(Thanks to InterVarsity Press for providing a review copy of this book!)
Sire, James W. Beginning with God: A Basic Introduction to the Christian Faith. Downersgrove, IL: Intervarsity, 2017. 189 pp. $8.57.
“In explaining the Christian faith, we can begin almost anywhere, for Christianity relates to the whole of life – the outer world of natural science, the inner world of the human psyche, society at large, and individuals in particular. In short, we could begin with God, with people, or with the universe.” (15)
James W. Sire holds a PhD from University of Missouri and is the author of many books including The Universe Next Door and Naming the Elephant. My first exposure to the concept of worldviews came through a recommendation of Sire’s work. Hence I went into this book expecting it to pertain to worldviews or philosophy with a strong apologetic bent. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find something a bit different.
The first chapter begins with a focus on us, and in particular, our names (15-26). We are not our own, but stem from the past, from family, and from society, with no control over our birthplace, parents, social background, genetics, biology, or nurture (26). We are apparently trapped by nature and nurture. Sire concludes, “This indeed is our status if nothing of us transcends our physical-cultural existence. If our lives are ever to have value and meaning, if we are to have dignity as human beings, we must find a way out of this box.” (28) Sire argues Christianity provides just that.
Chapter two distinguishes between Creator and creation before explaining that human beings are created in the image of God and hence distinct from the rest of creation (30-41). Thus, “the first factor preventing us from feeling boxed in is the notion that human beings are created in God’s image, the second factor is to realize the magnificence of the God in whose image we are created” (40). Chapter three contains a description of God as he revealed himself by name to Moses as recorded for us in the book of Exodus (43-53). Chapter four is a more systematic treatment of the attributes of God such as his self-existence, oneness, three-ness, omnipresence, omniscience, and omnipotence (54-62). God is also spirit, and personal, righteous, just, compassionate, merciful, and loving (63).
Chapter five focuses on what it means to be created in the image of God; not self-existent but derivative, not a Trinity but in need of community, not purely spirit but spiritual, and not Creator but created (67-70). Although we are not like God in virtue of our limitations, we do possess some power, some knowledge, and some presence, and we do reflect God in other ways as well (70-76). In the next chapter Sire draws attention to the fact that although God is good and created all things good, the world is bad (77-88). He outlines the (true) story of Adam and Eve’s temptation, sin, and fall, but notes there is still a presence of hope in the midst of darkness. The subsequent chapter goes into depth about how the fall affects every one of us in terms of our sin (88-99).
Chapter eight picks up on the theme of God’s concern for his people beginning in the garden and going on through such notable biblical figures as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Joshua, Saul, David, Solomon, and the prophets (100-114). Chapter nine finishes this story by positing the cross as the main event of history since “it was there that God once and for all solved the human dilemma, the problem of sin and its consequence, death” (115). The remainder of this chapter is a clear description of the gospel (115-123). The next chapter follows with a personal testimony and invitation to the reader to receive Christ (124-138). Going back to the image of God, chapter eleven explains that when we are born again, God begins to restore that image in us (140). This chapter is really a discussion of sanctification (139-151). Christianity, “while it involves a system of beliefs, is primarily about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the Son of God himself. For each of us to grow as Christians day by day, we must get to know and love him as a Person” (152). Thus chapter twelve is all about Jesus, an appropriate topic of discussion in relation to sanctification as addressed in the previous chapter (152-165).
Chapter thirteen further expands upon one’s identity in Christ, for “We now can see ourselves as Christians – men and women not only made in the image of God and fallen (as all people are) but also as redeemed and now in the process of restoration” (167). God has not redeemed us merely for ourselves, but places us in his family forever as one, a chosen race, royal priesthood, holy nation, God’s own, with many different gifts (166-178).
“The truth of the corporate nature of the church is balanced by the truth of its variegated character. The church is not like a bowl of mush with every scoop the same. It is more like a Persian rug, which, though almost infinite in variety, is yet one single whole.” (170)
Sire ends his book with the description John provides of the New Jerusalem in Revelation, writing, “If God brought the universe into existence by his word of power some vague and distant time in the past, it is also true that this universe will one day pass out of existence. The people he has made in his image, then redeemed and restored to his image, will live forever with him” (176).
Sire sets forth a basic explanation of Christian teaching in this book. He notes in the Preface that the book is not intended to function as an apologetic, is not the only explanation of the Christian faith, and “only scratches the surface of a very complex subject” (12). However, the book does provide a positive statement of the Christian worldview, reads like a lengthy (yet well written) gospel tract, and includes personal testimony. Sire’s approach is equal parts systematic, biblical, and practical theology with just the right amount of Scripture proof and quotation. There is also a heavy presence of Francis Schaeffer and Blaise Pascal in these pages, not only in the form of quotations opening many of the chapters, but in the form of apparent influence leading to the convicting, concise, yet compassionate presentation of the whole gospel for the whole person (if I might steal a line from Will Metzger). There are also reflection questions at the end of each chapter, making this a fantastic book to toss into the hands of an unbeliever, a new Christian, or to teach through in a discipleship setting in a church. I intend to use it in all of the aforementioned ways, and hope you will consider doing so as well.