Why Good Arguments Often Fail
James W. Sire, author of The Universe Next Door has written another worthy volume entitled Why Good Arguments Often Fail: Making a More Persuasive Case for Christ.
This book is an enjoyable read without a lot of the heavy technical work I have recently studied (more on the heavy stuff in a moment...).
In the preface, Mr. Sire discusses his good-faith efforts of arguing for Christ in conversations and lectures. He’s done his best to craft persuasive arguments, but:
...they have rarely sparked the response I have really wanted--vast masses of friends and enemies flocking to Jesus to repent and say, “My Lord and my God!” Why is this?”
The rest of the book attempts to answer the question.
I liked this book a lot. Part One, a discussion on “Common Logical Fallacies,” was fun to read. Chapter 2 is a short, humorous story by Max Shulman called “Love is a Fallacy.” This chapter was worth the price of the book. The “punch line” of the story made me laugh out loud. Every pastor should read Part One of this book. I’m afraid a lot of preaching today includes the logical fallacies Sire mentions. It is a vitamin for one’s credibility.
Part Two addresses “Good Arguments that Often Fail.” Mr. Sire reminds the reader that arrogance, aggression, and cleverness do not serve the cause of apologetics. Neither should a Christian misread his audience. This section reminds us to pay attention to whom we are talking! Ask yourself, “Where are they in their journey?” Communicate to people “where they are.” The author also discusses evolution, relativism, and the issue of moral blindness.
Part Three offers arguments “that work.” Paul’s argument on Mar’s Hill in Acts 17 is a model of how to address unbelievers. We can use this framework to talk to postmoderns of our age who ask the question “Why Believe Anything at All?”
The end of Part Three is an annotated bibliography directing the reader to valuable resources in apologetics. (This too is worth the price of the book.)
I appreciate the author’s work but have to critique his method on a couple of points. First, I feel that he concedes the issue of creation too quickly to the majority opinion. In fact, Mr. Sire suggested that we not address the questions of creation/evolution if we can help it.
”Christians like myself can appeal to the Behes, the Dembskis and the Johnsons rather than trying to deal in depth with the issue....In fact, some form of theistic evolution is still the dominant position of Christians who are scientists.... Let us let the whole issue of evolution remain unaddressed, therefore, except when it arises as a question. Then let’s keep our answer short and defer to Christian experts for detail. There are far more central issues to consider....”
On one hand, I respect Mr. Sire’s concern for thoughtful reflection on the issue of creation/evolution. I understand that influential people, like Francis Collins of the Human Genome Project (not mentioned in this book), are theistic evolutionists and many people will not listen to apologists who are not.
On the other hand, I feel that Mr. Sire is willing to give away Genesis 1-3 too soon in order to get a hearing for Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. There is something wrong with this position, although I am at a loss of words to articulate my concerns.
Also, in all of this book and its terrific bibliography, I found no reference to the transcendental argument offered by Van Til, Bahnsen, and others. I understand that much of the work can be heavy and difficult. I have had to make several passes through the material to start getting it into focus. And I plan a few more excursions--because I have not yet reached the summit.
I would think Mr. Sire would be aware of this material, but it is not included. Alister McGrath mentions it in his book Intellectuals Don’t Need God and Other Modern Myths. He raises the issue only to dismiss it (unfortunately), but at least he raises it. I couldn’t help but think Mr. Sire could have placed the Transcendental Argument in his section “Good Arguments that Work.” But, maybe he thinks it doesn’t belong there...
Anyway, I like Why Good Arguments Often Fail and recommend that you read it. College students, especialy, should have it on their shelves.
Mr. Sire has done well for us in writing this book.