will be well on your way. You may never lecture in the Samuel Beckett Room at Trinity College, but you will find the audience God has in mind for you.” He reminds his readers that to be a Christian apologist you have to have four things: a passion for the truth, a passion for holiness, a passion for consistency, and a compassion for others. And to that we say Amen! Read this book. Whether apologetics is your calling or gift, reading this primer will bless your life and challenge your mind and heart.