Review: The Universe Next Door, Sixth Edition

The Universe Next Door, Sixth Edition, James W. Sire (Foreword by Jim Hoover). Downers Grove: IVP Academic, 2020.

Summary: A new edition of this foundational work on comparative worldviews, exploring the contours of various worldviews, including a new chapter on Islam, through the use of eight questions.

This book, in its six editions, has framed my adult working life. I first heard about the idea of worldview in lectures drawn from the author’s work while I was still a student. The first edition of The Universe Next Door was published during my first year working with InterVarsity/USA on their field staff. Now, forty-four years later, I still work with InterVarsity in a national role, and was delighted to receive a copy of the sixth edition of this work. During the intervening years, I came to know the author well enough when we collaborated on some student training and when I hosted him for several lecture opportunities. I learned he was working on the sixth edition the month before his passing. I am so glad to see its completion, with the able help of former InterVarsity Press editor Jim Hoover (who also happens to be a fellow Youngstown native!).

While the basic framework of the book hasn’t changed from forty four years ago, there have been a number of changes that reflect both growth in the author’s concept of worldview, as well as newly emerging trends in thought. For one thing, Sire’s understanding of worldview changed from one of ideas to the recognition of how we live and orient our affections and commitments in light of them. To his seven worldview questions around which each chapter was organized, he added an eighth: What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with this worldview?

Sire was one of the first to recognize the coalescing ideas of new age thought as early as his first edition when he wrote of the “new consciousness.” Later he changed the name of this chapter to “the New Age” and recognized the rise of those who were “spiritual but not religious.” More recently, he added a chapter on post-modernism. With this edition, given the rise of Islam not only in the Middle East, but in Western countries, Winfried Corduan was invited to add a chapter on the Middle East.

I didn’t read editions two through five. What I can say is that in addition to the changes I’ve already noted each chapter shows signs of updating. For example, the chapter on deism includes a section on “moral therapeutic deism,” first described by sociologist Christian Smith. The new age material has been supplemented by discussions of the work of Ken Wilber and Deepak Chopra. In addition, sidebars added posthumously by Jim Hoover further elucidate the work. In addition, discussion questions have been added to each chapter and a chart is included at the end using the eight world view questions offering a brief side-by-side comparison of each of the worldviews.

The idea of worldview has come in for criticism. One critique is the overly intellectualized approach to worldview. Sire has recognized this, as noted above and newer editions recognize the affective and volitional aspects of worldview. Worldview has also been criticized for its polemical use in arguing for “the Christian worldview,” sometimes very narrowly defined. Sire’s Christian theism has a breadth to it lacking in some treatments, but there is no avoiding the fact that this text argues for the Christian faith over other worldviews. Jim Sire spent a good part of his life lecturing as a Christian apologist, and unapologetically so. He did not think contradictory things could all be true and elsewhere argued that one should only believe what one is convinced is true (Why Believe Anything at All?). What one finds here though is someone who loves ideas, even those he would disagree with, tries to understand others on their own terms, and represent them as they would themselves.

This is a work that respects its readers, candid not only about its intentions but its shortcomings. Sire admits his framework doesn’t easily fit Eastern thought. Worldviews are a means of understanding others, not pigeonholing them and dismissing them with a facile apologetic argument. He acknowledges recent challenges and the things he is still grappling with as well as the things of which he is convinced. This is a book that continued to grow through succeeding editions, reflecting an author who also was always learning, always growing. His last email to me was about questions related to new content in this book.

Would that all of us could be like him in this regard! I’m glad InterVarsity Press and Jim Hoover completed and published this work. It is not only a model of engagement but also a tribute to a gifted writer and apologist who did so much to develop the idea of worldview and gave so much encouragement to people who wondered if it was possible to think as well as live Christianly.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

5 thoughts on “Review: The Universe Next Door, Sixth Edition

  1. Bob, I’m so glad you reviewed this book! I too have been shaped by the first (and subsequent) editions of the Universe Next Door, and still recommend it to Christian thinkers and budding apologists. When Dr. Sire was finishing his speaking career, I met him for dinner and he encouraged me to go out there and “do likewise.” I’m proud to follow in his footsteps, though his shoes are much too big to fill.

  2. Having become a Christian in 1960 at IV’s Bear Trap Ranch, Sire’s book was a basic one for IVCF at the time. I think it was titled differently back then, but his writings were always important and helpful to me. I think world views are an important, perhaps the important approach to seeking truth, but his work was always helpful to me. –Phil

  3. Pingback: The Month in Reviews: December 2020 | Bob on Books

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