Review of “Apologetics Beyond Reason”

Sire_Apologetics beyond reason cover

Moving away from rationally-based arguments to a more experiential (indeed, partly autobiographical) argument for God, James W. Sire’s latest book, Apologetics Beyond Reason: Why Seeing Really Is Believing (IVP, 2014) argues that “There is everything. Therefore there is a God. Either you see this or you don’t”; everything in this world points to God. Delving heavily into literature and art, Sire argues that intuition, or sudden glimpses into God’s presence, abound in the world. This is not contrary to logic; Sire simply emphasizes that these signs of transcendence which people experience and grasp are important pointers to the biblical God.

It is clear from the outset that the book has a more eclectic approach and personal tone than is typical for an apologetics book, which in my opinion works in Sire’s favor. If you’ve read many apologetics books, you may have found the arguments solid, but their tone quite detached and perhaps overly academic. Not so with Apologetics Beyond Reason, which critiques the notion of autonomous human reason, and re-defines apologetics: it is not an argument, but a call to grasp the truth of Christ and commit to him. After laying out his own background and definition of apologetics (preface, chapter 1), Sire explores Christian and non-Christian literature and art which he argues all point to God’s existence.

In chapter 2, Sire points out that people can learn to be aware of their presuppositions and examine whether or not they are sound and the best explanation of reality. However, he repeatedly affirms that human reason alone is insufficient to determine truth (29); as finite, and fallen, creatures, humans can only know the truth if the infinite God reveals himself and his truth to human beings (35, 39). All arguments must begin somewhere, Sire urges his readers to commit: begin with faith in God’s self-revelation, in the witness of the Spirit.

Chapter 3 moves to the “argument from God,” as the author terms it, which notes that Christians can have confidence in human reason (within limits) because of God, who is the source of truth and all creation, and indeed has created human rational abilities to lead to truth and knowledge of him (44-46). Here Sire prioritizes ontology (what exists) before epistemology (how one can know): it is God’s existence and establishing of reality that comes first, making human knowing secondary. Sire refers to this approach as arguing “from God” not “to God” (48).

The fourth chapter argues from literary theory. In literature, a world is created, and the reader can inhabit this creation, in some way experiencing what the world would be like if the creation’s worldview described reality as we know it. Sire views the world humans inhabit as reality, and a person’s lens or filter on reality is their worldview. Literature enables humans to ‘see’ a worldview embodied, and compare it to their own worldview and understanding of reality.

Chapter 5 examines the works of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Virginia Woolf, exploring the ways in which both, in different ways, point to God. With Hopkins, the gestures to God are deliberate, whereas with Woolf, decidedly a non-Christian, the ‘signs of transcendence’ are more implicit. For example, Sire concludes that literature conveys the message that humans are significant, and it also makes moral judgments. Surely moral judgments indicate the existence of another realm from which such values derive (97-98).

Seguing into the works of Goya in chapter 6, Apologetics Beyond Reason describes how the arts can push a person into searching for God, in the questions they provoke and in the fact that artistic works point to the existence of immaterial reality (100, 120).

The book concludes with what Sire describes as the ‘best argument’ of all: the argument from Jesus, God’s self-revelation who answers the deep enigmas of human existence, such as evil, suffering, salvation, reason, and body and soul (124, 131-35).

In short, this book offers a wonderful glimpse into how imagination, manifested in the arts, support a Christian worldview. Instead of explicitly or implicitly presupposing autonomous human reason as the basis for his arguments, the author supports a “chastened reason,” a view of human reason as dependable within limits. Also somewhat unusually in this time, he prioritizes metaphysics over epistemology. This book is an enjoyable and provocative read, and would be helpful to those who desire to expand their view of apologetics. It will not replace the standard texts used to introduce students to traditional Western arguments; instead, it offers a different approach and more personal touch which can bring fresh air to a sometimes stale topic. The book is available in paperback or e-book.

Thanks to IVP for the review copy!

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About Stephanie Lowery

I studied systematic theology at Wheaton College Graduate School, studying under Daniel Treier and writing my dissertation on ecclesiological models in Africa. I grew up in East Africa, and am happy to have returned at long last!
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