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A review of Why Good Arguments Often Fail: Making a More Persuasive Case for Christ. By James Sire. IVP, 2006.

Aug 22, 2006

James Sire has been involved in Christian apologetics for quite some time now. His classic work, The Universe Next Door, first penned in 1976, is now in its fourth edition and has sold over a quarter-million copies. His many years of speaking and writing about apologetics in many different countries makes him an authority on the subject.

Yet he asks, like many of us may have, why do my arguments seem to fail? Why am I not more effective? Why do so many seem to reject the message?

This book seeks to answer those questions. While there are of course spiritual dynamics at work, often our arguments are simply not very good. Or perhaps we are offensive and unloving in our presentations. Or perhaps we have not done our homework. Or maybe we lack sufficient knowledge of who our audience is.

Sire focuses here on how we can better make our case, and how we can avoid common pitfalls. Thus he first examines flawed arguments and common fallacies we often make when seeking to defend the faith. He looks at faulty arguments which both believers and non-believers can make. There is plenty of fuzzy thinking and poor reasoning ability to go around, it seems. Yet Sire reminds believers that we need to do the best we can as we make our case for faith. This involves the effort needed to think clearly and analyse worldviews and arguments carefully.

Secondly he examines what makes for a good argument, and why it may be rejected. How can we learn from our mistakes and more successfully engage our unbelieving friends? What is it that keeps good reasoning from being accepted? Sometimes the way we present our case is the problem. We may be abrasive or arrogant or condescending. The way we deliver the message can often be as important as the message itself.

And sometimes we misread the audience. Perhaps we underestimate their intelligence. Or we may overestimate it. Or we may not even be speaking the same conceptual language with them. Or there may be psychological obstacles to overcome, such as unhappy experiences in childhood or at church. Thus knowing who we are talking to and where they are coming from is an important part of making our case effectively.

Finally, he gives several examples of effective apologetics. Here he shows how a successful argument can work. And he uses the apostle Paul at Athens as his major example. Paul certainly knew his audience well and was quite capable at building bridges to them. In addition, using the thought-world and language of his audience, he was able to lay out the basics of the Christian faith.

All in all this is a helpful introductory text to logical thinking, and the need for believers to more finely tune their arguments and more carefully make their case. It encourages us to keep on in the apologetic task. A helpful volume indeed.

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