James Sire, who died on Tuesday at age 84, was not a media star or megachurch pastor, but it is possible that he did more to share the Christian worldview of the church than any man of his generation. He did that – as the editor of InterVarsity Press (IVP) — by discovering, nurturing, shaping, and editing some of the great Christian writers and thinkers of the 20th century.
Jim Sire was sometimes called the “Maxwell Perkins of Christian publishing,” a reference to the great editor who discovered Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and many others. However, Sire held forth in a different milieu. Among the writers Sire nurtured at critical moments in their careers were Os Guinness, Calvin Miller, Rebecca Manley Pippert, and – perhaps most notably — Francis Schaeffer.
James Sire was born in Nebraska, served as an officer in the U.S. Army, and was headed toward a career in science before literature turned his head. He followed an undergraduate degree in chemistry with a master’s and doctorate in English. Time as a professor followed before he ended up as senior editor at IVP. Early successes as an editor included Francis Schaeffer’s seminal book The God Who Is There (1968) and Os Guinness’s powerful cultural critique The Dust of Death (1972).
Andy Le Peau knew and worked with Sire for decades as a colleague at IVP. He explained the importance of Sire to Schaeffer’s work: “When Schaeffer started publishing elsewhere besides IVP, he requested that Sire…continue as the editor of Schaeffer’s Now Should We Then Live? and Whatever Happened to the Human Race? In these books, Jim would often edit from transcripts of talks Schaeffer had given, reworking mightily the spoken word into publishable form.”
Not surprisingly, Sire was an accomplished writer himself, the author of more than a dozen books. His book The Universe Next Door came out in 1976 and introduced the concept of worldview to many in the evangelical church. The book has gone through four subsequent editions, sold more than 400,000 copies, and has been translated into 19 languages.
It is impossible to overstate the influence of InterVarsity Press and Jim Sire on my own personal development. Calvin Miller’s The Singer was instrumental in my decision to become a writer. Becky Pippert’s Out of the Salt Shaker and Into The World changed my understanding of evangelism and led me to found a Christian newsletter as an undergraduate at the University of Georgia that I called “The Salt Shaker.” Given that history, one of my greatest pleasures in recent years was to meet Jim Sire and express my appreciation to him for his faithful stewardship of his vocation.
It’s a debt of gratitude owed not just by me, but by millions.