Haire was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and at Worcester College, University of Oxford, where he studied classics and theology as an Open Exhibitioner, and was a rower. He graduated with a B.A. (Hons), which became an M.A., in theology.
He undertook management training in Britain and Europe, and then postgraduate theological studies in Leiden, Birmingham and Belfast. His Ph.D. in theology is from the University of Birmingham (PhD Theology, 1981).
He has received the following Honorary DegreesDoctor of Divinity (D.D., honoris causa) from the Presbyterian Theological Faculty, Ireland (PTFI), Belfast in 1999,
Doctor of the University (D.Univ., honoris causa) from Griffith University, Brisbane in 2000,
Doctor of Letters (D.Litt., honoris causa) from the University of Ulster, Northern Ireland in 2006, and
Doctor of the University (D.Univ., honoris causa) from the Australian Catholic University in 2011.
Haire was ordained as a Christian minister in 1972. From 1972 to 1985 he was a missionary of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, serving in Halmahera in the Molucca Islands and Sulawesi, Indonesia, where he worked as a Lecturer and Principal at Halmahera Theological College, and as Professor of Theology at the Christian University of Indonesia at Tomohon, Sulawesi. He served as a Minister of the Evangelical Christian Church in Halmahera, Indonesia from 1972 to 1985, and continues to be a Minister of that Church.
Haire served as Uniting Church Minister of Darwin City Parish (Darwin Memorial Church) (Northern Territory, Australia) from 1985 to 1986.
From 1987 to 2003, he was Professor of New Testament Studies at Trinity Theological College, Brisbane, and was Principal of Trinity College from 1992 to 2000. He was also the Dean of the Brisbane College of Theology from 1991 to 1997, and President of the Brisbane College of Theology from 1997 to 1999. In addition, he was Professor of Theology at Griffith University in Brisbane, and was Head of the School of Theology at Griffith University from 1993 to 2000.
He has examined for higher degrees at various universities in Australia, New Zealand, The Netherlands and South-East Asia. He has been Visiting Professor at two Indonesian Universities, and has been on the Editorial Boards or Advisory Boards of seven international theological journals (based in Australia, Scotland, Ireland, Switzerland, The Netherlands, The United Kingdom and Indonesia) and two international theological book series (based in Germany and The Netherlands). From 1990 to 1993 he was Editor of Colloquium: The Australian and New Zealand Theological Review, and from 1992 to 1996 he was President of the Australian and New Zealand Society for Theological Studies (ANZSTS).
In 2009 he became a member of the Center of Theological Inquiry (CTI) at Princeton, USA. In 2011 he became an Honorary Fellow of Emmanuel College, University of Queensland. In 2012 he became Extraordinary Professor of Theology at the University of Halmahera, Indonesia, where he had previously been Visiting Professor. Since 2012 he has been one of the International Evaluators for the Manfred Lautenschlaeger Award for Theological Promise (the successor to the John Templeton Award for Theological Promise) in the Wissenschaftlich-theologisches Seminar at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. He is an elected Member of the International Academy of Practical Theology (IAPT), an elected Member of the International Association for Mission Studies (IAMS), and a Foundation Member of the International Reformed Theological Institute (IRTI).
He was co-chair of the National Dialogue between the Uniting Church in Australia and the Catholic Church in Australia from 1992 to 2004. He represented the Uniting Church at the Fifth World Conference on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches at Santiago de Compostela, Spain in 1993, and was an Official Guest at the Ninth Assembly of the World Council of Churches meeting in Porto Alegre, Brazil in 2006.
From 2002 to 2014 he was a member of the International Joint Commission for Dialogue between the World Methodist Council and the Roman Catholic Church (MRCIC). From 2004 to 2010 he was a member of the Network of Theologians of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches (WARC), and since 2009 has been a member of the Editorial Advisory Board of Reformed World of the World Communion of Reformed Churches (WCRC).
He was a Main Speaker at the Maramon Convention in India in 2006. He was Niles Memorial Lecturer and Keynote Speaker at the Twelfth General Assembly of the Christian Conference of Asia in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2005, and was a member of the Executive and General Committees of the Christian Conference of Asia from 2005 to 2010. He was Thomas Mar Athanasius Memorial Lecturer in India in 2004, and Ferguson Lecturer at the University of Auckland, New Zealand in 2007. He was the St. Andrew’s College, University of Sydney annual Lecturer in 2016.
Haire was also a member of the Advisory Board of the National Institute of Law, Ethics and Public Affairs (later the Key Centre for Ethics, Law, Justice and Governance), and was a member and chairperson of the Griffith Asia Pacific Council. From 2010 to 2011 he was a Member of the Panel appointed by the Government of Victoria to assess the application of the Melbourne College of Divinity (MCD) to become a specialist university. It subsequently became the University of Divinity.
He was President-Elect of the Uniting Church in Australia from 1997 to 2000, President of the Uniting Church in Australia from 2000 to 2003, and Ex-President from 2003 to 2006. He was Chairperson of the National Heads of Churches from 2000 to 2003. From 2005 to 2014 he served as Minister-in-Association of Canberra Central Parish of the Uniting Church (Wesley and St. Aidan's Churches), and since 2015 he has been Minister-in-Association of St Paul's and Armitage Uniting Church Parish, Mackay, Queensland.
From 2003 to 2013 he was Executive Director of the Australian Centre for Christianity and Culture within Charles Sturt University, of which he is also Professor Emeritus. From 2005 to 2015 he was Director of the Research Centre for Public and Contextual Theology (PACT) within Charles Sturt University, of which he continues to be a PACT Professorial Research Fellow. From 2008 to 2011 he was Chair of the Global Network for Public Theology (GNPT).
Haire served as President of the National Council of Churches in Australia (NCCA) from 2003 to 2006.
He is a published book author (his work also translated into Dutch and Indonesian), and has had many academic articles and book chapters published internationally in English and Indonesian, with translations also into German, Indonesian and Korean.
Two Festschrift volumes of essays in his honour have been presented to him by international groups of scholars. In 2012 a Festschrift, entitled in English: Gospel and Cultures: Friends or Foes?, was presented to him to mark the fortieth anniversary of his ordination. In 2016 a second Festschrift, entitled in English: James Haire: Halmaheran from Beyond, was presented to him to mark his seventieth birthday.
He became a Presidential Friend of Indonesia in 2010. In 2012 the "James Haire StudyCentre," a study and research centre, was opened in Halmahera, Indonesia, and named after him.
From 2014 to 2015 he was Chairman of the Advisory Council of The Global Foundation, based in Melbourne, and in 2016 he became a Patron of The Global Foundation. In 2014 he served as President of Christians for an Ethical Society in Canberra.
He is one of five children. His father was the Reverend Professor James Loughridge Mitchell 'Jimmie' Haire (1909–85), who served as Professor of Systematic Theology and Apologetics in Assembly's College, Belfast from 1944 until 1976, Principal of the College from 1961 until 1976 and Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in 1970. His mother was Dr. Margaret Haire née Mitchell FRCPath. His paternal grandparents were the Reverend Professor James Haire (1874-1959), who served as Professor of Systematic Theology in Assembly's College, Belfast from 1919 until 1944 and Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland in 1939, and Dr. Charlotte Eleanor 'Lottie' Haire née Mitchell.
He became a Knight of the Order of St John (KSJ) in 2000, and a Knight Grand Cross of Honour of the Order of St John (GCHSJ) in 2014. He became a Rotary Honorary Peace Ambassador in 2001. He was awarded an Australian Centenary Medal in 2003, and was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) in 2006. He was appointed a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC), Australia's highest civilian honour, in 2013, "For eminent service to the community through international leadership in ecumenical and interfaith dialogue, the promotion of religious reconciliation, inclusion and peace, and as a theologian."