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Why good arguments often fail: Making a More Persuasive Case for Christ Paperback – 12 May 2006

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: IVP (12 May 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1844741362
  • ISBN-13: 978-1844741366
  • Product Dimensions: 14.3 x 1.5 x 21 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,040,297 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

From the Inside Flap

You gave it your best shot
You made the best case you knew how, and your friend still wasn't persuaded to follow Christ. Why is it that solid, rational arguments for the Christian faith often fail?

For over fifty years, James Sire, noted author and public defender of the Christian faith, has asked himself that question. Sometimes, of course, the arguments themselves just aren't that good. How can we make them better? Sometimes the problem has to do with us and not the arguements. Our arrogance, aggressiveness or cleverness gets in the way, or we misread our audience. Sometimes the problem lies with the hearers. Their worldview or moral blindness keeps them from hearing and understanding the truth.

With wisdom borne of both formal and informal experience, Sire grapples with these issues and offers practical insight into making a more persuasive case for Christ.

About the Author

James W. Sire is a former senior editor at IVP USA. He is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and colleges, and has written many books, including 'The universe next door' and 'Discipleship of the mind' (both IVP).

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Format: Paperback
James W. Sire is a bit like Ronseal, in that it does exactly what it says on the tin. This is a short book that tries to give some explanation for why our solid, rational arguments, don't cause hundreds of people to immediately bow the knee, repent of their sins and seek the forgiveness that Jesus offers.

In Part 1, James W. Sire pulls off a stroke of genius, by giving a crash course in logical fallacies - a mistake in logic that invalidates the argument - via an explanation of a humorous short story entitled "Love is a fallacy!" by Max Schulman. Sire explains unqualified and hasty generalisations, causes, contrary hypotheses, false analogy and poisoning the well among others. By examining these errors, Sire hopes that we will test our own arguments to make sure our good arguments really are good arguments and equipping us to spot these errors in the arguments of non-Christians so that we can gently correct them.

Having covered logical fallacies in Part 1, Sire moves in Part 2 to examine why, if our arguments are good are they rejected so often by unbelievers? Sire provides a host of explanations, from our arrogant demeanour to the effects of an evolutionary worldview (see the related blog post here) to a deep love of personal sin in the life of the non-Christian. Sire addresses each of these issues in a separate chapter and tries to tease out how we can avoid these smoke screens. Parts 1 and 2 are brilliant and I certainly needed to heed the lessons they contain. I hope, God-willing, that by the end of the summer I will have an opportunity to sit down and revisit these areas.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 11 reviews
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
Contending for the faith 22 Aug. 2006
By Bill Muehlenberg - Published on
Format: Paperback
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. The 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 that keeps good reasoning from being accepted? Sometimes they 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.
15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
Great Resource For Improving Christian Apologetics 19 Feb. 2007
By Roger N. Overton - Published on
Format: Paperback
Some how many Christians have adopted the notion that if they put forward the right arguments for Christian truth claims (such as God's existence or Christ's resurrection), then they can persuade any person to become a Christian. These Christians are often disappointed and dismayed when they're best efforts seems to go no where. Dr. James W. Sire explores why this is the case in Why Good Arguments Often Fail.

The book is divided in three parts consisting of 12 chapters. Part 1 examines the most common logical fallacies by reflecting on a "Love is a Fallacy" by Max Shulman. Part 2 looks beyond logical fallacies to issues of character, perception, worldviews (naturalism and postmodernism), and sin. In Part 3, Dr. Sire offers two persuasive approaches, one from the Apostle Paul in Acts 17 and one from his own experience. The last chapter is a thorough annotated bibliography divided into ten categories.

I think there are primarily two reasons people should buy this book. The first is that Part 1 of the book is an excellent introduction to basic critical thinking. Dr. Sire takes seemingly abstract rules of logic and makes them tangible through clear explanations and applications to arguments against Christianity and even a few bad arguments Christians sometimes put forward. The second reason this book is worthwhile is for the bibliography at the end. It is a handy guide that covers most apologetic issues in great detail.

While apologetics deals primarily with intellectual issues for rejecting Christianity, almost every non-Christian (if not all) have other issues that must be dealt with. This book acknowledges this by addressing the character of the Christian evangelist and the "moral blindness" of the non-Christian. However, it's general approach is of an intellectual nature and I think it'd be stronger if it dealt with sin and psychological issues to a further extent.

Why Good Arguments Often Fail is a much needed book to help Christians think more critically about the arguments they put forward for Christianity. Dr. James W. Sire's experience and wisdom provides ample illustrations and insights that can make our overall case for Christ more persuasive to non-Christian ears.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
Lucid and readable 12 July 2006
By Stephan Stuecklin - Published on
Format: Paperback
James Sire begins with a story that helps outline logical failures in arguments, but then moves to the perhaps more critical areas of reading one's audience and understanding the effect of one's argument. He offers an array of answers for his title question, without ever forgetting to focus on the necessity of going out and witnessing and of remembering that the Holy Spirit ultimately convinces unbelievers. All in all, a rapidly read and very digestible book that will speak to and encourage all Christians, from those who love to talk about Jesus to those unsure about sharing their faith.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Successful case made for why discussions about Christ can be so difficult 11 July 2008
By Jeffrey R. E. Morgan - Published on
Format: Paperback
Why Good Arguments Often Fail is a work in which the author tries to lay out the case for why good sound logic can and will often fail amongst family, friends, co-worker, acquaintances, and anyone you may not know. In our current culture, why is it that making a sound, reasoned argument for believing in Christ can seem to go nowhere? It may not be for the reasons you think.

Sires has split his book into three major categories: Common Logical Fallacies, Good Arguments That Often Fail, Good Arguments That Work.

Fallacies, which are deceptive, misleading, and false notions or beliefs, are spoken about in the first section.

One common fallacy, called an Unqualified Generalization is all about making statements that are so broadly defined that on the surface they seem true but with more careful consideration they really are not.

The examples used to describe these fallacies are true to life stories that anyone could have experienced in life. In my own dealings with friends and acquaintances I have seen first hand the various scenarios played out before my own eyes.

The author details the reasons why making certain arguments fail and the reasons or causes why things are this way. A principle stated in the book notes, "Valid, well substantiated arguments presented with arrogance, aggression or an overly clever attitude are often not heard clearly enough to attract the attention they deserve", (p 74)

The old adage may apply here: its not so much what you say but HOW you say it that matters. After reading the book I sum it up this way: if what you say matters, the way you say it REALLY matters.

This book resonated with me because it lays out its case for how to analyze the arguments of one's self and others. What was especially eye opening is that as I read each type of argument, I realized that I knew what the writer was talking about and could actually search my own memory for occasions of each situation occurring in my life.

The last chapter is called Framing Effective Arguments. The author gives a great section on literature that will be useful in learning more about, The Character of Jesus Christ, The Resurrection of Jesus, The Reliability of the Gospels, Defense of the Faith in General, and Classic and Creative Works. In each of these the author then splits his selections into Highly Recommended and Recommended lists of books.

I loved this book as it really got me thinking about the way that I interact with people. To really take note of the way I speak to people, what I say, and how I say it. My aim is to share Christ with others, any book that helps me do that better I highly recommend.

-- Jeffrey R. E. Morgan
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Some excellent charts, book is generally solid 21 Dec. 2006
By E. Johnson - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Sire is well-known for his world views books. In this new one, he shares some personal stories about how to share one's faith even when argue back. He uses a lot of logic and straight thinking, and I think most readers will be appreciate his style. If you generally enjoy apologetics and doing your best to "give an answer to everyone who asks you," then I think this is a worthwhile purchase and read.
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