Note: This commentary was delivered by Prison Fellowship President Mark Earley.
Sometimes I think it would be great to live in a world based on pure logic. The best argument would always win the day. People would understand that right and wrong are objective concepts, not just vague notions based on feelings. We could make a rational case for Christianity, and people would automatically accept it. Life would be a lot less complicated.
But for better or for worse, that’s not how things work. That’s why James Sire wrote his new book, A Little Primer on Humble Apologetics. We have talked about Sire before on this program. His other books, including The Universe Next Door and Why Good Arguments Often Fail, have sold hundreds of thousands of copies. As a former college professor and a frequent speaker on campuses, Sire brings a message especially relevant to intellectuals—both seekers and skeptics.
But even Sire understands that there are drawbacks and limitations to verbal apologetics. As he points out, even Jesus’ arguments for faith in Himself failed to persuade many—and we are never going to think up better arguments than Jesus had. The people and the situations we encounter are far too complex to be dealt with by pure logic alone. Christian apologists also have to address the preconceptions and emotions of our listeners.
“The path to belief is mysterious,” as Sire puts it. “Sometimes facts and reasons stare us in the face. We can see them, even agree with them. Yet we turn away and don’t act as if we knew them at all.”
And that means that Christian apologetics has to broaden and adapt itself: to become a discipline that involves the heart and soul as well as the mind, the personal as well as the intellectual. That’s why Sire takes his own simple definition of apologetics—”simply the presentation of a case for biblical truth”—and expands it into what he calls “a richer, more relational and more humble definition.” This is what he comes up with: “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” (emphasis is mine).
What does that mean in practice? It means not just arguing the truth of the Christian faith, but living that truth every day. It means that instead of lashing out in response to attacks and insults, we bear them patiently and respond with Christ-like grace and love. Instead of going for the jugular in a conversation or debate with a nonbeliever, we listen and answer with respect. Instead of thinking we have all the answers, we are ready to be corrected and to learn.
When have we ever needed such an attitude more than we do right now? In the times in which we live, anger and spite are more and more taking the place of rational discussions. If we hope to convince the world that Christ has truth and hope to offer, this is the way we must do it—as Sire says, with “a reliance not on the cleverness . . . of argument but on the power of God to will and to do his good pleasure.”